1999 June

Pride March: Pinocchio Blair – Labour’s broken promises

 

“The Labour Party is concerned with grave realities, not with picturesque fairy tales. … Practical men and women will consider, not fables regarding tomorrow, but the facts of today. … They will judge the present Government, as governments should be judged, not by its words, but by its deeds — by its achievements, its actions and its omissions.”

Labour Manifesto, ‘Labour and the Nation’, 1929
Reprinted in ‘The Penguin Book of Twentieth Century Protest’, pp.98-102

A giant photo of Tony Blair with a long Pinocchio nose will be carried by OutRage! on this Saturday’s 28th annual Lesbian & Gay Pride March.

OutRage! is portraying Tony Blair as Pinocchio to highlight Labour’s broken promises on lesbian and gay human rights. The blown-up, digitally-enhanced photo of Pinocchio Blair is captioned with the words “LIAR!” and “BROKEN PROMISES”.

On 12 occasions since May 1997, the Labour Government has blocked homosexual equality and endorsed the discriminatory status quo. This directly contradicts Tony Blair’s pledge to the 1997 Lesbian & Gay Pride Festival that Labour would “build a new Britain free from discrimination”.

OutRage! will assemble at 11:30 a.m. at the Queen Mother’s Gates, at the end of South Carriage Drive, Hyde Park Corner, SW1. The March leaves from this point at 12 noon.

As well as the main large photo of Pinocchio Blair, OutRage! placards with smaller versions of the same image will highlight six gay equality issues on which Labour has taken “NO ACTION”, thereby failing to honour its pledge to eradicate discrimination:

  • homophobic hate crimes,
  • Section 28,
  • the military ban,
  • partnership rights,
  • protection against discrimination at work,
  • parenting rights.

In addition to Labour’s broken promise to end discrimination, OutRage! has two other themes at Pride this year:

  • tackling the prejudice that led to the Soho bomb
  • commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which sparked the modern movement for queer liberation.

OutRage! will be carrying photos of the carnage at the Admiral Duncan pub with the slogan “Homophobia Kills!”, and a huge banner reading: “Remember – Stonewall was a riot!”.

Twelve times since May 1997, Labour has torpedoed initiatives for homosexual equality.

Prior to the 1997 election, Labour made three very specific pledges on lesbian and gay human rights:

  1. HATE CRIMES - On 19 February 1997, at a Stonewall-sponsored public meeting at the House of Commons, Jack Straw promised swift action against homophobic hate crimes. Last year, however, he vetoed an amendment to the Crime & Disorder Bill that would have extended the tough new penalties for race hate attacks to all hate crimes, including those motivated by homophobia.
  2. SECTION 28 - At the same Stonewall meeting, Straw pledged that Labour would repeal Section 28. Since coming to power, Labour has refused to say when or how Section 28 will be abolished. Now, Labour’s only commitments are to get rid of Section 28 “sometime in the next five years” and “when an appropriate legislative vehicle becomes available”.
  3. MILITARY BAN - Before the 1997 election, Labour publicly declared its intention to lift the ban on homosexuals in the military. Today, in contrast, the Government is fighting in the European Court of Human Rights to maintain discrimination against lesbian and gay people in the armed forces; and last year in the European Court of Justice it fought successfully to uphold the right of the military to deny homosexuals equal treatment.

Immediately after the 1997 election, Tony Blair made a general promise –in a statement read out at that year’s Pride Festival by Culture Secretary, Chris Smith MP– that his Government would “build a new Britain free from discrimination”.

This commitment is contradicted by Labour’s repeated refusal to support gay equality measures:

  1. PROTECTION AGAINST DISCRIMINATION - Last year, Labour voted down new Clause 10 of the Human Rights Rights Act, which sought to ensure that the anti-discrimination provisions of the Act would be interpreted to include a prohibition on discrimination based on sexual orientation and HIV status.
  2. EQUALITY AT WORK - Labour has twice scuppered legislation to stop discrimination against lesbians and gays in the workplace. It blocked the Sexual Orientation Discrimination Bill in 1997, and in April this year it thwarted an amendment to the Employment Relations Bill.
  3. SEXUAL OFFENCES - During the passage of the Crime & Disorder Bill last year, Labour manoeuvred to prevent attempts by backbenchers to scrap three sexual offences laws that apply only to gay sex: the gross indecency statute, the criminalisation of gay sex involving the presence of more than two people, and the homophobic bias of the Sex Offenders Act, which results in men convicted of consenting homosexual relationships with 16 and 17 year olds being branded as child sex abusers, while men involved in heterosexual relations with people of the same age are not penalised under the Act.
  4. AGE OF CONSENT - Labour has made parliamentary time available for a free vote: but the Government is refusing to officially endorse an equal age of consent, preferring to keep it an issue of individual conscience, whereby Labour MPs are free to vote for or against equality according to their own whims and fancies. In contrast, Labour never leaves issues of black and women’s equality to a free vote. It insists that all Labour MPs vote against discrimination.
  5. MORATORIUM ON PROSECUTIONS - After the huge House of Commons majority for an equal age of consent was overturned by the unelected House of Lords in July last year, Jack Straw refused to use his discretionary powers to initiate a moratorium on the prosecution of 16 and 17 year old gay men and their partners, insisting that prosecutions must continue because it is “the law of the land”.
  6. EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES - In May, the Government prevented attempts to toughen the equal opportunities powers of the new Greater London Authority, including its powers to promote gay equality and tackle homophobic discrimination.

This makes a total of 12 separate occasions in the last 26 months when Labour has sabotaged measures for lesbian and gay equality.

OutRage! supports the Guardian’s ‘Freedom of Information’ Campaign

“Under Jack Straw’s flawed legislation, the Government and police will have discretionary power to withhold information on human rights abuses,” said OutRage! spokesman Peter Tatchell.

“The bungled police investigation into the still unsolved queer-bashing murder of gay actor Michael Boothe in 1990 will probably remain shrouded in official secrecy; as will the recent homophobic harassment waged by officers at London’s West End Central police station against their gay colleagues.

