Chris Mullin, MP,
Home Affairs Select Committee,
House of Commons,
I am writing on behalf of OutRage! to formally request the Home Affairs Select Committee to prioritise a report on legal discrimination against lesbian, gay, and bisexual people.
This is the fourth request we have made to the Select Committee in the last eight years. While your Conservative predecessors routinely rejected our request, we hope you will agree to this much-needed and long-overdue inquiry.
We are aware that the Select Committee has produced three reports on race issues over the last decade, but has not once investigated the equally serious issue of legal discrimination against lesbians and gay men.
We are, for example:
- denied the right to marry and to any alternative legal recognition of our partnerships;
- banned from membership of the Armed Forces;
- penalised by insurance and mortgage companies;
- turned down for consideration by many fostering and adoption agencies;
- discriminated against in pension and inheritance rules;
- threatened by punitive sexual offences laws that criminalise consenting gay sex and apply only to gay men;
and we can lawfully be
- sacked from our jobs,
- evicted from rented property,
- refused service in shops, restaurants, and other places of leisure and entertainment
— without any form of legal redress.
If the legal inequalities suffered by homosexuals were inflicted on black people, no one would have any hesitation in condemning that as apartheid. Homophobic discrimination is a form of sexual apartheid. It involves one law for heterosexuals and another for homosexuals. We are treated as second-class citizens, being denied many of the basic human rights that heterosexuals take for granted. This is intolerable in a supposedly civilised, democratic society.
A report by the Select Committee would have great prestige, authority, and impact, exposing the vast extent of homophobic discrimination and demonstrating the need for law reform. By promoting public awareness and debate, you could encourage changes that would dramatically improve the lives of millions.
OutRage! has drafted a six-point programme for lesbian and gay law reform, which sets out our priorities. As you will see, many of our proposals, such as the Unmarried Partners Act, would also benefit heterosexuals.
OutRage!’s programme of reform could provide a useful basis for the issues considered by the Select Committee. —
- The repeal of all gay-only sexual offences for which there is no heterosexual equivalent, and all crimes without victims –including the offences of buggery, gross indecency, procuring, soliciting– and their replacement by a new sexual offences code that makes no distinction between male and female, heterosexual and homosexual.
- A new Unmarried Partners Act, giving legal rights to all unwed couples, both gay and straight, including: legal recognition as next-of-kin; joint guardianship of any children; the inheritance of pensions, life insurance, and property on the death of a partner; and entitlement to company fringe benefits that extend to employees’ spouses, such as health-care cover.
- Equalisation of the age of consent for both heterosexual and homosexual relationships, to reduce the criminalisation of young people involved in consenting sex, and to remove the legal obstacles to earlier, more explicit and effective sex education in schools. The best way to safeguard young people’s sexual welfare is by education and empowerment.
- A comprehensive Equal Rights Act, prohibiting discrimination, harassment, and incitement to hatred on any grounds, including sexual orientation, gender identity, race, sex, religion, age, national or social origin, marital status, disability, and medical condition, (to protect people with HIV).
- The replacement of Section 28 with new legislation, requiring schools to stamp out homophobic bullying in schools, to promote pupils’ understanding and acceptance of gay people, and to ensure that AIDS awareness lessons encompass information about safer sex for lesbians and gay men. We envisage this initiative as part of a wider statutory obligation on schools to promote tolerance and combat all forms of prejudice and bullying, including on the basis of race, gender, disability, religion, and physical appearance.
- An end to the ban on homosexuals in the armed forces, as part of a package of democratic reforms –such as the overhaul of the court-martial system– to enhance the civil and human rights of all service personnel.
I am writing on behalf of OutRage! –the campaign for lesbian, gay and bisexual human rights– concerning the persecution of homosexuals during the Nazi era and the subsequent mistreatment of gay holocaust survivors by the German authorities.
We are shocked that the German government still refuses to compensate most gay holocaust survivors for their suffering, on the grounds that the Supreme Court ruled in 1957 that they were common criminals and were therefore legitimately incarcerated.
Furthermore, it cannot be morally right that the work of SS concentration camp guards is counted towards their pension entitlement, wheareas the years spent in the camps by gay prisoners are deducted from their pensions.
