Government

New LGBT asylum guidelines

The government issued new guidance with regard to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender asylum seekers today in a document entitled: The Coalition: our programme for government.

The pledge stated:

We will stop the deportation of asylum seekers who have had to leave particular countries because their sexual orientation or gender identification puts them at proven risk of imprisonment, torture or execution.

Welcoming this new commitment, OutRage! campaigners Peter Tatchell and Brett Lock who have worked on many LGBT asylum cases over the past 10 years said:

“The government’s commitment to give refuge to LGBT people who have suffered persecution is welcome but it must be backed up with detailed policy changes to make it effective.

“Asylum judges and Home Office barristers should be given advice and guidelines on how to treat LGBT refugees with sensitivity and fairness. Currently, they often exhibit great ignorance and misunderstanding.

“The frequent recommendation by judges that LGBT asylum applicants should return to their home countries and be discreet, should be declared impermissible by the Home Secretary, Theresa May. To expect LGBT refugees to hide their sexuality and cease having same-sex relationships is unreasonable and unacceptable,” said Mr Lock and Mr Tatchell.

Iran meeting at House of Commons

London – 19 July 2006: Public meeting at the House of Commons to mark the first anniversary of Iran’s hanging of two gay teenagers, Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni, in the city of Mashhad on 19 July 2005.

© OutRage! 1990-2010. You are free to use this photo to illustrate news stories and articles about OutRage!, the lesbian and gay human rights group, with credit to the group and photographer. For all other uses, please inquire. Photos: Brett Lock, OutRage!

IDAHO – Asylum Protest

International Day Against Homophobia, 17 May 2006, Home Office, London, UK. “Stop Deporting Gay Refugees – Gay asylum seekers are victims, not criminals” – Protest against Home Office refusal to grant asylum to people fleeing homophobic persecution.

© OutRage! 1990-2010. You are free to use this photo to illustrate news stories and articles about OutRage!, the lesbian and gay human rights group, with credit to the group and photographer. For all other uses, please inquire. Photos: Brett Lock, OutRage!

Reply to Jack Straw

270 days after the April Bomb, and after 1000 days of inaction by New Labour, OutRage! publishes a 10-point reply sent to the Home Secretary, demanding progress.

For the personal attention of:
The Rt. Hon. Jack Straw, MP,
Home Secretary.

Copy:
The Rt. Hon. Tony Blair, MP,
10, Downing Street.

Copy:
The Rt. Hon. Dr. Mowlam, MP,
Minister for the Cabinet Office.

Date:
19th December, 1999.

Dear Mr. Straw,

Government Action for Freedom from Discrimination

Thank you for your informative letter dated the 22nd November in response to the OutRage! fax sent on the 21st July to the Prime Minister, (from whom we have had no direct reply).

I shall relate this reply to the numbered questions in our original enquiry.

1. Legislative reforms

What legislative reforms on gay issues is the Government currently prepared to support?

Your letter restates the Government’s commitment to equalising the age of consent and to the repeal of Section 28, (though with no indication of any timescale); and refers to the Home Office recommendations on Sex Offences to be published next year, (also with no indication of timescale for the enactment of legislation).

  1. Is this the full extent of the proposed reform?
  2. Can you indicate timescales for Sex Offences legislation?
  3. What plans does the Government have to end discrimination against homosexuals in asylum, employment, housing, insurance, partnership and pension law and practice?

2. Section 28

By what legislative mechanism and in what timescale does the Government expect to honour its pledge to repeal Section 28?

Your letter does not mention that the repeal is the subject of Section 68 of the Local Government Bill, (which has already received its second reading).

  1. Given the delays and constitutional problems which have beset the equalisation of the age of consent, why has the Government included the repeal of §28 in a Bill introduced in the Lords, (in the knowledge that this not only gives the Lords a veto but also precludes application of the Parliament Act to ensure that the will of the Commons prevails)?
  2. If, as seems quite likely, the Lords successfully oppose the repeal of §28, does the Government intend to reintroduce a repeal Bill in the Commons in 2001, (with the consequence that, if again opposed in the Lords, repeal of §28 could not then occur until 2002)?
  3. Can you and the Prime Minister give your firm assurance that §28 will be repealed no later than 2002?