“Also likely to be exempt is information on the formulation of Government policy regarding its refusal in April to protect homosexuals against discrimination at work; and its current strategy of fighting in the European Court of Human Rights to maintain the ban on gays in the military.”

Pledge your support to the Guardian campaign, and tell them about your experiences: freedom@guardian.co.uk
or write, marking the envelope FoI campaign, to
Jamie Wilson, The Guardian, 119 Farringdon Rd, London EC1R

Letter from Home Office on Government Action after Soho bombing

Annotated reply from the Home Office to OutRage!’s letter to the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, following the bombing of the ‘Admiral Duncan’ pub.

Home Office,
Queen Anne’s Gate,
London SW1H 9AT.

23rd June, 1999.

Thank you for your letter of 3 May following the Soho bombing. I apologise for the delay in sending this reply and thank you for your patience.

As you know the Government has good relations with representatives from the gay and lesbian community.

This is presumably intended as a reply to point 4, demanding broader consultation with the L/G/B/T community, not just with Stonewall to the exclusion of all other organisations and interest groups.

With regard to your specific points:

Dealing with violence and harassment

First, let me say that the Government wants to stop attacks and harassment upon lesbians and gay men. The Government believes that everyone is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of their lives without fear of harassment or violent crime. The Government considers such behaviour to be totally unacceptable whether the motivation for the attack is because of the victim’s perceived sexual orientation or for any other reason.

The Government’s view is that the law must be able to offer everyone in society the best possible protection from violence, whatever the motivation of the aggressor. There are many groups in society, which for one reason or another are particularly victimised and it is important that the law protects them all.

I have set out the relevant law below. However, the way in which the law is implemented is also important. When considering a custodial sentence, judges are already required to take into account all available information about the circumstances of the offence, including any aggravating factors, which can include the motivation of the perpetrator in committing the offence.

While the Government does not accept the need for specific legislative measures to deal with homophobic attacks, and is determined to deal with the problem of homophobic crime. [sic]

This is a reply to point 1, demanding tougher sentences for violence and harassment against lesbians and gay men, in precisely the same way that Tony Blair proposed (after the Soho bomb) for racially motivated attacks. OutRage! cannot see any difference between hatred fuelled by racial prejudice and hatred fuelled by prejudice based on differing sexuality.

For example we have been working with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) to develop guidelines for police forces in dealing with incidents involving the lesbian and gay community and in order to ensure that they are policed in a fair and equitable manner. The guidelines include a definition of what should be regarded as a homophobic incident: “any incident which appears either to the victim or to any other person including the reporting or investigating officer to be motivated by homophobia”.

Increasingly, the police are working with the gay and lesbian community to deal with this problem – not only on a local, individual basis but also through liaison with the National Advisory Group on Policing the Lesbian and Gay Communities. The group includes lesbians and gay men who have experience of working with the police, together with police officers who work in this area. The National Advisory Group has worked with ACPO in developing the guidelines mentioned above.

The Government considers that there are particular problems associated with racial violence and harassment that justify specific legislation. Racially motivated crime harms not only the victim but the wider community as well, and has implications for public order more generally. The trust and understanding built up between communities can be eroded by the climate of fear and anxiety that follows such incidents. This is why the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 introduced new racially aggravated offences. The aim is to protect everyone from the consequences of racial crime and we would not wish to dilute the message that this Act sends to the victims of racial violence and harassment.

The Law

The criminal law already contains a wide range of powers to deal with violent behaviour or harassment. The main non-fatal violent offences include:

  • assault which attracts a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment and or a fine of £ 5,000;
  • assault occasioning actual bodily harm (section 47 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861) and malicious wounding (section 20 of the 1861 Act) with a maximum five years’ imprisonment;
  • wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm under section 18 of the 1861 Act which attracts a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Where an attack results in death the offender may be charged with murder, for which the only sentence is life imprisonment, or with manslaughter where the maximum penalty is also life imprisonment. There is also a range of powers under the Public Order Act 1986 and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 to deal with non-violent offences.

Education

Sex education is rarely taught in isolation, but is normally part of broader programmes of Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE). In this way there is an opportunity for teachers to address children’s spiritual, moral and cultural development to complement what they are learning about sex and relationships, and thereby better prepare them for adult life. PSHE can provide the vital building blocks from which young people can develop the self-respect and emotional well-being to help form and maintain worthwhile and fulfilling relationships. It promotes respect for the diversity of and differences between people. The Government is committed to raising the profile and status of PSHE and set up a National Advisory Group to develop a coherent framework, building on good practice and spreading it to all schools. The recommendations from the Advisory Group were fed into the review of the National Curriculum as carried out by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. The Advisory Group’s report is due to be published shortly.

This relates to the final part of point 3, on the provision of balanced sex education for all age groups.

The Pink Paper carried a report on 25-June-1999, (page 7), stating that “Officials in Brazil’s Department of Health are advising government ministers that sex education should start as young as four, to prevent the spread of HIV later in life … [and] unwanted pregnancies”, and that the proposal was overwhelmingly endorsed by a conference of teachers and education officials.

An item on BBC Ceefax, (28-June-1999, page 120), quoted U.K. Government Minister Clare Short as advising the United Nations in the context of AIDS prevention that we should start telling children what they need to know. — However, that message is not reflected by the current reply from the Home Office.

The Secretary of State for Education, David Blunkett, recently announced his proposals for the review of the National Curriculwm which include a non-statutory framework for PSHE in both primary and secondary schools. In addition to PSHE, the Secretary of State’s proposals also include a new foundation subject for citizenship in secondary schools. A key element of the knowledge and understanding young people are expected to gain through citizenship education is the diversity of national, regional, religious and ethnic identities within the United Kingdom and the need for mutual respect and understanding. Provision for citizenship and PSHE will complement one another and help pupils to make sense of the world in which they live.

This relates to the first two parts of point 3, on promoting integration and eradicating bullying. Notably, the citizenship education makes no explicit mention of diversity of sexuality.