We would like to know why no Nazi doctors were ever prosecuted at the Nuremberg (Nürnberg) Trials –or since– for abusing gay concentration camp inmates in gruesome ‘medical’ experiments that, at Buchenwald, included forcible castration and hormone implants.
It is long overdue that the injustices suffered by the lesbian and gay victims of Hitlerism were remedied. We ask you, as Chancellor of democratic Germany, to:
- apologise for the terrorisation of gay men and lesbians during the Third Reich;
- authorise the payment of compensation to homosexual holocaust survivors, on a par with compensation to Jewish survivors;
- recalculate the pensions of gay survivors to ensure that their period of detention in the camps is counted towards their pension entitlement;
- bring to trial, on charges of crimes against humanity, the Nazi doctors involved in the medical abuse of gay prisoners.
We look forward to receiving your assurance of prompt action to rectify these past injustices.
The notoriously homophobic President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, is being invited to take an erotic arousal test, to dispel suggestions that his antigay attitudes could be evidence of repressed homosexuality.
Mugabe is arriving in Britain to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Edinburgh, from 24-27 October.
OutRage! has written to Mugabe, (see below), challenging him to take a test devised by US psychologist, Prof. Henry E. Adams of the University of Georgia.
Research by Prof. Adams suggests that 80 percent of men who are homophobic have secret homosexual feelings. In Prof. Adams’s test, homophobic men who said they were exclusively heterosexual were shown gay sex videos. Four out of five became sexually aroused by the homoerotic imagery, as recorded by a penile circumference measuring device (a plethysmograph).
Prof. Adams’s research was published in the prestigious US Journal of Abnormal Psychology in 1996, with the backing of the American Psychological Association.
President Mugabe has denounced lesbians and gays as “sexual perverts” who are “worse than dogs and pigs”. “We don’t believe they have any rights at all”, he said. These remarks have prompted the beating, fire-bombing and arrest of homosexuals.
Prof. Adams says his research shows that most homophobes “demonstrate significant sexual arousal to homosexual erotic stimuli”, suggesting that homophobia is a form of “latent homosexuality where persons are either unaware of or deny their homosexual urges”.
These findings support the theories that homophobia (fear and hatred of gayness and support for antigay discrimination) is often indicative of repressed, self-loathing homosexual feelings; and that many homophobes subconsciously use antigay attitudes as a smokescreen to disguise their own homosexuality.
Dear Robert Mugabe,
You are well known for your homophobic prejudice and opposition to lesbian and gay human rights.
It may therefore interest you to learn that new research by Prof. Henry E. Adams of the University of Georgia in the USA suggests that 80 percent of homophobes get sexually aroused by gay erotic imagery, lending support to the theory that overt homophobia is often evidence of repressed homosexual feelings.
Writing in the authoritative Journal of Abnormal Psychology (1996, Vol. 105, No. 3, pp. 440-445), Prof. Adams reported that he tested a group of men who expressed homophobic attitudes, and who said they were exclusively heterosexual and had never had any homosexual experiences or fantasies. He wired these men to a penile circumference measuring device (a plethysmograph) and showed them gay sex videos.
Prof. Adams found that 80 percent of the homophobic men tested became sexually aroused when watching the homosexual imagery, (their sexual arousal being indicated by penile enlargement).
His findings are consistent, he says, with theories that homophobia is a form of latent homosexuality and that antigay attitudes indicate a person’s fear and loathing of their own repressed homosexual urges.
In view of this research and your homophobic attitudes, there is now bound to be speculation about your sexuality. We are sure this speculation is without foundation but to end the innuendo that you might harbour repressed homosexual feelings, we invite you to take Prof. Adams’s test.
Under medical supervision, OutRage! is offering to wire you to a penile circumference measuring device and show you gay sex videos. If you are not gay, there will be no penile enlargement and you will have strong scientific evidence to dispel any queries about your sexual orientation.
We invite you to contact us to make an appointment during your forthcoming visit to Britain for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
Peter Tatchell, OutRage!
Thank you for your letter … regarding sex education for young gay people in schools.
