Human Rights

Homotopia Festival

Peter Tatchell talks about queer rights and the philosophy of OutRage!’s direct action. He also talks about Iraq and religious fundamentalism.

Protest as Performance

Peter Tatchell celebrates the OutRage! art of activism, where style and symbolism are used to empower the struggle for queer emancipation

Making A Scene: Performing Culture Into Politics, Henry Rogers and David Burrows (Editors), ARTicle Press in association with the IKON Gallery, Birmingham, 2000

In this chapter from Making A Scene, Peter Tatchell explains how the direct action campaigns of the queer rights group OutRage! are a form of “protest as performance”, which draw on the traditions of camp and theatricality and of situationist and guerrilla art, in order to claim gay space, challenge homophobia and promote a queer liberation agenda.

The direct action campaigns of the queer rights group OutRage! are an example of a unique political genre – “protest as performance”. Our juxtaposition of political themes and cultural forms borrows ideas from performance art to promote an explicit human rights message. This “art of activism” campaigning seeks to profile lesbian and gay emancipation in a way that is both educative and entertaining.

Much of OutRage!’s direct action is also challenging and confrontational, claiming for the queer community public spaces and agendas that have been hitherto off-limits. Our bid for justice often involves intruding – usually uninvited! – into previously all-heterosexual domains where we stage symbolic spectacles that question the orthodoxy and presumptions of straight morality and culture.

This OutRage! activism has included, among other things, taking over solemn state ceremonies and appropriating sacred symbols of national consciousness, such as Remembrance Sunday at the national war memorial, the Cenotaph. Our annual alternative Queer Remembrance Day ceremony occupies – both physically and spiritually – a place of national identity and significance. It projects onto the geographic space of the Cenotaph, and into the emotional space of the commemoration of the war dead, a subversive queer message.

Queer Remembrance Day challenge four things:

  1. macho militarism and military homophobia,
  2. the ban on lesbians and gay men serving in the armed forces,
  3. historical revisionism, as promoted by writers such as William Shirer, who ignore or censor the homo-holocaust of Nazism,
  4. the Royal British Legion’s refusal to acknowledge the contribution of queers to the fight against Nazism, and its condemnation of queer remembrance ceremonies as ‘insulting, offensive and distasteful’.

By celebrating Queer Remembrance Day at the Cenotaph we are performing an act of subversive political symbolism in a hallowed place of national importance that has been previously forbidden to queers. This claiming of a state memorial and ritual for a queer agenda challenges invisibility and censorship, promoting public awareness and debate about a marginalised element of queer history and suffering.

Queer Remembrance Day illustrates the way OutRage! transcends a purely legalistic approach to homosexual liberation. Unlike the mainstream, respectable wing of lesbian and gay rights campaigning, which tends to be co-opted into the confines of parliamentary politics and law reform, OutRage!’s model of direct action is foremost about raising consciousness and transforming cultural attitudes and values concerning queer issues. We are seeking to simultaneously revolutionise ethics, opinions, laws and institutions, in order to change fundamentally the way society thinks and acts about homosexuality. Moreover, we are not merely trying to change the way straight society perceives queers; we are also attempting to change the way the lesbian and gay community perceives itself.

Too often, we are depicted as victims of prejudice, discrimination and violence: victims of religious condemnation, victims of hate crimes, victims of bias in the workplace, victims of police harassment and so on. This victimisation is, sure enough, a reality that needs to be acknowledged and remedied. But the constant labelling of queers as victims has its downside too. As well as evoking empathy, it can also stir heterosexual contempt and disparagement, even to the point of encouraging some homophobes to see us as easy, vulnerable targets for abuse.

For queers on the receiving end of bigotry, the label of “victim” can be profoundly disempowering and dispiriting. That is why OutRage! tries – through its militant direct action tactics – to undermine the notion of gays-as-victims. In its place, we seek to create a new queer consciousness of pride, defiance and resistance, where fags and dykes maintain a sceptical, discerning attitude towards straight culture and refuse to conform to the dictates of heterosexual society.

A precondition for the self-respect and self-empowerment of queers is overturning the psychologically disabling victim mentality that has been foisted upon us by straight society, and which many homosexuals have themselves embraced in a bid for public sympathy.