The effect that bullying can have both on the emotional well-being and educational achievement of children cannot be underestimated. We are concerned that all schools should treat the issue of bullying seriously and take steps to combat it promptly and firmly whenever and wherever it occurs. This is reflected in new legislation. The School Standards and Framework Act 1998 includes a section requiring headteachers, from September at the latest, to determine measures which encourage good behaviour and respect for others by pupils, and, in particular, to prevent all forms of bullying among pupils.

A school’s headteacher is already responsible for securing discipline on a day-to-day basis subject to any general principles laid down in writing by the school governors. Also, a headteacher has a duty to determine measures that encourage good behaviour and respect for others on the part of pupils.

When parents find that their child is being bullied, they should not hesitate to complain. Leaflets are available from the Department for Education and Employment.

There is no mention of point 2, viz. repeal of Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act.

Police Action

Complaint of Malicious arrest by lan Farmer: The procedures for dealing with complaints against the police are laid down under Part IV of the Police Act 1996. The Act makes the police and the Police Complaints Authority responsible for the investigation of complaints and there is no authority for Ministers to intervene in the process.

The Government are concerned to build public confidence in the police complaints system. The Home Affairs Select Committee made some important recommendations in its report last year on the police disciplinary and complaints procedures to increase the independence and openness of the process.

We have accepted the Select Committee’s recommendation to conduct detailed feasibility studies into arrangements for a fully independent complaints investigation process. This work will be completed by April 2000. We will consider in the light of that research whether legislation should be brought forward to establish a new independent complaints investigation body.

This relates to point 5(2). Sorry, Ian, the Home Secretary cannot help you: or not until any legislation which may be recommended next year has worked its way through the parliamentary process.

Police action in light of the nail bombings: All Metropolitan Police divisions throughout London were tasked with identifying vulnerable communities and focusing police activity, including high visibility policing to reassure and protect potentially vulnerable communities. As a consequence, Gay and Lesbian groups were identified as potentially vulnerable and Stonewall, Galop and other Gay and Lesbian businesses were contacted. This was followed by a letter from the police which was issued on 27 April and the Pink Paper led with a warning in its edition dated 30 April and circulated on 29 April. All the premises in Wardour Street and Old Compton Street, including the Admiral Duncan pub, were visited by two Crime Prevention Officers on 28 April.

The Metropolitan Police responded very positively to the threat to the safety of all people in London, talking to a wide range of community organisations and many businesses in a major crime prevention effort. That effort has rightly won widespread praise. The police in their turn have thanked the public for their support and vigilance, and have emphasised the importance of partnership.

This refers to point 5(3): but without even alluding to the OutRage! suggestion of a high-profile public announcement in the national media.

The events of recent weeks have shown that when communities and the police work together towards one aim success can be achieved. The new Task Group which has been established by the police to provide reassurance to all members of the public affected by hate in all its forms by seeking to prevent, deter and disrupt the criminal activities of violent extremists, will continue with this alliance.

Point 5(1) on homophobia within the police force is not addressed by this reply.

I hope this is helpful. Once again apologies for the delay in sending you this reply.

Yours sincerely,

Clare Sumner.

Yugoslavia – Homophobia as a Weapon of War

PETER TATCHELL looks at the effect of the Balkan bloodbath on the lives of queers in Serbia and Kosovo. This article appeared under the title “Queer Serbia! Queer Kosovo!” in “QX Magazine”, 26-May-1999.

Imagine being cruised by the guy of your dreams and going back to his place to shag senseless. Just as you are about to cum, he notices that your cock is circumcised and suddenly goes beserk. Grabbing a gun from under the bed, he puts it to your head and blows out your brains.

Such are the perils of gay sex in the fratricidal strife of the former Yugoslavia. In a land where Kosovo Muslims are circumcised and Serbs are not, picking up the wrong guy can have deadly consequences.

Gay life in Serbia and Kosovo is not as we know it in Britain. In the ex-Yugoslav states, guns are more common than condoms. Lovers can turn out to be military torturers. Cruising is a minefield of ethnic hatred and violence. Sex often has little to do with pleasure; just as frequently, getting your rocks off is an escapist refuge from the torments of conflict.

On the battlefields of Kosovo (and previously Bosnia) homo-sadism is a weapon of war. Male prisoners are raped and forced at gunpoint to fuck each other. Boys are made to fellate their fathers, and fathers to suck their son’s dicks. These are the rarely-reported ritual humiliations of the terror in the Balkans.

For queers in Britain, such experiences are almost unimaginable. Apart from the war in the north of Ireland, all the post-1945 conflicts involving the British have been relatively small-scale operations in far away places like Malaya, Kenya, Aden, the Falklands and Iraq. Consequently, few British lesbians and gay men under 70 have any comprehension of what it is like to live and love in wartime.

Queers in the former Yugoslavia have, in contrast, known little else but war in recent years — first the butchery in Bosnia, and now the bloody conflict in Kosovo.

Since the NATO bombing raids spread the war to Serbia, lesbians and gay men in Belgrade have, like everyone else in that city, been hard hit by the supposedly “humanitarian” air war. Forced to spend long periods in air-raid shelters with often homophobic neighbours, many feel isolated. A lot of queers are cut off from their usual social support networks, being too frightened to venture out to visit friends and gay bars in case they get caught in the NATO bombardments. This fear has been compounded by the West’s sometimes inaccurate, indiscriminate cruise missile attacks.

The Belgrade-based gay rights movements, Arkadia and the Campaign Against Homophobia, protest that while the Allies claim the war is being directed against the Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, the reality is that bombs are hitting ordinary people, including gays and lesbians. This, they say, is playing into the hands of the Milosevic dictatorship.

The NATO bombing is fuelling Serbian nationalism, with its strong streak of homophobic machismo. There is no place for queers in the new nationalist iconography: the virile, masculine Serbian soldier defending his family and homeland. Serbia’s main TV channel, Palma Television, has condemned homosexuality as a “perversion” and “disorder”. Linking gayness with alien western influences, its programmes accuse gays of undermining national defence. This propaganda incites queer-bashing attacks.