3. Sex Education

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?

We fully agree with your assertion that sex education should be taught not in isolation, but integrated where relevant with the rest of the curriculum, (including PSHE, English, and History).

We will welcome receipt of the promised DfEE guidance document on bullying, (still awaited), and will study it with interest.

We are greatly disappointed, however, that the new PSHE guidelines, while obviously well-intentioned, surely pave the way to hell by being nonstatutory.

  1. We have a copy of the May-July document QCA/99/405, (Part 2 of which is a draft, nonstatutory framework for PSHE, which, despite repeated enumerations of acceptable diversity, avoids any mention of sexuality: e.g. for Key Stages 3 & 4, “national, regional, religious and ethnic identities within the UK and the need for mutual respect and understanding”). We should be grateful to receive a copy of the definitive document which –we assume from your letter– now exists.
  2. Is there any valid reason that it would not be possible to make these “guidelines” compulsory?
  3. Do you agree that making the “guidelines” compulsory would protect the interests of vulnerable lesbian and gay pupils, so that their needs would not be left to the discretion of individual schools and teachers?

4. Antigay violence

Why is the Government promoting antigay violence by avoiding equal action against it?

We note with interest your statement that courts can (optionally) pass higher sentences on perpetrators of homophobic attacks.

  1. Do you have any statistics which demonstrate the frequency with which the courts pass such higher sentences in practice?
  2. What research has the Home Office done on the issue of homophobic bias in the Criminal Justice System?
  3. Does the Government acknowledge that the problem of institutional homophobia is no different from that of institutional racism?
  4. Is the Government taking the same action to eradicate institutional homophobia from the court, prison and probation services as you mention for the police service?

5. Joined-up Government

Why is there no effective coordination between Government Departments at Ministerial level?

The opening paragraph of your letter states that we requested a coordinated Whitehall response. In fact we went further, lamenting that there had been no evidence of any coordination of policy between Government Departments on the removal of anti-L/G/B/T discrimination, and urging the appointment of a capable individual with sufficient “clout” to be effective. – This point was urged emphatically: yet your reply does not even allude to it.

  1. Do you and the Prime Minister agree that disparate policy on L/G/B/T issues between Government Departments is confusing for all?
  2. How do you propose to achieve effective coordination, if not as we suggested?

6. Delivering sensible, pragmatic, unembarrassed sex education

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?

Your mention of PSHE focuses on bullying, but carefully avoids discussing the content of sex education lessons.

  1. Will gay and lesbian sex be included on a par with heterosexual sex, and addressed in an honest, factual, nonjudgemental manner? This should include not only the biological mechanics, but also recognition of relationships, friendships, and family groupings. – I assume you are aware of the October ruling by the Law Lords (Fitzpatrick versus Sterling Housing Association) that gay relationships do constitute a family relationship.
  2. When will the Government act to ensure that HIV prevention in schools includes, as a mandatory requirement, information on safer sex for lesbian and gay pupils?

7. Representative Consultation

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?

We do not dispute your statement that the Home Office Sexual Offences Review currently in progress is “open and inclusive”. Our concern is generic, not confined to this one issue.

  1. Will you give your firm commitment that all future legislation affecting L/G/B/T issues will involve representative consultation with the L/G/B/T community at all stages, and not exclusive meetings with one privileged group to the exclusion of others?

8. Police Homophobia

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?

We welcome your assurance of the Government’s desire to eradicate homophobia within the police, and the review of the selection process to remove discriminatory practices. We were particularly interested to learn of the Police (Conduct) Regulations 1999.

  1. Please could you send us a copy of the Police (Conduct) Regulations 1999?
  2. With regard to the equal opportunities policies which you state are now being pursued by the police, and given the fiasco of the European Court of Human Rights ruling in February 1998 that South West Trains were under no legal obligation to enforce their own policy of nondiscrimination: what guarantee is there that these policies will be implemented and enforceable?