OutRage!’s feisty, sassy brand of political activism is an explicit rejection of the cowering, defeatist, long-suffering image of victimhood. Our confrontational protests, where we dare to challenge even the most powerful homophobes, are about making the mental and political transition from victim to victor; creating a new, strong, uplifting identity of queers fighting back and overcoming oppression.

Christian homophobia is a classic example of how lesbian and gay people have been victimised over the centuries. The millennium marked 2,000 years of Christian persecution of homosexual people. This religious persecution is not over yet.

In 1992 and on several occasions subsequently, the Pope declared that discrimination against queers is theologically justified, and that Catholics are duty-bound to oppose civil rights legislation for lesbians and gay men. In response to this Papal edict, OutRage! staged a series of protests against Catholic leaders and institutions. One of these protests involved transgressing a sacred act of worship in Westminster Cathedral.

As this intervention at Westminster Cathedral demonstrated, OutRage! consciously intrudes into places where queers are not wanted to raise awkward issues that the political, religious and cultural establishment would rather ignore. We pride ourselves in subverting the status quo and interrupting business-as-usual. It is precisely this unwillingness to conform to the rules of traditional political discourse that distinguishes our direct action politics from mainstream lobbyists. Making trouble, defying convention, undermining normality, and questioning authority: these are the hallmarks of our activism.

This querulous, dissenting philosophy was also behind another challenge to religious homophobia: the OutRage! protest in Canterbury Cathedral on Easter Sunday 1998, when we disrupted the Archbishop of Canterbury’s sermon in protest at his advocacy of discrimination against homosexuals.

What characterises this and so many other OutRage! zaps is the guerrilla-style, hit-and-run seizure of previously hetero-dominated public and private spaces to promulgate a radical, discomforting, critical queer agenda. We deliberately confound both straight and gay orthodoxy by doing the undoable and saying the unsayable.

Our intrusion into public domains has a special significance, given the insistence of the legal system that homosexuality is, and must remain, a “private matter”. Law reform in England and Wales in 1967 partially lifted the ban on male homosexuality. One of its preconditions was that sodomy and other queer perversions were only to be tolerated, providing they were kept hidden and private. That privacy precondition is written into the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, and it remains the basis on which sex between men is today afforded a degree of grudging legal tolerance.

OutRage!’s direct action tactics and occupation of forbidden public spaces have sought to challenge the “in private” settlement of 1967, with its implicit demand that queers remain silent and invisible. The “Kiss-In” in Piccadilly Circus in 1990, under the statue of Eros, was one such challenge, where we flaunted expressions of same-sex affection and dared the police to arrest us. They didn’t. On the contrary, from that moment onwards, the arrest of lesbian and gay couples for kissing and cuddling ceased in central London.

The “Kiss-In” exemplifies a successful transgressive queer politics which insists that lesbians and gays are no longer willing to remain “in private” and excluded from the terrain of public consciousness and debate. It also represents a rejection of conformism and subservience. Too many homosexual campaigners confine their goals to the parameters of a straight-dominated political system and sexual morality. Playing politics by straight rules and mimicking the heterosexual norm signals a lack of self-worth and self-confidence. Moreover, it is bound to result in gay acceptance and equality on straight terms, which may prove to be a Pyrrhic victory.

What was revolutionary about the “Kiss-In” was the way it challenged not only homophobia, but Puritanism too. It went against uptight, strait-laced heterosexual norms, asserting the validity of public expressions of eroticism and affection.

The OutRage! genre of direct action politics is characterised by six key themes:

1. A fusion of art with activism.

Despite our weaknesses and failings, few people would deny that OutRage! has made a serious contribution to the invention of something a little more imaginative than the standard march from Hyde Park to Trafalgar Square. We have escaped from the stale, boring methods of orthodox political campaigning through the development of a new, modern mode of political agitprop.

Many of our direct actions involve an element of theatricality, using costumes and props. There is often a story line. The aim of this “theatre of the streets” is to promote thought-provoking queer ideas through the projection of arresting imagery.

One zap where art and activism were literally fused together was the OutRage! disruption of the Romanian National Opera performance of Aida at the Royal Albert Hall in 1996. The Romanian government had, at the time, announced harsh anti-gay laws, cracking down on homosexuality and gay human rights organisations. We saw the disruption of this major cultural event – organised and promoted by the government in Bucharest – as an effective way of getting at the Romanian leadership and creating a global awareness of Romania’s abuse of lesbian and gay civil rights.

