Gay UK News & Reports 2007 Jul-Sep

1 London police bolster security 7/07

2 Ignorance lives on 25 years after Terry Higgins died 7/07

3 Analysis: Homophobia rampant in British schools 7/07

4 Government committed to stamping out gay bullying 7/07

5 Feature: The long road to decriminalisation 7/07

6 Book review from

7 Bishop guilty of gay discrimination 7/07

8 Gay Muslim Jailed, Attackers Walk Free 7/07

9 Civil partnerships: grandiose gays and low-key lesbians 7/07

10 Channel 4’s gay season: a missed opportunity? 7/07

11 Without gay priests Church would be lost claims Bishop Gene 7/07

12 Catholic adoption agency closes rather than accept gay couples 7/07

13 Homophobic bullying website wins celebrity support 9/07

14 Gay Rights Gain Ground Around Globe 9/07

15 Armed Forces to hold gay conference 9/07

16 Q&A: Sir Ian McKellen on Fighting Bigotry 9/07

17 Harman: Equality is at the heart of Labour 9/07

ABC News

July 1, 2007

London police bolster security

British police ratcheted up security in London a day after foiling a potentially devastating double car bombing, reviving fears of Al Qaeda-type terrorism in the capital. Speaking after crisis ministerial talks, and as a massive manhunt continued for the drivers of two cars full of gas canisters and nails, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said Britons must remain vigilant.

"We must not let the threat of terror stop us from getting on with our lives," she said after a meeting of the so-called COBRA crisis cell, which meets in time of national emergencies. The police are clear, that the most important contribution that the public can make is to carry on reporting anything suspicious and to be vigilant," she told reporters after the talks, chaired by new Prime Minister Gordon Brown. The planned attacks, apparently timed to take place simultaneously, came only a week before the second anniversary of the July 7, 2005 suicide bombings in London which killed 52 people during the morning rush-hour, fuelling speculation it was mounted with similar aims.

Police launched a major manhunt immediately after the first car was found, and on Saturday Sky News reported that CCTV footage had provided "crystal clear" images of a man running away from the car outside a London nightclub. Reports suggested the first bomb, left parked outside the Tiger Tiger nightclub in London’s Haymarket district, had a mobile phone detonator, but was defused by a quick-thinking policeman who spotted the threat. The second car was left parked nearby, also in the early hours of Friday, but it was given a parking ticket and towed away to a car pound. It was only there that the explosives were found after police were alerted later Friday. One witness quoted by the BBC said that some 500 people were in the club when the first car bomb was spotted by alert guards around 1:30 in the morning – shortly before the club was to close, spilling revellers out onto the street.

Businesses defiant
But drinkers and businesses were defiant on Friday night, with bars and clubs open as usual. On Saturday hundreds of thousands of people were expected to attend the city’s annual Gay Pride march. London Mayor Ken Livingstone insisted Londoners would not be deterred. "I think people are completely safe to walk about the streets of London today and tomorrow," he told BBC radio. "I have promised my family all week that we are all going on the Gay Pride march. We will all be there."

At Wimbledon security was tightened up at the famous tennis championships, with systematic checks on all vehicles entering the car parks and on everyone coming in to the tournament. The CCTV cameras which blanket London proved a valuable tool for detectives investigating the July 7, 2005 attacks on the city’s transport network, in which four suicide bombers killed themselves and 52 other people. Chillingly, a message posted in an Internet chat room shortly before the attacks were foiled appeared to indicate an Islamist link.

"London shall be bombed," said the 300-word posting on the Al-Hesbah chat room – sometimes used by Al-Qaeda – left by a person identified as Abu Osama al-Hazeen, CBS News reported. Pauline Neville-Jones, former head of the government’s joint intelligence committee, agreed that a link with the terror network was likely. "I will be inclined to believe there is some kind of Al-Qaeda link," she told the BBC, adding that it appeared "aimed at the new government."

Intelligence analyst Paul Beaver said the timing of the car bombs could be linked to a number of factors – including the new government and the knighthood given Indian-born writer Salman Rushdie this month. "I think there is a link to the honour bestowed on Salman Rushdie. Also it must be linked to Tony Blair being appointed Middle East envoy and of course having a new government," he told AFP.

Mr Livingstone meanwhile urged Londoners and Britons not to demonise Muslims after the double car bomb plot was foiled. "In this city, Muslims are more likely to be law-abiding than non-Muslims and less likely to support the use of violence to achieve political ends than non-Muslims," he told BBC Radio. "They have played a good and active and growing role in creating a multi-cultural society," he added.


4th July 2007

Ignorance lives on 25 years after Terry Higgins died

by Celine Casey
Today’s 25th anniversary of the death of Terry Higgins has been marked by a new survey from the charity set up in his memory. Mr Higgins was among the first people to die with AIDS in the UK. Despite the work of the Terrence Higgins Trust to educate the British public about the dangers of the virus, the survey reveals ignorance among all age groups.
Although 36% who responded to the survey thought sex education was good at schools, 28% of people were ignorant to the level where they thought a hole in a condom led to HIV. 10% believed that the virus could be contracted through sweat, while a further 12% thought sharing cutlery put them at risk of catching HIV.

Nick Partridge, chief executive of the Terrence Higgins Trust, commented: "It’s frightening that 25 years after Terry’s death, this level of confusion exists. The lack of good sex education means many young people are leaving school ignorant about HIV and safer sex. HIV is now the fastest growing serious health condition in the UK, and there is no cure. It’s time to get our facts straight. " The survey found that one in ten 18-24 year-olds thought HIV could be picked up through kissing, while in one of five in this group lacked awareness that there was no cure for HIV. Since Terry Higgins death, HIV has killed 17,000 others in this country, with a total of over 70,000 people currently living with HIV in the UK. Many people are unaware that the have they have the virus and there has been an explosion in unsafe sex in porn.

Many people choose to delude themselves the epidemic has gone, but the reality is that more people than ever were diagnosed with HIV in 2006 for the first time. Gay men and the African community continue to be in the high risk groups for HIV in the UK.

5th July 2007

Analysis: Homophobia rampant in British schools

by Divya Guha
Homophobic bullying plagues the majority of UK schools and shocking levels of bullying are meted out to school pupils and teachers who either are gay or perceived to be gay. That is the conclusion of a wide-ranging study carried by gay equality organisation Stonewall. Nearly two thirds of LGB students reported instances of such harassment. That figure jumps to 75% of young gay people attending faith schools. The survey, of more than 1,100 young people, found that only 23% of all UK schools explicitly condemn homophobic bullying.
Today the new Minister for Children pledged to stamp out all forms of bullying in schools and said new guidance on homophobic physical, mental and verbal abuse would be issued.

Homophobic mistreatment spans verbal and psychological abuse.
92% of gay, lesbian and bisexual pupils have experienced verbal abuse, 41% physical bullying and 17% have been subject to death threats. 30% of pupils reported that adults have been responsible for incidents of homophobic bullying in their schools. Nearly every interviewed student had heard phrases like, ‘You’re so gay’, and remarks like ‘poof’ and ‘dyke’ in UK schools. The resulting social exclusion has made victims feel unaccepted and isolated, more so in the case of girls (65 per cent) than boys (53 per cent). The abusers on the other hand, are known to be both fellow students, adults, as well as younger pupils.

Although both male and female victims have had verbal abuse hurled at them, boys are reportedly more likely to be attacked physically. Lesbians have reported cases of fellow female students covering their low cut tops and refusing to change in the same room during PE classes to be commonplace. Findings include the deliberate ignorance and silence prevalent in schools, which is to be blamed for this widespread misery. Instances of bullying and physical attacks, when reported, are often ignored by school authorities, while gay and lesbian issues go un-discussed in classrooms.

However, nearly 60 per cent of cases of abuse go unreported as gay and lesbian students feel disenfranchised and subsequently alone. In faith schools, religious disapproval and thoughtless disregard for LGB issues, compounds the tendencies of bullies to target gay and lesbian students even more.

Stonewall says that this exclusion causes permanent damage to its victims.
Victims’ experiences have adversely affected their school performance and the majority interviewed, say that they have been forced to stay home to escape the bullying. However, the anonymity of ‘cyber-bullying’ means that even at home, pupils are often unable to escape this teasing. With socialising websites like Facebook and Myspace being largely unregulated, gay and lesbian pupils feel they have no refuge even in their homes, with the inevitability of bullies posting insults on message boards.

Many abusive messages are also sent by text.
The survey found three in five pupils fail to intervene when they see their fellow students being bullied and that a measly seven per cent of teachers ever take action. Three quarters of victims say that they have never seen gay and lesbian issues addressed in the classroom. In other findings, teachers have admitted that it is more difficult to report homophobic bullying as the word ‘gay’ is often used as a generic word of insult. Students report staff telling them that it was ‘their fault’ for coming out and even though they would not stand racism, homophobic bullying was, "completely different".

