Annotated reply from the Home Office to OutRage!’s letter to the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, following the bombing of the ‘Admiral Duncan’ pub.
Queen Anne’s Gate,
London SW1H 9AT.
23rd June, 1999.
Thank you for your letter of 3 May following the Soho bombing. I apologise for the delay in sending this reply and thank you for your patience.
As you know the Government has good relations with representatives from the gay and lesbian community.
This is presumably intended as a reply to point 4, demanding broader consultation with the L/G/B/T community, not just with Stonewall to the exclusion of all other organisations and interest groups.
With regard to your specific points:
Dealing with violence and harassment
First, let me say that the Government wants to stop attacks and harassment upon lesbians and gay men. The Government believes that everyone is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of their lives without fear of harassment or violent crime. The Government considers such behaviour to be totally unacceptable whether the motivation for the attack is because of the victim’s perceived sexual orientation or for any other reason.
The Government’s view is that the law must be able to offer everyone in society the best possible protection from violence, whatever the motivation of the aggressor. There are many groups in society, which for one reason or another are particularly victimised and it is important that the law protects them all.
I have set out the relevant law below. However, the way in which the law is implemented is also important. When considering a custodial sentence, judges are already required to take into account all available information about the circumstances of the offence, including any aggravating factors, which can include the motivation of the perpetrator in committing the offence.
While the Government does not accept the need for specific legislative measures to deal with homophobic attacks, and is determined to deal with the problem of homophobic crime. [sic]
This is a reply to point 1, demanding tougher sentences for violence and harassment against lesbians and gay men, in precisely the same way that Tony Blair proposed (after the Soho bomb) for racially motivated attacks. OutRage! cannot see any difference between hatred fuelled by racial prejudice and hatred fuelled by prejudice based on differing sexuality.
For example we have been working with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) to develop guidelines for police forces in dealing with incidents involving the lesbian and gay community and in order to ensure that they are policed in a fair and equitable manner. The guidelines include a definition of what should be regarded as a homophobic incident: “any incident which appears either to the victim or to any other person including the reporting or investigating officer to be motivated by homophobia”.
Increasingly, the police are working with the gay and lesbian community to deal with this problem – not only on a local, individual basis but also through liaison with the National Advisory Group on Policing the Lesbian and Gay Communities. The group includes lesbians and gay men who have experience of working with the police, together with police officers who work in this area. The National Advisory Group has worked with ACPO in developing the guidelines mentioned above.
The Government considers that there are particular problems associated with racial violence and harassment that justify specific legislation. Racially motivated crime harms not only the victim but the wider community as well, and has implications for public order more generally. The trust and understanding built up between communities can be eroded by the climate of fear and anxiety that follows such incidents. This is why the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 introduced new racially aggravated offences. The aim is to protect everyone from the consequences of racial crime and we would not wish to dilute the message that this Act sends to the victims of racial violence and harassment.
The criminal law already contains a wide range of powers to deal with violent behaviour or harassment. The main non-fatal violent offences include:
Where an attack results in death the offender may be charged with murder, for which the only sentence is life imprisonment, or with manslaughter where the maximum penalty is also life imprisonment. There is also a range of powers under the Public Order Act 1986 and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 to deal with non-violent offences.
Sex education is rarely taught in isolation, but is normally part of broader programmes of Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE). In this way there is an opportunity for teachers to address children’s spiritual, moral and cultural development to complement what they are learning about sex and relationships, and thereby better prepare them for adult life. PSHE can provide the vital building blocks from which young people can develop the self-respect and emotional well-being to help form and maintain worthwhile and fulfilling relationships. It promotes respect for the diversity of and differences between people. The Government is committed to raising the profile and status of PSHE and set up a National Advisory Group to develop a coherent framework, building on good practice and spreading it to all schools. The recommendations from the Advisory Group were fed into the review of the National Curriculum as carried out by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority. The Advisory Group’s report is due to be published shortly.