In attendance at the performance of Aida were representatives and friends of the Romanian government, together with business people from major corporations that were being encouraged to invest in Romania. In the middle of Act One, thirty of us stormed through the artist’s entrance and onto the main stage, unfurling a huge banner which read: ‘Romania! Stop Jailing Queers!’. Simultaneously, thousands of leaflets were showered down on the audience by OutRage! members in the top balconies. Although it was a brief, symbolic intervention, this protest got the issue reported in the Romanian and international media, ensuring that the new homophobic laws became a matter of public knowledge and debate in Romania and worldwide.

2. Re-inventing the queer tradition of camp and theatricality.

Traditional left-wing agitprop is frequently dull and dour. This tendency to be too serious can, sometimes, be a turn-off that inhibits the effective communication of a political message. It is important to think carefully about getting the balance right between humour and seriousness. OutRage! has shown that many gay equality issues are open to being conveyed with wit and satire, as with our 1992 posthumous outing of British military “heroes”, in protest at the ban on homosexuals in the armed forces. The statute of Field Marshal Haig in Whitehall was draped with a pink feather boa, and the memorial to Admiral Mountbatten postered with the slogan “For Queens & Country”.

This bent towards theatricality cannot be explained solely in terms of OutRage! consisting of lots of out-of-work actors, graphic artists, scriptwriters and costume designers. Our theatricality stems from a conscious choice to utilise queer culture, as well as a pragmatic recognition that theatricality works.

Throughout gay history, the queer tradition of camp has been mostly apolitical, misogynistic and even self-oppressive. We have attempted to turn this tradition on its head and reinvent camp as an instrument in the service of lesbian and gay liberation.

3. Acting out protest as a form of performance.

OutRage! activism creates public spectacles as a means of promoting of human rights. Many of our actions are the equivalent of putting on a one-performance play in the street. We draw on earlier incarnations of street theatre – as practised by groups such as the Gay Liberation Front in London in early 1970s – in order to advertise our political ideas and messages. The aim is to grab the media’s attention and, through the media, project these ideas and messages to a wider public audience of millions.

The old-style leftist marches with a rally and speeches are passé. It is very rare nowadays that this kind of protest gets media coverage and creates public debate – unless it involves hundreds of thousands of people.

Small direct actions can, however, be highly effective – providing they are done with imagination and flair. A daring, witty zap by a handful of activists has the power to generate media coverage and stir public interest.

Most of OutRage!’s big spectacles involve the performance of queer narratives and quasi-morality plays to expose human rights abuses. This was the case with our “Exorcism of Homophobia” from Lambeth Palace, the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Appropriating Biblical stories and imagery, and with queerified scriptural characters and hymns, we acted out the ritual purging of the “Demon of Homophobia” from the Church of England.

These OutRage! extravaganzas usually attract large crowds of passers-by, which is a good indication of their appeal and effectiveness. One of our big, set-piece spectacles – the 1991 “Wink-In” – was so amusing and successful that two days later we received a telephone call from a tour company. Their tour group had witnessed our performance and enjoyed it so much that the company wanted to know when we were going to repeat the event, so they could send other groups of tourists to come and watch.

Such interest and enthusiasm is precisely what good activism ought to generate. To grab people’s attention, politics needs to be accessible, entertaining and informative. It is no use having wonderful ideas and not being able to communicate them. In this modern telecommunications age, the media is the main means of disseminating ideas and we have to use it if we want to influence public consciousness and the political process.

4. The politics of pleasure and the pleasuring of politics.

Protests should, wherever possible, be fun as well as serious. That means making them enjoyable for those who take part and witness them. This exaltation of “politics with pleasure” runs against the grain of mainstream political campaigning, which tends to be predicated on duty and sacrifice. Usually involving boring, repetitive methods, conventional politics can also be quite aggressive, with a strong streak of machismo. There is, of course, a legitimate place for anger when faced with monstrous injustices. But sometimes we need to step back from the fray and question whether the battle for public opinion is likely to be won by belligerent posturing and shouting.

