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?
Pride March, London, 1999 , 3-July-1999
©1999 John Hunt/OutRage! London
This picture may be copied in the cause of furthering our aims, provided that the source is acknowledged.
“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:
In addition to Labour’s broken promise to end discrimination, OutRage! has two other themes at Pride this year:
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:
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:
This makes a total of 12 separate occasions in the last 26 months when Labour has sabotaged measures for lesbian and gay equality.
Lesbian and gay electors are being urged to “Queer The Vote” in the European elections, on Thursday, 10th June 1999.
The call comes from OutRage!, who are urging gay people to vote against parties that support homophobic discrimination, and in favour of those that promote equality.
“The parties should judged by their actions, not their words”, says Stephen Kristian of OutRage!. “Labour professes support for gay equality, but has repeatedly blocked attempts to end antigay discrimination.
“If you want to keep homophobic laws, vote Labour. People who want gay equality should vote for a party that matches its progay sentiments with parliamentary action.
“The Labour Government is the main obstacle to gay equality. Tony Blair has the power to legislate homosexual human rights, but he is refusing to so.
“Ten per cent of the electorate is lesbian, gay or bisexual. Queer votes could influence the outcome of the European elections. It is important that the gay community uses its political power to secure the election of gay-friendly MEPs to the European Parliament”, said Kristian.
LABOUR IS BLOCKING EQUALITY
According to Peter Tatchell of Outrage!: “On eight occasions since its election in May 1997, Labour has torpedoed measures to remedy homophobic discrimination.
“Labour is enforcing the ban on lesbians and gays in the military, and has twice killed off proposals to protect homosexuals against discrimination in employment.
“Last year, the Government vetoed action against homophobic hate crimes, and it blocked a ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation and HIV status.
“Jack Straw scuppered attempts to scrap the offence of gross indecency and the criminalisation of gay sex involving the presence of more than two people.
“Labour is refusing to give the new Greater London Authority the power to pursue equal opportunities policies, including for gays and lesbians”, said Tatchell.
Straw has hitherto refused even to consult with the LGBT community, apart from secret negotiations with Stonewall, who do not claim to be democratic or representative.
OutRage! has condemned the Government’s proposals for new legislation in the autumn on the age of consent as “vague, minimalist, insulting and manipulative”.
It is accusing Labour of “actively undermining attempts to broaden the scope of law reform beyond the age of consent, and of blatantly refusing to negotiate with gay rights organisations and MPs who do not toe the Government line”.
“The exclusion of Dr. Evan Harris, MP from discussions on the new age of consent legislation is a clear example of the way the Government is manipulating the gay rights agenda”, said Peter Tatchell of OutRage!.
“We deplore the Home Secretary’s refusal to announce a moratorium on the prosecution of 16 and 17 year old gay men and their partners. This means that thousands of young gay men will remain at risk of arrest until the new Bill is passed, which will probably take another two years.
“Jack Straw has the power to advise Chief Constables and the Crown Prosecution Service to either halt prosecutions or refer them to higher authorities before proceeding. In his House of Commons statement on 28th July, the Home Secretary disgracefully rejected both options, insisting that prosecutions must and will continue because it is ‘the law of the land’ and ‘there is no question of the law, or prosecuting policy, being changed in advance of any change in legislation’, (see Hansard, 28th July, col.s 182 and 209)”.
“Despite the two-thirds vote by MPs in favour of equality, the Government is still insisting that it will not officially support an equal age of consent. Jack Straw confirmed this when he told the House of Commons on 28th July: ‘The Government are neutral on the matter’, (Hansard, 28th July, col. 183).
“The Government is yet again insisting on a free vote, where Labour MPs will be at liberty to support discrimination. Labour never has a free vote on issues of equality affecting women and black people. Why is it downgrading the human rights of young gay men to the whims and fancies of individual MPs?
“Jack Straw has declined to say what Bill will be used as a vehicle for the equalisation of the age of consent. He has not ruled out the possibility that equalisation might be included in the forthcoming legislation on sex offenders and abuse of a position of trust. Straw said: ‘it remains to be seen … We cannot anticipate the most appropriate vehicle’, (Hansard, 28th July, col. 208). This means that age of consent equalisation could be included with legislation cracking down on the sexual exploitation of minors, which would confuse two entirely separate issues: equality and abuse.