According to the 23-year-old Belgrade gay activist, Dusan Maljkovic: “Anyone that does not fit the standard model of the strong man defending his native land until the last drop of blood is a possible victim of discrimination, ranging from verbal insults to physical violence and even murder”.

Gay fears are well founded. President Milosevic is manipulating NATO intervention as a justification for wartime “national security” measures, including a crackdown on dissent of all kinds. Critical voices on any issue are pilloried as unpatriotic, and are at risk of vigilante violence from ultra-nationalists. The Campaign Against Homophobia has had western donations blocked, and the doors of its offices have been sealed. Leading activists are in hiding, fearful for their safety. Efforts to promote acceptance and equality for homosexuals have ended. The NATO bombing has made sure of that. The war has now become the one and only issue of public debate in Serbia.

A rare glimpse, from a queer perspective, into the horrors of the Balkan nightmare is offered by the gay Belgrade university lecturer, Boris Davidovich. His book, Serbian Diaries, published in 1996, covers the period of the Bosnia war. Although predating the spread of ethnic cleansing to Kosovo, many of the book’s grim revelations also apply to the current bloodfest.

Chronicling his own personal experiences, Davidovich shows how the terrors of war have intruded into the lives of gay men who have never been near the battlefield. Some have made the sudden, shocking discovery that the kind, handsome man who tenderly caresses their body at night is, by day, a military torturer who sadistically mutilates the bodies of young enemy soldiers.

Davidovich himself had this unnerving experience. A man he met in the street turned out to be a member of the Bosnian Serb special forces who boasted of slitting a young Croat’s throat, forcing captured Muslim boys to suck their father’s cocks, and tying a Bosnian prisoner to a tree and cutting his head open with a welding torch. Yet this same man, who Davidovich describes as a “monster” and “the embodiment of cosmic evil”, made love to him with glorious tenderness and passion.

These are just some of the ghastly stories retold in Serbian Diaries, Davidovich’s seven-year record of cruising and sex in the Balkan killing fields. He offers perceptive insights on the complexities and dilemmas of gay relationships in a time of war. Is cruising in a forest littered with unexploded bombs worth the risk? Do you sleep with the enemy? What is the point of safe sex to a soldier who could be killed tomorrow?

Serbian Diaries also sketches a depressing picture of deepseated homophobia in the ex-Yugoslavia, including queerbashing, police harassment, media censorship and the political manipulation of homosexuality.

Most factions in the conflict use allegations of gayness to discredit their political opponents. Anti-war students denounce President Milosevic with the chant “Slobo is a faggot”. The rightist leader, ‘Duke’ Seselj, gets pilloried by left-wingers as the “Serbian Ernst Röhm” (a reference to the gay Nazi chief). Croation fascists cite homosexuality as evidence of cultural decline, linking queerness with subversion and foreign interference.

It all sounds depressingly familiar. But there are, nevertheless, some notable differences between gay life in Britain and the lives of queers in Serbia and Kosovo. One difference is that we don’t have to worry about land mines when copping off on Hampstead Heath.

Serbian Diaries, Boris L. Davidovich (GMP, £9.95)

Letter from Department for Education and Employment

Annotated response from DfEE to OutRage!’s letter to David Blunkett after the Soho bombing, pregnant with promise, but with unstated gestation.

Department for Education and Employment,
Sanctuary Buildings,
Great Smith Street,
Westminster,
London. SW1P 3BT

6th July, 1999.

Thank you for your letter of 25 May addressed to the Secretary of State for Education and Employment concerning Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988. I hope you will understand that due to the volume of correspondence received by the Secretary of State, it is not possible for him to answer all of it personally. On this occasion, I have been asked to reply on Mr Blunkett’s behalf. I apologise for the delay in doing so.

The lead Department with responsibility for Section 28 is, of course, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR), and it is the Government’s intention to repeal Section 28 as soon as a suitable legislative opportunity occurs. However, I can indeed reaffirm that Section 28 applies to the activities of local authorities and has never applied to the governing bodies or staff of schools. Schools can cover gay and lesbian issues if they choose to do so and indeed our guidance document to schools, circular number 5/94, ‘Education Act 1993: Sex Education in Schools’, makes it clear that Section 28 does not bar them from doing so.

This is a response to point 1, reaffirming (as requested) that Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act neither applies to schools, nor restricts the supportive teaching and counselling that schools should offer on lesbian and gay issues. It is, however, regrettable:

  • that no indication is given of how many years we are expected to have to wait for the repeal of § 28;
  • that, while schools are free to “cover gay and lesbian issues if they choose”, there is currently no requirement (or even encouragement) for them to offer a complete, balanced, nonjudgemental syllabus to ensure that all their pupils have the opportunity to fulfil their potential and become well-informed and well-adjusted citizens.

Ministers do not underestimate the effect that homophobic bullying can have, both on the emotional well-being and educational achievement of children. We are concerned that all schools should treat the issue of bullying seriously, in whatever form it takes, and take steps to combat it promptly and firmly. Indeed, recent guidance that the Social Inclusion Pupil Support Division within DfEE issued for consultation, includes the issue of homophobic bullying and its unacceptability in schools.

This is a response to point 2, for schools to take firm action to halt all forms of homophobic bullying, whether directed at pupils or at staff, and regardless of the suspected sexuality of the victims.

While the statement that ministers do not underestimate the effect of homophobic bullying is presumably intended to sound reassuring, this reply suggests that no policy is actually in place. OutRage! has not received the consultation document on guidance as to the unacceptability of homophobic bullying: so we cannot comment on the content. There is no indication of how long it will take before even the mildest guidance is issued as DfEE policy. — The fiasco this month at the Passport Office is causing travellers to miss holidays: but delay here can cost lives.

Headteachers are already responsible for securing discipline on a day-to-day basis subject to any general principles laid down in writing by the school governors. They also have a duty to determine measures that encourage good behaviour and respect for others on the part of pupils.

It is for individual teachers to decide whether they wish to disclose their sexuality, but equality of opportunity in employment is imperative and all discrimination is unacceptable. [Emphasis added.] If a teacher feels he/she has been unfairly treated, they may wish to take their case to an Employment Tribunal.