OutRage! is convinced that there are often more effective ways of getting across a human rights message, even when it relates to dry, complex and obscure legislation. Section 32 of the 1956 Sexual Offences Act prohibits male soliciting in a public place. The penalty is up to two years jail. This law originated in 1898, at the time of Oscar Wilde. It is used today to harass and arrest gay men for consensual cruising in public places, such as parks, toilets and forests. In extreme cases, gay men have been arrested for merely smiling or winking at each other in the street.

To highlight the absurdity of this outdated Victorian law, OutRage! held a mass ‘Wink-In’ in Piccadilly Circus in 1991. This involved the erection of huge winking eyes and the public exchange of phone numbers on giant calling cards – an act of blatant mass civil disobedience. It was a funny, imaginative, entertaining way of highlighting this antiquated, draconian statute, and pressuring the police to de-prioritise its enforcement (which they subsequently did, saving thousands of gay men from arrest).

5. Claiming queer space.

OutRage! direct actions manifest queer identities and desires in public places from which we are normally excluded. There are still many public domains wholly or partially cordoned off to homosexuals: not just streets and parks where gay men go cruising, but also other public spaces. Two examples of this containment of queer identity and presence are State ceremonials and the education system.

OutRage! fought a long, hard battle to win the right to demonstrate at the State Opening of Parliament. We were fighting not just for the right to demand that gay equality measures are included in the annual Queen’s Speech, but also to secure the basic civil liberty that everyone should have the right to peacefully demonstrate in front of the Head of State.

Our homosexuality and queer agenda were, it seems, major reasons why we were so roughly manhandled by the police and so often arrested. The presence of dykes and fags was, apparently, considered an insult to Parliament and the Monarch. This made our protest at Westminster all the more relevant: it became a symbolic act to establish the political legitimacy of queer people and issues in an official State ceremony at the seat of government.

The other example of our usurping of public spaces and turning them queer was OutRage!’s “Queer Is Cool” schools campaign in 1991, organised by our affinity group ‘Sissy’ (Sex Information for School Students & Youth). The aim was to combat the censorship of lesbian and gay issues in the classroom. We handed pupils leaflets as they went into school. These leaflets included information about gay sexuality, queer history and HIV prevention. They challenged homophobic attitudes and, we hope, helped empower lesbian and gay kids to feel more confident about their sexual orientation.

For this terrible crime, OutRage! was savagely denounced by the media and “family values” politicians. According to them, it is absolutely unacceptable for students to be given upfront, unapologetic information about queer issues. As with every protest, the proof of the pudding is in the eating: our leafleting produced a huge debate among teachers and sex educationists. We put them on the spot: why were these facts not being given to kids in the classroom?

6. Challenging homophobic institutions and laws.

Just prior to the 1992 general election, OutRage! sought to overturn the prohibition on lesbian and gay marriage, as part of our campaign to put same-sex partnership rights on the political agenda. As a radical queer rights group we are, not surprisingly, highly critical of the patriarchal, misogynist institution of marriage. But our aim on that occasion was to take the institution of marriage at face value and challenge the homophobia embodied in the ban on lesbian and gay weddings.

We organised five homosexual couples to file applications for civil marriage at Westminster Registry Office, with the objective of undermining the discriminatory marriage law.

The 1949 Marriage Act does not specify that marriage partners have to be heterosexual, which is a very interesting omission. It illustrates the heterosexist presumptions of the post-war era when that law was passed. Subsequently, however, to remedy this omission, the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 explicitly ruled out same-sex marriages for the first time. On the basis of the 1973 Act, the five OutRage! applications were refused. Nevertheless, this protest was significant; it being the first-ever-legal challenge in Britain to the ban on homosexual marriage. And, of course, it was a challenge with panache and pizzazz! The lesbian couples both wore bridal gowns, and the gay male partners were resplendent in tuxedos and top hates. Camp or what! It was a very subversive, effective way of demonstrating the love of queer couples, and of drawing public attention to the homophobic marriage statutes.

On an earlier occasion, in 1991, OutRage! staged a mass “Queer Wedding” in Trafalgar Square. This was also to demand legal rights for same-sex partners, but it had a different twist. In a mischievous ceremony that explicitly rejected the straight model of marriage, hundreds of queer couples – some in matching bridal gear and others in leather or rubber body suits – exchanged alternative vows of commitment. Their pledges expressed a new model of partnership based on the unique experiences, desires and needs of queers, rather than unthinkingly mirroring straight morality, lifestyle and aspirations.