This kind of ignorance, the report implies, should be addressed. Teachers do not perceive homophobic bullying as serious. Sixty two per cent of gay and lesbian students have said that no action was taken against their bully. A third of gay and lesbian students are unhappy in school. Commenting, Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson, Stephen Williams MP said:

"This is a landmark report for gay pupils and students. As it surveys the views of over a thousand young people it cannot be easily dismissed by anyone who denies that homophobic bullying is a serious problem. Whether a young person is gay, seen as being gay or has gay parents, homophobic bullying can make their life a misery. I remember myself what a lonely and isolating experience school was when I was bullied for my sexuality. The Stonewall survey shows that half of lesbian and gay pupils don’t feel able to be themselves when at school. Homophobic bullying can snatch away a child’s identity. If it also leads to staying away from school then children will not achieve their potential. No school should be allowed to turn a blind eye to bullying of any kind. All schools, including religious schools, should have anti-bullying policies that specifically address homophobic bullying."

Mr Williams was responsible for education select committee report into bullying in schools.
The Stonewall report reveals that if guidance is provided to students who are attracted to members of the same sex, and if LGBT issues are openly addressed by teachers in an informed manner in the classroom, the pupils are 70 per cent more likely to feel welcome and comfortable. They need to be made aware of the resources and information available to them in the school, community and the internet should they feel the need for such information. They are also likely to feel more empowered if they have an adult to speak to.

Other recommendations in the report include:
Acknowledging the problem, developing rules and policies to tell young people about gay and lesbian issues which will help promote a social environment where being LGBT is embraced, accepted and understood better.

Staff should be properly trained to be able to understand and respond better to difficulties faced by gay and lesbian students.

Sexual orientation should be included as part of the regular curriculum, which will moderate the ‘shock’ factor which breeds gossip and leads to the pointless exclusion of young people attracted to people of the same sex.

Schools should tell young people to use local gay and lesbian support and youth groups where they meet like-minded people which will help them feel more confident about facing life and participating in the broader community.

Schools that have good anti-homophobic bullying practices are encouraged to pass on their knowledge and experience to encourage and help other schools achieve a more accepting social environment for its LGBT students.

The Stonewall report aims to pressurise schools into acknowledging this persecution which impinges on gay and lesbian students achieving their full potential, and also indeed emphasises that the students who are attracted to members of their own sex, have the right to a stress-free environment both in the classroom and the playground.

The survey of 1,145 young people was conducted by the Schools Health Education Unit for Stonewall.

5th July 2007

Government committed to stamping out gay bullying

by Tony Grew
The newly-appointed minister for Children, Kevin Brennan, has committed the government to working with Stonewall to eradicate homophobic bullying from British schools.
Speaking at the gay equality organisation’s Education for All conference in London, Mr Brennan said the new Department for Children, Schools and Families would focus on the security, well being and success of children in all aspects of their life, not just academic achievement, and that stopping bullying in all forms was a key part of that mission.

"Bullying is not simply a part of growing up," he said. "Shame, indignity and humiliation at school is something that no young person should have to put up with. I am determined to stamp out bullying in all its forms – from the old menace of racism to the recent emergence of cyber-bullying."

The minister stressed that faith schools will be compelled to take action against homophobia as well as secular institutions and he set out two approaches to tackling the problem: "The first is effective intervention. Part of the reason for the apparent inertia and inaction is that often, teachers are unsure what to do. We need to make sure that every teacher has the knowledge, skills and confidence to deal with incidents of homophobic bullying. To challenge intolerance and disrespect in whatever form it rears its ugly head."

Mr Brennan said that schools will be issued with new guidance, telling them to specifically address homophobic bullying in their policies. "Schools need to have proper systems in place enabling pupils to report homophobic bullying," he said. "Even more importantly, policy and good intentions must be absolutely reflected in practice, with sanctions being firmly and consistently applied." The minister said better pastoral care from teachers was vital, and that going beyond just having a ‘zero tolerance’ approach was needed:

"Children and young people are taught about the importance of equality and diversity in ways that are appropriate to their age. Helping them develop the values of respect and understanding which help shape a progressive and inclusive society. Parents too need to be involved." Delegates to the conference wanted to know why only guidance was being issued to schools, instead of stronger action.

Others stressed the need for better teacher training around homophobia and homosexuality.

Mr Brennan told

"The guidance is strong, it has got the full force of the government behind it. We are committed to making sure that every school implements the guidance. We don’t like to simply put bureaucratic requirements on schools without the evidence that that is needed so at this stage it remains guidance. We will be monitoring its implementation." Mr Brennan is the MP for Cardiff West. He was appointed Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children, Young People and Families by Gordon Brown last week.

The full text of his speech to today’s Stonewall Education for All conference is reproduced below:

I am delighted to be here in my new capacity as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Children, Young People and Families. Our previous Secretary of State was an extremely powerful advocate for lesbian and gay rights, and both Ed Balls and I share his passionate commitment to tackling the many forms of discrimination – both overt and covert, direct and indirect – which still blight our society. The creation of the Department for Children, Schools and Families will sharpen our focus on young people – not just their attainment in school, but their security, wellbeing, and potential to succeed in all aspects of their life. I am pleased to talk with you this morning about the problem of homophobic bullying in schools, and what we are doing to tackle this. I am privileged and proud to be part of a government which is committed to real progress and genuine equality for all. We aren’t a government which pays lip service to equality and then shies away from action. We’ve repealed Clause 28 and introduced an equal age of consent. Made discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation illegal at work and at school. Introduced civil partnerships and equal adoption rights.

All helping to correct the unjustifiable anomalies which implied that the way in which lesbian, gay and bisexual men and women live their lives is somehow less valid or less acceptable than heterosexual life. Of course, we have a long way to go. Legislation is obviously essential to setting the framework, but it is the bluntest of instruments. Just as it took several years for racial equality laws to feed into real culture change where racist language became unacceptable – so now we need to achieve the same with homophobic language. Our objective is nothing less than a fully inclusive society. Where all minority groups are valued and respected, and every individual is able to simply be who they are.

It’s clear that we aren’t there yet.

Just one example is the casual use of homophobic language by mainstream radio DJs. This is too often seen as harmless banter instead of the offensive insult that it really represents. At the moment, those societal attitudes are too often reflected in schools. Stonewall’s recent publication, the “School Report” brought some truly shocking statistics to national attention. The survey showed that insulting homophobic remarks are thrown around as part of every day conversation and overheard by almost every school child.
What this means is that young gay people – or those with gay friends and relatives – can find their time at school made anything from uncomfortable to unhappy to downright threatening.

Many turn in on themselves, becoming silent and withdrawn. Others resort to extreme measures to block the pain – from truancy to substance misuse to self-harm. To ignore this problem is to collude in it. The blind eye to casual name-calling, looking the other way because it is the easy option, is simply intolerable. Not only because it is disrespectful and hurtful, but because it is very often is the precursor to more violent action. And some adults compound the problem with their own outdated attitudes to homophobia. We have a clear and urgent obligation to address this issue, to prevent more young lives being made miserable through malice and ignorance.

As minister responsible for bullying, the eradication of discrimination amongst our young people is right at the top of my list of priorities. Bullying is not simply a part of growing up. Shame, indignity and humiliation at school is something that no young person should have to put up with. I am determined to stamp out bullying in all its forms – from the old menace of racism to the recent emergence of cyberbullying. And there is no doubt that with concerted effort, this is possible. All of civilised society now views racist language and bullying as absolutely abhorrent.

The public revulsion at Shilpa Shetty’s treatment in the Big Brother house, or the disgust at the abuse directed at black England players in Serbia recently, really show the progress we have made. Thinking back only twenty years, I think that protest would have been far more muted. We need to create a culture where homophobic bullying is as unthinkable as racist bullying. That culture must be shared across our whole society, but I believe that schools are the right place to start. Because it’s in school that young people learn to challenge prejudice, confront injustice and stand up for what is right. The values, attitudes and beliefs that they acquire at school are those they will take into adulthood.

There are two approaches that we need to take.

The first is effective intervention. Part of the reason for the apparent inertia and inaction is that often, teachers are unsure what to do. We need to make sure that every teacher has the knowledge, skills and confidence to deal with incidents of homophobic bullying. To challenge intolerance and disrespect in whatever form it rears its ugly head. Schools need to specifically address the issue in their bullying policies – making it clear that homophobic bullying, harassment and language is deplorable and simply will not be tolerated. Schools need to have proper systems in place enabling pupils to report homophobic bullying. Even more importantly, policy and good intentions must be absolutely reflected in practice, with sanctions being firmly and consistently applied.

But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, we need to prevent such incidents occurring – going further than a simple zero-tolerance approach to homophobic bullying. It means that the curriculum must reflect our inclusive vision of society. So children and young people are taught about the importance of equality and diversity in ways that are appropriate to their age. Helping them develop the values of respect and understanding which help shape a progressive and inclusive society. Parents too need to be involved. We already have strong vehicles for delivering this – the incredibly effective Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning Programme, as well as citizenship and Personal Social and Health Education lessons.

We also need to offer better pastoral care for young people. So that teachers can provide appropriate support and advice for young people who may be uncertain about their sexuality, or are experiencing problems at home, or who simply need a sympathetic ear. The guidance which is being produced by Stonewall and Education Action Challenging Homophobia will be invaluable in helping schools and teachers to achieve these ends: in effective intervention; in prevention, and in developing a culture which is more supportive for lesbian and gay pupils. It will set out a series of principles, but will go far beyond simply showing how to define and identify homophobic bullying. It will also help teachers understand how to actively respond.