9. West End Central / Ian Farmer / Bomb warning

No reassurance was obtained on specific issues regarding the police. … Your explanation on these three points would be appreciated.

Your letter omitted any reference to these items.

  1. What progress (if any) has been made in investigating the allegations of harassment and intimidation of lesbian and gay officers at Soho’s West End Central police station; and the arrest of Ian Farmer at London Pride (July 1998) and the subsequent mishandling of his complaint?
  2. Can you give your assurance that, in the event of any future threat (whether terrorist or other) to L/G/B/T citizens, appropriate public warnings will be given to the whole L/G/B/T community through the national media?

10. Action, not Words — Designated Minister for Gay Issues

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.

Your letter omitted any reference to this proposal: and our concern remains undiminished.

  1. If the electorate in New Zealand and Germany can vote transexual MP’s and mayors into office, the British Public can accept “out” gay ministers in the Cabinet, and the Government’s stated intention to abolish discrimination is genuine, what is the obstacle to appointing a coordinator to ensure that Government Departments progress consistently and uniformly towards this goal?

We should be most grateful to receive your point-by-point response to each specific question raised in this letter.

Thanking you in advance, I remain

Yours sincerely,

John Hunt.

Government Lifts Military Ban – Call for Action to Combat Homophobia in the Military

Armed Forces urged to educate against prejudice and make homophobia a disciplinary offence

The Government’s decision to lift the military ban on lesbians and gays is a welcome first step towards eradicating homophobia from the Armed Forces, according to OutRage!.

But OutRage! warns that deeply entrenched homophobic attitudes will continue to force many gay people out of the services, unless the military authorities take tough new action to combat the victimisation of homosexual personnel.

“Homophobic harassment should be a disciplinary offence under the military code”, says OutRage! spokesperson Peter Tatchell.

“Military training and education programmes should challenge antigay attitudes and encourage acceptance of homosexual servicemen and women.

“What is needed is an educational campaign –similar to the military’s current efforts against racism– to create a safe, sympathetic environment for gay members of the forces.

“Without these initiatives to stamp out queer-bashing, the military will remain a hostile institution. Despite the ending of the ban on gays, homophobic abuse will pressure many homosexuals to resign.”

OutRage! is calling for a crackdown on homophobia as part of a comprehensive action plan to eradicate all forms of prejudice from the Armed Forces and to end the victimisation of recruits from all minority communities.

“The Armed Forces should reflect the democratic, humanitarian values which they exist to defend. Any toleration of homophobia, racism and other prejudices is unacceptable.

“Human rights awareness should be a central part of army education, as it was during the Second World War under the auspices of the Army Bureau of Current Affairs. Unless the Armed Forces respect the human rights of their own members, they cannot be relied upon to defend the human rights of the British people”, said Mr. Tatchell.

Letter from the Home Secretary in Reply to OutRage! Letter to Tony Blair

Annotated reply from Jack Straw to OutRage!’s letter to the Prime Minister of 21st July on Government Action following the Soho Bomb.

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

Our Ref: SEN/99 35/70/34
P0 17278/99

22nd November, 1999.

Thank you for your letter of 21 July to the Prime Minister which raises a number of issues affecting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities. I am sorry you have had to wait so long for a reply, but you have asked for a co-ordinated Whitehall response, and that, of course takes time.

This is the fleeting sole reference to point 5: “Why is there no effective coordination between Government Departments at Ministerial level?”. This reply has taken four months: and there is not even the merest hint of any future coordination, let alone sustained.

Let me start by outlining some of the positive action this Government has taken in this area since coming to power in 1997. We are already taking action to overturn discriminatory law. We are upholding a long-standing commitment to give Parliament a free vote on lowering the homosexual age of consent, and will reintroduce age of consent legislation in the coming session to ensure that Parliament is able to take a conclusive view on this issue. This will be a free vote so that members of parliament can vote according to their conscience, but I am in no doubt as to the outcome.

Second, we are undertaking a review of sexual offences and penalties. The terms of reference of the review make it explicit that our aim is to recommend changes which make the sex offences laws coherent, fair and non-discriminatory in accordance with the ECHR and Human Rights Act; to provide protection from abuse and exploitation, especially to children and other vulnerable people; and to enable abusers to be appropriately punished.