This relates to the final part of point 3, on the provision of balanced sex education for all age groups.
The Pink Paper carried a report on 25-June-1999, (page 7), stating that “Officials in Brazil’s Department of Health are advising government ministers that sex education should start as young as four, to prevent the spread of HIV later in life … [and] unwanted pregnancies”, and that the proposal was overwhelmingly endorsed by a conference of teachers and education officials.
An item on BBC Ceefax, (28-June-1999, page 120), quoted U.K. Government Minister Clare Short as advising the United Nations in the context of AIDS prevention that we should start telling children what they need to know. — However, that message is not reflected by the current reply from the Home Office.
The Secretary of State for Education, David Blunkett, recently announced his proposals for the review of the National Curriculwm which include a non-statutory framework for PSHE in both primary and secondary schools. In addition to PSHE, the Secretary of State’s proposals also include a new foundation subject for citizenship in secondary schools. A key element of the knowledge and understanding young people are expected to gain through citizenship education is the diversity of national, regional, religious and ethnic identities within the United Kingdom and the need for mutual respect and understanding. Provision for citizenship and PSHE will complement one another and help pupils to make sense of the world in which they live.
This relates to the first two parts of point 3, on promoting integration and eradicating bullying. Notably, the citizenship education makes no explicit mention of diversity of sexuality.
The effect that bullying can have both on the emotional well-being and educational achievement of children cannot be underestimated. We are concerned that all schools should treat the issue of bullying seriously and take steps to combat it promptly and firmly whenever and wherever it occurs. This is reflected in new legislation. The School Standards and Framework Act 1998 includes a section requiring headteachers, from September at the latest, to determine measures which encourage good behaviour and respect for others by pupils, and, in particular, to prevent all forms of bullying among pupils.
A school’s headteacher is already responsible for securing discipline on a day-to-day basis subject to any general principles laid down in writing by the school governors. Also, a headteacher has a duty to determine measures that encourage good behaviour and respect for others on the part of pupils.
When parents find that their child is being bullied, they should not hesitate to complain. Leaflets are available from the Department for Education and Employment.
There is no mention of point 2, viz. repeal of Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act.
Complaint of Malicious arrest by lan Farmer: The procedures for dealing with complaints against the police are laid down under Part IV of the Police Act 1996. The Act makes the police and the Police Complaints Authority responsible for the investigation of complaints and there is no authority for Ministers to intervene in the process.
The Government are concerned to build public confidence in the police complaints system. The Home Affairs Select Committee made some important recommendations in its report last year on the police disciplinary and complaints procedures to increase the independence and openness of the process.
We have accepted the Select Committee’s recommendation to conduct detailed feasibility studies into arrangements for a fully independent complaints investigation process. This work will be completed by April 2000. We will consider in the light of that research whether legislation should be brought forward to establish a new independent complaints investigation body.
This relates to point 5(2). Sorry, Ian, the Home Secretary cannot help you: or not until any legislation which may be recommended next year has worked its way through the parliamentary process.
Police action in light of the nail bombings: All Metropolitan Police divisions throughout London were tasked with identifying vulnerable communities and focusing police activity, including high visibility policing to reassure and protect potentially vulnerable communities. As a consequence, Gay and Lesbian groups were identified as potentially vulnerable and Stonewall, Galop and other Gay and Lesbian businesses were contacted. This was followed by a letter from the police which was issued on 27 April and the Pink Paper led with a warning in its edition dated 30 April and circulated on 29 April. All the premises in Wardour Street and Old Compton Street, including the Admiral Duncan pub, were visited by two Crime Prevention Officers on 28 April.
The Metropolitan Police responded very positively to the threat to the safety of all people in London, talking to a wide range of community organisations and many businesses in a major crime prevention effort. That effort has rightly won widespread praise. The police in their turn have thanked the public for their support and vigilance, and have emphasised the importance of partnership.
This refers to point 5(3): but without even alluding to the OutRage! suggestion of a high-profile public announcement in the national media.