Above all, it will stress the need for a positive, inclusive school environment which recognises and celebrates difference in all its forms, and where good intentions and rigorous policies are reflected in classroom practice. But this guidance will not expect schools to have all the answers. It will also stress the value of positive role models from both inside and outside school, and identify useful sources of outside expertise – like Stonewall itself. This guidance will form part of a comprehensive package looking at all the different manifestations of bullying – offering teachers practical strategies without overwhelming them with mountains of paper. It will apply to all schools – including faith schools. And I hope it will be embraced by all schools, because the human cost of failing to address this problem is enormous – as the “School Report” makes clear.

In coming up with practical strategies to address homophobic bullying, your conference is making a further important contribution to this debate. I firmly believe that one day, the homophobic language which is all too common today will become as taboo as the casual racism of the 1970s is today. And if we work together, I believe that day will be in the not too distant future. I wholeheartedly endorse the objectives of your conference and I wish you a very successful day. Thank you very much.

9th July 2007

Feature: The long road to decriminalisation

40 years ago this month, a campaiging Welsh Labour MP by the name of Leo Abse managed to guide a Bill through both Houses of Parliament. By a combination of smart tactics and appealing to politicians to pity those ‘less fortunate’ than themselves, he got them to agree to a partial decriminalisation of male homosexual relations. It brought an end to hundreds of years of legal persecution, as Alex Bryce explains. For many people the so-called swinging 60s was a time of sexual liberation, but for gays and lesbians it was a decade of repression and discrimination. While their heterosexual brothers and sisters were enjoying their sexual awakening, gripped by the sunny optimism for which the 1960s are remembered, homosexuals were still forced to live in secret, faced with the constant threat of prosecution and imprisonment.

Not until 1967, after a tireless, and often bloody, struggle with the establishment, was male homosexuality partially legalised. The first significant reference to laws against homosexuality in England occur in 1376, when the ‘God’ Parliament petitioned King Edward III to banish all "Lombard brokers" and other foreign traders, particularly "Jews and Saracens." They were accused of introducing "the too horrible vice which is not to be named" which they believed would destroy the realm. In 1533, when King Henry VIII reformed the church and curtailed the power of the clerical courts, "The Abominable Vice of Buggery" (anal intercourse between two men) first became a criminal offence. It carried the death penalty and even in the early nineteenth century gay men were still being executed, with an average of two hanged each year between 1806 and 1836.

The laws were finally amended in 1861 after twenty-five years with no executions. The changes meant that the crime no longer carried the death penalty. Instead, those found guilty of buggery would be sentenced to life imprisonment. Attempted buggery carried a 10 year sentence. In 1885 the Labouchere Amendment was introduced which extended the law to include "gross indecency" (oral sex between two men) which was punishable by a two-year prison sentence. Although there aren’t many recorded cases of executions until the nineteenth century, which could be due to inadequate records, punishments in other countries, particularly British colonies, were more frequent and severe.

Henry VIII’s Buggery Act, which was re-enacted by Elizabeth I in 1563, was adopted in all 13 original colonies, where the crime was punishable by death. There were, however, many recorded casualties of the anti-gay laws in England in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, perhaps the most high-profile being that of Oscar Wilde whose trials in 1895 shook the literary and celebrity world. The subject of the trial was Wilde’s relationship with the promising young poet Lord Alfred Douglas (known as Bosie) which was discovered by Douglas’ father, the Marquess of Queensberry. By 1894 Queensberry had concluded that Wilde was most likely homosexual and became insistent that his young son would stop seeing him.

In a letter to his son in April 1894, Queensberry wrote, "Your intimacy with this man Wilde must either cease or I will disown you and stop all money supplies … I am not going to try an analyse this intimacy, and I make no charge; but to my mind to pose as a thing is as bad as to be it." Douglas replied in a telegram: "What a funny little man you are." As Douglas’ relationship with Wilde flourished, his father’s anger became more acute. In a subsequent letter, Queensberry wrote, "You reptile.. you are no son of mine and I never thought you were." Douglas answered, "If O. W. was to prosecute you in the criminal courts for libel, you would get seven years’ penal servitude for your outrageous libels."

After Queensberry left a calling card for Wilde at a club he frequented which read "For Oscar Wilde, posing sodomite," the acclaimed playwright made the fatal mistake of going to court. The first of the three trials of Oscar Wilde in April 1895 saw him cheering the prosecution as Queensberry, charged with libel, faced the dock. The libel trial became a cause celebre as Wilde’s association with rent boys, cross-dressers and blackmailers and his affairs with young men began to appear in the press. Despite his literary friends such as George Bernard Shaw urging him to drop the case, Wilde was determined to persist, despite the damage to his reputation.

Although he had regained some ground while defending the morality of his famous novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, when challenged on the reason given for not kissing a young servant, Wilde replied: "He was a particularly plain boy – unfortunately ugly – I pitied him for it." Under cross-examination he started to falter and was eventually forced to drop the case against Queensberry. Immediately afterwards, a warrant for his arrest was issued for gross indecency and, although the first trial reached no verdict, he was tried again and sentenced to two years of hard labour. Wilde’s health seriously deteriorated while he was in prison and on his release in May 1897 he was penniless and remained in exile from society. He died three years later after living under the assumed name of Sebastian Melmoth.

Although the other stories of lives cut cruelly short and damaged by the criminalisation of homosexuality are not as well-known as that of Oscar Wilde, some are equally tragic. One such case was highlighted by the writer J.R. Ackerley in a letter to The Spectator in 1942 expressing his outrage at a story he had stumbled across in the Welsh town of Abergavenny. He found that twenty men were put on trial for homosexual behaviour and as a result a nineteen-year-old took his own life by throwing himself in front of a train. Two others endured failed suicide attempts. The sentences which were issued ranged from one to twelve years. Despite all the protestations by Ackerley, the subject of the treatment of homosexuals remained unmentionable.

After the Second World War, the number of men being prosecuted for consensual homosexual acts rose drastically from what had been around 500 per year in the 1930s to 1,666 in 1950 and 2,504 in 1955. Reminiscent of the Salem witch trails and fuelled by the atmosphere generated by the McCarthy period, chain prosecutions became common, with witnesses being offered immunity to name other gay men. Address books of the accused were trawled through by police resulting in multiple arrests and accusations that they belonged to a ‘homosexual ring.’

In the 1950s the anti-gay laws and aggressive police activity in upholding them became the subject of media scrutiny after a series of high-profile arrests. In 1953 Labour MP William Field was arrested and charged with ‘importuning men for an immoral purpose’ and as a result lost his Parliamentary seat. Soon after actor Sir John Gielgood was arrested in a public toilet, having been discovered in a compromising position with a soldier. The following year, after reporting a theft to the police, Lord Montagu was arrested and eventually sent to prison along with two of his close friends, one of whom was his cousin. However, in the aftermath of this famous trial, the public mood began to shift.

This was reflected in a Sunday Times editorial published just a few days after the trial concluded. It argued that the case for law reform regarding "acts committed in private by adults is very strong." Soon after, the House of Lords held the first ever debate on homosexuality in Parliament which, in turn, lead to the Wolfenden Committee being set up by the Home Secretary, David Maxwell-Fyfe. Incidentally, Maxwell-Fyfe led the opposition to law reform in the Lords, so it is ironic that immediately afterwards he commissioned the Wolfenden Committee. It is likely that he assumed that the Committee would find against law reform, but what he didn’t realise that Sir John Wolfenden himself had a gay son who openly wore make-up.

The Wolfenden Committee sat for three years and strongly recommended that homosexual acts in private should no longer be illegal and recommended that the age of consent should be set at 21. However, the basis for the Committee’s argument was that the law was impractical and a waste of police time rather than that it was unfair or immoral. Its conclusions made frontpage headlines which in turn projected the debate onto the national stage and on the whole the press coverage was favourable with the exception of the right-wing, low-brow press. The Guardian described the report as "a fine piece of work" and even the conservative Telegraph called it "courageous."

Some historians see Wolfenden as a key turning point, a watershed which led the eventual law reform which came ten years later. Others argue that the Committee’s influence was limited and that the ten years of campaigning which followed were key to securing decriminalisation. However, whatever people say about Wolfenden and its limitations, it certainly set the stage for reform of the law. It also became clear that public opinion was starting to change.

In 1958, the Lord Chamberlain overturned the ban on plays with homosexual themes, which paved the way for a series of hugely influential gay-themed works and, in turn, contributed to the gradual change of public mood. Soon after Wolfenden’s report was published, several attempts were made in Parliament to introduce legislative reform acting on its conclusions. In 1960 there was a motion in the House of Commons calling on the Government to take early action to implement legal reforms. This proposal was easily defeated by a Conservative Government reluctant to act for fear of a backlash from the right-wing tabloid press.

Incidentally, Margaret Thatcher, who later became a sworn enemy of gay community, was among the few Conservatives who voted in favour of implementing Wolfenden’s recommendations. Another watershed development in the march toward decriminalisation was the establishment of the Homosexual Law Reform Society. Its principle aim was to persuade parliamentarians to decriminalise homosexual acts. Its first public meeting was held in London in 1960 and attracted over a thousand people, which was astonishing given that to be openly gay was to flout the law. When the Tory Government was defeated by Labour in 1964 and determined reformer Roy Jenkins was appointed Home Secretary the prospects for future legal reform looked brighter for the gay community.