In conclusion: the OutRage! genre of “protest as performance” has involved over 300 direct action zaps in ten years, encompassing a huge variety of camp, innovative, entertaining, audacious, wacky, theatrical, “in-yer-face” protests. We are still learning, evolving and adapting. There is much more we could do, and some things we could do better. But given our limited resources – and the de-politicised cultural climate in which we are now operating – OutRage! is, amazingly and thankfully, still causing trouble, mayhem and confusion.

An expanded version of a lecture given by Peter Tatchell at the “Making a Scene” conference at the University of Central England, 5 June 1999.

Tatchell fights to defend the right to peaceful protest

Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell of OutRage! plans to make his court hearing a “civil liberties test case” when he appears at Canterbury Magistrates Court this Friday, 15th May, at 9:45 a.m..

He is calling for the repeal of the law under which he has been charged, arguing that “it gives the Church privileged immunity from public protest and dissent”.

Tatchell was originally charged with “violent behaviour”. This week, that charge was dropped by the prosecution: and he is now being charged with “indecent behaviour” in a church, contrary to Section 2 of the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860. The prosecution claims that any form of unseemly behaviour in a church is “indecent” under the terms of the Act.

The charge against Tatchell arises from OutRage!’s Easter Sunday protest in Canterbury Cathedral on 12th April 1998. Interrupting the sermon of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Tatchell condemned Dr. Carey’s support for discrimination against lesbian and gay people with respect to employment, the age of consent, fostering and marriage.

Tatchell plans to summons the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Dean of Canterbury Cathedral to testify in his defence.

“I will fight the prosecution on the issue of free speech”, said Tatchell. “The right to peaceful protest does not stop at the door of a Cathedral.

“Under this ancient law, the Church has privileged protection against protest. No other institution is granted these special, sweeping powers to suppress dissent. It should not be a crime to criticise the Archbishop of Canterbury in his Cathedral.

“What is at stake in this case is the precious, hard-won freedom to demonstrate. If the prosecution win, it will be a defeat for civil liberties and a victory for authoritarianism.

“The restrictions on the right to protest under the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act are incompatible with a democratic society and should be repealed”, said Mr. Tatchell.

DEFENCE FUND APPEAL

OutRage! is appealing for contributions to the Peter Tatchell Defence Fund.

“We need financial help to fight this prosecution”, said David Allison of OutRage!. “Peter’s case is an important test of civil liberties. We must defend the right to peaceful protest and resist this attempt to stifle freedom of speech”.

Cheques should be made payable to “OutRage!” and sent to:
OutRage!, P.O. Box 17816, London. SW14 8WT

Update
At the preliminary hearing on 15th May, the case was adjourned till 5th June.

At the hearing on 5th June, the case further was adjourned till 12th June.

OutRage! seeks to protect for Sexual and Religious Minorities

Proposed Amendment to the Crime & Disorder Bill

OutRage! is proposing an amendment to the Crime & Disorder Bill that would extend the tough new penalties for race hate crimes to crimes of prejudice against homosexuals and religious believers.

The amendment, to Section 68 of the Bill, will be tabled by MP’s in the Committee stage, with cross-party support.

Sections 22-26 and 68 of the Bill empower the courts to impose harsher sentences on those convicted of crimes against ethnic minorities, where there is evidence that the crime was motivated by race hatred.

The OutRage! amendment, drafted by Peter Tatchell, would also introduce tougher sentences in cases of hate-inspired attacks on people because of their homosexuality or religion.

“We believe that all hate crimes should be treated with equal severity”, said Huw Williams.

“As well as cracking down on racial violence, the law also needs to come down heavily on the perpetrators of prejudice-motivated assaults on religious and sexual minorities”.

Whilst OutRage! is opposing crimes of prejudice against people of faith, religious supporters in the House of Lords recently succeeded in amending the Human Rights Bill to exempt religious institutions from the Bill’s anti-discrimination provisions. This will allow religious authorities to continue to discriminate against lesbians and gay men.

“While OutRage! is campaigning to stop the victimisation of religious minorities, the churches are fighting to maintain the right to discriminate against homosexuals”, said Williams.

“We argue that ALL forms of prejudice are wrong, but religious leaders insist that denying equal treatment to gay people is right.