The events of recent weeks have shown that when communities and the police work together towards one aim success can be achieved. The new Task Group which has been established by the police to provide reassurance to all members of the public affected by hate in all its forms by seeking to prevent, deter and disrupt the criminal activities of violent extremists, will continue with this alliance.
Point 5(1) on homophobia within the police force is not addressed by this reply.
I hope this is helpful. Once again apologies for the delay in sending you this reply.
The Rt. Hon. David Blunkett, MP,
Secretary of State for Education and Employment.
25th May, 1999.
Dear Mr. Blunkett,
Promoting Lesbian and Gay Equality of Opportunity in Schools
Following the sickening London bombings in April which targeted minority groups, OutRage! has been encouraged by some of the reported pronouncements by Tony Blair and Jack Straw on the need to promote equality, inclusivity and integration of ethnic groups, lesbians, and gay men, proactively; by your own statement ten days ago on proposals to “help young people develop a full understanding of their duties and responsibilities as citizens in a civilised and mature democracy”; and by the more recent explicit call by Sports Minister Tony Banks for gay football players to “come out”, to help combat homophobia in sport.
Although the Government has repeatedly affirmed its commitment to repealing Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act, it is recognised throughout the teaching profession and elsewhere that the continued existence of this deplorable legislation on the Statute Books promotes and maintains an atmosphere of fear and self-censorship, so that lesbian and gay pupils are all too effectively denied any form of support; whilst their heterosexual peers receive no encouragement to accept individuals whose sexuality is different from their own. — The need for this was underlined during the House of Lords debate last month on the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, where it was revealed that the NSPCC, Save the Children, Barnado’s, NCH Action for Children, the BMA, Royal College of Nursing, Family Welfare Association, and the National Union of Teachers all supported equality and integration.
You will be aware of the tragic suicide last autumn of Darren Steele, who, after enduring years of homophobic bullying, committed suicide at the age of 15. You may also be aware of the 1998 GALOP survey of lesbian, gay and bisexual youth, “Telling it like it is”, which found:
- 54% had suffered repeated verbal abuse
- 35% physical abuse in school
- 33% verbal abuse at school
- 9% repeated hate communications
- 8% repeated intimidation
- 7% sexual abuse at school
- 4% hate communications & property damage/theft
A 1992 survey by the Lesbian Youth Support Group and Information Service concluded that, of the young lesbians questioned, a staggering 70% of those who had experienced homophobic abuse had attempted suicide. — Given that many young lesbian, gay and bisexual people feel unable to be open about their sexuality, these statistics must represent just the tip of the iceberg.
On behalf of OutRage!, I am writing to urge you publicly:
- to reaffirm that Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act neither applies to schools, nor restricts the supportive teaching and counselling that schools should offer on lesbian and gay issues;
- to call on schools to take firm action to halt all forms of homophobic bullying, whether directed at pupils or at staff, and regardless of the suspected sexuality of the victims;
- to confirm that being lesbian or gay is no bar to being a teacher;
- to encourage lesbians and gay men throughout the teaching profession to “come out”, and to advise schools and local education authorities that no teacher who does come out should be dismissed or in any other way disadvantaged for being honest and open about their sexuality.
Your leadership on these matters would do much to help support gay pupils and teachers, and would be greatly appreciated.
The Rt. Hon. Jack Straw, MP,
14th May, 1999.
I am writing on behalf of the lesbian and gay human rights group OutRage! to call for a public inquiry into the police failure to warn the lesbian and gay population that Old Compton Street and other gay districts were potential bomb targets.
Some gay businesses in Old Compton Street, and one gay organisation (Stonewall), were alerted. But there was no general warning to the wider lesbian and gay population. They had a right to know that their community was at risk, and the police were wrong to not make them aware of that danger.
A public inquiry is needed to ensure that the policing mistakes in the days leading up to the Soho bomb are identified, and that remedial action is taken to ensure they are not repeated in the future.
