Labour Sabotages Gay Rights
Labour's refusal to crack down on queer-bashing violence and homophobic discrimination is sickening.
Many people are convinced that Labour supports lesbian and gay equality. Blair is on our side, they say. Most homophobic discrimination will be abolished within a few years. 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. Labour has, in fact, no official commitment to new equality initiatives. Even its pre-election promise to scrap Section 28 is now vague and uncertain: "some time in the next five years" is the best Blair can offer.
One exception is the government's commitment to reintroduce legislation in the autumn to equalise the age of consent. But even then - despite two-thirds of MPs voting in favour of equality - Labour is still refusing to officially endorse 16. It has decided to once again opt for a "free vote", where Labour MPs will be at liberty to "follow their conscience". That is a bloody insult! Labour never leaves women's and black equality to the whims and fancies of individual MPs. It always imposes a three-line whip, insisting that all its MPs oppose race and sex discrimination. Why are lesbian and gay human rights being treated differently?
Of even greater concern, is Labour's rejection of two key gay rights proposals. In June, the government turned down an OutRage!-backed amendment to the Crime & Disorder Bill that would have imposed tough new penalties on queer-bashers convicted of homophobic hate crimes. Shortly afterwards, it refused to support an OutRage!-promoted amendment to the Human Rights Bill that would have - for the first time - ensured some legal protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation and HIV status.
What a U-turn! At the 1997 Pride Festival, Chris Smith read out Blair's promise to the lesbian and gay community: "The new Labour government wants to build a new Britain free from discrimination". Fine words, Tony! But where's the action?
Labour's refusal to crack down on homophobic violence and to protect queers against discrimination is, sadly, nothing new. Within two weeks of coming to power, Blair reversed his pre-election pledge to lift the ban on gays in the military. The government is now fighting cases in the European Courts to uphold the right of the armed forces to discriminate against lesbians and gay men.
Equally offensive, in the summer, Home Office Ministers rejected requests to repeal discriminatory, gay-only sexual offences such as "gross indecency" (the law under which Oscar Wilde was convicted in 1895!) and the ban on gay sex involving the presence of more than two people. They also vetoed attempts to end the homophobic bias of the Sex Offenders Act, which results in men convicted of consenting homosexual relationships with 16 and 17 year -olds being branded as child sex abusers.
Labour Left Briefing, September 1998.
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