Peter Tatchell

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Posthumous pardon for WWII gay codebreaker Alan Turing as Royal prerogative of Mercy

Published December 24, 2013 by Katy J Went

After 60 years “father of modern computing” computer pioneer and WWII Enigma codebreaker Alan Turing has been given a posthumous royal pardon. Turing shortened the War, it is estimated, by 2 years saving millions of lives as 11 million were dying annually. He mechanised the manual codebreaking work done at Bletchley Park at the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS or GCCS) which in 1946 became GCHQ.

Alan Turing sculptureIain Stewart, a Conservative MP involved in the cross-Party campaign to secure a royal pardon, said:

“Alan Turing was an incredibly important figure in our history. He was the father of computer science and the originator of the dominant technology of the late 20th century.”

LGBT History Month 2013 remembered LGBT pioneers in maths and science including Turing and 2012 was both the centenary of his birth and 50 years since his conviction for “gross indecency” in 1952. Offered prison or so-called “organo-therapy” – chemical castration, he chose the latter, but unlike for a trans person, pumping a gay man full of female hormones was a chemical assault on his gender and sexual orientation not a relief or longed-for medical intervention. His conviction ended his career through his lost security clearance. Two years later, aged just 41, he seems to have killed himself with a cyanide-laced poisoned apple.

Thousands have sought Dr Turing’s pardon over the years, tens of thousands signed a 2009 petition which led to a public apology from No.10 Downing Street at Prime Minister Gordon Brown apologised on behalf of the nation or at least the then laws and Government that treated him “so inhumanely”, but as yet no pardon – royal or otherwise. Brown said in his statement on 10 September 2009:

“This recognition of Alan’s status as one of Britain’s most famous victims of homophobia is another step towards equality, and long overdue.” 

Over 4 years later, it is indeed long overdue! LibDem peer Lord Sharkey introduced a Private Member’s Bill in the House of Lords on 25th July 2012 which called for a statutory pardon for Dr Turing. The e-petition that year received over 37,000 signatures. A royal pardon is a rare thing these days, formerly used to waive a death sentence, and usually only granted where a person has been found innocent of an offence and the approach made by a family member. In this case as the Ministry of Justice have said:

“Uniquely on this occasion a pardon has been issued without either requirement having been met, reflecting the exceptional nature of Alan Turing’s achievements.”

The pardon states:

Royal Pardon“Now know ye that we, in consideration of circumstances humbly represented unto Us, are Graciously pleased to grant Our Grace and Mercy unto the said Alan Mathison Turing and to grant him Our Free Pardon posthumously in respect of the said convictions; And to pardon and remit unto him the sentence imposed upon him aforesaid; And for so doing this shall be a sufficient Warrant. Given at Our Court at Saint James’s the 24th day of December 2013; In the sixty-second Year of Our Reign. By Her Majesty’s Command. Chris Grayling”

It is signed by Chris Grayling, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice. The pedantic grammatical debate as to whether he should have used St James’ or St James’s is an age old one.

The capitalisation throughout puts emphasis on respect for royalty and the “Royal prerogative of mercy”, an anachronistic and patronising term. It is a throwback to the days of rule by divine right and the monarch being the nearest thing to God, who alone had the power to forgive. It is time this too was ended.

The pardon itself, though gratefully acknowledged, raises other issues, although why should we be grateful for something that should never have happened and should not need a Queen or their representative to enact it? But why him, and not other gay men? Are we rewarding his War-shortening hero status and “excusing” his crime under 1950s laws? Do others fail to receive the same pardon because they were not war heroes, that is a slap in the face for other gay veterans. What about those imprisoned or given chemical castration or ECT against their will to rid them of homosexual desires? What about the medical pathologisation of homosexuality in the DSM an ICD (International Classification of Diseases) that continued after the criminal law was revoked and that of transsexualism that continues to this day?

In an enlightened age, although it may make a mockery of retrospective legal change, it is also mockery of human decency not to pardon all for breaching laws that we now consider an affront to human rights. Turing’s “Royal” pardon should be extended to tens of thousands of people convicted of homosexuality-related crimes, campaigners have said.