However, Labour only had a tiny majority in Parliament, which left them in a precarious position. Therefore, on the surface, they were almost as reluctant to pursue legal reform as the Tories had been. One particularly startling feature of the push for legal reform in the Sixties, which draws a stark contrast with recent gay rights legislation, was that in Parliament the House of Lords led the way. In 1965, Lord Arran, an elderly peer who was considered somewhat eccentric (he had a pet badger), sponsored a Private Members Bill in the House of Lords which proposed the enactment of the Wolfenden recommendations. The Bill eventually ran out of parliamentary time and was therefore shelved, but it did contribute significantly to the growing pressure on the Commons and the Government to reform the law.

After a failed attempt by a Conservative MP, Humphrey Berkley, Leo Abse tabled a 10-Minute Rule Bill in July 1966 which was supported by Home Secretary Roy Jenkins. The tone of the debate which ensued in Parliament was particularly offensive to homosexuals. Opponents of decriminalisation referred to gays as "disgusting," "loathsome" and "not real men," and even those supporting decriminalisation seemed to do so out of a patronising sense of pity more than anything else. When Abse’s bill decriminalising homosexuality crawled through the final stages in Parliament forty years ago last week, it was a shabby and wholly unsatisfactory thing which did little apart from decriminalising homosexual acts in private.

The age of consent was set at 21 (compared to 16 for heterosexuals) and the maximum penalty for any man committing ‘gross indecency’ (any sexual acts including masturbation and oral sex) with a 16 to 21 year-old was raised to five years. The bill also only decriminalised male sexual relationships in private, which meant that many men were still convicted for ‘procuring’ (which amounted to chatting someone up in a bar) and ‘soliciting.’ Despite the change in the law, gay men were not given legal equality and continued to be imprisoned for actions which would not have been criminal if there partner was a woman. I In fact, between 1967 and 2003 up to 30,000 gay men were convicted for behaviour that would not have been illegal if they were heterosexual.

Yet, to give a fair assessment of the 1967 Sexual Law Reform Act, we have to take a closer look at the context. The Labour Government were in a precarious position and were so preoccupied with holding onto power that they would never see the reform as a priority. Additionally, as Abse himself claimed recently in an interview in The Observer, the supporters of the bill had to use all their political acumen to drag it through a parliament which was still, on the whole, hostile. If the age of consent had not been set at 21, then perhaps the bill would have never been passed. This inevitably meant making concessions. The passing of the act paved the way for increasing social, if not political, liberation for the gay community.

Gay publications such as Timm and Spartacus were launched and the Committee for Homosexual Equality was formed, which began to lobby for a lower age of consent. Eventually, after much opposition, even from Abse himself, gay social networks were formed. Despite its significant limitations and its distinct lack of ambition, the Sexual Law Reform Act drastically changed the lives of a generation of innocent gay men who were imprisoned for behaviour which was completely natural to them. As with the more recent reforms, in fighting for equality, it was crucial to stay within the mainstream, which often necessitates being less ambitious and taking baby steps rather than giant leaps towards the eventual goal.

As a gay rights campaigner, that is the most difficult, and perhaps the most tragic, part of fighting to put right injustice and prejudice in our society. Seeing the Act as a watershed for gay rights is perhaps overestimating its influence, but I am certain that it was the first of many small steps along the forty-year road from criminality and shame to equal rights and pride.

Book review from
‘Straightening Ali’ by Amjeed Kabil
New novel pits family obligations against personal happiness

by CE Gatchalian, Xtra West
When modern Western values clash with traditional non-Western ones, the differences can be irreconcilable. That’s the harsh reality tackled in Straightening Ali, a new novel by first-time British-Pakistani author Amjeed Kabil. The book chronicles a few days in the life of the title character, a young British-Pakistani man whose family arrange for him to marry a girl even though he’s told them he’s gay. In these few days Ali is forced to choose between a series of polarities: between his fiancé and his male lover, his familial obligations and his personal happiness, his cultural identity and his sexual identity. Speaking from his home in Birmingham, England, Kabil admits that a large chunk of the novel is autobiographical: "I would say around 70 percent is based on real events. Some of my own experiences of living in a British-Pakistani household are reflected in Ali’s story as well," he says.

"My parents came to England in the 1950s and then brought their family up in accordance with their traditional values, which sometimes conflicted with Western ones," he explains. "This has given me a unique insight into the gay British-Asian experience, and a wealth of stories to write about." One of the novel’s strengths is that is doesn’t sugarcoat the very real divide between modernism and traditionalism, the secular and the religious. Ali leaves his wife shortly after the wedding night, and there is no easy reconciliation between Ali and his family. Kabil, too, left the wife his family had chosen for him, and the reconciliation with his family was slow and arduous. "They obviously wanted what they thought was best for me," says the 35-year-old, whose day job is in the social housing field. "They could not understand why I wanted to leave after the wedding night. To them I had looked perfectly happy on my wedding day. There was a lot of hurt on both sides," he recalls.

"I went for the shock factor on my first visit [after a two-year estrangement]-you know, bleached hair, pierced tongue and a nice tattoo on my leg," he continues. "I remember my sister uttering, ‘Oh my God, he’s become camp.’ My thought at the time was, ‘Where the heck did she learn to use the word camp?’ "Nowadays, the relationship has evolved. There is some semblance of peace and calm. I visit my mother every couple of weeks and try and ring her every Sunday. My brother has stopped antagonizing me and started to use the G word to describe me-you know, gay. He’s even said something which was as close to acceptance as he could get. It went something like, ‘I know you’re gay but why can’t you get married like all the other queers in the community?’" Reconciliation with the larger Pakistani community has been more difficult. "I have had people from my community crossing the road when they’ve seen me, and I have yet to get an invite to a wedding of a relative. In fact I have been completely cut off from anything to do with the community.

"One of the lowest points was finding out that my grandfather had passed away and that I could not go to his funeral due to what the community would say. The same applied to my sister’s wedding." Which leads Kabil to this blunt conclusion: "I personally think being gay and Muslim are not compatible and there is conflict for me with practicing the religion knowing what mainstream Islam’s homophobic view is. "I could be wrong about this and I know a lot of people might disagree with me. There are various Islamic gay activist groups that are trying to encourage Islam to be more accepting, and hopefully in time they might make some inroads…. However, right now I need more convincing." Not that there aren’t instances in Pakistani or Islamic culture where same-sex goings-on are tolerated.

"In Pakistani culture, as long as you’re married and have children it’s acceptable for the men to play around with other men," explains Kabil. "It’s something that happens a lot but isn’t spoken about. The attitude is that it’s okay as they’re married, have kids and have done their duty to the family. "In Pakistan it’s considered part of life for men to experiment with each other before they settle down and get married-usually an arranged marriage," he continues. "It’s considered to be a phase they go through-a bit of masti, or harmless fun. Therefore, there is some level of acceptance as long as they’re not out and proud and ‘shaming’ the family." Interestingly, when Kabil visited his ancestral homeland, it wasn’t the country his parents had led him to believe it would be. "Pakistan has moved on since the ’50s. It’s developed and grown. I remember when I visited I was surprised by just how much. In the cities like Islamabad it was surprisingly liberal," he says, though he acknowledges that the rural villages are still conservative.

"My parents’ generation has struggled with Britain’s liberal values and they’ve found it difficult to reconcile the differences," he reflects. "However, this is changing slowly. My parents’ generation has made mistakes with my generation forcing arranged marriages or taking their children back to Pakistan and getting them married to someone who has nothing in common with their child. "However, this is changing," he repeats, "and the second generation which was born in Britain is making its own decisions. Cultural values are changing and evolving and I’m being realistic enough to say these have eroded in some cases as each generation finds its own set of values to hold onto." The novel’s themes will certainly resonate as strongly here in Canada-probably the most multicultural, postmodern country in the world-as it will in the author’s native Britain. "I have a love and fascination with Canada," Kabil says.

He’s been to Vancouver and says that the queer community here "was similar to what you would find in London, but more relaxed and friendly. I also found that Davie St had more of a community feel rather than just being a place that people went out on a Friday night or weekend." His only complaint, he says, was the Canadian accent. "I had a little problem with it!"

18th July 2007

Bishop guilty of gay discrimination

by Tony Grew
An employment tribunal has ruled in favour of John Reaney, the gay man who brought a claim of discrimination claim against the Bishop of Hereford. The case was supported and funded by Stonewall. John Reaney was interviewed by a panel of eight people for the post of Youth Officer in the Diocese of Hereford last summer. However, a unanimous decision to appoint him was blocked by the Bishop of Hereford after a meeting in which Mr Reaney was humiliatingly cross-examined by the Bishop about his private life.

In its judgement, the tribunal said:

"The respondents discriminated against the claimant on the grounds of sexual orientation. The case will now be listed for a remedy hearing." Mr Reaney is set to secure substantial compensation. He said he was delighted that the Bishop of Hereford has lost this case.

