Law Reform

DANGER! Labour Age of Consent Fudge

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.

House of Lords besieged by Gay Rights Protesters

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.

Same-Sex Partners in the 2001 Census

Recording of same-sex partnerships in 1991 and 2001 Censuses

Graham Jones,
Director of Census Division,
Office of National Statistics,
Sedgenworth Road,
Tichfield,
Fareham.
PO15 5RR

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.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Tatchell.

cc: Dr. Tim Holt, Head of the Government Statistical Office
Helen Lidell MP

Vigil for Equality — 22nd June, 6-10 p.m., Westminster

16 is just a start! Scrap all antigay laws!

“Vigil for Equality” as MP’s vote on age of consent

As MP’s vote on equalising the gay age of consent next Monday, 22nd June, lesbian and gay rights supporters will hold a mass “Vigil for Equality” outside the House of Commons, from 6 – 10 p.m., calling for the repeal of all laws that discriminate against homosexual men and women.

OutRage! is urging its friends and supporters to join Monday’s Vigil, to highlight our agenda for full human rights, (see below).

Organised by the new Equality Alliance –a coalition of over 100 gay rights groups, including OutRage!– the Vigil’s theme is: “16 is not enough! Scrap ALL antigay laws!”.

“Winning an equal age of consent will be an important advance”, said John Hunt of OutRage!. “But it will still leave many other homophobic laws unchanged.

“We won’t be content merely with an equal age of consent. ALL antigay laws must go. We will not settle for anything less than TOTAL EQUALITY.

“Many MP’s think we will be content if they just equalise the age of consent. That is most assuredly not the case. We won’t be satisfied until every discriminatory law is abolished. It is vital the lesbian and gay community tells Parliament that one reform is not enough. Equality at 16 has got to be the first step in a rolling programme of homosexual law reform”, said Hunt.

To this end, on the night of the vote, OutRage! will be highlighting six key civil rights demands:

  1. the repeal of ALL discriminatory sexual offences
    — buggery, gross indecency, soliciting and procuring–
    including the laws against gay cruising, and gay sex involving more than two men;
  2. legal recognition of same-sex relationships
    via an Unmarried Partners’ Act giving new rights to all unwed couples — both gay and straight;
  3. the outlawing of discrimination based on sexual orientation or HIV status,
    by means of an Equal Rights Act guaranteeing protection against discrimination to everyone;
  4. replacement of Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act by new laws requiring all schools to combat homophobic bullying and to provide honest, nonjudgemental information about homosexuality and gay safer sex;
  5. an end to the ban on homosexuals in the armed forces;
  6. equal parenting rights for gay and lesbian people,
    including equality in child custody orders, fostering, adoption, and access to donor insemination services.

Government excludes gays from Human Rights and Crime & Disorder Bills

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.

Update
The Bill received Royal Assent on 9-November-1998.

OutRage! Amendment to the Human Rights Bill Tabled

OutRage!’s amendment to the Human Rights Bill was tabled on Monday, 18th May, by top Liberal Democrat, Robert Maclennan, MP.

It is now listed as NC (New Clause) 10, and will come up for debate in the first week of June.

The OutRage! amendment was drafted by Peter Tatchell. It is a revised version of an earlier OutRage! amendment, also drafted by Tatchell.

The new version drops the previous explicit reference prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and medical condition. It now guarantees rights and freedoms “without discrimination on any ground”.

“The new wording was necessary to ensure the amendment fell within the scope of the Bill and was not ruled out of order. It will also result in more MPs backing the amendment”, said Tatchell.

“This comprehensive ban on discrimination will have the same effect as my earlier version. It gives protection against discrimination to everyone, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and people with HIV and AIDS”.

“Because the new amendment guarantees nondiscrimination to all, it will be much harder for MPs to oppose it. They will not be able to claim we are pleading for special rights or privileges. Most MPs won’t want to be seen as sanctioning discrimination. The new draft increases the likelihood that they will support the amendment”, said Tatchell.