Veteran LGBT activist and campaigner Peter Tatchell said:

“Singling out Turing just because he is famous is wrong. Unlike Alan, many thousands of ordinary gay and bisexual men who were convicted under the same law have never been offered a pardon and will never get one. An apology and pardon is due to another 50,000-plus men who were also convicted of consenting, victimless homosexual relationships during the 20th century.”

It is also poignant as it comes at a time when President Putin in Russia has brought in Section 28 style laws that have criminalised educating the young about homosexuality and cast a shadow over February’s forthcoming Sochi Winter Olympics.

Worse, still, is Uganda’s recent passing of a Bill that criminalises homosexuality with terms of up to life imprisonment and makes the non-reporting of gay people also a criminal offence. The so-called “Kill the Gays bill” was passed just 4 days ago and is already raising fears  of an impending tide of violence, fear and witch hunts, as in Russia. Homosexual “gross indecency”, similar to the British law under which Turing was convicted, is still on the statute books of Uganda, and new stronger laws are being made, with many calling for the death penalty for homosexuality. Some of these campaigns are supported by fundamentalist Christians in the USA.

The same argument that Putin has used, that homosexuality and the “genderless and infertile Western tolerance” destroys traditional family, and that people need laws to protect them from it, is being peddled around many of the 38 African countries that ban it. PM David Cameron has called for aid cuts to nations such as Uganda that deny LGBT rights.

Grateful and grudging though my appreciation is for this pardon, it should be the beginning of blanket retrospective amnesties not an act of royal “Grace and Mercy”, though it is fitting that this pardon comes at Christmas, which symbolically, whether you hold Christian beliefs or not, marks the birth of a royal pardon for all.

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The Independent on Sunday’s LGBT Pink List 2013

Published October 13, 2013 by Katy J Went

Published since 2000 The Independent on Sunday‘s Pink List always causes a stir. Straights may wonder why it even exists, homophobes see it as a Hall of Shame and celebrities may get recognition over hardworking campaigners and activists. That is set to change as the paper, or at least this year’s judges (actress and singer Heather Peace, long time trans activist Christine Burns, Kim Watson of GTDiva & Meta magazines, and Ben Summerskill of Stonewall) have decided contenders need to be more than LGBT, famous and/or influential – they need to actually “make a difference”.

With 15+ trans entrants compared to 2010’s none and 2011-12’s half-dozen it is topped by the young charismatic upcoming media-savvy trans journalist and activist Paris Lees. Other trans personalities and activists include: model Jackie Green, Trans Media Watch‘s Jennie Kermode and Helen Belcher, politicians Sarah Brown and Tara Hewitt, journalists Jane Fae and Juliet Jacques, poet and activist Roz Kaveney, lecturer and former primary teacher Natacha Kennedy, Big Brother‘s Luke Anderson, My Transsexual Summer‘s Lewis Hancox and Raphael Fox – now filmmakers themselves, and Gendered Intelligence‘s Jay Stewart.

Singer and co-founder of Queer Youth Network CN Lester appears at #41 and is probably the only notable queer and non-binary activist.

Clare Balding is #2 for the second year running having been #4 and a judge previously.

Peter Tatchell, notably forgotten in 2011, is raised to joint #2 after an apologetic re-entry at #3 last year, having featured at #7 and #34 in previous years. It feels like a pop-pickers Top 40 with movers and losers, who’s in fashion and who is not.

It is as if LGBT political correctness was trying to cover all bases and make apologies for previous omissions of all trans people, most lesbians, non-whites and one vocal and veteran campaigner. It would be no surprise if a suitable black bisexual was not shoehorned into #4. Oh wait, let’s google/wiki Nicola Adams … yes she’s bi, having come out last year.

2012 was an Olympic year in several senses, with among other sporting stars, Puerto-Rican Orlando Cruz, another boxer, also coming out. Four out of the first five Pink List places were taken up by sports celebrities. It also opened the list up to gender, disability and colour in ways not hitherto seen.

2013 has been the year of equal marriage, but also “the year when trans people finally began to glimpse the sort of respect and equality that gay people can, at last, expect”, writes the paper, “We hope the list reflects that.”

The aim, according to the Sindie – Sunday Independent – “To entertain and celebrate, infuriate and amuse. Above all, to kick-start a debate around the breakfast and lunch-table.” Well it has certainly done that – celebrate and infuriate in equal measure.