Well planned and effectively presented sex education is vital. Young people need to gain the skills and understanding necessary to take responsible decisions about their personal and sexual behaviour. Although the responsibility for the detailed content and organisation of sex education lies with individual schools, there is no restriction on teaching about lesbian and gay issues in the classroom. Diversity, gender issues and the challenging of stereotypes should feature as part of schools’ Personal, Social and Health Education provision. (Emphasis added.) Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 applies to the activities of the local authorities themselves, so does not apply to the activities of the governing bodies and staff of schools. Nevertheless, the Government has long made clear its opposition to Section 28 and intends to repeal it when legislative opportunity exists.
I do not believe that there is room for complacency regarding the current provision of sex education in schools, but rather development and improvement. This Department, along with the Department of Health, is considering sex education and the provision of sexual health services, in the context of the Government’s health strategy.
(Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State)
As promised The Pride Trust has read and considered your open letter.
Despite the emotive phrases “dumbing down” and “de-gaying Pride”, to which we take particular offence, we believe your general comments to be constructive.
With performers it is nigh impossible to insist that they make a political statement prior to their set. We can suggest, advise and prompt but they have other things on their minds. In some cases the fact of their appearance at the event is in their own minds sufficient proof of their support for the event and what it stands for. As to what they say to the media after or before they perform — again we have little control, but they are given the full story on the event and its history. If they choose to ignore us, we don’t generally have them back, (except the Minogues who seem to recur spontaneously).
A theme for the event is a very good way of capturing attention, undoubtedly. OutRage! has been involved in, some might say responsible for, the themes of 1994 (Freedom and Equality Now) and 1995 (Lesbian Visibility), both of which grew out of discussions I myself had with members of OutRage!. I believe we part on the question of the focus of these themes. It remains The Pride Trust’s policy to create themes which are broad and which can encourage individual groups and sectors of the gay community to highlight the issues raised in the theme as they affect their constituency. I am sure you feel that this is an adequate response; however, I would equally say that a theme of the kind you indicate also has its limitations, tending more towards a single-issue form of political statement, whereas Pride is a broad church with many issues contending for attention. It remains a balancing act and one which I do not profess to say we have resolved. I recall in 1994 that this was also OutRage!’s feeling and that the Freedom and Equality Now Theme was itself subdivided to encourage this single-issue element as well. I also recall that, following the 1994 March, OutRage! was so exhausted that you declined to do the same again in 1995, the Lesbian Avengers taking the lead that year. If however you feel strong enough to assist us in finding a theme or focus which satisfies all approaches and carry it through, I and Rachel Beadle, the Chair, would be pleased to meet your representatives and bash some ideas around.
I recall that placards were made available for both 1994 and 1995 — I believe also that there was some feeling that they weren’t as effective as we had all hoped, so we haven’t repeated them since. This too would be a good discussion point, should you wish to meet.
A banner on the stage is an excellent idea –and in fact there was one– but it was a little small! This is a simple problem we can rectify in 1998.
Finally, sponsorship. Again I am bound to repeat a point which I know you do not agree with: that sponsorship is necessary to subsidise the free entry to the festival — even with a day collection of £ 238,000 it still has to be there, otherwise all the Pride-goers would be paying £ 10 or £ 15 a head! No doubt your point refers to United Airlines. I fully accept that they do not apply equal employment rights across the board: but they are not alone as a multinational concern in having to settle these issues. It is Pride’s policy to scrutinise the business activities of its sponsors with some care. The United Airlines sponsorship was brokered at a time when they had had little cause to reflect on their policy in this area, and it is an issue which has arisen during the course of the year, and we are in the process of considering their continued sponsorship of the event in the light of this. Indeed, internationally there are a number of Pride Events which have been caught out in just the same way with sponsors and business partners who have been slow to connect their sponsorship support of a gay event with the treatment of their own staff and their business interests. — I am particularly thinking of Coors in the US which has divided the Pride Organisers into pro and anti.
As a sobering aside, our and your dislike of a paying event seems not to be reflected by those people who participated in the South Bank University Survey carried out at the event this year. 30% agreed strongly that it should be a paying event; 20% agreed slightly; and 19% didn’t care either way. Only 15% strongly disagreed. We were also surprised to find that only 19% of the sample consider Pride to be political! These are all initial results and the statisticians at SBU are currently carrying out further work with the respondants to ascertain whether the results are, in their words, “robust” or not. There is a great deal of food for thought in these figures, as I am sure you will agree.