“The most effective way of protecting young people –gay and straight– against sexual abuse is by educating and empowering them with the knowledge, confidence and skills to resist unwanted sexual advances. But the Government is, so far, unwilling to include new initiatives for earlier, more effective sex education in its proposed age of consent legislation. This is a serious omission, which fails young people of all sexualities.
“Contrary to claims made in a Stonewall press release dated 27th July, the Home Secretary has not said that ‘any measures relating to sexual offences will, from now on, apply equally to both boys and girls and men and women and will be absolutely non-discriminatory’, (Stonewall, 27th July). What Jack Straw actually said was that the new measures on abuse of a position of trust would apply in a non-discriminatory manner to both gay and straight abuse. The Government has, shamefully, declined to give any undertaking that it is committed to remove discrimination against gay men in sexual offences law.
“The Government’s proposed autumn legislation is the barest minimum possible. The lesbian and gay rights movement should, instead of capitulating to the Government, demand that the equalisation of the age of consent is part of a broader package of long overdue gay law reform. The way the Home Secretary is currently dictating the gay civil rights agenda is totally unacceptable. Rather than meekly surrendering to Government demands, we should be insiting on the repeal of all discriminatory, gay-only sexual offences, including the laws against buggery, gross indecency, procuring and soliciting.
“Attempts by Dr. Evan Harris to propose the abolition of other discriminatory, antigay laws have resulted in him being excluded from all negotiations with the Government and Stonewall, even though he was one of the original signatories of the amendment to equalise the age of consent. This deliberate attempt to block moves for further gay law reform shows the extent to which the Government is now manipulating the gay rights agenda and excluding all alternative voices and proposals”, said Peter Tatchell.
Members of OutRage! picketed the London conference on looted Nazi gold at Lancaster House today, Tuesday, 2nd December.
The protesters held placards demanding “Compensate gay victims of Nazism”.
They were greeted with a friendly smile and a wave from British Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, as he entered Lancaster House.
Robin Cook’s friendliness was surprising because the Foreign Office has opposed gay participation in the conference. Invitations were refused to the World Congress of Gay and Lesbian Jewish Organisations and to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.
In contrast, Jewish and Gypsy groups were officially encouraged to participate, and are attending.
We are angry that gay organisations have been excluded. Any decisions taken by this conference should reflect the just claims of everyone persecuted by the Nazis, including gay people.
Where the owners of looted gold cannot be traced, it should be used to compensate holocaust victims who have been refused reparations by the German government, including East European Jews, slave labourers, and gay people.
Some of the gold should be set aside to finance memorials, educational programmes, and museums in honour of the forgotten victims of Nazism, such as Gypsies, the disabled, homosexuals, and black people.
OutRage! is proposing that gay community groups should receive a share of the looted gold, to help finance:
Thank you for your letter … regarding sex education for young gay people in schools.
Well planned and effectively presented sex education is vital. Young people need to gain the skills and understanding necessary to take responsible decisions about their personal and sexual behaviour. Although the responsibility for the detailed content and organisation of sex education lies with individual schools, there is no restriction on teaching about lesbian and gay issues in the classroom. Diversity, gender issues and the challenging of stereotypes should feature as part of schools’ Personal, Social and Health Education provision. (Emphasis added.) Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 applies to the activities of the local authorities themselves, so does not apply to the activities of the governing bodies and staff of schools. Nevertheless, the Government has long made clear its opposition to Section 28 and intends to repeal it when legislative opportunity exists.
I do not believe that there is room for complacency regarding the current provision of sex education in schools, but rather development and improvement. This Department, along with the Department of Health, is considering sex education and the provision of sexual health services, in the context of the Government’s health strategy.
(Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State)
The Rt. Hon. Tony Blair, MP,
10, Downing Street,
Dear Mr. Blair,
Lesbian & Gay Rights
The following message was read by Chris Smith on your behalf at ‘Pride’ at the beginning of this month.
“The New Labour Government wants to build a New Britain, free from discrimination. I want to assure you of my commitment to achieving such a free society. … Let us be proud of what we are, of who we are, and of what we can achieve in the months to come for equality and justice for us all.”
As a gay man, I am pleased to have this public expression of your support. I appreciate that you have been in office for ‘only’ three months, and that you have an awesome spectrum of issues to address.
However, I regret that I already have severe misgivings as to what progress the lesbian and gay citizens of this country can expect under your Government: at a time, moreover, when long overdue progress is being achieved in a number of other countries in Western Europe, (and elsewhere), and also within the administration of the European Community.