Back in 2010 national treasure Stephen Fry complained about the separately compiled Rogues’ Gallery section which pilloried Pineapple Dance Studio’s Louie Spence for his camp “gay stereotype” whose “fame would soon be up”. Fry described Spence as “An authentic, strong, charming and lovable person, every bit as ‘courageous’ as the others on the list, certainly more courageous than me, Louie deserves respect and support, not insult and derision. Do they want people like him not to count, do they see him as being guilty of a choice in his manner and his demeanour, just as homophobes everywhere accuse all gay people of choosing their sexuality and preferences?” Fry renounced his entry at #3 and gave it to Spence.

2010’s list was criticised for lacking obvious and open trans or bi persons and grassroots activists.

A gay HuffPost blogger tore into 2012’s list describing it as “meaningless” and if “a victory for equality, it’s certainly a hollow one.”

Yet the fabulous LGBT educator, Elly Barnes (#1, 2011), said, “Being awarded the No 1 spot on last year’s Pink List was a massive shock and overwhelming on every level. It not only gave me the confidence I needed to take the Educate and Celebrate initiative forward nationally; it was also the wake-up call to move to be a full-time LGBT advocate. I will be for ever thankful to all who voted and to the judges.”

To make room for younger activists, our campaigning forebears have been moved to a National Treasures List:

April Ashley MBE Model; Russell T Davies OBE TV producer and screenwriter; Lauren Harries Media personality; Phyllida Lloyd CBE Theatre director; Matthew Parris Journalist; Alice Purnell OBE Trans campaigner; Stephen Whittle OBE Professor of equalities law; Sir Cameron Mackintosh Theatre producer; Paul O’Grady MBE Actor, presenter; Neil Tennant Musician; David Hockney OM, CH Artist; Andrew Pierce Journalist; Jeanette Winterson OBE Writer; Boy George Musician and DJ; Eileen Gallagher OBE Television producer; Sir Elton John Musician; Philip Hensher Writer; Julian Clary Comedian and writer; Alice Arnold Broadcaster; Alan Bennett Playwright; Alan Hollinghurst Novelist; Stephen Fry Actor and writer; Sir Ian McKellen CH, CBE Actor; Jonathan Harvey Playwright; Paul Burston Author and journalist; Fiona Shaw CBE Actress and director; Simon Callow CBE Actor; Rupert Everett Actor; Sir Nicholas Hytner Theatre director; Val McDermid Novelist; Brian Sewell Art critic; John Barrowman Actor; Sandi Toksvig Actor and presenter; Graham Norton Comedian and presenter; Colm Tóibín Novelist; Linda Bellos OBE Activist; David Lan Playwright and film-maker; Dr Christian Jessen TV presenter and doctor; Michael Grandage CBE Theatre director and producer; Jackie Kay MBE Poet and novelist.

The shift to younger LGBT role models may inspire the next generation of activists and more people to “come out” – last weekend was National Coming Out Day in the US & UK. May next year’s list evolve to include more Queer, Pan, Intersex and Non-Binary voices. It is easy to find criticism with the list, the very notion of LGBT league tables is abhorrent, but some mention is better than none, and all publicity can be seen as good publicity. It will certainly continue to arouse “debate”, and long may it do so.

Bi Visibility Day – Celebrating Bisexuality

Published September 23, 2013 by Katy J Went
Today is Bi Visibility Day (celebrated since 1999), because everyone needs a day, right? Actually, bisexuals are in many respects one of the least visible members of the LGBTIQ alphabet soup and, yet, they may be the majority.

Bisexuality is common in hundreds of animal species, especially the giraffe! The anthropologist Margaret Mead noted, ironically, that Western culture imposed a “straight jacket” on bisexuality whilst other cultures embraced non-specific gendered attraction.

bisexual triangles
Attempts to reclaim people as bi rather than gay or lesbian are fraught with historical and contextual difficulties. The ancient Greek poet Sappho from Lesbos, if “turned” bi, would remove sapphic and lesbian from the “women-who-love only women” dictionary.