“Despite Christian, Muslim and Jewish opposition to homosexual human-rights, OutRage! will continue to support equality for people of all faiths and sexualities.”

Equality Alliance launched

Working for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Human Rights

Over 70 organisations relaunched the ‘Campaign for Equality Standing Forum’ as the ‘EQUALITY ALLIANCE’ on Saturday 4th April at the Conway Hall, London.

In an unprecedented turning point in the history of gay politics this decade, over 70 national gay rights and international human rights organisations have voted unanimously to coordinate their efforts and work together in a new national offensive. This historic moment marks a turning point in the renewed anger at the unwillingness of the ‘new’ Labour Government to repeal discriminatory laws.

Organisations continue to join the alliance on a daily basis. The EQUALITY ALLIANCE, now including Amnesty International (World-wide + UK), Trade Unions and existing fora such as Scotland’s Equality Network and the Northern Ireland Gay Rights Association, together with the majority of established national gay rights organisations, charities and trusts now collectively represents over 6.1 million people.

The EQUALITY ALLIANCE has 3 clear aims and objectives:

  1. to apply maximum pressure on Government bodies and other institutions to end discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people;
  2. to coordinate campaigning;
  3. to increase intergroup communication.

The EQUALITY ALLIANCE will initially focus the following high-priority issues:

  • Human Rights Bill;
  • Age of Consent and Sexual Offences;
  • Section 28 and the Pride March;
  • Employment Rights, Homophobic Hate Crimes and the Crime and Disorder Bill.

A working group has been tasked to implement the agreed coordination structure, which will facilitate proactive coordination and rapid response mobilisation of groups and individuals as necessary.

The EQUALITY ALLIANCE will no longer tolerate lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people being treated as second- and third-class citizens in our modern society. The Government and all members of political parties, and institutions can therefore expect to be fought at every opportunity: in Parliament, in court and on the streets by a new coordinated and powerful movement.

The EQUALITY ALLIANCE is therefore requesting a meeting with senior MP’s of all political parties in order to end discrimination on the grounds of Sexual Orientation.

Any organisation or individual can join the EQUALITY ALLIANCE and help end the injustice and discrimination that we all face on a daily basis.

For further information and a complete list of organisations within the EQUALITY ALLIANCE ring 07050-61.06.34.

Bolton 7 – Convicted but not jailed

Defence Campaign saved men from prison

The Bolton 7 remain convicted of consenting gay sex in the privacy of their own homes: but they walked free from court on 20th February, largely thanks to the high-profile defence campaign that inundated the court with over 400 letters of protest from MP’s, bishops, and human rights groups.

The judge, Michael Lever, QC, handed down probation and community service orders to the younger defendants: Gary Abdie, David Godfrey, Mark Love and Jonathan Moore, (all in their early 20’s), and to Craig Turner, aged 18.

He gave Norman Williams (33) a two-year suspended prison sentence. Terry Connell (55) received a nine-month suspended sentence, and was ordered to pay £ 500 towards the cost of the prosecution.

Both Williams and Connell, (who had sex with Turner when he was 17½, just six months below the gay age of consent), were forced to sign the Sex Offenders’ Register, which lumps them together with rapists and child sex abusers.

“While we were pleased the men were not jailed, none of them should have been dragged to court in the first place”, according to John Hunt of OutRage!, which played a leading role in the Bolton 7 defence campaign.

“These seven men were prosecuted for behaviour that, between heterosexuals, is not a crime. They would never have been arrested if their partners had been women.

“The Bolton-7 case demonstrates that the gay community remains vulnerable to police witch-hunts. These antiquated laws, which are still on the statute books, can be activated at any time. It is a warning against apathy and complacency. We should never assume that equality is inevitable or that an end to discrimination is just around the corner”, said Hunt.

“Five of the seven men were convicted under the same gross indecency law that was used to convict Oscar Wilde in 1895″, noted fellow OutRage! campaigner, Peter Tatchell. “Three were prosecuted under a buggery law that dates back to 1533.

“This prosecution is proof of the on-going homophobic bias of the legal system. It is time to abolish all laws that apply only to gay men, and all crimes without victims”, he said.

The most comprehensive and accurate reports on the Bolton 7 case have been written by OutRage! campaigner Peter Tatchell, and published in the February and March issues of Gay Times. A further extensive post-sentencing report on the case will appear in the April issue of Gay Times.