I note, for example, that the Labour Party web site makes no mention at all of lesbians and gays in the Equal Opportunities section. —
Extract from Labour web site: Extent of Equal Opportunities, as of 30-July-1997
Watch this space [http://www.labour.org.uk/views/index.html]
- incorporate the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law
- create new opportunities in the workplace for older people, by taking measures to tackle age discrimination and long-term unemployment
- establish a national minimum wage and ensure minimum employment standards for part-time workers
- support comprehensive, enforceable civil rights for disabled people against discrimination in society or at work, developed in partnership with all interested parties
- tackle high black and disabled youth unemployment with our guarantee of a job or a place on a training course for every young person aged 18-25 unemployed for more than six months
This does not compare favourably with the corresponding section of the LibDem web site, which I attach as an Appendix.
Indeed, a number of hard-nosed commercial companies are making a commitment to eliminate discrimination, despite possible financial loss through upsetting dyed-in-the-wool bigots. Even United Airlines, which somewhat schizophrenically sponsored this year’s Pride in London, whilst at the same time suing in San Francisco for the right not to be forced into equable treatment, begins its Harassment & Discrimination Policy as published on the web with the following paragraph. –
United has a zero-tolerance policy on harassment and discrimination in any form – whether verbal, visual, physical or otherwise. It is United’s express policy to forbid harassment and discrimination based on race, color, sex, age, religion, national origin, disability, veteran status or sexual orientation.
With regard to discrimination within the armed forces, I understand that Britain is now the only country in NATO, other than Turkey, which retains a complete ban on all those with a homosexual orientation. George Robertson, Defence Secretary, was reported as having begun a wide-ranging review of the rôle of women in the armed forces, to ensure that the forces are “fair, modern and enlightened”; and additionally to improve the “abysmal” record in attracting ethnic minorities. By contrast, merely allowing MP’s a free vote on
- the ban on gays in the military
- parity for the age of consent
- does not send out the signal that the Cabinet regards this form of
- discrimination as equally abhorrent.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal has just ruled that discrimination against transsexuals is unlawful under the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act. However, in the thirty years since the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, (the passage of which through Parliament I followed keenly as teenager), it strikes me that the law has improved only by a token (and still discriminatory) reduction in the age of consent for gay men. Conversely, the notorious Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act, introduced by the previous Government, has clouded not only the provision of services by local authorities, but also, notwithstanding the wording of the Act and of subsequent legislation, the teaching in schools of sex education, morality: indeed, of anything where relationships and sexuality may or might be concerned.
Recently a number of revered and respected bodies, including the British Medical Association and the Sex Education Forum of the National Children’s Bureau, have called for the inclusion of homosexuality, on a par with heterosexuality, in sex education in schools, and for the repeal of Section 28. A survey published earlier this month by the Schools Health Education Unit, University of Exeter, reports that teenagers are increasingly using friends as their main source of information about sex, at a time when many of them are consciously worrying about HIV and AIDS. — What is current Government policy on sex education? And what plans do you have to introduce positive images of gays and lesbians to younger children, with the aim of preventing the attitudes which lead to prejudice, discrimination, and bigotry later in life, in order to achieve equality and justice for us all?
I see that the church, (presumably the Church of England), is reported as having marked as 1997 as “Year of Faith”, and 1998 as “Year of Hope”, and 1999 as “Year of Charity”. (To the annoyance of atheists and adherents of other faiths in our multicultural society, it has claimed 2000 as the “Year of Jesus Christ”.) – We do not want charity: but for how many years more are am I and fellow queers expected to hope and have faith that eventually, in the words of Martin Luther King, we shall overcome? At my age, it will be of little benefit to me personally; and hope that it will be in time to benefit my nephews, nieces, and their peers is fast running out. When and how do you intend to fulfil your fine words and pledges?
John Hunt, OutRage!
Watch this space [http://www.libdems.org.uk/libdems/cgi-bin/show.pl?english+uk&../english/documents/uk/poli38112585.txt]
Freedom from Prejudice – Liberal Democrat Policies for Lesbians and Gay Men
“The Worth of a State, in the Long Run, is the Worth of the Individuals composing it” (John Stuart Mill, On Liberty)
Liberal Democrats value and relish the diversity of British society. We welcome the contribution lesbians and gay men have made to our society, often without proper recognition or an acceptance of their sexuality. Barriers to lesbian and gay men playing a full part in the life of the community must be removed. It is a key role of the state to enhance the liberty of the individual and nurture diversity. Thereby, we can enable each individual to seek personal fulfilment and enrich society. The opportunity for personal fulfilment and participation in the life of the community open to all.
