Peter Tatchell and Lynn Sutcliffe defend OutRage!’s decision to campaign against the homophobia of Lord Jakobovits.
Not one of the people who have criticised OutRage! for leafleting a Jewish synagogue was present on the day. All of them have deliberately ignored what actually happened; misrepresenting OutRage!’s motives and actions.
The truth is that OutRage! did not demonstrate against the synagogue or its worshippers. Our leafleting was an attempt to engage in dialogue with members of the Jewish community.
We chose a synagogue because it is an obvious place to make contact with Jewish people. Our aim was to inform worshippers about the horrific implications of the ex-Chief Rabbi’s support for the genetic elimination of lesbians and gay men. We never accused all Jews of homophobia. Nor did we hold them responsible for the bigotry of Lord Jakobovits. In fact, our leaflet sought their support by urging them to write a letter to the ex-Chief Rabbi.
The only reason we leafleted on the Jewish New Year was because more Jews than usual go to the synagogue on that day and we wanted to reach the maximum number of worshippers possible.
Accordingly, OutRage! members calmly and courteously gave out leaflets and had discussions with worshippers. We stressed that homosexuals and Jews share a common interest in challenging the genetic theories which caused our two communities such suffering under Nazism.
Our discussions were amicable and productive. Some worshippers said they had not fully appreciated the dangers of Jakobovits’ ideas. They thanked us for enhancing their understanding. One worshipper came out of the synagogue to tell us that he and his friends inside supported our efforts.
If Outrage! had been anti-Semitic, we would have never got these positive responses from Jewish worshippers.
Nevertheless, some critics insist it was offensive for us to highlight the similarity between the homophobic ideas of Lord Jakobovits and the Nazi leader, Heinrich Himmler. But why is it offensive to tell the truth? Both Jakobovits and Himmler have supported the total outlawing of homosexuality and the imprisonment of gay men. Both have suggested that homosexuals are genetically defective and that homosexuality should be eradicated from society. OutRage! is right to warn that what begins as a theory of genetic inferiority can end up with mass murder.
OutRage!’s opponents seem to be saying that Jewish homophobia should be treated differently from other types of homophobia. They suggest it is wrong to use the same tactics against Jewish bigots as we would against non-Jewish bigots. We find that patronising and condescending. It is an insult to those Jews who have stood up for the rights of lesbians and gay men.
It is also crazy to suggest that we are only allowed to fight homophobia providing we don’t offend anyone. That attitude will get us nowhere. Every successful struggle for social justice has involved causing offence. The Suffragettes were condemned as ‘extremists’ in their day. Their tactics were far more shocking than OutRage!’s. And they succeeded.
Instead of attacking OutRage! for fighting homophobia, our critics should concentrate on attacking the bigots who want lesbians and gay men eradicated from the face of the Earth.
Published as “Touching a nerve“, Pink Paper, 8 October 1993