OutRage! is supporting and publicising an urgent appeal for donations to help pay for the defence campaign, and for the £ 500 costs awarded against Terry Connell. Please send your contribution to:

“Bolton 7 Defence Campaign”,
c/o Greater Manchester Lesbian & Gay Policing Initiative,
P.O. Box 100,
Manchester.
M22 4GZ

Bolton 7: Candlelit Protest at Westminster

100 Protestors Demand Repeal of Antiquated Antigay Laws

A hundred demonstrators gathered outside the Palace of Westminster at 7 p.m. on 23rd February, to protest at the prosecution of the ‘Bolton 7′ for consensual sex in the privacy of their own homes.

This prosecution, authorised personally by Dame Barbara Mills, head of the Crown Prosecution Service, has been estimated to have wasted half a million pounds of public money.

Terry Connell and Craig Turner with Chris from Stonewall, 56 KB

Although the defendants, convicted in January, escaped prison sentences owing to massive public support, (local, national, and international), they have still been scarred by the traumatic experience.

The protest was organised by Stonewall and supported by OutRage!, who assisted with publicising the event at very short notice.

After the peaceful demonstration, about 60 protestors crammed into a small room inside the Palace, where Angela Mason of Stonewall introduced several speakers:

Dr. Evan Harris, MP, (Lib. Dem.), who

  • stated that the State should have no rôle in people’s bedrooms in victimless situations,
  • drew parallels between the discrimination experienced by lesbians and gay men, and that experienced by ethnic and religious groups,
  • advised that now was the time to press not just for an equal age of consent, but for full equality;

Terry Connell and Craig Turner, (two of the defendants), who

  • acknowledged the enormous efforts of Alan Horsfall and Ray Gosling at the Bolton 7 Defence Campaign in Manchester;

and Peter Tatchell, who

  • exposed the abysmal record of over 30 MP’s who refused even to discuss the case, including two of the three Labour MP’s for Bolton.

OutRage! is supporting and publicising an urgent appeal for donations to help pay for the defence campaign, and for the £ 500 costs awarded against Terry Connell.

Please send your contribution to:

“Bolton 7 Defence Campaign”,
c/o Greater Manchester Lesbian & Gay Policing Initiative,
P.O. Box 100,
Manchester.
M22 4GZ

Bolton 7 – Protests grow louder

Seven Gay Men convicted for consenting sex in private

Protests are escalating against the conviction of seven men in Bolton, Greater Manchester, for consenting sex in the privacy of their own homes. The men will be sentenced on 20th February. The judge has warned that some may be jailed.

The Bolton 7 were convicted under the arcane ban on gay sex involving the presence of more than two persons, and three were found guilty of age-of-consent violations with a 17½-year-old.

These men have been prosecuted for victimless offences that apply only to gay men. None would have been arrested if their partners had been women.

The latest developments in the defence campaign are:

  • Dr. Evan Harris, MP, (Lib. Dem.), has tabled an Early Day Motion condemning the prosecution and calling for gay law reform;
  • the Bishops of Worcester and Edinburgh are urging that the men should not be jailed;
  • Brian Iddon, MP, (Lab., Bolton S.E.), has written to the judge asking for clemency and deploring the fact that two of the men have been forced to sign the Sex Offenders’ Register for victimless acts with a 17½-year-old;
  • the prosecution was referred to the highest level, and went ahead with the knowledge of the office of the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine, and the endorsement of the Director of the Crown Prosecution Service, Dame Barbara Mills;
  • since the Bolton 7 case received publicity, there has been a slanderous whispering campaign (by the police ???) to discredit the men and to justify police/CPS zealousness, with false allegations of pædophilia and mutilation;
  • the anger in the gay community has forced Greater Manchester police to abandon a new initiative against homophobic violence, which was due to have been launched in Bolton;
  • the prosecution of these men is seriously undermining police attempts to build better relations with the gay community, with many Manchester gay campaigners urging a withdrawal from the police liaison forum;
  • Amnesty International is investigating the case, with a view to adopting the men as ‘prisoners of conscience’ if they are imprisoned;
  • the men’s solicitor has received 300 letters, from human rights groups all over the world, condemning the trial.

