“Portillo screws queer soldiers” banner in Parliament Square
Image Copyright: Steve Mayes, 1997
There were lively exchanges between gay rights protesters, shoppers, and police when campaigners against the ban on homosexuals in the Armed Forces took their protest to the constituency of the Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Portillo, today in Southgate High Street.
There were only a handful of negative reactions from local people. Most said they supported the right of gays to serve in the military. Some showed surprise on being told that Portillo was the person responsible for enforcing the ban.
Nicholas Luard, the Referendum Party candidate for Enfield-Southgate and an ex-SAS officer was canvassing at the same time as OutRage!. He expressed his opposition to the ban, and condemned Portillo for dismissing gay soldiers.
Leafletting and speaking to local constituents, a dozen members of OutRage! succeeded in persuading many of them to vote against Michael Portillo, because of his rôle in enforcing the exclusion of lesbians and gay men from the military.
“In his capacity as Defence Secretary, Michael Portillo is responsible for witch-hunting homosexuals out of the armed forces, dismissing gay soldiers with exemplary service records”, said Peter Tatchell of OutRage!.
Campaigners erected a giant billboard in the High Street reading “Portillo Screws Queer Soldiers”, in protest at the way Michael Portillo’s ban on homosexuals is screwing up the lives of lesbian and gay service personnel. They also displayed placards saying “Scrap Portillo’s Ban on Gay Soldiers”.
“John Major has stated that being homosexual is no bar to serving as a Government Minister. Tony Banks, MP, pointed out last year that it’s inconsistent that a Secretary of State for Defence could be gay, but gay people are forbidden to serve in the armed forces”, said Peter Tatchell.
“Portillo not only enforces the military ban on homosexuals, he also voted against an equal age of consent”, added Marina Cronin.
A young gay man, 17-year-old Chris Morris, spoke to shoppers, explaining how Portillo’s endorsement of a discriminatory age of consent means that under-age homosexuals like himself can be arrested for consenting homosexual relationships.
“Michael Portillo is every gay man’s favourite homophobe. He is no friend to the gay community. We’re targetting him because he supports antigay discrimination”, said Ms. Cronin.
“Since Michael Portillo refuses to support homosexual human rights, we don’t think he’s fit to be an MP. We hope the people of Enfield-Southgate will vote him out of office on May 1st”, she concluded.
Less than two weeks after this protest, the electorate of Enfield-Southgate did vote Michael Portillo out of office, giving the out gay candidate, Stephen Twigg, a resounding majority. — Proof that direct action works!