OutRage! is condemning Michael Portillo’s victory in the Kensington & Chelsea by-election as a “victory for homophobia”.
“We are saddened that the voters have elected a candidate who supports discrimination against homosexuals”, said Peter Tatchell of OutRage!. “It is the moral equivalent of electing a racist.”
“Portillo’s success is proof that homophobia is still acceptable in British politics. If he had advocated similar discrimination against black people, his election would have been greeted with huge public protests and near-universal condemnation. The media and public indifference to Portillo’s support for antigay discrimination shows a toleration of homophobia that would not be accorded to racism.
“We are, however, gratified that Portillo received nearly 9,000 votes fewer that his predecessor Alan Clark in 1997. That is a big humiliation for such a major political celebrity.
“The OutRage! campaign against Portillo helped put gay equality on the by-election agenda and helped expose his opposition to homosexual human rights. Everyone now knows that he endorses Section 28 and the ban on gays in the military. Our success in getting that message over to the public probably contributed to the big drop in the Tory vote.
“Without the OutRage! campaign, many people would have been fooled into believing Portillo’s claimed conversion to caring Conservatism. That now stands revealed as a total fraud. His much-hyped compassionate Toryism does not include lesbians and gay men.
“Throughout the by-election, Portillo tried to evade gay human rights issues. To avoid questioning by OutRage! over his homophobic policies, he scuttled in and out of events by the back door, not having the guts to face his critics.
“Portillo was constantly surrounded by a ring of police and Tory party minders to prevent OutRage! asking him awkward questions. Whenever we got close to him, we were variously shoved, punched, grabbed around the throat, held in arm-locks, muzzled across the mouth, and knocked to the ground – all because we wanted to ask Portillo how he justified voting against lesbian and gay rights.
“The police acted as Portillo’s agents. They allowed Tory officials to assault us with impunity. What happened to freedom of speech and the right to put questions to the candidates? Since when has assaulting critics been a legitimate by-election tactic? How come Portillo and the Tory party got away with using such violent methods without any significant media or public condemnation?
“Michael Portillo will soon find his stance on gay issues being put to the test, with two bills on homosexuality due for parliamentary debate in the next few weeks.
“Even at this late stage, we hope that Mr Portillo will have a change of heart and support gay equality in the forthcoming votes to equalise the age of consent and repeal Section 28.
“His recent announcement that he is ‘uncertain’ how he will vote on the age of consent represents a shift away from his previous total rejection of equality. This movement is, at least in part, due to OutRage!’s relentless pressure on Portillo throughout the by-election campaign”, said Peter Tatchell.
An extraordinary security gaffe by Tory party officials allowed their Kensington and Chelsea by-election candidate, Michael Portillo, to be grilled this morning for more than five minutes over his opposition to gay equality by queer rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell of OutRage!.
Throughout the by-election campaign, Mr. Portillo has been ring-fenced with security and minders to prevent Mr. Tatchell asking him questions about his support for legal discrimination against homosexuals.
Left alone to canvass voters outside High Street Kensington tube station this morning (Thursday, 25th November, at 7:45 a.m.), Mr. Portillo floundered hopelessly as he was questioned by Mr. Tatchell over his backing for the discriminatory age of consent, Section 28, and the ban on gays in the military.
“When he saw me, the blood drained from his face”, said Tatchell. “He looked bewildered, angry and lost. His eyes were casting around desperately in search of his minders, but they were nowhere to be seen.
“I walked over and offered to shake his hand”, said Tatchell. “He refused”.
Holding a placard with the words “Portillo enforced ban on gay soldiers”, Tatchell then quizzed Portillo: “If elected an MP, will you vote for an equal age of consent? Will you support the repeal of Section 28”.
Mr. Portillo refused to answer, saying to Tatchell: “You are a horrible little man. Go away.”
Mr. Portillo walked back and forth around the tube station foyer in a frantic bid to shake off Tatchell. “He was in a very agitated state, clearly furious that his minders had failed to keep me at bay”, said Tatchell.