The police response after the Soho bombing was, in our view, praiseworthy. It does, however, need to recognised that their failure to forewarn the homosexual public that gay venues could be attacked was a serious and tragic misjudgement. This failure is a legitimate and necessary subject for a public enquiry.
Soon after the Brixton bomb, and most definitely following the Brick Lane explosion, officers suspected that right-wing extremists were behind the blast — and they admitted publicly this likely far-right connection.
From past experience, the police were aware that these neo-Nazi groups do not confine their hatred and violence to racial minorities. As well as being racist and anti-Semitic, they are also notoriously homophobic. It was obvious to anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the far right that the gay community was a potential bomb target. Nevertheless, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Condon, and other senior officers, continued to publicly promote –without any proof– a solely-racist motive for the bombings.
In addition to the easily-arrived-at deduction that the bomber was likely to be homophobic as well as racist, there is cast-iron proof that, about a week before the Soho bomb exploded, officers on the case suspected that Old Compton Street might be a target. We know this because police were dispatched to alert gay businesses in Old Compton Street from Monday, 26th April, which suggests that the decision to warn these businesses was probably taken the Friday before or earlier.
There is further concrete evidence that the police feared the lesbian and gay community could be targeted. The gay rights group, Stonewall, was posted a police warning dated Tuesday, 27th April, but this letter did not arrive until Friday, 30th April, (the day of the bombing). Since the police had serious concerns about the lesbian and gay community being attacked, why was this warning not phoned, faxed or couriered to Stonewall, and to other gay rights organisations? Who made the decision to send the warning by second class post? These questions require answers.
It was also a grave mistake for the police not use their own community consultation structures to alert the most obvious and important gay groups: those that are involved in police liaison, through the London Lesbian & Gay Policing Initiative (LLGPI). None of these organisations received any warning about the bomb danger.
For nearly two years, the LLPGI has been urging the police to set up a data base of lesbian and gay groups in London, to ensure swift communication with the homosexual community in the event of an emergency, such as the recent bombing campaign. This recommendation was also made by OutRage! six years ago, after the delayed police warning to the gay community when serial killer, Colin Ireland, was on the rampage.
During the recent bombings, the failure of the police to establish this data base meant that, even if they had decided to alert all lesbian and gay groups that gay venues might be targeted, officers had no way of disseminating their fears to these groups.
The most serious police misjudgement was, by far, the decision to warn some gay bars, but not the wider gay public. This lulled many lesbians and gay men into a false sense of security. Because the police did not issue a public alert about the possibility of gay venues being bombed, most homosexuals did not take the threat seriously. They heard Sir Paul Condon suggesting an exclusively racist motive for the bombings, and assumed that the gay community was not at risk.
As soon as his officers realised tbat the lesbian and gay community was a potential target –which was Tuesday, 27th April at the latest and probably several days earlier– the Metropolitan Police Commissioner should have gone on national television to advise the homosexual population that gay areas and venues were at risk. He should have also announced publicly that Old Compton Street and other gay districts were under heavy police surveillance. This might have deterred the bomber. On hearing of the police surveillance of gay districts, he may have concluded there was a risk of detection and abandoned his plans. London and the gay community could, perhaps, have been spared the carnage of Friday, 30th April.
I hope you will agree that police decison-making in the run-up to the Soho bomb blast was flawed, and that in the interests of avoiding any repetition of those errors of judgement there needs to be a full and independent public enquiry.
The Rt. Hon. Jack Straw, MP,
3rd May, 1999.
Dear Mr. Straw,
Government Action following Friday’s Soho bombing
Given your hospital visits to those injured by the bomb, it is plain that your weekend, like that of so many of us, has been disrupted by the blast, (albeit not in the devasting way that the survivors, their families, and those of the deceased will be affected for years to come).
I note that you have been reported this weekend as saying “there has, happily, been a huge change in the attitudes of society as a whole towards gay people. There is, of course, much more progress needed”: and I would agree with this on both counts.
