An Outing Too Far

Jerry Hayes isn’t a hypocrite and therefore doesn’t deserve to be outed.

The exposure of Tory MP Jerry Hayes by The News Of The World has re-ignited public debate about the ethics of outing. When, if ever, is it right to unmask a person’s homosexuality?

The gay rights group OutRage! has always argued that naming names is justified if an MP is publicly homophobic while privately having gay sex. In other words, it’s legitimate to lift the lid on hypocritical homophobes who harm the gay community.

With Jerry Hayes, however, there is no inconsistency between his private behaviour and his public pronouncements. Far from being homophobic, he’s very supportive of gay equality, which is why OutRage! would never expose him.

It’s true that Hayes voted for the notoriously homophobic Section 28 in 1988, and that he sponsored the gay-bashing Conservative Family Campaign until the early l990s.

Since then, however, Hayes has come over to cause of homosexual equality. There’s much to be said for generosity and forgiveness. He should be judged on his commitment now, not on the past he has renounced.

Hayes voted to equalise the age of consent at 16 in 1994, and last year he was one of only eight Tory MPs to support the lifting of the ban on lesbians and gay men in the armed forces.

This makes nonsense of the charge of ‘hypocrisy’ that has been touted by Hayes’s alleged gay lover, Paul Stone.

The only hint of double-standards is Stone’s suggestion that Hayes had unsafe sex with him while serving on the All-Party Parliamentary Committee on AIDS. This smacks of desperate self-justification. It takes two people to have unsafe sex, so Stone is just as culpable as Hayes (if any of the allegations are true, which Hayes denies).

More significantly, it stretches the notion of hypocrisy to breaking point. Neither Hayes nor the Committee on AIDS are in the front-line of safer sex advocacy, and there can be few people in Britain who haven’t had occasional sex without a condom over the last 16 years of the AIDS epidemic.

Unsafe sex affects the individuals concerned and their partners, but doesn’t determine public policy. It’s not in the same league as calculatedly voting for anti-gay laws which restrict the human rights of millions of people.

The News Of The Worldmade a big issue out of Hayes’ supposedly cheating on his wife, Alison. Even if he did, this is a private matter that he has to sort out with her. It doesn’t affect his capability as an MP and it has no legislative implications.

Since former Tory Transport Minister, Steven Norris, survived revelations that he had five mistresses, why should Hayes quit over a relationship which was, according to his letters, characterised by great love and commitment?

A much stronger public interest defence for publishing the story is that Hayes broke the law by allegedly having a relationship with an 18 year old man at a time when the age of consent for gay sex was 21. There is, however, a respectable argument (previously advanced by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King) that people are under no moral obligation to obey unjust laws. The discriminatory age of consent is a violation of human rights. Saying that Hayes should resign for having a relationship with an 18 year old man is like telling a black US Congressman that he should quit because he once, in the bad old days of Southern segregation, broke the law by drinking at a ‘whites-only’ water fountain.

The News Of The World got the wrong man. The real hypocrites are the 15 closeted gay MPs who voted against an equal age of consent and in favour of the military ban on homosexuals. All are Conservatives or Unionists. Two hold Cabinet posts. They are homophobic and deserve to be outed.

That’s why, once the general election is called, OutRage! intends to name the 15 MPs who are gay in private but anti-gay in public, providing we can get sufficient proof of their sexuality. We’ve set up an Outing Hotline to gather information. Already we’ve had some useful tips.

These 15 MPs have abused their power by voting for policies that cause suffering to other gay people. They have to be stopped before their homophobia damages more queer lives.

Published as “Up against it”, Tribune, 17 January 1997

* Peter Tatchell is the author of Safer Sexy – The Guide To Gay Sex Safely (Freedom Editions).

© Copyright Peter Tatchell, 1997. All rights reserved.