In response to further questions from Tatchell, Mr. Portillo said he had “no regrets” over voting against gay equality when he was an MP, and he defended the dismissal of lesbians and gays from the armed forces during the period when he was Defence Secretary.
Mr. Portillo bragged to Tatchell: “You are too late to affect the poll. You cannot harm me. Go away!”
In the end it was Mr. Portillo who went away, cutting short his scheduled 45-minute canvassing session at High Street Kensington tube station.
When his minders arrived on the scene, Mr. Portillo was hastily escorted down a street at the side of the station, with Mr. Tatchell in hot pursuit, still asking him questions about his anti-gay voting record when he was an MP.
Mr. Tatchell was pushed and shoved aside by Tory minders, including Mr. Michael Morely, who has on three previous occasions during the by-election campaign manhandled Tatchell when he attempted to put questions to Mr. Portillo.
Ushering Mr. Portillo into a waiting car, the planned escape was blocked and delayed when Mr. Tatchell ran in front of the vehicle. Twice Tory officials had to jump out of the car and drag Mr. Tatchell out of the way, before Mr. Portillo sped off.
Conservative Party leader William Hague cancelled a scheduled photo-call with his Kensington by-election candidate Michael Portillo this afternoon (Monday, 22nd November), after he received a frantic phone message from party minders to alert him that gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell had again ambushed Mr. Portillo, this time outside Kensington Fire Station.
Mr. Hague’s car, which was only two blocks away from the Fire Station when he received the warning, did an abrupt U-turn and headed back to Conservative Central Office. Party officials then announced to the bemused and unconvinced press pack that Mr. Hague had an unexpected commitment, which forced him to cancel his appearance with Mr. Portillo.
Mr. Tatchell had sneaked through the press scrum, breaching the Tory party and police security cordon, to stand right next to Mr. Portillo and ask him: “If elected an MP, will you vote for an equal age of consent? Will you vote for the repeal of Section 28?”.
On turning to see Mr. Tatchell right beside him, Mr. Portillo looked visibly shocked and annoyed. “The blood drained from his face. He looked horrified and furious that he had been upstaged by my awkward, unscheduled questions”, said Tatchell. “Mr. Portillo refused to give an answer on how he would vote on issues of gay equality.”
Mr. Tatchell was then bundled away by Mr. Portillo’s minder Mr. Michael Morley, son of ex-Miss World boss Eric Morley. Some journalists, and a passing member of the public, complained that Mr. Tatchell was being assaulted and unlawfully detained. But the police stood by and did nothing, allowing Mr. Tatchell to be grabbed, shoved and restrained. At one point, Mr. Morely knocked Mr. Tatchell to the ground.
Mr. Tatchell later queried: “Does Mr. Portillo approve of these strong-arm methods? Did he and Conservative Central Office authorise for me to be grabbed, shoved, muzzled, knocked to the ground, and held against my will?”
As Mr. Morley tackled him, Mr. Tatchell called out to the police for help: “Will you police officers stop these people manhandling me?”. The police ignored his appeal for protection.
The incident was filmed by Channel Four News and broadcast on 26th November, corroborating Mr. Tatchell’s version of events.
Mr. Tatchell later expressed dissatisfaction at the police inaction. “They seemed disinterested in protecting me against Mr. Morely’s manhandling”.
Police at the scene later refused to investigate Mr. Tatchell’s complaints against Mr. Morely.
Mr. Portillo was rushed into the Fire Station to avoid further questions from Mr. Tatchell.
Within minutes of the incident, three police cars and three police vans pulled up outside the Fire Station.
“What offence was I committing to warrant such a heavy police response?”, asked Mr. Tatchell.
“How does the Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Condon, justify the behaviour of his officers? Did his force act in a partisan way which made them, in effect, agents of the Conservative campaign?
“This is not impartial enforcement of the law”, said Mr. Tatchell. “Why are the police siding with the Conservatives by sending three vans and three cars to prevent me from asking Mr. Portillo a question?”