From the extracts which I have seen reported, it would appear that the remainder of your comments have been limited to bringing the perpetrator(s) to justice, and on the sterling work of the police.
On behalf of OutRage! I am writing to ask you to consider and reply to the following additional points.
- To introduce an amendment to the 1998 Crime & Disorder Act, to impose tougher sentences for violence and harassment against lesbians and gay men, (in accordance with the spirit of the amendment tabled on 8th May last year by Richard Allan, MP).
- To repeal Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act, which, despite various Government pronouncements, in practice still exercises a severely inhibitory effect upon schools and other organisations which work with young people.
- In accordance with Tony Blair’s 1997 election slogan “Education! Education! Education!”, to ensure that both primary and secondary schools do their utmost to:
- promote integration (of all segments of society) and eliminate intolerance;
- eradicate racism, homophobia, and other forms of bullying;
- introduce balanced sex education, addressing at all levels of the curriculum and in all relevant subjects appropriate awareness of acceptable and unacceptable variations of behaviour within personal relationships, for the practical, long-term benefit of all pupils, whatever their sexuality.
- In the context of the reported statement that you “value the close working relationship which I have with Stonewall and the gay community”: with which L/G/B/T (lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender) organisations do you have any relationship, apart from Stonewall? Although I have personally supported Stonewall financially for a number of years -and still do- it is only fair to state that they neither consult nor are accountable either to their own supporters, nor to the rest of the L/G/B/T community. As such their point of view is by no means representative. Moreover, despite their wealth (relative to other community bodies), their still limited resources do not enable them to address all the issues which they might like to: to say nothing of other issues which they prefer to ignore. — Any consultation of significance must be within a larger, democratic, representative and accountable forum: for example, through the Equality Alliance, (which has performed a useful coordinating and information-sharing rôle this weekend). You will be aware that OutRage! is most desirous to have serious input into the legislative process: as, indeed, are other groups.
- On the subject of the police, it is indeed right and proper that the good work which they do should be acknowledged and appropriately rewarded. However, as the MacPherson Report has demonstrated (in the different but very closely related area of racism), there are regrettably still shortcomings. In the context of homophobia, I mention the following selection. –
- The May issue of “Gay Times” carries a report, pp. 14 + 48, on homophobia within the police force: at a number of stations, but, in particular, at Soho’s West End Central. Indeed, after Saturday’s protest rally, a fellow marcher stated that a friend of his, a lesbian police officer there, was very distressed about the working environment. — There is little point in encouraging the police to hunt for bomb-planting terrorists whilst they allow hotbeds of homophobia and racism to flourish within their midst.
- At last year’s Gay Pride March, a member of the Equality Alliance, Ian Farmer, was maliciously arrested. He subsequently complained: only to discover earlier this year that his complaint had been misrecorded. The mishandling of this case reflects a number of the issues which were recognised in the Stephen Lawrence scandal.
- Although the police visited and warned selected gay businesses of the possible danger of a bomb, (not, I am informed, with due diligence), the warning was by no means high-profile. Since they had suspicions, tragically confirmed, that bombs might be directed at other, nonethnic, minority groups, it would surely have been appropriate to announce this to the general public through the national media. That this was neglected reminds me of the “Don’t die of ignorance” advertisements warning the nation of the danger of icebergs. This was another warning that dare not speak its name in public. — Why are the British as a nation so shamefully coy? It is truly disastrous: as has tragically been proved on both occasions.
We also hereby invite you to attend a brief commemorative Vigil of Remembrance at 6:30 p.m., Friday, 7th May, Old Compton Street, outside the Admiral Duncan.
The outing of Agriculture Minister Nick Brown by the threat of tabloid kiss-and-tell relevations about his private life has heen condemned by OutRage!.
“There is no public interest justification for Nick Brown being pressured to disclose his sexuality”, said Peter Tatchell of OutRage!.