"It demonstrates to many lesbian and gay Christians working for God within the Church of England that they are entitled to fair and respectful treatment. I’m very grateful indeed to Stonewall for their support throughout this case. I’m also grateful to my solicitor Alison Downie of Bindman & Partners and barrister Sandyha Drew for all their work."

Alison Downie said:

"My client is pleased that he has won his claim. The Bishop and the Diocese were wrong and unlawfully discriminated against him because he is a gay man in refusing to appoint an excellent candidate to the post of Youth Officer. In this landmark test case the tribunal found not only that he suffered direct discrimination but that if necessary they would have found indirect discrimination in the Diocese imposing a requirement of celibacy for lay people in employment within the Church. It is highly regrettable that the Bishop acted as he did and that my client lost a year of his life in bringing this claim to right the wrong done to him."

Ben Summerskill, Stonewall chief executive, said: "This outcome is a triumph for 21st century decency over 19th century prejudice.

"We’re very happy for John. The tribunal has rightly made clear that the Church of England cannot discriminate against gay people with impunity. No one, not even a Bishop, is exempt from the law."

Mr Reaney, who lives in north Wales, went to Stonewall Cymru’s Cardiff office for advice and, given its importance, Stonewall supported and funded his case throughout. Stonewall argued that a heterosexual person would not have been subject to the same level of intrusive questioning as Reaney. The case was heard over four days in Cardiff in April.

16 July 2007

Gay Muslim Jailed, Attackers Walk Free

by Peter Tatchell – Peter Tatchell, writing exclusively for MySalaam, says the criminal justice system is still failing the victims of homophobic hate crimes

How would you feel if you were queer-bashed and the police treated you as the attacker, not the victim? And what would you think if your partner was murdered and the police never interviewed you about his killing? Pretty angry, I guess. Well, that appears to be what happened to 29-year-old Mohamed S. He was jailed for eight years following an alleged homophobic attack on his home in London in 2002. Having reviewed the evidence, I believe very strongly that he was the victim, not the perpetrator. Yet he was jailed, while his alleged attackers walked free. Mohamed is a gay Muslim and trained as an imam. He has asked for his full name and other identifying details to be withheld.

Mohamed fears violent retribution from sections of the Muslim community against himself and his family on account of his homosexuality. Although he is a deeply devout Muslim, because he is gay Mohamed sadly gets little support from fellow Muslims. Muslim organisations, and their left-wing supporters, rightly condemn the abuse of Muslims in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. Oddly, they say little or nothing about abuses against Muslims, such as Mohamed, by the criminal justice system in the UK. Why the double standards? Rejected by most Muslims, Mohamed turned to the gay community for help. He has been adopted by the gay human rights group OutRage!, which is assisting with the preparation of his appeal against conviction. With our help, he has now submitted an application to overturn his conviction to the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), the top body for considering allegations of wrongful convictions.

Mohamed’s case is not unique. He is one of hundreds, possibly thousands, of innocent people who have been jailed for crimes they did not commit. Every year, around 5,000 people have their convictions overturned on appeal. The fact that they were convicted in the first place shows that the criminal justice system is deeply flawed. These 5,000 are the lucky ones. What about all the other equally innocent defendants who don’t win their appeals? For victims of miscarriages of justice, like Mohamed, their wrongful convictions are mostly the result of poor language and communication skills, intimidation of witnesses and alibis, mental ill-health problems, and incompetent or prejudiced solicitors, police and judges.

Mohamed’s story is a shocking indictment of the failings of the criminal justice system. According to his account, a group of men burst into his home in the middle of night, armed with a knife and sticks, and proceeded to attack him. Mohamed says he staved off the alleged attacker’s blows and their attempts to stab him. In the chaotic fracas, which took place in semi-darkness, two of the attackers received knife wounds. Over a year later (after Mohamed’s trial and conviction) one of the attackers died. Mohamed is adamant that he is innocent. In court, the alleged attackers appeared as prosecution witnesses. They accused Mohamed of attacking them. He was found guilty, despite masses of conflicting prosecution evidence of doubtful credibility. Judge Nicholas Medawar QC sentenced Mohamed to eight years imprisonment on two charges of causing grievous bodily harm. This is double the typical sentence for a person like Mohamed, who is of previous good character with no previous convictions.

After Mohamed was jailed, a similar group of men burst into the London home of his male partner, Junda, also in the middle of the night. They hacked him with a sword and then shot him dead. Mohamed believes the killing of Junda is probably related to the attack on him. Both men had been receiving homophobic death threats, allegedly from some of the men who Mohamed says attacked him. Junda’s murder remains unsolved. Three years have passed, and still Mohamed has never been interviewed by the police about the killing of his partner. New evidence I have uncovered suggests Mohamed was wrongly convicted. This includes three new defence witnesses. They corroborate Mohamed’s claim that prior to the attack he was being homophobically abused and threatened, including threats to kill him and his male partner.

In a statement given to me, one new witness (T) confirms that he saw Mohamed being subjected to anti-gay abuse in the street, just a couple of weeks before the attack in June 2002. The abusers were in a car matching the description of the vehicle owned by one of the five prosecution witnesses (the alleged assailants). Another new witness (I) states that on the night of the assault on Mohamed, he was invited by the attackers to come and “sort some poofs out” at Mohamed’s address. He has signed a statement confirming this invitation, and the fact that he saw a large knife and wooden sticks on the seat of their car. He believes he was being asked to participate in a queer-bashing attack. A further new witness (T) said that not long after the attack, some of the prosecution witnesses admitted to him that they had gone to Mohamed’s house with the intention of killing him – because of his homosexuality.

Mohamed alleges that at his trial his defence was hampered by intimidation of his witnesses, by the apparent non-disclosure of key police documents, and by the failure of his lawyer to call six witnesses who were in his house on the night of the attack. His defence was also hindered by his severe mental trauma, by his poor command of English, and by his on-going fears for his own life and the safety of his partner, family and friends. The main prosecution witnesses were, according to Mohamed, the men who attacked him. Police confirm that one of these men has since signed a statement admitting perjury; confessing that he and the other four key prosecution witnesses conspired together to concoct lies to the police about his true identity. This dishonesty casts serious doubt on their integrity and the reliability of their evidence. Indeed, their police statements and court testimony contain more than 20 major contradictions. Astonishingly, these prosecution witnesses were never properly cross-examined by Mohamed’s lawyer to expose these inconsistencies and what appears to be fabricated evidence.

A number of police documents, which corroborate Mohamed’s testimony, were apparently not produced in court, including false and implicitly incriminating statements to the police from the prosecution witnesses (the alleged attackers) soon after the assault. I have recently discovered that one of the key prosecution witnesses has admitted an offence of affray, which is a serious violent crime, and has two fraud convictions, which call into question his honesty and the credibility of his evidence. Other prosecution witnesses may have convictions or cautions, but so far the police have been unable or unwilling to provide Mohamed’s new solicitors, Bindman and Partners, with this information. At Mohamed’s trial, the defence barrister did not question the prosecution witnesses as to whether they had criminal backgrounds. I have spoken to local people from the area where the attack took place. They believe some of the alleged attackers are, or have been, involved in serious criminal activity, including extortion and violent assaults.

Mohamed says that his legal team ignored some of his instructions. Six of his key defence witnesses were not called to testify. They were present in his house at the time of the attack and could have confirmed some or part of Mohamed’s account of what happened. Even though the jury explicitly wanted to hear from one of them, the judge and Mohamed’s lawyer failed to bring him to court. My examination of the evidence and court transcripts lead me to conclude that Mohamed did not receive adequate legal representation at his trial. On the night of the violence, Mohamed got his best friend, who was in the house with him, to call the police, whereas the prosecution witnesses fled the crime scene. When their car was stopped by officers soon after the incident, they never mentioned that two of them had been stabbed. They concealed the stab wounds from the police. Why would they do this, if they were innocent victims?

Later, when they were apprehended by the police at the hospital, some of them gave false names and addresses and a false account of how the stabbings took place. This included the untrue claim that they had been set upon by a gang of black youths in the high street. Police internal reports that I have obtained confirm these prosecution witness cover-ups and lies. These reports were never presented in court – and may never have been disclosed to the defence. To cap it off, in what appears to be a case of extraordinary bungling incompetence, the original case papers seem to have been lost. When he came to court, Mohamed was close to a nervous breakdown and was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. He was not fit to stand trial. Moreover, his English was so poor that he could not properly follow the trial proceedings and express himself clearly.

By any standards of justice, Mohamed’s conviction is unsafe and should be quashed. From the evidence I have seen, he was the victim, not the attacker. Five years on, it is time Mohamed secured justice from the criminal justice system. And it is time the system was reformed to overturn, and in future prevent, the many other wrongful convictions that send innocent people to jail.

20th July 2007

Civil partnerships: grandiose gays and low-key lesbians

by Tony Grew
Two British psychologists who have been studying civil partnerships have concluded that gay men love a big day out. Dr Victoria Clarke and Dr Elizabeth Peel are from University of the West of England, Bristol and Aston University, Birmingham. They will present their research today, Friday 20 July, at the British Psychological Society’s Psychology of Women Section’s Annual Conference.
38 couples from the UK were interviewed and completed questionnaires.

