LibDems

Letter to Tony Blair – after 3 months in office

The Rt. Hon. Tony Blair, MP,
Prime Minister,
10, Downing Street,
London SW1

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]

Labour will:

  • 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?

Yours sincerely

John Hunt, OutRage!


Appendix: Extract from Liberal Democrat web site on Equal Opportunities, as of 30-July-1997

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

Equal Citizenship

“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:

  • Create a Bill of Rights by incorporating the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law.
  • Create a UK Human Rights Commission empowered to: assist complainants in bringing proceedings under the Bill of Rights.
  • Secure compliance with its provision; systematically to review and change existing law and practice in the sphere of civil liberties.

Discrimination

Liberal Democrats would:

  • Make discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or HIV status unlawful in all fields legal and social.
  • Establish the offence of incitement to hatred on grounds of sexual orientation.

The Criminal Law

Liberal Democrats would:

  • Create a common age of consent regardless of gender or orientation by equalising the age of consent for gay men with that of the heterosexual age of consent;
  • Change other areas of the law that are discriminatory such as the restrictions on lesbians and gay men serving within the Armed Forces;
  • Undertake a comprehensive review of the law relating to sexual offences and the boundaries between the law and morals.

The Police

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:

  • Extend the use of best policing practices to reduce the level of homophobic violence.
  • Stress the importance of police treating lesbians and gay men as equals, not as criminals because of their sexuality.
  • Halt the practice of entrapment by the police and ensure that the evidence of an agent provocateur is rendered inadmissible.

The Criminal Justice System

Liberal Democrats would:

  • Undertake a comprehensive review of the law relating to sexual offences.
  • Give specific protection to the interests of minorities, including lesbians and gay men, through the introduction of codes of minimum standards both for prisons and for non-custodial measures relating to offenders.

Personal Rights

Liberal Democrats would ensure:

  • The right to respect for private and family life with no interference by a public authority.
  • Access to personal files with the effect of securing equal opportunity and freedom from prejudice.
  • HIV status and sexual orientation do not affect the ability of people to find housing.
  • Fair assessment of prospective adoptive or foster parents, such that sexual orientation is not a prohibitive factor.

Changing Attitudes

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:

  • Include within sex education an awareness of different sexual orientations;
  • Support organisations giving information, advice and counselling to lesbians and gay men.

Postscripts

  1. No acknowledgement of this letter has been received.
  2. On the 23rd September, eight weeks after receiving this fax, Tony Blair’s office forwarded it to the Home Office for a reply.
  3. On the 5th November, Government officials were unable to trace the letter. The Home Office deny that they are any longer responsible for gay rights. Apparently we have now been assigned to the Department of the Environment. — Is this because we are regarded as an endangered species?