This is a response to point 3, (confirming that being lesbian or gay is no bar to being a teacher) and to point 4, (on encouraging lesbians and gay men throughout the teaching profession to “come out”, and to advise schools and local education authorities that no teacher who does come out should be dismissed or in any other way disadvantaged for being honest and open about their sexuality).

We welcome the DfEE’s assurance that “equality of opportunity in employment is imperative and all discrimination is unacceptable”: but are saddened and dismayed that David Blunkett does not feel able to issue a public proclamation of encouragement to all school governors and staff, (following the lead of the call in May by Sports Minister Tony Banks for gay football players to come out).

Yours sincerely,

Lindsey Baker,
Personal, Social & Health Education Team.

Protest as Performance

Peter Tatchell celebrates the OutRage! art of activism, where style and symbolism are used to empower the struggle for queer emancipation

Making A Scene: Performing Culture Into Politics, Henry Rogers and David Burrows (Editors), ARTicle Press in association with the IKON Gallery, Birmingham, 2000

In this chapter from Making A Scene, Peter Tatchell explains how the direct action campaigns of the queer rights group OutRage! are a form of “protest as performance”, which draw on the traditions of camp and theatricality and of situationist and guerrilla art, in order to claim gay space, challenge homophobia and promote a queer liberation agenda.

The direct action campaigns of the queer rights group OutRage! are an example of a unique political genre – “protest as performance”. Our juxtaposition of political themes and cultural forms borrows ideas from performance art to promote an explicit human rights message. This “art of activism” campaigning seeks to profile lesbian and gay emancipation in a way that is both educative and entertaining.

Much of OutRage!’s direct action is also challenging and confrontational, claiming for the queer community public spaces and agendas that have been hitherto off-limits. Our bid for justice often involves intruding – usually uninvited! – into previously all-heterosexual domains where we stage symbolic spectacles that question the orthodoxy and presumptions of straight morality and culture.

This OutRage! activism has included, among other things, taking over solemn state ceremonies and appropriating sacred symbols of national consciousness, such as Remembrance Sunday at the national war memorial, the Cenotaph. Our annual alternative Queer Remembrance Day ceremony occupies – both physically and spiritually – a place of national identity and significance. It projects onto the geographic space of the Cenotaph, and into the emotional space of the commemoration of the war dead, a subversive queer message.

Queer Remembrance Day challenge four things:

  1. macho militarism and military homophobia,
  2. the ban on lesbians and gay men serving in the armed forces,
  3. historical revisionism, as promoted by writers such as William Shirer, who ignore or censor the homo-holocaust of Nazism,
  4. the Royal British Legion’s refusal to acknowledge the contribution of queers to the fight against Nazism, and its condemnation of queer remembrance ceremonies as ‘insulting, offensive and distasteful’.

By celebrating Queer Remembrance Day at the Cenotaph we are performing an act of subversive political symbolism in a hallowed place of national importance that has been previously forbidden to queers. This claiming of a state memorial and ritual for a queer agenda challenges invisibility and censorship, promoting public awareness and debate about a marginalised element of queer history and suffering.

Queer Remembrance Day illustrates the way OutRage! transcends a purely legalistic approach to homosexual liberation. Unlike the mainstream, respectable wing of lesbian and gay rights campaigning, which tends to be co-opted into the confines of parliamentary politics and law reform, OutRage!’s model of direct action is foremost about raising consciousness and transforming cultural attitudes and values concerning queer issues. We are seeking to simultaneously revolutionise ethics, opinions, laws and institutions, in order to change fundamentally the way society thinks and acts about homosexuality. Moreover, we are not merely trying to change the way straight society perceives queers; we are also attempting to change the way the lesbian and gay community perceives itself.

Too often, we are depicted as victims of prejudice, discrimination and violence: victims of religious condemnation, victims of hate crimes, victims of bias in the workplace, victims of police harassment and so on. This victimisation is, sure enough, a reality that needs to be acknowledged and remedied. But the constant labelling of queers as victims has its downside too. As well as evoking empathy, it can also stir heterosexual contempt and disparagement, even to the point of encouraging some homophobes to see us as easy, vulnerable targets for abuse.

For queers on the receiving end of bigotry, the label of “victim” can be profoundly disempowering and dispiriting. That is why OutRage! tries – through its militant direct action tactics – to undermine the notion of gays-as-victims. In its place, we seek to create a new queer consciousness of pride, defiance and resistance, where fags and dykes maintain a sceptical, discerning attitude towards straight culture and refuse to conform to the dictates of heterosexual society.

A precondition for the self-respect and self-empowerment of queers is overturning the psychologically disabling victim mentality that has been foisted upon us by straight society, and which many homosexuals have themselves embraced in a bid for public sympathy.

OutRage!’s feisty, sassy brand of political activism is an explicit rejection of the cowering, defeatist, long-suffering image of victimhood. Our confrontational protests, where we dare to challenge even the most powerful homophobes, are about making the mental and political transition from victim to victor; creating a new, strong, uplifting identity of queers fighting back and overcoming oppression.

Christian homophobia is a classic example of how lesbian and gay people have been victimised over the centuries. The millennium marked 2,000 years of Christian persecution of homosexual people. This religious persecution is not over yet.

In 1992 and on several occasions subsequently, the Pope declared that discrimination against queers is theologically justified, and that Catholics are duty-bound to oppose civil rights legislation for lesbians and gay men. In response to this Papal edict, OutRage! staged a series of protests against Catholic leaders and institutions. One of these protests involved transgressing a sacred act of worship in Westminster Cathedral.

As this intervention at Westminster Cathedral demonstrated, OutRage! consciously intrudes into places where queers are not wanted to raise awkward issues that the political, religious and cultural establishment would rather ignore. We pride ourselves in subverting the status quo and interrupting business-as-usual. It is precisely this unwillingness to conform to the rules of traditional political discourse that distinguishes our direct action politics from mainstream lobbyists. Making trouble, defying convention, undermining normality, and questioning authority: these are the hallmarks of our activism.