Despite the heavy police presence, Mr. Tatchell still managed to get to a partly opened Fire Station door. He shouted through, where firefighters were being addressed by Mr. Portillo inside: “Mr. Portillo, do you advocate discrimination in the fire service as well as supporting discrimination in the armed forces? Do you think that lesbian and gay officers in the fire service should be discriminated against?.”
Faced with Mr. Tatchell’s continued questioning and a huge press posse outside, Mr. Portillo was apparently too scared to leave via the front entrance of the Fire Station. His minders and the police spirited him out of a back entrance over roof tops and down fire escapes.
“It was a humiliating, degrading exit for the would-be leader of the Conservative Party”, said Mr. Tatchell. “Portillo is so afraid of me asking him questions that he relies on his heavies and the police to stop me getting near him, and then he scuttles ignominiously out the rear entrance.
“Whatever happened to free speech? People should be able to quiz candidates on their policies without being manhandled. Such thuggish behaviour is unacceptable in a democratic election”, said Mr. Tatchell.
OutRage! campaigner Peter Tatchell has received a death threat in response to his attempted citizen’s arrest of the Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, on charges of torture and the abuse of gay human rights.
The death threat appears to originate from Zimbabweans, as it is headed with the national colours of Zimbabwe.
It was posted from within Britain and included Mr Tatchell’s full home address and postcode. The letter arrived in the post on Saturday 20 November.
Mr Tatchell had earlier been tipped off that Mugabe’s agents in Britain may try to kill him in revenge for his citizen’s arrest of the President.
The death threat refers to President Mugabe and goes on to say:
“were (sic) out to get you, and stab your filthy queer body to death…DEATH TO ALL HOMOSEXUALS. Now run to the Gay police and beg for protection, because your (sic) going to need it”.
The death threat has been reported to Southwark police, who are now mounting an investigation and advising Mr Tatchell on enhanced security precautions at his already heavily fortified flat in south London.
The death threat was initially reported to PCs Quinton 444 and Denley 977 at Southwark Police Station in Borough High Street (020-718.104.22.168). Mr Tatchell’s safety and protection is being handled by WPC Frost at Rotherhithe Police Station (020-22.214.171.124).
Responding to President Mugabe’s assurance at the Commonwealth Summit that gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell would be welcome to visit Zimbabwe, Mr. Tatchell says he hopes to take up the President’s offer early next year.
“I want a meeting with the President to urge an end to human rights abuses, and to support his call for Britain to help fund land redistribution”, said Mr. Tatchell.
“The President is wrong to suggest that myself and OutRage! are part of a British-government conspiracy to sabotage his government’s land reform programme. We agree with President Mugabe that Britain has a moral duty to help remedy the injustices of the colonial era by providing financial aid for a buy-back of white-owned farms.
“Providing President Mugabe will guarantee my immunity from arrest and agree to meet me, I will go to Zimbabwe early next year. I hope to persuade him to drop his antigay crusade and to include a ban on discrimination against homosexuals in Zimbabwe’s new constitution”, said Mr. Tatchell.
“I would gladly have afternoon tea with the President. I don’t hate him. It is his homophobic policies that are objectionable. I would much prefer Mr. Mugabe to be a friend of the gay community, instead of an enemy.
“A calm, reasoned meeting with the President might help remedy his misunderstandings about gay people and encourage him to adopt a more enlightened policy on gay issues.
“I am prepared to forgive and forget, providing Mr. Mugabe starts respecting the human rights of all Zimbweans. He must take tough action to end the use of torture, censorship, detention without trial, and the suppression of strikes and peaceful protests.
“Despite our disagreement on human rights issues, I support President Mugabe’s request that Britain help fund a land reform programme, including a buy-back of white-owned farms. But this funding must be conditional on the Zimbabwe government ending human rights abuses and stamping out corruption.
“There need to be guarantees that land reform will benefit impoverished rural communities, and not be squandered in corrupt handouts to Mr. Mugabe’s cronies”, said Mr. Tatchell.