The OutRage! amendment, as tabled, reads:

Guarantee of nondiscrimination

Mr. Robert Maclennan, MP

To move the following new Clause: –

‘(1) If a court’s determination of any question arising under this Act concerns an issue of discrimination, it must have particular regard to the guarantee in Article 14 of the Convention that the rights and freedoms set forth in the Convention shall be secured without discrimination on any ground.

(2) In this section, “court” includes a tribunal.’

FURTHER INFORMATION: Peter Tatchell 020-74.03.17.90

Homophobic Response at London Oratory School

School Leafleted in Section 28 Protest

Call to stop classroom censorship of gay issues

London Oratory School stands accused of homophobia. Some teachers displayed hostile, fearful homophobic reactions when on arrival at school they were handed leaflets headlined “It’s OK to be GAY!” this morning (Wednesday, 20th May at 8:15 a.m.) by 14 members of OutRage!.

Several teachers expresssed hostility to the discussion of lesbian and gay issues, being too afraid to take a leaflet; and a small number of pupils shouted “queers” and “poofs” at the leafleters. Worryingly, one member of staff defended the right of teachers to be homophobic. Other teachers and parents, however, were supportive. — One parent requested copies of the leaflet for her younger son’s primary school.

“London Oratory School has a number of homophobic staff who are clearly too terrified even to accept information on gay issues”, said John Hunt of OutRage!. “As we have witnessed today, antigay prejudice is a problem the school needs to confront urgently.”

The OutRage! leaflet says: “Heterosexuality, homosexuality and bisexuality are equally valid … If you are not sure about your sexuality, it’s okay to experiment. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!”.

It features photos of kissing gay couples, and lists phone numbers for lesbian and gay helplines and youth groups. The leaflet asks: “Are your teachers giving you the gay facts of life?”.

OutRage! is calling for an end to the censorship of gay issues in the classroom. “We want the repeal of Section 28, and new legislation requiring all schools to provide honest, nonjudgemental information about homosexuality. Schools should be legally obliged to combat prejudice and promote the welfare of lesbian and gay pupils”, said Huw Williams of OutRage!.

“There is massive censorship of gay issues in schools. Homosexuality is not mentioned in most sex education lessons. No information is given about how to have gay sex safely.

“Our leaflet gives students the gay facts of life. Teachers should be providing this information: but most are failing to do so”, said Mr. Williams. “Most teachers are now aware of the need to combat racism: but very few demonstrate comparable concern about homophobia.”

OutRage!’s leafleting coincides with the 10th anniversary this coming Sunday of Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act becoming law. Section 28 bans the “promotion” of homosexuality by local authorities. OutRage! says many teachers mistakenly believe that Section 28 applies to schools. (It doesn’t.) This has led teachers to censor lesbian and gay issues. OutRage! wants Section 28 repealed, to end this confusion.

The OutRage! leaflet calls on pupils to challenge antigay bullying in the school playground, and to support their lesbian and gay classmates. It advises gay students who are being bullied to contact Childline on 0800-1111.

A 1996 SURVEY OF LESBIANS & GAYS UNDER 18 FOUND THAT:

  • 50% had been assaulted because of their homosexuality.
  • One in two of those assaulted said the attack involved fellow students,
    and 40% said the attack took place at school.
  • 60% had suffered harassment, such as threats, blackmail, and graffiti.
  • 73% of these said the harassers were other pupils.
  • 90% were verbally abused at school with taunts of “poof”, “lezzie”, “queer” and “faggot”.

A 1998 REPORT PUBLISHED BY THE TERRENCE HIGGINS TRUST FOUND THAT:

  • most teachers had difficulty in addressing the needs of of lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils.

ORGANISATIONS WHICH SUPPORT BETTER GAY SEX EDUCATION INCLUDE:

  • The British Medical Association, the National Union of Teachers, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Save the Children, Childline, the Royal College of Nursing, MIND, and Kidscape.

