Turning over Tables in the Temple
Peter Tatchell of OutRage argues that direct action against homophobia is a moral imperative.
"OutRage alienates public opinion...It gives lesbian and gay people a bad name...They are just a bunch of extremists".
These are just three of the common criticisms of OutRage! - the only lesbian and gay group in the entire country that week after week takes direct action against homophobia.
We don't sit around and moan, write polite letters that bigots can ignore, or go cap-in-hand to parliament to plead for tolerance. OutRage confronts face-to-face the homophobes who are making our lives a misery, such as police, priests and politicians. We demand respect and dignity, which is the entitlement of all human beings. We settle for nothing less.
Although a secular organisation, OutRage! takes the philosophy of the good Samaritan seriously. We refuse to walk by on the other side of the street when members of our community are suffering discrimination. Our direct action campaigns are about standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the victims of homophobia, and directly challenging the perpetrators of anti-gay intolerance.
Others prefer taking tea with homophobes like John Major and Cardinal Hume. Good luck to them. But look where it has got us. Major voted against an equal age of consent, and refuses to support employment protection laws and the right of lesbians and gays to serve in the military. Hume makes a distinction between just and unjust discrimination, and endorses as morally justifiable the unequal treatment of homosexuals in taxation, housing, social security, marriage and immigration law.
Calm persuasion clearly does not always work. When it doesn't, the evil of homophobia must be confronted. Otherwise it will triumph. Currently, it is triumphant.
Our society is a system of 'sexual apartheid'. All the dominant values, laws and institutions are based on the doctrine of straight supremacism - the idea that heterosexuality is superior and homosexuality is inferior. This doctrine is officially embodied in the law of the land, with its separate and unequal treatment of queers. In almost every aspect of our lives we are treated as second class citizens and denied the basic human rights that heterosexuals take for granted.
OutRage! believes this system of 'sexual apartheid' is as much an affront to human dignity as race apartheid. As with the anti-apartheid struggle, a spirited campaign of queer resistance and subversion is necessary, and justified, to ensure our liberation.
While lobbying has its place, it also has its limitations. Some time ago, for example, a Post Office employee in Cambridge was experiencing homophobic harassment at work. He appealed to OutRage! for help. When the lobbying of his manager and trade union proved useless, we zapped the regional and national headquarters of the Post Office. Within days, the harassment stopped. Direct action really can improve people's lives!
Contrary to what some critics claim, OutRage!'s radical activist methods are never mindless and ill-considered, but always carefully crafted. They follow a well worked out, sophisticated political strategy. Our deliberately shocking and provocative style aims to grab media attention (lobbying MPs and writing letters rarely gets on the news bulletins). Press and broadcasting coverage is vital to communicate the lesbian and gay agenda to the wider public and to generate a momentum for social change. Without media coverage, queer issues remain invisible and there is no pressure for reform.
Our challenging, confrontational tactics are also intended to embarrass, ridicule and unnerve homophobes. Of course, we would much prefer to win them over as allies of the lesbian and gay community. However, that is not always possible. Some bigots are devoid of reason and compassion. In such cases, the objective of our face-to-face confrontations is to make them think twice before they again openly parade their bigotry. We try to do this by instilling in homophobes the knowledge that their intolerance will cost them dearly in terms of lost public esteem and credibility (and, where possible, in terms of financial losses). The aim is to show them that their prejudice is not worth the trouble we can create for them.
These tactics helped get the homophobic ragga singer, Shabba Ranks, dropped from concert line-ups (which hit him in the pocket where it hurts). Since then, he has not repeated his hateful claim that queers "deserve crucifixion".
Likewise, our repeated zapping of bigoted police forces has contributed to a big fall in the arrests of gay men for consenting behaviour.
While OutRage! has never intended to be gratuitously offensive, we reject the idea that fighting homophobia is only acceptable if it does not offend anyone. Of course bigots and their apologists will get offended. Too bad!
No movement for social equality has ever succeeded without turning over tables. The direct action tactics of the Chartists, Suffragettes and the Black civil rights movement were all condemned in their time as being 'extremist', and 'alienating'. Yet their confrontational methods were vital to raise public awareness, provoke debate, and pressure the authorities for social reform. They would never have won justice if they had confined themselves to lobbying parliament and writing letters to MPs. It was precisely their noisy, rebellious and troublesome direct action which forced society to sit up and take notice.
The Suffragettes, who are now universally regarded as heroines, often resorted to the violent tactics of smashing windows and setting fire to letter boxes. By comparison, OutRage!'s methods are very moderate. We are a totally peaceful movement. Our aim is simple and reasonable: an end to the ignorance, guilt, prejudice and discrimination that is wrecking the lives of lesbian and gay people.
Nevertheless, we often get attacked as extremists, even by other lesbians and gay men. Since when is it extremist to want to be treated with dignity and respect? The only extremists are those who connive to deny us our human rights.
It is truly perverse when, instead of homophobes being forced to justify their bigotry, OutRage! is forced to justify fighting homophobia. Why should we, the lesbian and gay victims of prejudice, be condemned for daring to challenge our oppressors?
It is rare for anyone to criticise those complacent, selfish queers who sit back and do nothing. For many people, inaction and collusion is, apparently, more acceptable than radical activism against homophobia.
Not to OutRage! In our view, injustice imposes a moral imperative to action, and any form of non-violent action which advances homosexual equality is legitimate. If some people cannot accept that, tough! OutRage! is fed up with being forced to justify its struggle against prejudice. We are proud that we turn over tables in the temples of homophobia.
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