Liberal Democrats recognise that in Britain today lesbians and gay men lack basic rights and are denied equal citizenship. Many areas of the law, including the criminal law, are clearly discriminatory in their effect and equal opportunities legislation in Britain fails to protect lesbians and gay men from discrimination in many areas of life.
As part of our commitment to end to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, Liberal Democrats would:
Bill of Rights
As an immediate step we would:
Liberal Democrats would:
The Criminal Law
Liberal Democrats would:
The police in many parts of the country have failed to recognise and accept the needs of lesbians and gay men with insight and sensitivity. Liberal Democrats would:
The Criminal Justice System
Liberal Democrats would:
Liberal Democrats would ensure:
Discrimination cannot be eliminated by legislation alone. Attitudes need to be changed. The ability of local government to encourage those changes in attitudes has been badly impaired by the enactment of Section 28 of the Local Government Act which forbids the “promotion of homosexuality”. This actually means banning books and withdrawing funding from lesbian and gay helplines. Liberal Democrats would repeal it.
Liberal Democrats would encourage local authorities to:
A giant 8′ x 4′ invoice, demanding payment by the New Labour Government, was carried in Saturday’s Gay Pride Parade by members of the gay rights group OutRage!.
The invoice demanded that Labour should “Pay Up Now!” for gay rights legislation promised by the party during the recent election campaign:
“Labour won a big slice of the gay vote by making these promises. Now it’s time the government delivered”, said Alastair Williams of OutRage!.
“Since the election, Labour has refused to offer any timetable for gay law reform, and there are signs that the government is backtracking on its preelection commitments. In May, a Labour spokesman told the Daily Telegraph that the party had no commitment to equalise the age of consent. Last month the government confirmed that it would seek to uphold the exclusion of homosexuals from the armed forces when the ban is challenged in the European Court of Justice.
“Much of the gay community complacently assumes there is no need to campaign for gay human rights any more. They seem to think Mr. Blair will take care of everything. But Labour seems to be treating gay rights as a very low priority. There’s a danger that homosexual law reform will get squeezed off Labour’s legislative agenda.
“Labour is refusing to support gay equality measures such as same-sex partnership rights, laws to protect homosexuals against discrimination in employment, gay sex education in schools, and the repeal of victimless, gay-only offences like gross indecency, soliciting, and procuring”, said Mr. Williams.
OutRage! has warned that the newly-agreed equal age of consent will not apply to Jersey, Guernsey or the Isle of Man, and that Tony Blair is unwilling to press the local parliaments to equalise their ages of consent at 16, to bring them into line with the rest of the UK.
OutRage! is also warning that despite the equalisation of the age of consent, men of 20 or over convicted of consensual “buggery” and “gross indecency” with 16- and 17-year-olds in situations where more than two persons are present or where the sex takes place in parks, backrooms, toilets and other “public” places will still be branded as pædophiles and forced to sign the Sex Offenders’ Register.
OutRage! has condemned the Labour government for opposing equality amendments by Dr. Evan Harris MP. His amendments sought to lift the ban on gay sex involving more than two men, and to remove from the Sex Offenders’ (pædophile) Register men convicted of consenting gay sex with youths aged 16 and 17.
Seven gay and bisexual men in Bolton were convicted in January this year under Section 1 of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act, which prohibits gay sex where more than two persons are present. Two of the Bolton 7, aged 33 and 55, were also forced to sign the Sex Offenders’ Reigster after they were convicted of consenting sex with a youth aged 17 and a half.
It was to remedy these injustices that two amendments to the Crime and Disorder Bill were tabled by Dr. Evan Harris MP, with OutRage! support. Dr. Harris withdrew his amendments only after the Government indicated it would vote them down.
Dr. Harris was also pressured by other lesbian and gay rights organisations –not OutRage!– to withdraw his amendments. They argued that his attempts at further law reform would alienate the government and cause Labour to vote against equality. A defeat, these organisations claimed, would detract from the age of consent victory.
“Winning an equal age of consent is an important advance”, said Huw Williams of OutRage!. “But it is scandalous that it has taken 31 years. Many other homophobic laws remain unchanged. We won’t be satisfied until all discrimination is abolished. Eguality at 16 has got to be the first step in an on-going programme of lesbian and gay law reform”, said Williams.