“He is not a hypocrite or a homophobe. His public pronouncements on gay issues are consistent with his private behaviour. In the absence of hypocrisy, the outing of Nick Brown is totally indefensible.
“On the three major gay civil rights issues –the age of consent, military service and Section 28– Nick Brown voted in favour of gay equality.
“The Prime Minister is to be applauded for standing by his man. Nick Brown should be judged on his ability to do his job, not on his sexual orientation. Tony Blair has reconfirmed that being gay is no bar to Ministerial office. This will, hopefully, encourage more MPs to come out.
“Nine MPs are now out, but more than 30 are still hiding their homosexuality and could be vulnerable to similar kiss-and-tell exposure.
“These MPs belong to all three main parties. Many are married. Some hold high-level parliamentary and government positions. Because of their secretive double-life and resort to anonymous casual sex, they are easy targets for tabloid exposure and blackmail.
“It would be better for everyone –the MPs, their families and the political process– if closeted MPs came out. Being open about their sexuality would avoid a repeat of the undignified exposure experienced by Ron Davies, Peter Mandelson and Nick Brown.”
Six MPs have voluntarily came out, and three others have been outed or pressured to come out by media – Nick Brown being the latest.
This brings the total of identified gay MPs to nine. Britain now has more publicly known homosexual MPs than any other country in the world.
OutRage! does not support the outing of MPs unless they are hypocritical or homophobic. Those who merely hide their homosexuality should not be forced out. But if MPs publicly bash the gay community and vote for antigay discrimination, outing is justified.
OutRage! and other queer activists besieged the House of Lords tonight (22nd July), blockading the exits and forcing peers to abandon their attempts to leave the building.
There were scuffles with police as protesters jumped barricades and ran through the gates in a bid get inside the Lords and confront those who had just voted by 289 to 122 against an equal age of consent for gay men, overturning last month’s House of Commons vote of 336 to 129 in favour of equality.
A startled Baroness Young, who led the successful attempt to reinstate a discriminatory gay age of consent of 18, was hustled back inside the Lords by phalanxes of police as OutRage! activists confronted her, shouting: “Shame! Shame! House of hatred! House of fear! Stop persecuting queers”.
Earlier, OutRage! activists and supporters had maintained a four-hour “VIGIL FOR EQUALITY” outside the House of Lords, during with the debate inside. They held aloft pink flags and placards emblazoned with the slogans: “16 for all”, “Queers demand equality”, and “Equalise gay age of consent”.
“OutRage! warned for months that the House of Lords was likely to reject equality”, said Peter Tatchell of OutRage!. “We were ridiculed and dismissed by other gay groups. Their absurd triumphalism after MP’s voted for 16 led to complacency.”
OutRage! is now calling on the Government to challenge the “antidemocratic” House of Lords. —
“The unelected House of Lords has no moral authority or democratic mandate to overturn the two-thirds vote in favour of equality by elected MP’s”, said Tatchell.
“If the Government allows itself to be pushed around by the Lords, we can kiss goodbye to democracy.
“This vote highlights the democratic deficit in our parliamentary system and demonstrates why the Lords should be replaced by an elected and accountable second chamber.
“The Home Secretary should stand up to the Lords by proposing a new amendment to reinstate equality. It would be an act of political cowardice for the Government to appease homophobic peers by ditching the equal age of consent”, said Tatchell.
Director of Census Division,
Office of National Statistics,
Dear Mr. Jones,
In the 1991 census, there were questions designed to establish the relationship between members of the household. The design of the form inadvertently allowed same-sex couples to identify their partnership. A significant number of lesbian and gay couples took advantage of this opportunity and indicated in the relevant section on the form that they were living together as partners.
This record of same-sex relationships, which was not intended by the Census Division, was regarded as “anomalous” and the information provided by these couples was “corrected” to erase any record of homosexual partners. The end result was that same-sex lovers who wished to record their partnership were falsely recorded as “unrelated” in the 1991 Census.