Many other Governments are actively involved in the review, and are free to comment on potential areas of impact. You say Government does not consult on proposed legislation widely in the gay and lesbian community. This review is open and inclusive. Organisations representing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual interests have been invited to take part in the consultation process. Some are represented on the Steering Group, others have taken part in the conferences and seminars which have been organised, or sent submissions in evidence. Your own organisation has taken the opportunity to make an active contribution to the review by sending in a submission.

The full recommendations of the review will be published next year, and we will welcome any further contributions from Outrage! on the impact of the proposed changes in the law might make to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual community.

This is a reference to point 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?”. However, the reply refers only to the Home Office Review of Sex Offences, and makes no mention of consultation on any other draft or proposed legislation.

Third, the Government recognises that Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988, which prohibits local authorities from promoting homosexuality by teaching or publishing material, has been widely perceived as discriminatory and takes the view that it serves no useful purpose. We have received many representations about the possibility of including the repeal in the draft Local Government (Organisation and Standards) Bill. We recognise the force of those arguments and will take them into account as we consider what changes to make to the draft Bill. However, we are also committed to a substantial legislative programme, and there are limits to the volume of legislation with which Parliament can deal at any one time.

Nevertheless, please rest assured that we committed to repealing Section 28 as soon as parliamentary time permits.

This is a partial response to point 2: “By what legislative mechanism and in what timescale does the Government expect to honour its pledge to repeal Section 28?”. Note the caveat in the reply: “as soon as parliamentary time permits”.

The opening paragraphs constitute a reply to point 1: “What legislative reforms on gay issues is the Government currently prepared to support?”. In summary, this appears to be:

  • Age of Consent — a “free vote”, (indicative of no strong commitment), twice passed by the Commons, and twice rejected by the Lords;
  • Home Office Sex Offences Review — recommendations due to be published in the year 2000, with no timescale yet indicated for enacted legislation;
  • Section 28 — the Government remains committed to repealing this, (but only when the heavy Parliamentary timetable permits).

Turning now to violence motivated by homophobia, we are determined to deal with the problems of homophobic crime, and we have been working with the Association of Chief Police Officers to develop guidelines for police forces in dealing with incidents involving the lesbian and gay community in order to ensure that they are policed in a fair and equitable way.

The London nail bombings were truly horrific, and I have made public my views on this terrible outrage. The law must protect everyone in society from violence, whatever the motivation for that violence. The criminal law already contains a wide range of powers to deal with violent behaviour and harassment. In addition, the perpetrator of any attack that results in death can be charged with murder or manslaughter, both of which carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

When passing sentence for a violent offence, the court must take into account all the circumstances of the offence before passing sentence. This includes any aggravating factors such as the motivation of the perpetrator in committing it. In other words, the court can pass a higher sentence against a defendant where the attack is motivated by the sexual orientation of the victim, whether real or perceived.

This is a partial response to point 4: “Why is the Government promoting antigay violence by avoiding equal action against it?”. We welcome the above concept of “guidelines for police forces” for dealing with homophobic incidents: but would like some assurance that they will be actively implemented by all police forces.

Numerous cases in recent years demonstrate that existing sentencing practice, while it may allow tougher sentencing in homophobic incidents, is not applied consistently and does not send the right message to actual and would-be thugs.

Sex education is rarely taught in isolation, and is normally part of a broader programme of Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE). The Government is committed to raising the status and profile of PSHE. A report from the Advisory Group on PSHE was published in May of this year, and the recommendations from the report were fed into the review of the National Curriculum. The Education Secretary, David Blunkett, has now announced his final decisions on the National Curriculum and these include a non-statutory framework for PSHE in both primary and secondary schools. The framework for secondary school pupils includes understanding the effects of stereotyping, prejudice, bullying and discrimination arising from whatever source; and how to challenge them assertively. It also includes understanding some of the cultural norms in society including the range of lifestyles and relationships.