This querulous, dissenting philosophy was also behind another challenge to religious homophobia: the OutRage! protest in Canterbury Cathedral on Easter Sunday 1998, when we disrupted the Archbishop of Canterbury’s sermon in protest at his advocacy of discrimination against homosexuals.

What characterises this and so many other OutRage! zaps is the guerrilla-style, hit-and-run seizure of previously hetero-dominated public and private spaces to promulgate a radical, discomforting, critical queer agenda. We deliberately confound both straight and gay orthodoxy by doing the undoable and saying the unsayable.

Our intrusion into public domains has a special significance, given the insistence of the legal system that homosexuality is, and must remain, a “private matter”. Law reform in England and Wales in 1967 partially lifted the ban on male homosexuality. One of its preconditions was that sodomy and other queer perversions were only to be tolerated, providing they were kept hidden and private. That privacy precondition is written into the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, and it remains the basis on which sex between men is today afforded a degree of grudging legal tolerance.

OutRage!’s direct action tactics and occupation of forbidden public spaces have sought to challenge the “in private” settlement of 1967, with its implicit demand that queers remain silent and invisible. The “Kiss-In” in Piccadilly Circus in 1990, under the statue of Eros, was one such challenge, where we flaunted expressions of same-sex affection and dared the police to arrest us. They didn’t. On the contrary, from that moment onwards, the arrest of lesbian and gay couples for kissing and cuddling ceased in central London.

The “Kiss-In” exemplifies a successful transgressive queer politics which insists that lesbians and gays are no longer willing to remain “in private” and excluded from the terrain of public consciousness and debate. It also represents a rejection of conformism and subservience. Too many homosexual campaigners confine their goals to the parameters of a straight-dominated political system and sexual morality. Playing politics by straight rules and mimicking the heterosexual norm signals a lack of self-worth and self-confidence. Moreover, it is bound to result in gay acceptance and equality on straight terms, which may prove to be a Pyrrhic victory.

What was revolutionary about the “Kiss-In” was the way it challenged not only homophobia, but Puritanism too. It went against uptight, strait-laced heterosexual norms, asserting the validity of public expressions of eroticism and affection.

The OutRage! genre of direct action politics is characterised by six key themes:

1. A fusion of art with activism.

Despite our weaknesses and failings, few people would deny that OutRage! has made a serious contribution to the invention of something a little more imaginative than the standard march from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square. We have escaped from the stale, boring methods of orthodox political campaigning through the development of a new, modern mode of political agitprop.

Many of our direct actions involve an element of theatricality, using costumes and props. There is often a story line. The aim of this “theatre of the streets” is to promote thought-provoking queer ideas through the projection of arresting imagery.

One zap where art and activism were literally fused together was the OutRage! disruption of the Romanian National Opera performance of Aida at the Royal Albert Hall in 1996. The Romanian government had, at the time, announced harsh anti-gay laws, cracking down on homosexuality and gay human rights organisations. We saw the disruption of this major cultural event – organised and promoted by the government in Bucharest – as an effective way of getting at the Romanian leadership and creating a global awareness of Romania’s abuse of lesbian and gay civil rights.

In attendance at the performance of Aida were representatives and friends of the Romanian government, together with business people from major corporations that were being encouraged to invest in Romania. In the middle of Act One, thirty of us stormed through the artist’s entrance and onto the main stage, unfurling a huge banner which read: ‘Romania! Stop Jailing Queers!’. Simultaneously, thousands of leaflets were showered down on the audience by OutRage! members in the top balconies. Although it was a brief, symbolic intervention, this protest got the issue reported in the Romanian and international media, ensuring that the new homophobic laws became a matter of public knowledge and debate in Romania and worldwide.

2. Re-inventing the queer tradition of camp and theatricality.

Traditional left-wing agitprop is frequently dull and dour. This tendency to be too serious can, sometimes, be a turn-off that inhibits the effective communication of a political message. It is important to think carefully about getting the balance right between humour and seriousness. OutRage! has shown that many gay equality issues are open to being conveyed with wit and satire, as with our 1992 posthumous outing of British military “heroes”, in protest at the ban on homosexuals in the armed forces. The statute of Field Marshal Haig in Whitehall was draped with a pink feather boa, and the memorial to Admiral Mountbatten postered with the slogan “For Queens & Country”.

This bent towards theatricality cannot be explained solely in terms of OutRage! consisting of lots of out-of-work actors, graphic artists, scriptwriters and costume designers. Our theatricality stems from a conscious choice to utilise queer culture, as well as a pragmatic recognition that theatricality works.

Throughout gay history, the queer tradition of camp has been mostly apolitical, misogynistic and even self-oppressive. We have attempted to turn this tradition on its head and reinvent camp as an instrument in the service of lesbian and gay liberation.

3. Acting out protest as a form of performance.

OutRage! activism creates public spectacles as a means of promoting of human rights. Many of our actions are the equivalent of putting on a one-performance play in the street. We draw on earlier incarnations of street theatre – as practised by groups such as the Gay Liberation Front in London in early 1970s – in order to advertise our political ideas and messages. The aim is to grab the media’s attention and, through the media, project these ideas and messages to a wider public audience of millions.

The old-style leftist marches with a rally and speeches are passé. It is very rare nowadays that this kind of protest gets media coverage and creates public debate – unless it involves hundreds of thousands of people.

Small direct actions can, however, be highly effective – providing they are done with imagination and flair. A daring, witty zap by a handful of activists has the power to generate media coverage and stir public interest.

Most of OutRage!’s big spectacles involve the performance of queer narratives and quasi-morality plays to expose human rights abuses. This was the case with our “Exorcism of Homophobia” from Lambeth Palace, the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Appropriating Biblical stories and imagery, and with queerified scriptural characters and hymns, we acted out the ritual purging of the “Demon of Homophobia” from the Church of England.

These OutRage! extravaganzas usually attract large crowds of passers-by, which is a good indication of their appeal and effectiveness. One of our big, set-piece spectacles – the 1991 “Wink-In” – was so amusing and successful that two days later we received a telephone call from a tour company. Their tour group had witnessed our performance and enjoyed it so much that the company wanted to know when we were going to repeat the event, so they could send other groups of tourists to come and watch.