Mr. Mugabe made his offer that Tatchell would be welcome to visit Zimbabwe at the Commonwealth Summit in Durban on Friday, 12th November, as reported in the London newspaper, The Independent, on 13th November.
At a preliminary court hearing on Friday, 19th November, Mr. Tatchell and two OutRage! colleagues, Chris Morris and Alastair Williams, pleaded “not guilty” to public disorder charges arising from the citizen’s arrest of President Mugabe on 30th October, when they ambushed the President’s car, forcing it to halt and allowing Mr. Tatchell to open the car door and grab Mugabe by the arm.
Tatchell told the bewildered President: “President Mugabe, you are under arrest for torture. Torture is a crime under international law.”
The three OutRage! defendants who have been dubbed the “Mugabe Three” are expected to stand trial early next year.
The citizen’s arrest was the third year in a row that Mr. Tatchell has confronted President Mugabe over gay human rights abuses.
Last year, he got into the ante-room of the President’s apartment at the St. James’s Court / Crown Plaza Hotel in London, before being stopped by security guards. He was sent away with the promise that the President would meet him the following day: but Mugabe then cried off, pleading a busy schedule.
In 1998, Mr. Tatchell breached security at the Africa at 40 conference in London’s Central Hall Westminster, challenging Mugabe face-to-face as he was taking tea with other African leaders and the conference organisers. Ejected by Special Branch officers, he was threatened with arrest, but never charged.
The new legislation to repeal Section 28 is being criticised by OutRage! as “inadequate”.
“Scrapping Section 28 is no guarantee that teachers will challenge anti-gay prejudice and give adequate support to vulnerable lesbian and gay pupils”, said John Beeson of OutRage!.
“The Bill must be amended to place a legal obligation on schools to combat homophobic bullying, provide factual information about homosexual issues, and ensure the welfare of gay students.
“Without this legal requirement, many teachers will continue to shy away from dealing with gay issues in an upfront, honest manner.
“While no school should promote either homosexuality or heterosexuality, they do have a duty to promote understanding and tolerance. That duty needs to be enshrined in law”, said Mr. Beeson.
The Government’s proposed Age of Consent Bill, announced at the time of the Queen’s Speech, has been welcomed by OutRage! as the final round in the 32-year campaign to end discrimination in the consent laws.
“Over the last three decades, more than a thousand gay men have been imprisoned for consenting sex that was not a crime between heterosexuals”, said Peter Tatchell of OutRage!.
“A 19-year-old teenager recently served a nine-month sentence for a consenting gay relationship with a 16-year-old. This new legislation will put an end to such injustices.”
But OutRage! is criticising the government for failing to protect vulnerable teenagers adequately against sex abuse.
“The new Bill should have included measures to make earlier, better quality sex education mandatory in all schools”, said Mr. Tatchell.
“Empowering young people with sexual knowledge, skills and confidence is the best way to combat abusive relationships, cut teen pregnancies and prevent the spread of HIV. The lack of Government action to improve sex education is a serious omission from this legislation.”
OutRage! has also condemned the abuse of trust proposals in the age of consent Bill, which penalise adults in a position of authority, influence or trust who have sex with young people in their care
“These relationships are inappropriate, but it is wrong to criminalise consenting sex. Jailing a young teacher for up to five years for what may be a loving, sincere relationship with an older pupil is unjust and draconian.
“Relationships between teachers and pupils may sometimes develop naturally and spontaneously, without involving any element of exploitation or abuse. Such relationships should be dealt with through employment disciplinary procedures, not by criminal sanctions”, said Mr. Tatchell.
Following the Pink Paper’s leading front page article, (Friday, 12th Nov.), GALZ, Gays and Lesbians in Zimbabwe, have written the following letter to remove any doubt about their position on the attempted arrest of President Mugabe on the 30th October and the resultant positive developments.
Note, as just one example, that: “Zimbabwe television (ZTV) is inviting representatives from GALZ to appear as panelists on a discussion programme next Tuesday. The topic is the incident in London and other issues. This is a first and it is a major opportunity for us to be heard. The invitation comes in direct response to the OutRage! incident.”