Following consultation, the DfEE has recently issued its guidance in pupil attendance, behaviour, exclusion and reintegration. In that guidance, the Department restates its position about the unacceptability of all forms of bullying, including on the grounds of sexual orientation. I understand that DfEE are arranging to send you a copy of that guidance now that it has been published.

This is a partial response to point 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?”.

Finally, you raise the issue of homophobia in the police. The Police service as a visible and influential public service relies on the support of and active participation of the community. I believe that fair and non-discriminatory treatment of all staff and members of the public is vital if the service is to retain the trust and confidence of the public in its professionalism and integrity. The police service, supported by the Government, is actively pursuing equal opportunity policies within the service and seeks to encourage applications from the service from all under represented groups.

The Home Office is also reviewing the whole selection process with a view to removing all discriminatory practices from the selection procedures.

We have introduced new regulations through The Police (Conduct) Regulations 1999, which tightened up procedures for dealing with police misconduct and introduced a new code of conduct. The code stipulates among other matters that officers should treat members of the public and colleagues with courtesy and respect, avoiding abusive or deriding attitudes or behaviour. In particular, officers must avoid all forms of harassment, victimisation or unreasonable discrimination. This provision applies to all forms of unreasonable discrimination, including on the grounds of sexual orientation.

There is a range of sanctions which are available to deal with breaches of the code, including dismissal or the requirement to resign. Decisions about which sanction to apply will depend upon the merits of the case.

This is a partial response to point 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?”. OutRage! will be seeking details of this “code of conduct”, including to what extent it may be practicably enforceable. — Cf. the European Court of Human Rights ruling in February 1998 that the South West Trains were under no legal obligation to enforce their own policy of nondiscrimination.

The same week as this letter arrived we also received reports of a case where one or more maverick police officers are believed to have taken unofficial action against a minor offender which has resulted in his eviction, assault, and a break-in where his partner was attacked, bound, robbed, and threatened with murder.

Yours sincerely,

Jack Straw.

No response was included to point 9, which requested information about three specific instances of police homophobia:

  • against fellow officers at Soho’s West End Central police station;
  • the seemingly malicious arrest of Ian Farmer at London’s Pride March, July 1998;
  • the lack of any warning in April 1999 through the national media that bombs might target L/G/B/T communities.

Blair Government Condemned over “Regret” to Mugabe

Call for Zimbabwe’s Explusion from the Commonwealth

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.

PM urged to expell Zimbabwe from Commonwealth

The Prime Minister,
10, Downing Street.

9th November, 1999.

Dear Tony Blair,

COMMONWEALTH SUMMIT 1999
HOMOPHOBIC PERSECUTION & OTHER HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES IN ZIMBABWE

I am writing on behalf of the gay human rights group OutRage! to request that, during the Commonwealth Summit in South Africa, you initiate moves 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.

The expulsion of Zimbabwe is recommended by the prestigious London-based Foreign Policy Centre, of which you are a patron.

The Zimbabwean government has long flouted international human rights conventions: from the massacres in Matabeleland in the 1980s, to the ban on gay participation in the Zimbabwe International Book Fair in 1995 and the torture of journalists Ray Choto and Mark Chavunduka earlier this year.

President Mugabe’s government stands accused of murder, torture, censorship, detention without trial, bans on strikes and protests, and the violent suppression of peaceful dissent.

The President has denounced lesbians and gays as “sexual perverts” and “beasts”, who are “worse than dogs and pigs”. Rejecting calls for homosexual human rights, he said: “We don’t believe they have any rights at all”. He has warned gay people to leave Zimbabwe “voluntarily” or face “dire consequences”.

Since his inflammatory comments, homosexuals in Zimbabwe have been beaten, arrested, framed on trumped up charges, fire-bombed and threatened with death.

Your government is committed to an ethical foreign policy. We ask you to give this policy effect by cooperating with other Commonwealth leaders to isolate Zimbabwe and deny President Mugabe the trade and aid on which his government depends for its survival.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Tatchell.
OutRage!

OutRage! invites Blair to “kick ass”

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?

Yours sincerely,

John Hunt.

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.