Such interest and enthusiasm is precisely what good activism ought to generate. To grab people’s attention, politics needs to be accessible, entertaining and informative. It is no use having wonderful ideas and not being able to communicate them. In this modern telecommunications age, the media is the main means of disseminating ideas and we have to use it if we want to influence public consciousness and the political process.

4. The politics of pleasure and the pleasuring of politics.

Protests should, wherever possible, be fun as well as serious. That means making them enjoyable for those who take part and witness them. This exaltation of “politics with pleasure” runs against the grain of mainstream political campaigning, which tends to be predicated on duty and sacrifice. Usually involving boring, repetitive methods, conventional politics can also be quite aggressive, with a strong streak of machismo. There is, of course, a legitimate place for anger when faced with monstrous injustices. But sometimes we need to step back from the fray and question whether the battle for public opinion is likely to be won by belligerent posturing and shouting.

OutRage! is convinced that there are often more effective ways of getting across a human rights message, even when it relates to dry, complex and obscure legislation. Section 32 of the 1956 Sexual Offences Act prohibits male soliciting in a public place. The penalty is up to two years jail. This law originated in 1898, at the time of Oscar Wilde. It is used today to harass and arrest gay men for consensual cruising in public places, such as parks, toilets and forests. In extreme cases, gay men have been arrested for merely smiling or winking at each other in the street.

To highlight the absurdity of this outdated Victorian law, OutRage! held a mass ‘Wink-In’ in Piccadilly Circus in 1991. This involved the erection of huge winking eyes and the public exchange of phone numbers on giant calling cards – an act of blatant mass civil disobedience. It was a funny, imaginative, entertaining way of highlighting this antiquated, draconian statute, and pressuring the police to de-prioritise its enforcement (which they subsequently did, saving thousands of gay men from arrest).

5. Claiming queer space.

OutRage! direct actions manifest queer identities and desires in public places from which we are normally excluded. There are still many public domains wholly or partially cordoned off to homosexuals: not just streets and parks where gay men go cruising, but also other public spaces. Two examples of this containment of queer identity and presence are State ceremonials and the education system.

OutRage! fought a long, hard battle to win the right to demonstrate at the State Opening of Parliament. We were fighting not just for the right to demand that gay equality measures are included in the annual Queen’s Speech, but also to secure the basic civil liberty that everyone should have the right to peacefully demonstrate in front of the Head of State.

Our homosexuality and queer agenda were, it seems, major reasons why we were so roughly manhandled by the police and so often arrested. The presence of dykes and fags was, apparently, considered an insult to Parliament and the Monarch. This made our protest at Westminster all the more relevant: it became a symbolic act to establish the political legitimacy of queer people and issues in an official State ceremony at the seat of government.

The other example of our usurping of public spaces and turning them queer was OutRage!’s “Queer Is Cool” schools campaign in 1991, organised by our affinity group ‘Sissy’ (Sex Information for School Students & Youth). The aim was to combat the censorship of lesbian and gay issues in the classroom. We handed pupils leaflets as they went into school. These leaflets included information about gay sexuality, queer history and HIV prevention. They challenged homophobic attitudes and, we hope, helped empower lesbian and gay kids to feel more confident about their sexual orientation.

For this terrible crime, OutRage! was savagely denounced by the media and “family values” politicians. According to them, it is absolutely unacceptable for students to be given upfront, unapologetic information about queer issues. As with every protest, the proof of the pudding is in the eating: our leafleting produced a huge debate among teachers and sex educationists. We put them on the spot: why were these facts not being given to kids in the classroom?

6. Challenging homophobic institutions and laws.

Just prior to the 1992 general election, OutRage! sought to overturn the prohibition on lesbian and gay marriage, as part of our campaign to put same-sex partnership rights on the political agenda. As a radical queer rights group we are, not surprisingly, highly critical of the patriarchal, misogynist institution of marriage. But our aim on that occasion was to take the institution of marriage at face value and challenge the homophobia embodied in the ban on lesbian and gay weddings.

We organised five homosexual couples to file applications for civil marriage at Westminster Registry Office, with the objective of undermining the discriminatory marriage law.

The 1949 Marriage Act does not specify that marriage partners have to be heterosexual, which is a very interesting omission. It illustrates the heterosexist presumptions of the post-war era when that law was passed. Subsequently, however, to remedy this omission, the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 explicitly ruled out same-sex marriages for the first time. On the basis of the 1973 Act, the five OutRage! applications were refused. Nevertheless, this protest was significant; it being the first-ever-legal challenge in Britain to the ban on homosexual marriage. And, of course, it was a challenge with panache and pizzazz! The lesbian couples both wore bridal gowns, and the gay male partners were resplendent in tuxedos and top hates. Camp or what! It was a very subversive, effective way of demonstrating the love of queer couples, and of drawing public attention to the homophobic marriage statutes.

On an earlier occasion, in 1991, OutRage! staged a mass “Queer Wedding” in Trafalgar Square. This was also to demand legal rights for same-sex partners, but it had a different twist. In a mischievous ceremony that explicitly rejected the straight model of marriage, hundreds of queer couples – some in matching bridal gear and others in leather or rubber body suits – exchanged alternative vows of commitment. Their pledges expressed a new model of partnership based on the unique experiences, desires and needs of queers, rather than unthinkingly mirroring straight morality, lifestyle and aspirations.

In conclusion: the OutRage! genre of “protest as performance” has involved over 300 direct action zaps in ten years, encompassing a huge variety of camp, innovative, entertaining, audacious, wacky, theatrical, “in-yer-face” protests. We are still learning, evolving and adapting. There is much more we could do, and some things we could do better. But given our limited resources – and the de-politicised cultural climate in which we are now operating – OutRage! is, amazingly and thankfully, still causing trouble, mayhem and confusion.

An expanded version of a lecture given by Peter Tatchell at the “Making a Scene” conference at the University of Central England, 5 June 1999.

