Labour’s refusal to crack down on queer-bashing violence and homophobic discrimination.
Some people are adamant that Labour is on our side. Full equality will, they say, be achieved within five years. We’ve won the argument for the repeal of homophobic laws, now it is just a matter of time. Leave it to Labour. Tony will fix it.
These ever-optimistic voices keep trailing hints of new pro-gay legislation in the pipeline. But on closer examination, it is mostly speculation. Those who promote the idea that great progress is being made on gay rights are suffering from serious self-delusion. Labour has, in fact, no official commitment to new equality initiatives. Even the promise to scrap Section 28 is vague and uncertain: “Some time in the next five years” is the best Blair can offer.
One exception is the “free vote” on the age of consent. It will, finally, take place in the last week of June. But Labour is refusing to officially endorse equality at 16. Instead, it is letting MPs vote according their to “conscience” – for or against. That’s a bloody insult! Labour never leaves votes on black equality to the whims and fancies of individual MPs. It always imposes a three-line whip, insisting that all its MPs oppose race discrimination. Why are gay human rights being treated differently?
Of even greater concern, is Labour’s recent rejection of key lesbian and gay rights proposals:
* The government has turned down an OutRage!-backed amendment to the Crime & Disorder Bill that would impose tough new penalties on queer-bashers convicted of homophobic hate crimes.
* It is also refusing to support an OutRage! amendment to the Human Rights Bill that would – for the first time – give protection against discrimination to people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or HIV-positive.
Remember last year’s Pride Festival? To wild cheers, Chris Smith read out Tony Blair’s promise: “The new Labour government wants to build a new Britain free from discrimination”. Fine words! But where’s the action?
Labour’s refusal to crack down on homophobic violence and protect queers against discrimination is nothing new. Within two weeks of coming to power, Blair reversed his pre-election pledge to lift the ban on gays in the military. Earlier this year, Home Office Ministers rejected requests to repeal the anti-gay gross indecency laws and the ban on gay sex involving more than two men.
The lessons are obvious: Labour can’t be trusted and equality isn’t just around the corner. We will only win our rights if we fight for them. What can you do? Join the Equality Alliance, Stonewall and OutRage! outside parliament on the night of the age of consent vote (6-l0pm). Tell Labour loud and clear: “16 is not enough! Scrap all homophobic laws!”
Metropolis magazine, 10 June 1998