PHOTOGRAPHS: Kevin Weaver 020-82.65.47.52 or 0850-56.67.10
FURTHER INFORMATION: Peter Tatchell 020-74.03.17.90

Tougher Penalties for Homophobic Hate Crimes

Proposed Amendment to the Crime & Disorder Bill

Richard Allan MP (Liberal Democrat, Sheffield Hallam) last Friday (8th May) tabled an OutRage!-sponsored amendment to crack down on the perpetrators of homophobic violence.

The amendment to the Crime & Disorder Bill is expected to be debated this week by the Standing Committee of 24 MP’s that is currently scrutinising the Bill.

The new Equality Alliance, representing over 160 organisations campaigning for lesbian and gay human rights, has written to all 24 members of the Standing Committee, urging them to back the amendment. It has also written to the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, and four other Home Office Ministers.

OutRage! believes it can win substantial support for the amendment among backbench Labour, Liberal Democrat and Scottish Nationalist MP’s.

“We are seeking support from MP’s of all parties and hope to mobilise enough support from backbenchers to get this amendment carried”, said Peter Tatchell of OutRage! “We urge people to write to their MP’s requesting them to support this amendment.

“Even if our amendment is not successful, getting it debated in Parliament will help raise awareness about antigay attacks.”

The OutRage! amendment extends the Bill’s new penalties for racist attacks to crimes of violence against lesbians and gay men, providing tougher sentences for prejudice-motivated offences.

“We believe all hate crimes should be treated with equal severity”, said Tatchell. “As well as cracking down on racial violence, the law also needs to come down heavily on queer-bashing assaults.”

“A survey by Stonewall published in 1996 showed that 34% of gay men and 24% of lesbians had experienced violence within the past five years because of their sexuality”, said John Hunt of OutRage!. “One in four of those attacked had to seek medical attention; and 79% suffered stress or fear following the attack.

“Other research, including a Home Office report, has found similar or even higher figures. Extrapolating these results would suggest that throughout the U.K. over a million gay people have suffered homophobic violence. Homophobic hate crimes wreck lives. Lesbian and gay people deserve the same protection as ethnic minorities. All perpetrators of crimes of prejudice should be punished with equal severity”, said Hunt.

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.”

’16 is not enough! Scrap ALL antigay laws!

Call for “VIGIL FOR EQUALITY” at House of Commons

OutRage! is proposing a mass “Vigil for Equality” outside the House of Commons on the night MP’s vote on equalising the age of consent.

It is suggesting that the new Equality Alliance should organise a huge vigil in front of Parliament, similar to the lobby in 1994; and is proposing that the theme of the protest should be “16 is not enough! Scrap ALL antigay laws!”.

“Winning an equal age of consent will be an important advance”, said John Hunt of OutRage!. “But it will still leave many other homophobic laws unchanged.

“We have got to show the Labour Government that we won’t be content merely with an equal age of consent. ALL antigay laws must go. We will not settle for anything less than TOTAL EQUALITY.

“The politicans must not be allowed to limit gay rights to the single issue of the age of consent. We should use the vote for 16 to push forward the wider agenda of full human rights.

“Many MP’s think we will be content if they just equalise the age of consent. That is most assuredly not the case. We won’t be satisfied until every discriminatory law is abolished. It is vital the lesbian and gay community tells Parliament that one reform is not enough. Equality at 16 has got to be the first step in a rolling programme of homosexual law reform”, said Hunt.

OutRage! wants the protest outside Parliament on the night of the vote to highlight six key civil rights demands:

  1. the repeal of ALL discriminatory sexual offences
    — buggery, gross indecency, soliciting and procuring;
  2. legal recognition and rights for lesbian and gay couples;
  3. the outlawing of discrimination based on sexual orientation;
  4. repeal of Section 28 and the inclusion of lesbian and gay sexuality within sex education lessons in schools;
  5. an end to the ban on homosexuals in the armed forces;
  6. affirmation of gay parenting rights, including equality in child custody orders, fostering, adoption, and access to donor insemination services.