In Memoriam: Dudley Cave

Anti-fascist, soldier, prisoner of war, advocate of peace and reconciliation, and gay rights pioneer. Dudley Cave was many things, but one word sums up his life: humanitarian.

Cave’s early career with Odeon cinemas was interrupted by World War Two. Initially inclined to register as a conscientious objector, revelations aboot the horrors of Hitlerism changed his mind: “I was basically a pacifist, but I thought the Nazi persecution of the Jews made it a just war”.

On joining the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, aged 20, Cave found there was no ban on gay enlistment, which makes the present refusal of the armed forces to accept gay people somewhat curious and hypocritical.

“Homosexual soldiers were more or less accepted”, according to Cave. “There was never any disciplinary action taken against them”. Despite gossip that he was a “nancy boy”, Cave says the worst prejudice he ever experienced in the army was being chided for “holding a broom like a woman”.

Instead of fighting the Nazis, as he expected, Cave was posted to the Far East. During the fall of Singapore in 1942, he was captured by the Japanese. Marched north in a prisoner-of-war labour detachment, his unit was put to work on the Thai-Burma railway, 10 miles beyond the bridge on the River Kwai. Three-quarters of Cave’s comrades in ‘H’ Force perished. He was lucky. After a bad bout of malaria, the Japanese declared him unproductive and ordered his incarceration in Changi Prison, Singapore.

It was in Changi that he began to accept his homosexuality. A British Army Medical Officer gave him a copy of Havelock Ellis’s “enlightened, eye-opening” book, ‘Sexual Inversion’. It made Cave feel “much better about being gay”.

Changi was, nevertheless, a nightmare of physical deprivation. When liberated in 1945, Cave was near death from malnutrition, down from 12 stone to less than eight. He later confided: “If the war had gone on another month, I don’t think I would have survived”.

After risking his life to defend what Winston Churchill called the “freedom-loving nations”, Cave returned to a country where freedom was still denied to gay people. Not only were homosexual relationships totally illegal, homophobic discrimination was rife. In 1956, Cave was dismissed as manager of the Majestic Cinema in Wembley after it was discovered he was gay. “They asked me to resign”, recalled Cave. “I refused, so they sacked me.”

Fortunately, that same year, Cave met the man who became his life partner, RAF veteran and school teacher, Bernard Williams. At the time, Williams was married. As with many gay men in that bigoted post-war era, the marriage was an attempt to overcome his homosexuality. But the wedding ‘cure’ did not work. Williams’s wife, June, realised this. She encouraged the relationship with Cave. All three became life-long friends and ended up living together in a Bloomsbury-style domestic arrangement in Golders Green. Cave and Williams remained side-by-side as lovers and gay-rights champions for forty years, until Bernard’s death in 1994.

In 1971, Cave joined the Unitarian Church, attracted to its ideals of freedom, peace and tolerance. He soon played a key role in securing –during the early 1970’s!– the ordination of lesbians and gay men, the blessing of same-sex relationships, and the Church’s advocacy of homosexual human rights.

When the information and advice service Gay Switchboard was launched in 1974, Cave was one of the original committee members. The first daily helpline run by and for gay people, Switchboard was (and still is) a vital support for lesbians and gays suffering isolation and victimisation. Cave remained a volunteer –answering the phone lines– for 25 years, right up until his death.

Working for Switchboard made Cave aware that bereaved gay partners are often left to grieve alone without support from their family, and are invariably refused legal recognition as next-of-kin (which can result in eviction from what was their joint home, denial of inheritance, and exclusion from their lover’s funeral).

To tackle these problems, Cave and his partner Bernard Williams set up the Lesbian and Gay Bereavement Project in 1980. As well as counselling the bereaved and giving legal advice to challenge discrimination, the Project successfully encouraged many same-sex couples to make Wills to ensure that their relationship and wishes are recognised when they die.

Cave was proud that the Bereavement Project was the first organisation with the word “Gay” in its title to win charitable status. That victory did not come easily. The Charity Commissioners initially refused to recognise the Project, demanding that it drop the “offensive” word gay from its title. Cave refused, and the Commissioners eventually relented.

From the early 1980’s onwards, Cave turned his attention to “unfinished business” arising from his wartime experiences. Furious at the ban on lesbians and gays in the Armed Forces, he accused military chiefs of cynically enlisting homosexuals when they were needed to defeat Nazism, and then witch-hunting them as soon as the war was over. “They treated gay people like cannon-fodder”, he complained.

Despite his own wartime suffering, Cave was a leading figure in the promotion of peace and reconciliation with Japan. This provoked denunciation and rejection by many former comrades in war veteran and prisoner-of-war associations. “I will never forget what the Japanese did to us: but the time has come for forgiveness”, he wrote to a friend. True to his word, he was involved with the Peace Temple near the River Kwai, and lectured extensively on the need for rapprochement between former adversaries.

For 20 years, Cave battled against the Royal British Legion’s refusal to acknowledge that lesbian and gay people served and died in wars defending Britain. He also challenged the Legion over its opposition to the participation of gay organisations in Remembrance Day ceremonies.

Cave was particularly incensed in the early 1980’s when the Legion’s Assistant Secretary, Group Captain Mountford, condemned moves to promote the acceptance of gay people as an attempt to “weaken our society”, and declared that homosexuals had no right to complain about being ostracised by Legion members.

One of Cave’s final public acts was last November, when he was the keynote speaker at OutRage!’s Queer Remembrance Day vigil at the Cenotaph. After laying a pink triangle wreath honouring gay people who died fighting Nazism and in the concentration camps, Cave deplored the fact that gay ceremonies of remembrance are still –in the late 1990’s– being condemned by the British Legion as “distasteful” and “offensive”.

Dudley Cave served and nearly died in defence of rights and freedoms that he, as a gay man, was often denied. Lest we forget.

PETER TATCHELL

Dudley Scott Cave, war veteran and gay-rights campaigner: born London, 19th February 1921; partner of Bernard Williams from 1954 until his death in 1994; died London, 19th May 1999.

Liela depresija.