Outing Is A Catalyst For Social Change

Outing homophobic church leaders is morally defensible and has resulted in practical benefits to the lesbian and gay community.


Unlike the Church, OutRage! believes in the parable of the Good Samaritan. We are not willing to walk by on the other side of the street while homosexual men and women are being victimised.

The lesbian and gay community has a right to defend itself against public figures, including church leaders, who abuse their power and influence to support policies which inflict suffering on homosexuals.

Bishops lecture other people about being truthful, yet at least 14 of them refuse to be truthful about their own homosexuality. They bear false witness and absurdly accuse OutRage! of intimidation because we asked them to be truthful.

Even more nauseating, these Bishops are gay in private, but publicly condemn homosexuality and support anti-gay discrimination. The official policy of the Anglican Church, endorsed by all Bishops, is that homosexuals must “repent”. These teachings fuel anti-gay intolerance and lead to concrete acts of Anglican homophobia. Gay clergy in open, honest homosexual relationships are forced out of the ministry. Church resources are provided to the Courage Trust, which attempts to brainwash homosexuals into believing they are sick and in need of “healing”. The Children’s Society, a Church of England charity, refuses to allow lesbians and gays to foster young people who need a loving home.

This denial of homosexual human rights is endorsed by Anglican leaders like the Bishop of London. Dr Hope opposes an equal age of consent for gay men and supports the Children’s Society ban on lesbian and gay foster parents.

Outing is queer self-defence. Lesbians and gay men have a right, and a duty, to expose hypocrites and homophobes. By not outing gay Bishops who support policies which harm homosexuals, we would be protecting those Bishops and thereby allowing them to continue to inflict suffering on members of our community. Collusion with hypocrisy and homophobia is not ethically defensible for Christians, or for anyone else.

Outing is a shock tactic. We make no apology for that. No movement for social justice has ever won equality without being provocative. As the Suffragettes and the black civil rights movement showed, it’s often necessary to be confrontational in order to force an uncaring, intolerant society to address the concerns of the down-trodden.

Whether people agree with OutRage! or not, our outing campaign has done more than any other initiative to publicly expose the hypocrisy and homophobia of the Church of England. It has compelled the Anglican leadership to address lesbian and gay issues in a way that no other campaign has succeeded in doing.

Six months ago, the Anglican leadership was refusing to discuss homosexuality. Because polite lobbying had failed, OutRage! felt more challenging tactics were necessary. Last November, we named ten Anglican Bishops and urged them to “Tell The Truth” about their sexuality. Within two weeks, senior Church leaders began serious discussions with lesbian and gay organisations for the first time. Within a month, the Bishops issued one of their strongest condemnations of anti-gay discrimination. A little later, the world conference of Anglican leaders called on the Church to rethink its policy on homosexuality. Then, after having refused to make any public pronouncement on homosexuality for five years, the Archbishop of Canterbury declared that lesbians and gays are “made in the image and likeness of God” and that society must “reject homophobia”.

In the midst of all this, two Bishops came out. Although the Bishop of London did so half-heartedly, it was nevertheless a great achievement to get the third most senior Bishop to admit that his sexuality is “ambiguous”. A few months earlier, such an admission may have resulted in his resignation. Now, however, because OutRage! has succeeded in making Church homophobia less acceptable, the Bishop of London has been promoted to Archbishop of York.

Our plan worked like a dream. We wanted the Bishop of London to come out and for the Church to accept and support him. That is exactly what happened. We created a situation where the entire Anglican leadership felt compelled to rally round the Bishop and give him its official blessing.

With the Bishop of London having been accepted by the Church, this will now make it easier for other clergy to come out and make it harder for the Anglican hierarchy to take disciplinary action against them.

Already, our campaign has inspired some parish priests to come out. It has generated immensely valuable discussions on homosexual issues in many congregations. Indeed, for three weeks, we got the whole country talking about matters of concern to lesbian and gay people.

Since the ten Bishops were named and two others came out, everyone knows there are gay people within the Church leadership. This is bound to make the Anglican top brass more circumspect in their homophobia. They realise that given their tacit acceptance of gay senior clergy, any hint of anti-gay policy will be instantly ridiculed as hypocrisy and double standards. This will almost certainly act as a significant constraint on overt Church homophobia in the future.

None of these positive developments would have occurred if OutRage! had not “provoked a crisis” in the Church by naming the Bishops. Outing has been a catalyst for social change. Not only has it pushed the Anglican Church further towards accepting gay clergy and supporting homosexual human rights, it has also put the hypocrisy and homophobia of establishment institutions at the centre of public debate. OutRage! is proud to have turned over tables in the temples of homophobia.

The above is the Text of the speech by PETER TATCHELL of OutRage! to the 19th Annual Conference of the Lesbian & Gay Christian Movement, held on 28 April 1995, at St. Albans Centre, Baldwin Gardens, London EC1.

© Copyright Peter Tatchell 1995. All rights reserved.