money and energy on useless legislation when they could be spent on healthcare, specifically on HIV and AIDS.‘
Also causing anger in the gay community are the recent guidelines on fostering issued by the Department of Health which state that “Equal rights" and “gay rights” policies have no place in fostering services.‘ A DoH spokeswoman asserted that ‘No groups will be arbitrarily excluded from consideration. Our policy is always simply to find a placement in the best interests of the child’, but, according to Junior Health Minister Virginia Bottomley. ‘Most would expect that the welfare of a child who needs a new family will usually be best secured by having a mother and a father.‘ This would seem to imply that lesbians and gay men are automatically disadvantaged if they apply to be foster parents, if not officially excluded, despite the fact that many foster children have successfully been placed in gay households.
Peter Tatchell, an organiser with the lesbian and gay action group OutRage!, points out that in some cases such placements can be a positive advantage. ‘Where a child has been brutalised and rejected by parents because he or she is gay, then a stable gay couple could offer the best support. Or where a girl has been sexually abused by her father, the non-male environment of a loving lesbian household might help overcome her fears and anxieties.‘
Intentionally or not, the Government does appear to be lending official sanction to the homophobia still so prevalent in Britain. through measures which would create uproar if they were directed against other minority groups. More gay men are being prosecuted now (around four thousand were arrested last year) than when homosexuality was still illegal. Even more disturbing is the continuing increase in gay-bashing, and the murders of fifty-five gay men in the last four years, many of which clearly involved an anti-gay motive.
Tatchell and others are keen to emphasise that something positive can be made to emerge from the Government’s measures. ‘While these attacks are terrible, we can turn them around to our own
advantage. Like Section 28, they give us a platform to rally round and argue for the human rights oflesbians and gay men.’ With this in mind, OutRage! and other groups are organising a UK-wide demonstration in London on 16 February, while in Edinburgh an unusual protest is planned for Valentine’s Day. ‘We’re going to be washing a Union Jack outside Old St Andrew‘s House,’ says Ian Dunn. ‘We were going to burn it, but this seemed a more positive gesture. The flag represents the British state which we‘ll be symbolically cleansing ofits ingrained homophobia.’
In'Parliament, Robin Cook MP, Shadow Health Secretary and Honorary Vice-President of SHRG, confirmed that Labour’s National Executive Committee had agreed that the party would ‘vigorously oppose’ the clause when the Bill returns to the Commons later this month. Individuals can contribute to the campaign by writing to their MP, or to Kenneth Baker, the Home Secretary. ‘Writing letters may not be as exciting as going out on the streets with a banner,’ says Ian McKellen. ‘But it does as much good, if not more. MP5 are paid to represent you, but unless they get letters they just don’t believe
people are bothered about things.’
Ultimately, McKellen believes, the best way to deal with homophobia is honesty, difficult though it is. ‘Ifone wants to look in the long term, anyone who’s gay or lesbian, if they can face it, should come out and say so. Because when they do that, they will not only feel better themselves, but they will be being honest with society, and then they can demand that society is honest with them. We need a lot more people to come out, and then the world will stop being frightened of us. We’re hidden because we’re frightened, then because we’re hidden other people get frightened of us.’
For more information on the demonstrations in Edinburgh and London, contact the Scottish Homosexual Rights Group at58a Broughton Street, Edinburgh EH1 35A, tel 03] 557 1662 after 6pm.
Write to: Kenneth Baker MP, The House of Commons, London, S WIA 0AA.
The law on homosexuality was being steadily ilberaiised but In recent years that trend has been reversed. I Until 1881. men convicted oi ‘sodomy’ could face the death sentence. I 1881: The Ottences Against the Person Act reduced the maximum penaltyto liie imprisonment. I 1885: The Criminal Law Amendment Act, which applied to Britain and all parts at the Empire. outlawed all terms oi sexual contact between men, at any age. in public or in private. This is the source oi the iamous but apocryphal story about Queen Victoria; supposedly the intention was to outlaw sex between women as well, butthe Oueen reiused to believe that women did such things. I 1895: The OscarWilde trial. Wilde was accused by his lover's tather, the Marquis oi Queensberry, at being a ‘somdomite' (sic) and sued tor libel. He lost the case and was sentenced underthe 1885 Act to two years' hard labour. I 1922: During debate on the Criminal Law ' Amendment Act, there was a move in the House oi Lords to outlaw sex between women. This was blocked by the government, who were unwilling to extend what was already being seen as an excessively repressive law, thus perpetuating lesbians' hazy legal status. I 1957: Wolienden Report recommended reform oi the laws on homosexuality. I 1967: The Sexual Ottences Act, tollowlng attempts in various Private Members' bills, legallsed homosexuality tor men over 21 in England and Wales. I 1980: Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act decrimlnalised homosexuality north at the border. I 1982: The law in Northern lreland was brought into line with the rest oi the UK as a result at the Jeff Dudgeon case. Dudgeon's claim that the law lniringed his basic human rights went to the European Court. where the Government lost. I 1988: Section 28 oithe Local Government Act made it illegal tor local authorities to ‘intentionally promote homosexuality’,
z leading to cuts in tunding ' tor lesbian and gay
I December 1990: Fifteen men receive heavy sentences, including (all, at the Old 8aiieyior (consenting) involvement in sado-mesochlstic sex scenes. All were over 21.
I 18 December 1990: The Criminal Justice Bill passes intact through the Committee Stage at Parliament. it is scheduled ior its Report stage inthe Commons at the end oi February 1991.
The List 8— 21 February 1991 13