I look forward to hearing from you and to meeting you if you feel it will be constructive.
On behalf of The Pride Trust Directors
OutRage! has responded to the Pride Trust, thanking them for their position statement, and accepting the offer of a meeting.
ASSOCIATION OF FLIGHT ATTENDANTS AFL-CIO
United Airlines Cargo Centre,
Shoreham Road East,
Hounslow TW6 3RD United Kingdom.
As the elected union representative of 900 cabin crew working for United Air Lines at Heathrow, I would like to offer thanks to you and OutRage! for your actions concerning spousal benefits for the partners of gay employees at United.
It has been a long-standing objective of mine to achieve these benefits for all employees with partners. During 1992, we assisted a Heathrow-based gay member of United’s staff who was a Dutch national living in Holland with his partner. We attempted to secure partnership rights for him through both internal grievance procedures and a Dutch Tribunal: but the company resisted at every turn! Since 1992 we have tried to achieve gay spousal benefits through negotiations: but again the company continues to resist.
Your interpretation of United’s stance in San Francisco is spot on! The legal action by United in San Francisco is merely a ruse and a diversion to disguise United’s long-term opposition to gay partnership benefits. This opposition predates the current legal action by at least five years. Moreover, it is absolutely incredulous that United believes itself to be exempt from local laws. I dare say that some ‘local’ judge in San Francisco may think differently. Regardless, United’s rationale that it is not discriminatory against gay employees is shallow and deceptive. Unied correctly claims that its policy offers partnership benefits to married people only. This policy is, of course, inherently discriminatory since the entire community of gay employees are excluded, as only heterosexuals have the option of marriage. United refuses to recognise this truth.
While United claims to be reviewing its policy, this company does not traditionally make policy changes such as this willingly. Whether it is the pressure of adverse publicity of the economic impact of a boycott, United tends to respond to pressures involving loss of revenue or increased costs.
We shall all hope that pressures from many different angles will cause United to see the wisdom of amending its policy to be inclusive, rather than exclusive. I do hope that you are successful in convincing many of United’s potential customers to write to United’s CEO, Mr. Jerry Greenwald, to express their concern that United maintains this antiquated policy.
Kevin P. Creighan
Association of Flight Attendants
Council 07 — London Heathrow Airport
OutRage!, with the support of the Association of Flight Attendants, is continuing to urge everyone to alert their local gay press and and gay rights organisations about the Boycott United campaign, so we can exert pressure on the airline right across Europe. We are also requesting people to write a letter of protest to the Head of United, Worldwide:
South Perimeter Road,
or to his USA HQ:
1200, Algonquin Road,
P.O. Box 66100,
Update — 30-August-1997
Over 30 trade journals and magazines serving the U.K. travel industry and business community have now been alerted to the conflict at United Airlines.
While we are immensely appreciative of the work done by the staff and volunteers of the Pride Trust, we are dismayed by the recent trend to dumb-down and de-gay Pride.
- Each year’s Pride events should have a different, concrete human rights theme, such as “Equal Age of Consent”, “Partnership Recognition”, “Equality at Work”, and “Parenting Rights”. These are broad-based human rights demands which the whole community can support. Having a tangible human rights theme would give Pride events a focus, strengthen the sense of community spirit on the day, and increase the likelihood of mainstream news coverage.
- Each year’s theme should be included on all publicity and advertising, and spelt out on a massive banner at the front of the March and above the main stage at the Festival.
- The Pride organisers should provide at least a couple of hundred placards emblazoned with the year’s human rights theme to be carried by people near the front of the March.
- All stage performers should be required to sign a general declaration of support for equality, which would be printed in the official Pride Programme and circulated to the media. They should also be asked to say a few brief words from the stage in support of the human rights theme of the year, (as in “Hi! I’m Kylie, and I’m proud to support an equal age of consent”).
- All commercial sponsors should be required to sign a general declaration of support for equality, which would be printed in the official Pride Programme and circulated to the media. Sponsorship should be accepted only on the condition that the company’s lesbian and gay staff receive equal treatment in all aspects of employment.
If performers and commercial sponsors are not prepared to support equality, we don’t want them at Pride. Those who don’t respect our community should not be given a platform.