"Same sex relationships are seen as devoid of gender and gendered power relations, however, lesbian and gay male couples’ accounts of, and approaches to, their own civil partnerships demonstrated the implicit gendered nature of civil partnerships," they conclude. It seems that gay men are much more open than lesbians to the idea of a ‘traditional’ wedding, taking on the trappings of heterosexuals. Lesbian couples are more critical of the heterosexual patriarchal associations of marriage and often preferred low-key civil partnership ceremonies and stressed differences between heterosexual marriage and civil partnership. They were conscious of over-doing the ceremony and were more critical of consumerism and materialism attached to the celebration.

Dr Peel explained: "Each couples expectations of the ceremony were influenced by their family relationships, class and available money. "However, the gay men were more likely to feel comfortable and at ease with the traditional aspects and language of marriage compared to the lesbian couples." The number of marriages in Wales and England has actually fallen to the lowest point on record. The drop in the number of couples tying the knot showed a 10% fall to 244,710 weddings in 2005, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show.

Other figures showed that 18,000 civil partnerships took place in the UK since they were introduced in December 2005 and the end of December 2006. 1,600 partnerships were formed each month between January and March 2006, falling to 1,500 between April and September and 800 between October and December. 60% of civil partners were male and they tend to be older than female civil partners.

The Guardian

July 2007

Channel 4’s gay season: a missed opportunity?

by Leigh Holmwood / Television 10:44am
Channel 4’s season of programmes marking 40-years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality ended last night, and for me, with great disappointment. The channel had a great opportunity to look at the issues facing gay men today but instead fell back on negativity, stereotypes and clichés. The worst offender was the drama Clapham Junction, billed as a piece in which a number of story lines were inter-linked by a violent attack on a gay man on Clapham Common. I tuned in expecting a gritty, hard-hitting drama but instead found a clichéd, relentlessly negative piece that portrayed gay men as selfish, morally bankrupt human beings.

Even what was supposed to be a happy storyline – the civil partnership of a long-together couple – had to be spoiled by one of them getting off with someone else at the wedding. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want it to be a rose tinted view of gay life but the sheer grinding bleakness of the piece astounded me. Last night’s documentary Queer as Old Folk also left me slightly depressed. It aimed to tell the stories of several older gay men in Britain today but again felt the need to sensationalise and go for the lowest common denominator.

The main focus seemed to be on Clive, a gay man still married to his wife, who liked to update his 17-year-old son on the details of his sex life – "I’m off to Southend tomorrow for a lovely threesome". The documentary seemed to delight in his sex life when the much more interesting tales of an elderly couple getting married after a lifetime together, or the relationship between two men with a 39-year age gap between them were not explained in much depth at all. The best piece was the first programme, the docu-drama A Very British Sex Scandal about the 1954 trial of a Daily Mail journalist arrested for "homosexual offences".

It was a poignant, well-acted piece that made me think and left me optimistic for the rest of the season. But unfortunately I was wrong.

Times Online

July 27, 2007

Without gay priests Church would be lost claims Bishop Gene

by Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent
The openly gay bishop whose ordination sparked the crisis in the Anglican Communion has claimed the Church of England would be close to shutting down if it was forced to manage without its gay clergy. The Bishop of New Hampshire in the US, the Right Rev Gene Robinson, who is divorced and lives openly in partnership with a gay man, said he found it "mystifying" that the mother church of the Anglican Communion was unable to be honest about the number of gay clergy in its ranks.
He said many of the English church’s clergy lived openly in their rectories with gay partners, with the full knowledge of their bishops. But he criticised the stance of bishops who threaten the clergy with emnity should their relationships become public.

Speaking in an interview in London, Bishop Gene said: "I have met so many gay partnered clergy here and it is so troubling to hear them tell me that their bishop comes to their house for dinner, knows fully about their relationship, is wonderfully supportive but has also said if this ever becomes public then I’m your worst enemy. "It’s a terrible way to live your life and I think it’s a terrible way to be a church. I think integrity is so important. What does it mean for a clergy person to be in a pulpit calling the parishioners to a life of integrity when they can’t even live a life of integrity with their own bishop and their own church? So I would feel better about the Church of England’s stance, its reluctance to support The Episcopal Church in what it has done if it would at least admit that this not an American problem and just an American challenge. If all the gay people stayed away from church on a given Sunday the Church of England would be close to shut down between its organists, its clergy, its wardens… just seems less than humble not to admit that."

He said The Episcopal Church, under threat of sanctions from the Communion’s Primates if it does not row back on its liberal agenda at a meeting of its bishops in September, had been ordaining gay priests "for many, many years." He said: "Not every bishop will do that but many do. I will and have. Many make a requirement that the person be celibate, but many do not make such a requirement. It’s interesting that the wider Anglican Communion has either not known that or has not chosen to make an issue of it before now." He was "surprised" that this did not become an issue until his election, and argued that if the principle of gay ordination is wrong, it should be wrong for both priests and bishops, not just bishops. Speaking of his recent meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who is currently on study leave during which he has almost completed a book on Russian author Dostoekvsky, Bishop Robinson said: "It was very private and I was eager and willing to accommodate him and when he asked me not to function liturgically or to preach I was saddened by that but I want to help him as much as I can. I’m limited in what I can do and I won’t step down, but other than that I am eager to try and help him any way that I can. I certainly would not do so (celebrate or preach) without his permission."

He said bishops in the Church of England had backed him but declined to name them. "I have received huge support from the Church of England both from the clergy and from the pews. Hardly a day goes by never mind a week that I don’t receive encouraging words of support. I think the thing that is the most mystifying to me and the most troubling about the Church of England is its refusal to be honest about just how many gay clergy it has – many of them partnered and many of them living in rectories." He attacked the proposals to discipline The Episcopal Church for its actions in consecrating him. "Let me say two things about that. One is the whole notion of punishment being meted out to provinces of the Anglican Communion that are somehow non-compliant is somehow antithetical to the whole Anglican tradition, positing some sort of centralised Curia that has the ability and the authority to do such a thing, is about as un-Anglican as you can imagine. After all, our church was founded in resistance to a centralised authority in Rome. And so to pose the possibility of such a centralised Curia with those kinds of authorities seems to me to be as un-traditional as it could be."

He admitted that if The Episcopal Church were to be expelled, it would be "diminished" by its lack of connection to the church in the rest of the world. "The other thing that needs to be said is that we have deep and abiding roots in Africa and in Asia and in South America and no matter what happens to the Communion we will keep up those connections. As you and I sit here right now there are I think 40 bishops from Africa and 40 bishops from America meeting in Spain. These are bishops who have had connections between America and Africa for many many years and I can’t imagine that change in status would destroy those connections." He also emphasised his roots in evangelicalism. "As a matter of fact I’m more evangelical than almost anyone you would run into in the Episcopal Church… When I speak to gay and lesbian groups I don’t talk to them about gay rights, I talk to them about their souls. My goal is to get them to church and bring them to Jesus."

7th July 2007

Catholic adoption agency closes rather than accept gay couples

by writer
A Roman Catholic adoption charity is to turn away children in care because it refuses to accept the government’s gay rights laws. Catholic Care will end its 100-year-old adoption service, which places 20 children with new families every year, because it does not want to help same-sex couples adopt. The Sexual Orientation Regulations, passed earlier this year, protect gay, lesbian and bisexual people from discrimination when accessing goods and services. Now all adoption agencies have to accept same-sex couples as possible parents. The charity is one of seven Catholic leader Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor threatened to close because of the laws. They receive a total of £10 million a year from local councils.

The government briefly considered an opt out for Roman Catholic adoption agencies. After meeting with MPs and the Cabinet in January, former Prime Minister Tony Blair bowed to strong criticism from his own party over the exemption. Ben Summerskill, who as head of gay equality organisation Stonewall spearheaded oppoosition to an exemption for Roman Catholic-run adoption agencies, told

"Our clear view is that if you run a public service then you have to abide by the health and safety legislation, and equality legislation too. That applies to adoption agencies just as it does to anyone else – no one is above the law It is not entirely clear that this is the only reason that Catholic adoption agencies are considering closing. Because of the way that social services are now contracted out, a number of smaller agencies have been closing in recent years. It would be utterly reprehensible if the Catholic Church were to use closures that were going to take place anyway as an excuse for alarmist claims about important new legislation that supports equality."

Catholic Care decided to stop finding families for children after a vote by its trustees, led by the Bishop of Leeds. In a statement, the charity said it had reconsidered its work in light of the new Government legislation, according to the Daily Mail. The charity finds couples and individuals – both Catholic and non-Catholic – willing to adopt, pairs them with children and helps them through the adoption process. Over the last 20 years, 13 of the 720 adopted children placed by Catholic charities have been with same-sex single people. The Vatican believes gay adoptions are "gravely immoral." A permanent family is considered the best way to ensure a better life for the 60, 000 children living in care homes and with foster parents.