The Pink Paper
12th November, 1999.
The article “Gays attacked in Zimbabwe after OutRage! stunt” dangerously misrepresents the situation it sparked in Zimbabwe. Gross distortions of this nature, especially by the foreign press, play straight into the hands of our persecutors who delight in painting gays and lesbians as liars and alarmists. It is difficult enough to be lesbian and gay in this country without the foreign press feeding fuel to our enemies.
The GALZ ‘state of emergency’ was called in reponse to a single incident involving attacks on two gay men, not ‘a number of gay men’. It was isolated and not part of ‘a series of attacks,’ as the Pink Paper claims. The statement that “there were other reports of attacks on gay men by the police across Zimbabwe” is a total fabrication and certainly did not emanate from this office. Furthermore, nobody was sexually assaulted.
Our state of emergency meant that those who were in the public eye were asked to stay in phone contact with each other until the temperature cooled down. The emergency was called off when it was understood that this incident did not constitute the start of another gay-bashing campaign.
Violence against lesbians and gay men is increasing in urban areas as a general trend. But the ‘damage’ to the lesbian and gay community in this country stems directly from President Mugabe’s antigay rhetoric which has had a devastating effect on us: the blame for the violence must rest squarely on the shoulders of Mugabe and his lackeys, not on the independent actions of foreign groups.
Human Rights defenders tire of being blamed for violence which they have not committed. The OutRage! incident simply brought into sharp focus the human rights abuses of the Harare regime. Just because it would be dangerous for such style of action to take place in Zimbabwe does not mean that it is not allowable in an open and democratic society. Remember too that GALZ was blamed by the authorities and the state-controlled media for causing the violence during the 1995 and 1996 Zimbabwe International Book Fairs even though it was this organisation that was the victim of threats, and thugs trashed the GALZ stand. People who speak out against direct action and plead for gradual change talk the language of the abuser. Generally, people do not give over social space unless forced or if they see it is in their own self interest to do so.
A black lesbian was beaten up a couple of days ago not as a result of the OutRage! ‘stunt’ but because she had been seen on television giving evidence to the constitutional commission. Gay men are sometimes beaten up outside nightclubs because people here have been taught to hate gays and gangsters have been given licence to taunt and harass us.
The white gay community would have been the least affected by the action of OutRage!. White gay men are not the target of gay bashers; they are targets of blackmailers. GALZ is unaware of the human rights activities of Paranoid ‘Rufus’.
Many Zimbabweans have relished the humiliation of the president in London. They have derived immense satisfaction from seeing the Almighty on high brought low. The President’s cage was seriously rattled and he is still smarting with indignation. His subsequent rantings that it was a plot orchestrated by Gay Gangster Blair and MI5 have been met with appropriate scorn and ridicule.
The OutRage! incident sparked a diplomatic row but only in the sense of helping a smouldering situation burst into flames. It put into perspective the abuse of lesbians and gay men within the context of broader human rights abuses in this country. For too long, our government has dined out on international declarations and covenants to which it is a signatory. The chickens have come home to roost and the Commonwealth and other international bodies are now calling for genuine compliance with human rights treaties and not mere rhetorical compliance. If our political leaders do not make a genuine effort to uphold the liberties of our people, they can only expect local and international pressure to intensify. Torture and genocide are serious matters for the attention of the international community; they are not minor domestic matters.
As I pointed out in my telephone conversation with David Northmore, the London incident has led to a number of positive outcomes. Even as I write, Zimbabwe television (ZTV) is inviting representatives from GALZ to appear as panelists on a discussion programme next Tuesday. The topic is the incident in London and other issues. This is a first and it is a major opportunity for us to be heard. The invitation comes in direct response to the OutRage! incident.
