Following receipt of lacklustre replies from the Home Office and the Department of Education to letters sent in the wake of the Soho bombing, OutRage! has written to the Prime Minister, inviting him to effect coordination and instill a sense of urgency by assigning responsibility to a competent, dynamic and committed individual, who is empowered to ‘kick ass’ and get things moving.
For the personal attention of:
The Rt. Hon. Tony Blair, MP,
10, Downing Street.
CC: Hilary Armstrong, Min. for Local Gov.t and Housing;
Tony Banks, Minister for Sport;
David Blunkett, S.S. for Education & Employment;
Dr. Jack Cunningham, Minister for the Cabinet Office;
Dr. Mo Mowlam, S.S. for Northern Ireland;
Clare Short, S.S. for International Development;
Chris Smith, S.S. for Culture, Media & Sport;
Jack Straw, Home Secretary.
Date: 21st July, 1999.
Dear Mr. Blair,
Government Action for Freedom from Discrimination
Following the Soho bombing, OutRage! wrote to Jack Straw (3rd May) and David Blunkett (25th May), appealing for urgent Government action to eradicate homophobic discrimination.
You may recall your own message to London’s Pride celebrations in 1997, read by Chris Smith and televised, in which you stated: “The New Labour Government wants to build a New Britain, free from discrimination. I want to assure you of my commitment to achieving such a free society. … Let us be proud of what we are, of who we are, and of what we can achieve in the months to come for equality and justice for us all”. — I was therefore greatly surprised to be told by your office last week that, since your “message of support” to this year’s Pride was classed as a personal communication, the text could not be released! However, I have since learned with dismay that, despite asserting that “all decent-minded people believe … that members of Britain’s minority communities have the right to live full lives, free from prejudice, and without fear of attack”, it makes no mention of legislative reform in any area.
1 — What legislative reforms on gay issues is the Government currently prepared to support?
Reply from the DfEE
Of the two replies, that from the DfEE (6th July) has the greater cosmetic comfort factor: reaffirming that Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 has never applied to the governing bodies or staff of schools and that schools can cover gay and lesbian issues if they choose to do so, (as stated in the previous administration’s guidance document to schools, circular number 5/94, Education Act 1993: Sex Education in Schools); and stating that, since “equality of opportunity in employment is imperative and all discrimination is unacceptable”, L/G/B/T (lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender) teachers should feel free to be seen as positive rôle models and disclose their sexuality.
Sadly it appears that David Blunkett does not yet feel able to issue a public proclamation of encouragement to all school governors and staff, (following the exemplary initiative by Tony Banks in May for gay football players to come out); there is currently no requirement (or even encouragement) for schools 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; and “the issue of homophobic bullying and its unacceptability in schools” has got no further than a consultation document for guidance, (a copy of which the DfEE omitted to consider enclosing).
2 — By what legislative mechanism and in what timescale does the Government expect to honour its pledge to repeal Section 28?
3 — What is the Government’s intention with regard to placing a legal obligation on schools to provide honest, nonjudgemental information about gay issues (including but not limited to gay sexuality and gay ‘safer sex’), rather than leaving these to the arbitrary whim of individual schools?
Reply from the Home Office
The reply from the Home Office (23rd June) was somewhat less impressive, failing even to refer to a number of the points we raised, and shamelessly evading others. –
The Sunday after the Soho bomb you demanded tougher sentences for racially motivated violence. OutRage! cannot see any difference between hatred fuelled by racial prejudice and hatred fuelled by prejudice based on differing sexuality: yet the Home Office stated “the Government does not accept the need for specific legislative measures to deal with homophobic attacks”. Tellingly, they did not attempt to offer any justification of the unequal treatment.
4 — Why is the Government promoting antigay violence by avoiding equal action against it?
While the DfEE mentioned that Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 was the responsibility of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions, the Home Office reply (which was delayed several weeks, allegedly to coordinate responses from other Departments) omitted even to cite the much repeated mantra that it will be repealed “as soon as a suitable legislative opportunity occurs”.
5 — Why is there no effective coordination between Government Departments at Ministerial level?
Curiously, although the DfEE did not refer to Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE), which includes broader moral and cultural issues as well as sex education, the Home Office acknowledge that this can be used to promote respect for the diversity of and differences between people and state that 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”. OutRage! is pleased to hear these good intentions, and would welcome the opportunity to provide constructive input. We should also like to receive a copy of the Advisory Group’s report to which the Home Office refer, when it is published shortly. — We note, however, that the consultation document QCA/99/405, “The review of the national curriculum in England: The Secretary of State’s proposals”, refers on p.21 to non-statutory guidelines that pupils should be taught “to understand that differences and similarities between people arise from a number of factors including cultural, ethnic/racial and religious diversity. gender and disability”, but makes no explicit mention of sexuality. In addition, although various reports at the end of June quoted Clare Short as advising the United Nations (in the context of AIDS prevention) that we should start telling children what they need to know, i.e. delivering sensible, pragmatic, unembarrassed sex education –whilst another (Pink Paper, 25th June) stated 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– none of this advice had apparently worked its way through to either the Home Office or the DfEE.
6 — Can you confirm that Clare Short’s sound advice will be taken up by the Home Office and the DfEE, and be incorporated in future legislation?
The Home Office completely ignored our concern that there was no consultation between the Government and the wider L/G/B/T community, but only with Stonewall: an organisation which I have personally supported for a number of years but which neither consults nor is accountable either to its own supporters, nor to the rest of the L/G/B/T community, and hence cannot claim to be in any way representative. — Any consultation of significance must be within a larger, democratic, representative and accountable forum, (such as the Equality Alliance is striving to be).
7 — Could we please have your agreement that a broad cross-section of the L/G/B/T community will in future be included in all Government consultations on issues relating to sexuality and sexual equality?
The Home Office states that it has “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”: but we are concerned that these are only voluntary guidelines.
8 — Will you now bring forward legally obligatory regulations to root out homophobia in the police and other services, with the same vigour that racism is now to be eradicated?
- homophobia within the police force, including serious allegations of harassment and intimidation of lesbian and gay officers at Soho’s West End Central police station;
- the seemingly malicious arrest last year of Ian Farmer at the annual Pride March in London on 4th July 1998, and the subsequent gross mishandling of his complaint, (which bears disquieting parallels with the mishandling of the case of Stephen Lawrence);
- and the lack of any warning in April through the national media to the general public by the Home Secretary and the Police Commissioner that bombs might be directed at other, nonethnic, minority groups.
9 — Your explanation on these three points would be appreciated.
Action, not Words
While it is apparent from various sources that a number of Ministers display a significant degree of goodwill with regard to building an inclusive, nondiscriminatory society with respect for all, it is patently obvious that there is no coordination and no sense of urgency. Given your stated commitment two years ago to achieving a society free of discrimination and with equality and justice for all, within the coming months, we would urge you as a priority to address this disastrous deficiency by assigning responsibility to a competent, dynamic and committed individual, who is empowered to “kick ass” and get things moving. — Despite social progress in some areas since the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, there has been only isolated legislative tinkering. How much untold human misery will be caused (including deaths through suicide, self-neglect, queer-bashing, or bombing) if we have to wait another generation (or even for another General Election) before legislation on gay rights is improved? Other countries can do this: what is stopping Britain?