David Allison, Peter Tatchell, and Alastair Williams
The Rt. Hon. Tony Blair, MP,
10, Downing Street,
Dear Mr. Blair,
Lesbian & Gay Rights
The following message was read by Chris Smith on your behalf at ‘Pride’ at the beginning of this month.
“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.”
As a gay man, I am pleased to have this public expression of your support. I appreciate that you have been in office for ‘only’ three months, and that you have an awesome spectrum of issues to address.
However, I regret that I already have severe misgivings as to what progress the lesbian and gay citizens of this country can expect under your Government: at a time, moreover, when long overdue progress is being achieved in a number of other countries in Western Europe, (and elsewhere), and also within the administration of the European Community.
I note, for example, that the Labour Party web site makes no mention at all of lesbians and gays in the Equal Opportunities section. —
Extract from Labour web site: Extent of Equal Opportunities, as of 30-July-1997
Watch this space [http://www.labour.org.uk/views/index.html]
- incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law
- create new opportunities in the workplace for older people, by taking measures to tackle age discrimination and long-term unemployment
- establish a national minimum wage and ensure minimum employment standards for part-time workers
- support comprehensive, enforceable civil rights for disabled people against discrimination in society or at work, developed in partnership with all interested parties
- tackle high black and disabled youth unemployment with our guarantee of a job or a place on a training course for every young person aged 18-25 unemployed for more than six months
This does not compare favourably with the corresponding section of the LibDem web site, which I attach as an Appendix.
Indeed, a number of hard-nosed commercial companies are making a commitment to eliminate discrimination, despite possible financial loss through upsetting dyed-in-the-wool bigots. Even United Airlines, which somewhat schizophrenically sponsored this year’s Pride in London, whilst at the same time suing in San Francisco for the right not to be forced into equable treatment, begins its Harassment & Discrimination Policy as published on the web with the following paragraph. –
United has a zero-tolerance policy on harassment and discrimination in any form – whether verbal, visual, physical or otherwise. It is United’s express policy to forbid harassment and discrimination based on race, color, sex, age, religion, national origin, disability, veteran status or sexual orientation.
With regard to discrimination within the armed forces, I understand that Britain is now the only country in NATO, other than Turkey, which retains a complete ban on all those with a homosexual orientation. George Robertson, Defence Secretary, was reported as having begun a wide-ranging review of the rôle of women in the armed forces, to ensure that the forces are “fair, modern and enlightened”; and additionally to improve the “abysmal” record in attracting ethnic minorities. By contrast, merely allowing MP’s a free vote on
- the ban on gays in the military
- parity for the age of consent
- does not send out the signal that the Cabinet regards this form of
- discrimination as equally abhorrent.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal has just ruled that discrimination against transsexuals is unlawful under the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act. However, in the thirty years since the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, (the passage of which through Parliament I followed keenly as teenager), it strikes me that the law has improved only by a token (and still discriminatory) reduction in the age of consent for gay men. Conversely, the notorious Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act, introduced by the previous Government, has clouded not only the provision of services by local authorities, but also, notwithstanding the wording of the Act and of subsequent legislation, the teaching in schools of sex education, morality: indeed, of anything where relationships and sexuality may or might be concerned.
Recently a number of revered and respected bodies, including the British Medical Association and the Sex Education Forum of the National Children’s Bureau, have called for the inclusion of homosexuality, on a par with heterosexuality, in sex education in schools, and for the repeal of Section 28. A survey published earlier this month by the Schools Health Education Unit, University of Exeter, reports that teenagers are increasingly using friends as their main source of information about sex, at a time when many of them are consciously worrying about HIV and AIDS. — What is current Government policy on sex education? And what plans do you have to introduce positive images of gays and lesbians to younger children, with the aim of preventing the attitudes which lead to prejudice, discrimination, and bigotry later in life, in order to achieve equality and justice for us all?