Over 200 people attended a protest meeting at Manchester Town Hall on 26th January; and 150 joined a candlelit “Vigil for Justice” outside Bolton Crown Court on 31st January.

The prosecution is in defiance of last October’s ruling by the European Commission of Human Rights that Britain’s unequal age of consent is unlawful.

OutRage! is urging that letters of support, donations, and offers to help organise the Bolton 7 Defence Campaign be sent to the men’s solicitor:

Janet Cragg,
Robert Lizar Solicitors,
159, Princess Road,
Moss Side,
Manchester.
M14 4RE

Tel. 0161-226 2319
Fax. 0161-226 7985
Email: 106475.3436@compuserve.com

Help save the Bolton 7 – Gay men convicted of consenting sex

Seven Gay Men convicted for consenting sex in private

OutRage! needs you to help us save the ‘Bolton 7′ from being jailed for consenting gay sex.

Seven men were convicted on 12th January for consenting gay sex in the privacy of their own homes in Bolton, north-west England. The offences came to light after police seized videos of the men having sex, which they had filmed for their own personal use.

All the men are either lovers, ex-boyfriends, or friends of friends.

“The ‘Bolton 7′ were convicted because more than two persons participated or spectated”, said David Allison. “Under the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, gay sex is illegal ‘when more than two persons take part or are present’. Equivalent heterosexual behaviour is not a crime.”

Three of the seven were also convicted of age-of-consent offences with a 17½-year-old teenager, (only six months below the gay age of consent of 18). By court order, the youth cannot be named. The case is set to become a cause célèbre in the run-up to the parliamentary vote on the age of consent.

The Bolton 7 were convicted before judge Michael Lever at Bolton Crown Court on 12th January, 1998. The date for sentencing has now been deferred to the 20th February. Lawyers fear the three men convicted of sex with the 17½-year-old — Terry Connell, 55, (who was the teenager’s lover at the time), Norman Williams, 32, and Jonathan Moore, 20 — could face imprisonment for up to five years. All three have had to sign the Sex Offenders’ Register: including Jonathan, who is less than three years older than the youth aged 17½.

“The Sex Offenders’ Register is supposed to be for rapists and child abusers”, said Peter Tatchell. “Two of the men have already had their homes trashed or fire-bombed, and one has been assaulted. All are living in fear of vigilante attacks.

“The men’s conviction for sex with a 17½-year-old is in defiance of last year’s European Commission of Human Rights ruling that Britain’s unequal age of consent (18 for gay men, 16 for heterosexual and lesbian sex) is unlawful, and takes place just months before Parliament is expected to lower the gay age of consent to 16″, noted Tatchell.

“The number one priority is to stop these men being jailed”, said David Allison. “We need people to write letters opposing a prison sentence, which the Bolton 7’s solicitor, Janet Cragg, can present to the judge when the case comes up for sentencing in February. Mobilising public opinion to support clemency is the best way we can help these men. Please write a letter today and help us save them from jail.”

OutRage! is urging that letters of support, donations, and offers to help organise the Bolton 7 Defence Campaign be sent to the men’s solicitor:

Janet Cragg,
Robert Lizar Solicitors,
159, Princess Road,
Moss Side,
Manchester.
M14 4RE

Tel. 0161-226 2319
Fax. 0161-226 7985
Email: 106475.3436@compuserve.com

A Bolton 7 Defence Campaign has been launched.

  • Over 200 supporters attended a protest meeting in Manchester Town Hall on the 26th January.
  • Dr. Evan Harris MP has tabled an Early Day Motion criticising the prosecution.
  • Amnesty International is investigating the case, and will probably adopt the men as ‘prisoners of conscience’ if they are jailed.
  • Two Bishops have written to the court, urging that the men are not imprisoned.

A Candlelight “Vigil for Justice” is planned for Saturday, 31st January from 5-7 p.m. on the steps of Bolton Crown Court, Blackhorse Street, (near the bus station).

The same evening, a petition will be launched. It condemns the prosecution of the seven gay men for consenting sex in the privacy of their own homes, and calls for them not to be jailed.

Some of the men will be available for interview on the day.

Please send a message condemning the prosecution and urging that the men are NOT jailed, to the defence solicitor, Janet Cragg, so she can present them to the judge BEFORE he passes sentence on 20th February.