Chief Rabbi, Cardinal and Archbishop of Canterbury quizzed over “holocaust hypocrisy”.
Blair Omits Victimisation of Gay People.
Tatchell banned as a “security risk” – but protests anyway.
Britain’s three most senior religious leaders were personally confronted and accused of “hypocrisy and homophobia” by gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell as they left the National Holocaust Memorial Day Commemoration at Westminster Central Hall in London on Saturday 27 January 2001.
The event, marking Britain’s first Holocaust Memorial Day, was attended by the Prime Minister, Prince Charles and hundreds of civic dignitaries. It was televised live on BBC2.
Slipping through the security cordon, Tatchell challenged the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, Cardinal Murphy O’Connor and the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, over their support for Section 28 and their opposition to an equal age of consent.
“These religious leaders are homophobes and hypocrites”, said Tatchell. “They endorse the human rights theme of Holocaust Memorial Day, yet they campaign against gay human rights at every opportunity”.
Tatchell first confronted the Chief Rabbi, telling him:
“I hope you will remember the words of tolerance and compassion spoken here tonight next time there is a vote on gay human rights. Your support for Section 28 causes great pain to the gay community”.
Dr Sacks seemed visibly moved, and replied: “Peter, I hear the pain of the gay community”.
Tatchell responded: “If you hear our pain, please do not vote again to support discrimination against homosexuals. Don’t deny us human rights”.
The Chief Rabbi replied: “Thank you Peter, I am listening”.
Special Branch officers surrounded Tatchell and radioed for reinforcements. But he left for the exit and they let him go.
As soon as the police turned their backs, Tatchell again slipped inside the security cordon and approached the Archbishop of Canterbury and Cardinal Murphy O’Connor. He told them:
“Your support for discrimination against homosexuals colludes with the prejudice that makes possible awful crimes like the Holocaust. It is wrong for you to endorse the humanitarian vales of this commemoration, and then continue to oppose the repeal of Section 28 and the equalisation of the age of consent”.
The Cardinal and Archbishop were non-committal: “Yes, I understand what you are saying”, said Dr Carey. Cardinal O’Connor’s only response was to murmur: “Very well. We will see”.
After this second security alert, Special Branch officers saw Tatchell to the main exit. But stooping down and mingling with the crowd, he re-infiltrated the main lobby and confronted a beaming William Hague and his startled wife Ffion.
Said Tatchell to Hague: “Please remember tonight’s message of tolerance and compassion next time there is a vote on Section 28”.
Hague replied: “Thank you, Peter. Don’t worry, I will”. Hague then made a hasty exit.
Tatchell narrowly missed challenging Prime Minister Tony Blair as he left the hall.
In his keynote address to the Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration, Blair notably omitted the Nazi persecution of homosexuals.
When he spoke about the lessons of the Holocaust for future generations, Blair mentioned the need to fight racism and anti-Semitism, and the importance of defending the human rights of every person “regardless of race, religion or the colour of their skin”. But he made no reference to challenging prejudice based on sexual orientation or disability.
“There is absolutely no excuse for the way Tony Blair ignored the suffering of gay people and the need to combat homophobia”, said Tatchell.
Despite his 30 years of writing and campaigning on Holocaust issues, the Home Office initially excluded Peter Tatchell from the National Holocaust Memorial Day Commemoration on the grounds that he was a “security risk”.
After protesting at his exclusion, Tatchell was only invited on the condition that he signed a written pledge that he would not disrupt the ceremony. Curiously, his invitation was addressed “Peter Tatchell MP”.