I see that the church, (presumably the Church of England), is reported as having marked as 1997 as “Year of Faith”, and 1998 as “Year of Hope”, and 1999 as “Year of Charity”. (To the annoyance of atheists and adherents of other faiths in our multicultural society, it has claimed 2000 as the “Year of Jesus Christ”.) – We do not want charity: but for how many years more are am I and fellow queers expected to hope and have faith that eventually, in the words of Martin Luther King, we shall overcome? At my age, it will be of little benefit to me personally; and hope that it will be in time to benefit my nephews, nieces, and their peers is fast running out. When and how do you intend to fulfil your fine words and pledges?
John Hunt, OutRage!
Watch this space [http://www.libdems.org.uk/libdems/cgi-bin/show.pl?english+uk&../english/documents/uk/poli38112585.txt]
Freedom from Prejudice – Liberal Democrat Policies for Lesbians and Gay Men
“The Worth of a State, in the Long Run, is the Worth of the Individuals composing it” (John Stuart Mill, On Liberty)
Liberal Democrats value and relish the diversity of British society. We welcome the contribution lesbians and gay men have made to our society, often without proper recognition or an acceptance of their sexuality. Barriers to lesbian and gay men playing a full part in the life of the community must be removed. It is a key role of the state to enhance the liberty of the individual and nurture diversity. Thereby, we can enable each individual to seek personal fulfilment and enrich society. The opportunity for personal fulfilment and participation in the life of the community open to all.
Liberal Democrats recognise that in Britain today lesbians and gay men lack basic rights and are denied equal citizenship. Many areas of the law, including the criminal law, are clearly discriminatory in their effect and equal opportunities legislation in Britain fails to protect lesbians and gay men from discrimination in many areas of life.
As part of our commitment to end to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, Liberal Democrats would:
Bill of Rights
As an immediate step we would:
Liberal Democrats would:
The Criminal Law
Liberal Democrats would:
The police in many parts of the country have failed to recognise and accept the needs of lesbians and gay men with insight and sensitivity. Liberal Democrats would:
The Criminal Justice System
Liberal Democrats would:
Liberal Democrats would ensure:
Discrimination cannot be eliminated by legislation alone. Attitudes need to be changed. The ability of local government to encourage those changes in attitudes has been badly impaired by the enactment of Section 28 of the Local Government Act which forbids the “promotion of homosexuality”. This actually means banning books and withdrawing funding from lesbian and gay helplines. Liberal Democrats would repeal it.
Liberal Democrats would encourage local authorities to:
The Rt. Hon. Tony Blair, MP,
10, Downing Street,
Dear Mr. Blair,
Greetings, and congratulations on Labour’s election victory and on your appointment as Prime Minister.
While we appreciate that you have many important social problems to deal with, we hope your government will take swift action to ensure homosexual equality.
We have drafted a six-point programme for lesbian and gay law reform, which sets out our priorities. As you will see, many of our proposals, such as the Unmarried Partners Act, would also benefit heterosexuals. We ask Labour to legislate for:
The repeal of all victimless, gay-only offences for which there is no heterosexual equivalent, such as gross indecency, procuring, soliciting, and the ‘no more than two men’ rule.
An Unmarried Partners Act, giving rights to all unwed couples, both gay and straight.
Equalisation of the age of consent at 14 for both heterosexual and homosexual relations, to reduce the criminalisation of young people involved in consenting sex, and to remove the legal obstacles to earlier, more explicit and effective sex education in schools.
An Equal Rights Act, prohibiting discrimination, harassment, and incitement to hatred on any grounds, including sexual orientation.
The replacement of Section 28 with new legislation, requiring schools to stamp out homophobic bullying in schools, to promote pupils’ understanding and acceptance of gay people, and to ensure that AIDS awareness lessons encompass information about safer sex for lesbians and gay men.
An end to the ban on homosexuals in the armed forces, as part of a package of democratic reforms to enhance the civil rights of all service personnel.
The enactment of these reforms would win you the admiration and affection of the lesbian and gay community, and ensure your recognition as one of the great reforming Prime Ministers of this country.
We wish to thank the staff and volunteers of the Pride Trust for their efforts in staging Pride ’96. Organising this event is often a thankless task, which is difficult to get right, even with the best will in the world. No one who undertakes to organise Pride could possibly produce a perfect event acceptable to everyone.