I am writing to request your official acknowledgement that these “corrections” to the data took place, and that it was the official policy of the Census Division at that time to expunge any record of same-sex partnerships.
I further wish to seek your reassurance that the 2001 Census form will be designed so that those homosexual couples who wish to record their partnership will be able to do so, and that same-sex partnerships will be included in the final Census statistics.
cc: Dr. Tim Holt, Head of the Government Statistical Office
Helen Lidell MP
The Government has rejected proposals by OutRage! to amend the Human Rights Bill to ensure the antidiscrimination clause –Article 14– is interpreted by the courts to ban discrimination against lesbians and gays and people with HIV (and the elderly and disabled).
It has also turned down OutRage!’s bid to amend the Crime and Disorder Bill to extend the tough new penalties for race-hate attacks to all prejudice-motivated violence, including assaults on homosexuals.
PROTECTION AGAINST DISCRIMINATION — Human Rights Bill
In a letter to Peter Tatchell of OutRage!, Home Office Minister Mike O’Brien says the Government is “unable to accept” the OutRage! amendment to the Human Rights Bill.
“The amendment might lead to our courts interpreting Article 14 more widely than has been interpreted in Strasbourg … that would be contrary to the principle of the Bill which is to improve access to the Convention rights, not to modify or widen them”, wrote Mr. O’Brien.
Peter Tatchell of OutRage! denies this: “Our amendment does not create new rights or expand the scope of Article 14. It seeks to ensure that Article 14 is interpreted, as worded, to guarantee equal treatment to everyone, without discrimination”.
HATE CRIMES — Crime and Disorder Bill
Responding to OutRage!’s hate crimes amendment to the Crime and Disorder Bill, Mr. O’Brien wrote: “The Government wants a focused response to racist crime, which poses a particular threat to the development of a stable society. Many of our citizens suffer daily fear that they will be attacked or harassed because of their racial background. Any addition to include homophobic violence risks diluting the message that we want to send”.
According to Peter Tatchell: “The Home Office is saying that homophobic hate crimes don’t merit tougher penalties. This sends the wrong signal. Queer-bashers will now conclude that the Government is soft on antigay violence. The Home Office policy is divisive. All crimes of prejudice should be punished with the same severity”.
The Goverment’s rejection of OutRage!’s proposals comes after five months’ consultation and negotiation, including a Home Office meeting between Peter Tatchell and Mike O’Brien.
OutRage! is now organising backbench MP’s to table revised amendments. It expects them to be debated when the two Bills come up again in Parliament.
The Bill received Royal Assent on 9-November-1998.
Home Office Minister Mike O’Brien, MP, has expressed support for the idea of a House of Commons Select Committee report on discrimination against lesbians and gay men. He said it would be a helpful way forward, setting out proposals for law reform, which the government would then consider.
Mr. O’Brien made his comments during a 45-minute meeting at the Home Office on the 11th March with OutRage! campaigner Peter Tatchell.
OutRage! is currently pressing the Home Affairs Select Committee to produce a report on antigay discrimination, and sent a proposal for law reform to the Committee’s chair, Chris Mullin MP, on the 2nd March.
“The Minister’s support for a Select Committee enquiry is very encouraging”, commented Peter Tatchell. “Mike O’Brien seemed convinced this would be a useful way to proceed.
“My impression was that the Government will give very serious consideration to a report recommending equality.
“An investigation by the Select Committee could help revive the stalled campaign for lesbian and gay human rights. It would be the most significant report on homosexual issues since the 1957 Wolfenden Report.
“Any recommendation to repeal discrimination would have great authority and impact. It would generate major news coverage and increase pressure on the government to enact law reform.
“We envisage the Select Committee inquiry would be comparable to the Wolfenden Report in its prestige and consequences — although we want its remit to be wider than sexual offences law. It could help set the political agenda and give a new impetus to the campaign for equality”, said Peter Tatchell.
Further Information: PETER TATCHELL, Tel. (+44)-171 403 1790
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.