Letter to Jack Straw — Call for Government Action after Soho bombing

The Rt. Hon. Jack Straw, MP,
Home Secretary.

3rd May, 1999.

Dear Mr. Straw,

Government Action following Friday’s Soho bombing
Given your hospital visits to those injured by the bomb, it is plain that your weekend, like that of so many of us, has been disrupted by the blast, (albeit not in the devasting way that the survivors, their families, and those of the deceased will be affected for years to come).

I note that you have been reported this weekend as saying “there has, happily, been a huge change in the attitudes of society as a whole towards gay people. There is, of course, much more progress needed”: and I would agree with this on both counts.

From the extracts which I have seen reported, it would appear that the remainder of your comments have been limited to bringing the perpetrator(s) to justice, and on the sterling work of the police.

On behalf of OutRage! I am writing to ask you to consider and reply to the following additional points.

  1. To introduce an amendment to the 1998 Crime & Disorder Act, to impose tougher sentences for violence and harassment against lesbians and gay men, (in accordance with the spirit of the amendment tabled on 8th May last year by Richard Allan, MP).
  2. To repeal Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act, which, despite various Government pronouncements, in practice still exercises a severely inhibitory effect upon schools and other organisations which work with young people.
  3. In accordance with Tony Blair’s 1997 election slogan “Education! Education! Education!”, to ensure that both primary and secondary schools do their utmost to:
    • promote integration (of all segments of society) and eliminate intolerance;
    • eradicate racism, homophobia, and other forms of bullying;
    • introduce balanced sex education, addressing at all levels of the curriculum and in all relevant subjects appropriate awareness of acceptable and unacceptable variations of behaviour within personal relationships, for the practical, long-term benefit of all pupils, whatever their sexuality.
  4. In the context of the reported statement that you “value the close working relationship which I have with Stonewall and the gay community”: with which L/G/B/T (lesbian, gay, bisexual & transgender) organisations do you have any relationship, apart from Stonewall? Although I have personally supported Stonewall financially for a number of years -and still do- it is only fair to state that they neither consult nor are accountable either to their own supporters, nor to the rest of the L/G/B/T community. As such their point of view is by no means representative. Moreover, despite their wealth (relative to other community bodies), their still limited resources do not enable them to address all the issues which they might like to: to say nothing of other issues which they prefer to ignore. — Any consultation of significance must be within a larger, democratic, representative and accountable forum: for example, through the Equality Alliance, (which has performed a useful coordinating and information-sharing rĂ´le this weekend). You will be aware that OutRage! is most desirous to have serious input into the legislative process: as, indeed, are other groups.
  5. On the subject of the police, it is indeed right and proper that the good work which they do should be acknowledged and appropriately rewarded. However, as the MacPherson Report has demonstrated (in the different but very closely related area of racism), there are regrettably still shortcomings. In the context of homophobia, I mention the following selection. –
    • The May issue of “Gay Times” carries a report, pp. 14 + 48, on homophobia within the police force: at a number of stations, but, in particular, at Soho’s West End Central. Indeed, after Saturday’s protest rally, a fellow marcher stated that a friend of his, a lesbian police officer there, was very distressed about the working environment. — There is little point in encouraging the police to hunt for bomb-planting terrorists whilst they allow hotbeds of homophobia and racism to flourish within their midst.
    • At last year’s Gay Pride March, a member of the Equality Alliance, Ian Farmer, was maliciously arrested. He subsequently complained: only to discover earlier this year that his complaint had been misrecorded. The mishandling of this case reflects a number of the issues which were recognised in the Stephen Lawrence scandal.
    • Although the police visited and warned selected gay businesses of the possible danger of a bomb, (not, I am informed, with due diligence), the warning was by no means high-profile. Since they had suspicions, tragically confirmed, that bombs might be directed at other, nonethnic, minority groups, it would surely have been appropriate to announce this to the general public through the national media. That this was neglected reminds me of the “Don’t die of ignorance” advertisements warning the nation of the danger of icebergs. This was another warning that dare not speak its name in public. — Why are the British as a nation so shamefully coy? It is truly disastrous: as has tragically been proved on both occasions.

We also hereby invite you to attend a brief commemorative Vigil of Remembrance at 6:30 p.m., Friday, 7th May, Old Compton Street, outside the Admiral Duncan.

Yours sincerely,

John Hunt.