While we are very appreciative of the Pride Trust’s efforts, we feel that the direction and atmosphere of this year’s March and Festival went badly astray by sidelining the struggle for human rights. In a spirit of constructive criticism, we offer the following observations. —
- There was nothing particularly gay about the Pride Festival on Clapham Common. It was not much different from any free pop festival. It could have been Glastonbury or Reading (plus a few extra queers!). There was no sense of gay solidarity or community spirit.
- The main stage was surrounded by huge business adverts. There was no banner stating that this was Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride ’96, or reiterating our community’s demand for equality and human rights.
- With one brief exception, people on the main stage made no mention of the fight against antigay discrimination, and the very serious dangers posed to gay civil rights by Michael Howard’s new proposals to crack down on sex offenders. These proposals will require gay men convicted of consenting behaviour (such as cruising and cottaging) to register with the police, making this probably the most serious assault on gay civil liberties in many years.
- Although the theme of this year’s Pride was supposed to be “Generations of Activism” the organisers allocated only two minutes on the main stage (out of eight hours stage time) for the veterans of the Gay Liberation Front, who were the original pioneers of Pride. Moreover, only five GLF veterans, hand-picked by the Pride Trust, were invited on stage. While many GLF veterans were excluded from the stage, plenty of straight performers were welcomed with open arms. What’s more, in contrast to the miserly two minutes allocated to the GLF veterans, these straight artists were given plenty of time to plug their latest single (or the one they had ten years ago).
- Our estimates suggest that the commercial turnover at the Pride Festival was in the region of £ 2.5 million — the main beneficiaries being straight-owned businesses, not gay community organisations. It seems that commercial interests are now dominant at Pride, and that gay community groups are subordinate. Making money now takes priority over the still unfinished struggle for lesbian and gay freedom. It was the fight against homophobic discrimination which motivated the creation of Pride 25 years ago. Yet this goal, and the people who originated it, were marginalised to the point of virtual invisibility at the Festival.
There is nothing wrong with the corporate sponsorship of Pride, but what is wrong is allowing business interests to depoliticise the celebrations. Let’s be frank, most commercial enterprises are only interested in getting us to buy their products, and couldn’t care less about lesbian and gay human rights.
We do not want Pride to become a dull and dour, politically-correct event. We agree that it should have a Mardi Gras-style flavour. This does not, however, preclude also giving Pride a fun and energising political dimension. Pride must not become a mindless (if fabulous) once-a-year party where we pretend that we can dance away our second-class citizenship. We can’t. On Clapham Common, we were “slaves in a gilded cage”. We may have a wild, brilliant Pride Festival, but that doesn’t count for much when straight society still fucks us over with impunity.
The practice over the last two years of having vague Pride themes like “Lesbian Visibility” and “Generations of Activism” hasn’t worked. They are too amorphous and ambiguous to inspire the Pride revellers and to attract serious news reporting. A big pop festival is rarely news: but a big pop festival focused around a specific human rights demand increases the chance of media coverage.
We suggest that to remedy these problems, future Pride events should:
- Have a different, broad-based, specific human rights theme each year, such as “Equal Rights at Work”, “Partnership Recognition” or “Equal Age of Consent”. These are concrete themes that everyone in our community can agree on. They are tangible human rights demands which would significantly increase the likelihood of news reportage of the Pride March and Festival, while also promoting a much stronger sense of gay community spirit and solidarity on the day.
- Ensure there is a huge banner depicting the year’s Pride theme above the main stage and at the head of the March; and that all performers are asked to say a few words of support for the theme-of-the-year. Stage time should also be given to representatives from activist and community groups to briefly, and in uplifting mode, reiterate our claim for queer justice.
- Provide placards bearing the Pride theme for marchers to carry, and ensure that key homophobic institutions –like Parliament, Downing Street, the Ministry of Defence and Westminster Abbey– become targets for organised, topical protests.
- Offer free Festival stalls to non-profit community organisations.
- Take a leaf out of the success of the Manchester Mardi Gras, which manages not only to pay for itself, but also raise large sums of money for community charities.
We hope the Pride Trust will again this year convene an open public meeting where all sections of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community can express their views on the future direction of Pride.
Once again, we commend you for all your hard work, and hope that in the future Pride will celebrate both the battles we’ve already won, and also the struggles we’ve yet to win.
Josh Oppenheimer, Marina Cronin and Peter Tatchell