Despite driving rain earlier in the afternoon, 1000 people of all races and sexualities thronged Old Compton Street at 6:30 on Friday, 7th May, for the Vigil commemorating the victims of the bomb one week earlier, and the victims of the two previous bombings in Brixton and Brick Lane.
As well as an act of remembrance, the Vigil was an affirmation of our community’s defiance of homophobia, queer-bashing, and neonazi terrorism.
Gay pop singer Tom Robinson opened with a soulful rendition of “Lean on Me”. Then, at 6:37 p.m., the exact time that the bomb exploded on 30th April, there was a minute’s silence in remembrance.
Organised by OutRage! –and bringing together representatives of the Black, Asian, and Gay communities hit by the bomber– the Vigil was compered by Peter Tatchell, saying: “Our message tonight is: ‘United we stand. Bombs will not divide us, nor drive us underground'”.
There were shouts of agreement and applause when, referring to the House of Lords veto of an equal Age of Consent on 13th April, which was spearheaded by the Conservative peeress Baroness Young of Farnworth, Tatchell stated: “Baroness Young fuelled the hate; the bomber lit the fuse.”
Speakers representing the different communities shattered by April’s three bombings underlined the close connexion between racism and homophobia, and deplored the procrastination of our politicians in equalising the Age of Consent, repealing Section 28, eradicating bullying in schools, (see Stonewall or THT), and the Government’s failure to crack down on hate crimes.
Ken Livingstone, MP –the former leader of the Greater London Council– urged the Government to respond to the bombing by repealing Section 28 which, he said, was inhibiting the ability of teachers to challenge homophobic prejudice and bullying in schools. Livingstone said this failure to tackle antigay attitudes gave free reign to the bigotry that inspired the bomber and his neonazi sympathisers.
Black speakers –Teresa Bennett of the Anti-Nazi League, Darryl Telles of the National Assembly against Racism, and Sukwant Dhaliwal of Southall Black Sisters (SBS)– urged a united front to challenge racism and homophobia and to defend the Black, Asian, and Gay communities against right-wing extremist violence. Tess Joseph of the Jewish Gay and Lesbian Group read a statement from the Chief Rabbi, Prof. Jonathan Sacks, which said: “Once again human beings are being murdered because of who and what they are. These bombings are not just attacks on specific communities: they are attacks on our humanity and diversity. They remind us of the hatred that still survives towards minorities … We stand with the people of Brixton, Brick Lane, and Soho, ready to fight for all people to live without fear, knowing that a society that cannot live with difference cannot live at all.”
A number of speakers underlined the need for immediate Government action by referring to their own personal experiences. — Sue Sanders of School’s Out, (the campaign against homophobia in schools), told how, as an out lesbian, she had had to give up teaching; and Tom Robinson spoke of the homophobia he experienced at school, which at the time had led him to contemplate suicide. Tom led the crowd in singing his gay anthem, “Glad to be Gay”, with a new verse written in response to the Soho bomb.
APPEAL FOR VICTIMS OF THE THREE LONDON BOMBS
The appeal for victims of the Soho + Brick Lane + Brixton Bombings, is being organised by London’s L/G/B/T community in conjunction with Massow Financial Services Ltd., (Tel. 020-220.127.116.11).
Cheques should be made payable to:
“April Bombing Appeal”
and sent to:
Massow Financial Services Ltd.,
36-38, West Street,
London WC2H 9NA.
SPEECH BY STEPHEN KRISTIAN OF OUTRAGE! AT SOHO VIGIL
“Violence against lesbians and gay men did not begin with the Soho bomb. A third of all lesbians and gays have been beaten up by queer-bashers because of their homosexuality.
“We urge the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, to respond to the Brixton, Brick Lane and Soho bombings by introducing comprehensive anti-hate-crime laws, to protect everyone.
“It is time there were new laws to safeguard all vulnerable communities against prejudice-motivated violence, harassment and incitement to hatred.
“Last year, the Government vetoed an OutRage!-sponsored amendment to the Crime & Disorder Bill that would have cracked down on hate crimes, providing new protection to people victimised because of their race, sexuality, religion, politics, HIV status, or disability.
“Labour’s veto of that amendment was a grave mistake. It sent the wrong signal to the hate-mongers, giving the impression that Labour is soft on bigotry.
“The Government should now put right that error of judgement by amending the Crime & Disorder Act 1998 to impose tougher sentences on all hate crimes.
“Such legislation would be a permanent, positive memorial to those injured and killed in the three bombings.
“WE WANT MORE THAN JUST WORDS OF SYMPATHY!
“WE WANT TOUGH NEW GOVERNMENT ACTION AGAINST ALL THOSE WHO COMMIT HATE CRIMES!”