4th September 2007

Homophobic bullying website wins celebrity support

by writer
Big name stars have come out in support of a new website aimed at tackling homophobic bullying in rural parts of the UK. Among those contributing to the site, which aims to bring gay teenagers together to make short films about their lives, are Doctor Who writer Russell T Davies and Big Brother star Josh Rafter. Russell T Davies said: "The most extraordinary thing to happen over the past 10 years is the existence of the gay teenager.
"When I was at school at a big comprehensive there was no one in the world like you. There was no one on television, there weren’t even documentaries. The internet has been the most phenomenal thing for young gay people and more empowering and liberating than any law," he continued. You used to feel completely alone, and now you can go online and meet thousands of people like yourself. The day a 12-year-old can watch telly with his dad and go ‘Cor, look at him’ when a sexy man appears on screen, and for the dad to laugh like he would if it were Pamela Anderson, we will be getting somewhere."

The website – Sticks and Stones – is a lottery funded project run by Herefordshire’s Rural media Company but it is planning to bring teenagers together nationwide to make the films, which will then be broadcast on YouTube, MySpace and Facebook. The founders of the project and the stars involved are united by wanting to help young people who are struggling with their sexuality while being surrounded by what is often a very homophobic small-town sentiment.

Josh Rafter, Big Brother star and director of Britain’s biggest gay property management agency Outlet, said: "I am delighted to be helping the Sticks and Stones project. "It was incredible the number of letters I received after Big Brother from young gay people who felt isolated and in a lot of cases bullied and harassed. Many were terrified to openly admit they were gay."

Stonewall estimates that over 60,000 young people are suffering from homophobic bullying in rural areas.

The website is now online.


September 17, 2007

Gay Rights Gain Ground Around Globe, Now mature in the west, gay power is growing worldwide, even in the land of machismo

by Joseph Contreras, Newsweek International
After eight years together, Gilberto Aranda and Mauricio List walked into a wedding chapel in the Mexico City neighborhood of Coyoacán last
April and tied the knot in front of 30 friends and relatives. Aranda’s disapproving father was not invited to the springtime nuptials. For the newlyweds, the ceremony marked the fruit of the gay-rights movement’s long struggle to gain recognition in Mexico. The capital city had legalized gay civil unions only the month before. "After all the years of marches and protests," says Aranda, 50, a state-government official, "a sea change was coming."

The sea change spreads beyond Mexico City, a cosmopolitan capital that is home to a thriving community of artists and intellectuals.The growing maturity of the gay-rights movement in the West is having a marked effect on the developing world. In the United States, the Republican Party is in trouble in part because it has made a fetish of its opposition to gay marriage. At least some gays in big cities like New York question why they are still holding "pride" parades, as if they were still a closeted minority and not part of the Manhattan mainstream. Since 2001, Western European countries like Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain have gone even farther than the United States, placing gay and lesbian partners on the same legal footing as their heterosexual counterparts. And now, the major developing powers of Asia, Latin America and Africa are following the liberal road—sometimes imitating Western models, sometimes not—but in all cases setting precedents that could spread to the remaining outposts of official homophobia.

In Mexico, the declining clout and prestige of the Roman Catholic Church have emboldened gay-rights activists and their allies in state legislatures and city councils to pass new laws legalizing same-sex civil unions, starting with Mexico City in November. The rising influence of tolerant Western pop culture has encouraged gay men and lesbians to proclaim their sexuality in gay-pride marches like the one in the Brazilian city of São Paulo in June, which drew 3 million participants, according the event’s organizers. It was the largest ever in Brazil. Western models also helped inspire South Africa to legalize civil unions in November 2006, thus becoming the first country in the developing world to do so. In China, the trend goes back to the climate of economic reform that took hold in the 1980s, ending the persecution of the era of Mao Zedong, who considered homosexuals products of the "moldering lifestyle of capitalism." Among left-wing movements in many developing countries, globalization is a favorite scapegoat for all of the planet’s assorted ills. But even those who resist the West’s basically conservative free-market economic orthodoxy are quick to acknowledge the social liberalism—including respect for the rights of women and minorities of all kinds—that is the West’s main cultural and legal export. "I think it helped that Spain and other parts of Europe had passed similar laws," says longtime Mexican gay-rights activist Alejandro Brito. "These types of laws are becoming more about human rights than gay issues."

Key people have hastened the trend in some countries. Some activists single out a few political celebrities for de-stigmatizing their cause, including Nelson Mandela, who readily embraced British actor Sir Ian McKellen’s suggestion that he support a ban on discrimination on the basis of sexual preference in South Africa’s first post-apartheid constitution, and former prime minister Tony Blair, whose government was the first to recognize civil partnerships between same-sex couples. They also point to activist judges in Brazil, South Africa and the European Court of Human Rights, who have handed down landmark rulings that unilaterally granted gay, lesbian and transgender communities new rights. These include a judicial order that gays be admitted into the armed forces of European Union member states. The biggest and perhaps most surprising change is in Latin America, the original home of machismo. In 2002, the Buenos Aires City Council approved Latin America’s first-ever gay-civil-union ordinance, and same-gender unions are the law of the land in four Brazilian states today. Last year an openly homosexual fashion designer was elected to Brazil’s National Congress with nearly a half a million votes. In August a federal-court judge in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul broke new legal ground when he ordered the national-health-care system to subsidize the cost of sex-change operations in public hospitals, thereby putting sexual "reassignment" on par with heart surgery, organ transplants and AIDS treatment as medical procedures worthy of taxpayer support. By the year-end, Colombia could become the first country in Latin America to grant gay and lesbian couples full rights to health insurance, inheritance and social-security benefits. A bill containing those reforms is working its way through the National Congress at present. And even Cuba has turned a corner. In the 1960s and early 1970s homosexuals in Cuba were blacklisted or even banished to forced-labor camps along with Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholic priests and other so-called social misfits. HIV patients were locked away in sanitariums as recently as 1993. Several Cuban cities now host gay and lesbian film festivals. The hit TV program on the island’s state-run airwaves last year was "The Hidden Side of the Moon," a soap opera about a married man who falls in love with a man and later tests positive for HIV.

The push for "more modern ways of thinking" about minorities, feminists and homosexuals has roots that go back to the political ferment that shook the region in the late 1960s and 1970s, says Braulio Peralta, author of a 2006 book on gay rights in Mexico, "The Names of Rainbow." But it has gained in recent years, due in part to troubles in the Roman Catholic Church, which includes eight out of 10 Mexicans and long stood opposed to any attempt to redefine marriage laws. Last November, the Mexico City Legislature took up the civil-union law just as the country’s top cardinal, Norberto Rivera Carrera, was facing charges that he had sheltered a Mexican priest accused of sexually abusing children in California. The prelate chose to stay under the radar as the vote loomed. "The Catholic Church was facing a credibility crisis," says longtime Mexico City-based gay-rights activist Brito. "So many of its leaders including Rivera knew that if they fiercely opposed the gay-union law, the news media would eat them alive." The change in attitudes is most vivid in the sparsely populated border state of Coahuila, an unlikely setting for blazing trails on gay rights. The left-wing political party that rules the national capital has made few inroads here. Yet soon after the state’s young governor, Humberto Moreira Valdés, was elected in 2006, he backed a civil-union bill modeled on France’s pacts of civil solidarity, and in the state capital of Saltillo the progressive Catholic bishop added his support. The 62-year-old prelate, Raul Vera, says he was comfortable doing so in part because the bill stopped short of calling for same-sex marriage. "As the church I said we could not assume the position of homophobes," he says. "We cannot marginalize gays and lesbians. We cannot leave them unprotected."

That seems to be the prevailing consensus in South Africa’s ruling party. The constitution adopted by South Africa after the African National Congress (ANC) took power in 1994 was the world’s first political charter to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In November 2006, the national Parliament overwhelmingly approved a civil-union bill after the country’s constitutional court called for amendments to a 44-year-old marriage law that denied gay and lesbian couples the legal right to wed. In pushing for approval of the Civil Union Act, the ruling ANC shrugged off both conservative opposition parties and religious leaders, some of whom accused the government of imposing the morality of a "radical homosexual minority" on South Africans. President Thabo Mbeki had been blasted by gay rights activists in the past for trying to downplay his country’s raging HIV/AIDS epidemic, but on the issue of same-sex civil unions his government stood firm. The sweeping terms of the 2006 Civil Union Act placed South Africa in a select club of nations that have enacted similar laws and that, until last year, included only Canada, Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands. But there are glimmers of change in other nations. China decriminalized sodomy a decade ago and removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 2001. Police broke up a gay and lesbian festival in Beijing in 2005 but took no action last February against an unauthorized rally in support of legalizing gay marriage. The Chinese Communist Party has established gay task forces in all provincial capitals to promote HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. And in April a Web site launched a weekly hour-long online program called Connecting Homosexuals with an openly gay host. It is the first show in China to focus entirely on gay issues.

Tolerance, however, by no means spans the globe. Homosexuality remains taboo throughout the greater Middle East. In most of the Far East, laws permitting gay and lesbian civil unions are many years if not decades away. In Latin America, universal acceptance of homosexuality is a long way off. Jamaica is a hotbed of homophobia. Even in Mexico, the first couple to take advantage of Coahuila’s new civil-union statute were fired from their jobs as sales clerks after their boss realized they were lesbians. The new Mexico City law grants same-gender civil unions property and inheritance rights, but not the right to adopt children. Even Mexican gays who still struggle against daily bias see signs of improvement, however. In 2003 José Luis Ramírez landed work as a buyer at the Mexico City headquarters of a leading department-store chain, and things were going swimmingly until he brought his boyfriend to a company-hosted dinner with clients. "My boss’s face just dropped," recalls Ramírez. Ramírez was subsequently denied promotions and left the company last year. But sexuality "isn’t an issue" with his current employer, a new household-furnishings retailer.