A reporter from the Daily Mail is here at the moment interviewing three black members of GALZ as part of her research for an in-depth article about their lives. All the local newspapers, even the state-controlled media, are now falling over themselves to print our stories. We are being heard for the first time and the old rhetoric of unAfrican, unBiblical is being drowned by a human rights chorus shouting accountability. In the Thursday, 11th November edition of the Financial Gazette, which normally passes over gay issues, there are no less than nine articles, letters and features on issues of gay and general human rights as well as the deteriorating relationship between Britain and Zimbabwe. In total, since Sunday, 31st October, GALZ has collected no less than 58 newspaper articles on the subject of lesbian and gay issues and the diplomatic incident in London. It has also sparked a heated debate – people are talking.
The action of OutRage! has strengthened our credibility within the general human rights movement in Zimbabwe. Tatchell mentioned the torture of the journalists and the genocide in Matabeleland. GALZ’s reaction to these comments have been heard, acknowledged and won us friends.
Publicity is our best secret weapon. The recent limelight comes directly in the wake of the OutRage! action and, for that, we thank Peter Tatchell and his crew.
Programmes Manager, GALZ.
Crowds lining Whitehall for the official Remembrance Sunday Parade applauded as gay military veterans, OutRage!, and representatives from seven other queer organisations marched to the Cenotaph for a special Queer Remembrance ceremony today, Sunday, 14th November 1999, just after 12 noon.
The applause and cheers outnumbered a few isolated incidents of abuse, when some straight veterans and onlookers shouted “queer bastards”, “faggots”, and “you poofs should be ashamed of yourselves”.
Following immediately after the official Remembrance Day ceremony and war veterans’ march-past, the OutRage!-organised commemoration in Whitehall took some of the thronged on-lookers packed against the barriers by surprise.
OutRage! has condemned as “shameful appeasement” the British Government’s expression of “regret” to President Mugabe over his citizen’s arrest by OutRage! members during a visit to London on the 30th October.
The words of regret were expressed to Zimbabwe’s Foreign Minister in a phone call by Peter Hain MP, Minister of State at the Foreign Office in London.
“Instead of regretting our protest in defence of human rights, the Foreign Office should have apologised to the people of Zimbabwe for failing to arrest President Mugabe over his government’s violation of the 1984 UN Convention Against Torture”, said Peter Tatchell of OutRage!.
“Despite being presented with evidence that the Zimbabwe government condones torture, the Metropolitan Police and Attorney-General allowed Mugabe to go Christmas shopping at Harrods and then fly back to Zimbabwe.”
Mr. Tatchell, who arrested President Mugabe during the OutRage! ambush of the President’s motorcade in central London, is a former Labour parliamentary candidate, who fought the Bermondsey by-election in 1983. He has written to the Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair. Tatchell’s letter urges Mr. Blair to initiate moves at next week’s Commonwealth Summit in South Africa to “expel Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth and to suspend British aid to Zimbabwe, until such time as Robert Mugabe’s government halts its attacks on the gay community and other abuses of human rights”.
Meanwhile, Tatchell has revealed that he campaigned in the 1970s in support of ZANU’s “Chimurenga” to overthrow white minority rule in Zimbabwe.
“During the 1970s, when I was a student, I supported ZANU’s war of liberation, fundraising to buy medical supplies for ZANU’s fighters in the bush”, said Tatchell.
“The President has betrayed ZANU’s ideals of social justice and human rights. Mugabe is Ian Smith with a black face. It is sickening the way he comes to London to buy luxuries at Harrods while millions of Zimbabweans are living in poverty”, he said.
Mr. Tatchell detailed the citizen’s arrest of President Mugabe and condemned human rights abuses by the Zimbabwean government in an interview on NETWORK AFRICA, which was broadcast to Zimbabwe by the BBC World Service last Monday morning, 8th November 1999, at 3:30 and 5:30 hours GMT.
Peter Tatchell, Chris Morris and Alastair Williams of OutRage! were arrested for their involvement in the citizen’s arrest of President Mugabe. They were held in police cells for 7 hours (until Mugabe had left Britain). Released on police bail, they are required to report to Belgravia police station in London on Tuesday, 16th November at 10 a.m., when they will be informed whether they are to be prosecuted.