Tolerance is now the majority, at least among the young. A 2005 poll by the Mitofsky market-research firm found that 50 percent of all Mexicans between the ages of 18 and 29 supported proposals to allow gay marriage. Karla Lopez met Karina Almaguer on the assembly line of a Matamoros auto-stereo factory. The two became the first Mexican couple to marry under the civil-union bill; Lopez, now 30, is a mother of three. She urges more gays and lesbians to follow her example and come out publicly. "I felt strange at first because people would judge us and look at us from head to toe," she says. "But I now feel more secure and at ease." If more political leaders, clergymen and judges act to legitimize folks like Karla Lopez, the new mood of tolerance will surely proliferate across the planet in her lifetime.

With Monica Campbell in Mexico City, Mac Margolis in Porto Alegre, Karen MacGregor in Durban, Quindlen Krovatin in Beijing and Anna Nemtsova in Moscow

11th September 2007

Armed Forces to hold gay conference

by Tony Grew
The Royal Air Force is to host the third Joint Service conference on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Matters in November. All three services have approved the two day event, at which service personnel will be updated on developments in diversity training, participate in presentations and workshops, and take advantage of a social networking opportunity for personnel and their partners. In 2000, the government removed the ban on gay, lesbian and bisexual people serving openly in the Armed Forces. The last Services LGBT conference in January attracted heavy weight support in the form of Rear Admiral Richard Ibbotson RN.

The Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force are both members of the Stonewall Diversity Champions programme. The scheme promotes best practice and gives organisations guidance and advice on how to create equality in the workplace. The Ministry of Defence is keen to promote all the armed services as good employers for minority groups. Last year there was discussion at the conference about whether the British Army will also join the Stonewall programme. In June the Royal Air Force announced that personnel who wore uniform to march in the Pride parade in London would face disciplinary action.

Previously the Chief of the General Staff issued orders banning LGB Army staff from marching in uniform at the event, held on June 30th. General Sir Richard Dannatt was said to be concerned with a possible breach of the Queen’s Regulations, which bar military personnel from taking part in political activities. The Royal Navy allowed sailors to march in uniform at Pride and used it as a recruitment opportunity.

September 17, 2007

Q&A: Sir Ian McKellen on Fighting Bigotry

In any country, bigots must be fought with well-reasoned arguments and reliable research, says Sir Ian McKellen.

by Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop, Newsweek International
Sir Ian McKellen has been a vocal gay-rights advocate since making his own homosexuality public in 1988. The following year he cofounded the gay-rights lobbying group Stonewall UK. Best known for his roles in "X-Men" and "The Lord of the Rings," the Oscar nominee was recently in Singapore with the Royal Shakespeare Company, appearing in the title role of "King Lear." He talked to NEWSWEEK’s Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop about his lobbying experience in the United Kingdom and in South Africa. Excerpts:

KOLESNIKOV-JESSOP: In the United Kingdom, attitudes toward homosexuality have changed fairly rapidly recently. In 2000, the British government lifted the ban on lesbian and gay men in the armed forces. In 2001, it lowered the age of consent to 16. And in 2005, it allowed the first civil partnerships to take place. But in many countries around the world, homosexuality is still outlawed. How can similar social changes happen?
MCKELLEN: The change happened very quickly in the U.K. once the government was able to say there had been a change in the public mood. Tony Blair’s New Labour did not campaign for new legislation. Indeed they defended the status quo until they were told by the European Court of Human Rights to admit gays into the military and to equalize age of consent. Europe was of great help to us. The sky didn’t fall in, the die-hards began to look like extremists and the government was emboldened. With the approval of the mainstream press, they felt able to introduce not marriage but the next best thing: civil partnership that the state recognizes. So looking back on his legacy, what Blair can be most proud of is the advancement of gay rights.

How do you further change public opinion?
In the U.K. there is still work to be done, particularly in schools, stopping the homophobic bullies in the playground and introducing unbiased discussion on gay issues in the classroom. In countries that need reform, the bigots have to be countered by measured arguments and reliable research so that government can respond to reason and not prejudice. Public figures’ coming out and declaring their homosexuality certainly helps the move to change.

What worked in the U.K.?
In any human-rights campaign, everybody must do what they can. I was criticized by some gays as being too soft on the government when I made a private meeting in a very public way with John Major, Blair’s predecessor as prime minister. Major was sending signals to his supporters at a time where most gay people, including myself, had stayed very quiet. Some people argued that the best thing was to go to the streets and frighten the horses, disrupt the state opening of Parliament, or interrupt the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Sunday sermon. That’s not my style: I already have enough theater in my life!

But do you think people should be upfront and protest, or take the quiet way?
Both are valid and work well in parallel—think of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King. In Singapore, Malcolm X type of activity would be extremely difficult because the government can be very harsh on lawbreakers. I wouldn’t presume to tell what people should do.

Some argue that some societies, like Singapore’s, are too conservative for such changes.
There is nothing special about their situation. We heard it all before: "Gays should respect the views of those who condemn them." "Government is powerless to move until society is ready for change." "The law here that outlaws love between two grown men was left behind by the British." I would have thought any self-respecting ex-colony would want to get rid of the colonizer’s laws. When I went to lobby Nelson Mandela while the postapartheid constitution was being drafted, I asked him to endorse making it illegal to discriminate on grounds of sexuality. I’d been warned that he might giggle if I mentioned homosexuality. But he got the point immediately and just said, "Yes, of course." Perhaps a winning slogan might be: "What’s good enough for Mandela is good enough for us all."

Do you think pragmatism will change the world?
Perhaps. When I went to talk recently to Lehman Brothers in London at a meeting of their LGBT members, the managing director declared that every member of his staff, of whatever sexuality, needs to feel the support of company as a whole. Singapore’s current laws would discourage gay foreigners from working there. Maybe big business can help change laws by explaining the problem.

26th September 2007

Harman: Equality is at the heart of Labour

byTony Grew
The Prime Minister made a ten-minute appearance at an event organised by Stonewall last night. It was the first time that Gordon Brown had mixed and mingled with so many LGBT activists from his own party, and he seemed relaxed during his time at the function. Absolutely Equal, supported by Barclays, was a joint event between Stonewall, the Commission for Racial Equality, the Disability Rights Commission, the Equal Opportunities Commission and Equal Rights on Age. Just before the arrival of the Prime Minister, the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and Secretary of State for Equality Harriet Harman addressed the crowd:

"Firstly to say that the question of equality, hatred, discrimination and prejudice are at the heart of why many of us and many of you joined the Labour party. Gordon, in his truly brilliant speech as our great new Prime Minister, mentioned equality as one of the real, important things for him as Prime Minister. So it is and will remain at the heart of our concerns. I think that we have got to remember that although there is a feel, a kind of consensus about this issue, there are still battles to be fought. Just because people know not to say things that are homophobic and not to say things that are racist and not to say things that are sexist, that none of us will forget that there is actually still a great deal of discrimination against people with disabilities, on the grounds of sexual orientation, on the grounds of race or gender and therefore we have made a great deal of progress but we are still in a struggle.

"People will know that I worked long and hard, as many people here have, on issues of gender and they might know that I’ve worked long and hard on issues of human rights from when I was back at Liberty. They’ll know that from my constituency and there are many people from Southwark here tonight, that they are a very diverse community so I’m very deeply concerned about racial equality. But I just wanted to pledge to people who are concerned first of all about discrimination against people with disabilities and opportunities for people with disabilities and also for people who are fighting for non discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation that I will pledge to be every bit as much a champion. Barbara (Follett, minister for equality) and I will pledge to be every bit as much champions of all strands of equality.

"And to that end I want to say two final things one is about the new commission and Trevor Phillips is here tonight and he is the correct person to be dealing with the commission (the Commission for Equality and Human Rights). The commission is not to water down the different strands of discrimination and very different routes and different solutions to tackle them. It is to make the campaign for equality more mighty and more powerful and I know that’s what Trevor and all the people working in the commission are determined to do and that’s why the commission was set up. So I hope that all of us who are so grateful to the work that has been done on the individual commissions will not feel sadness but proud for the what they’ve done and determined to see their work taken forward by the new human rights and equality commission.

"And the final thing I want to say is about the Bill. We are going to have a new Equality Bill and this commitment, that will be introduced by way of the Queen’s speech in November next year, and what we want to do is make sure that there is more than just a consolidation of all the Acts of Parliament of the last century. Although it is important to bring together all those Acts of Parliament, we want to make sure that it’s making progress, that it’s making change, that it’s an Equality Bill for the 21st century.

"So all of you who’ve got ideas about how the law can continue to make a difference think back to 1970 and the Equal Pay Act, what a huge thing that was. What is the demand in the first part of the twenty first century which is the equivalent of that? Because we need to make sure that we shape the equality legislation efficiently for the future for equality in this century. So thank you very much indeed for allowing me to say these few words and to say finally to you that Gordon Brown is going to be coming in a few minutes so thank you."