The ancient world was rife with bisexuality in cultures that were more about power, status, class and penetration, than sex or gender. When laws and religion criminalise and stigmatise homosexuality, coming out as gay or lesbian is likely to be from a position of heterosexual cover. Thus, many older gay people are historically and serially bisexual rather than “gold star” straight virgins. People of “bisexual history” one might say.

Today’s youth are far more likely to embrace bisexuality in open experimentation and disregard for society’s narrow binarism and heteronormativity. Whilst a third transition to gay and lesbian, they do so from a position of reduced fear and phobia than the generation that preceded them, meanwhile the majority of young bisexuals now remain that way.

Being a person of bisexual history myself and maintaining what I call bisexual appreciation rather than attraction/orientation I had no problem when reading Wolff’s Bisexuality: A Study in agreeing with her idea that the majority may be closet bisexuals. It is just that opportunity, cultural restraints, fear of judgement, exposure and stigma, and the course of attraction or love, prevent many acting on it. Indeed, along with Ancient Greece, the famous sexologist Krafft-Ebing suggested that bisexuality was our original and natural state when he first used the term in 1892.

Dr Charlotte Wolff was a Jewish lesbian feminist physician and psychotherapist who fled Germany during the 1930s when her non-Jewish female lover left her out of fear. Before this she had been detained by the Gestapo as a spy for being dressed as a man. Although born female and into a Jewish home she preferred male clothing and female partners – something that pre-Nazi liberal Germany and her Jewish family initially accepted.

Just after the War, in 1948, Alfred Kinsey had found that “46% of the male population had engaged in both heterosexual and homosexual activities, or ‘reacted to’ persons of both sexes, in the course of their adult lives” (Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, 1949). And that was the 1940s! A 2007 survey in the US showed 10 times as many young people identifying as bi than the 18-44 age group.

Kinsey further noted that the term bisexual was unfortunate, given that in nature it referred to hermaphroditism rather than a bi or pan gendered attraction. Ambisexual – from Latin ambo “both” not “ambiguous”, may have been better or pansexual, for many bisexuals claim to be gender blind in attraction and would also consider relationships with trans and intersex people.

US surveys from 1993 to 2007 showed a declining figure for people comfortable with calling themselves bisexual whilst a growing number were confident to be gay or lesbian, until the latter now exceed the former. Both are beginning to be eclipsed by those that answer surveys as “other”.

UK Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index questionnaire in 2009 found that bisexuals were less happy than gay people to be “out” at work despite making up at least 4% of the workforce. Their experience of biphobia often came from gay colleagues telling them to “get off the fence”.

In the Sex and the City episode “Boy, Girl, Boy, Girl” (2000) Carrie and Charlotte discuss bisexuality:

Carrie: “I’m not even sure bisexuality exists, it’s just a layover on the way to gaytown”

Charlotte: “I’m very into labels, gay, straight, pick a side and stay there” 

Kinsey again commented that sexuality was a continuum not a both, either/or situation.

“Only the human mind invents categories and tries to force facts into separated pigeon-holes. The living world is a continuum in each and every one of its aspects. The sooner we learn this concerning human sexual behavior, the sooner we shall reach a sound understanding of the realities of sex.” (Kinsey, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, 1949)

The American second-wave feminist and bisexual, Kate Millett, said that “Homosexuality was invented by a straight world dealing with its own bisexuality.” (Flying, 1974).

Bisexuals have fought to defend themselves from the slur that they “sleep around”. That said, studies show that they do have a greater sex drive, increased biological masculinisation, higher levels of testosterone, sexual confidence and fewer insecurities.

The UK gay rights activist, Peter Tatchell, has said of future sexuality that:

“[The] picture of human sexuality is much more complex, diverse and blurred than the traditional simplistic binary image of hetero and homo, so loved by straight moralists and – equally significantly – by many lesbians and gay men. If sexual orientation has a culturally-influenced element of indeterminacy and flexibility, then the present forms of homosexuality and heterosexuality are conditional. They are unlikely to remain the same in perpetuity. As culture changes, so will expressions of sexuality.” 

One thing we can thank television and media personalities for is that people say the more positive role models in characters or real life the more confident people are to come out themselves. True Blood, the deep South US vampire series has endless bisexual liaisons and its lead actress Anna Paquin who plays Sookie, despite being married to vampire Bill Compton in real life, came out as bisexual in 2010. British Dr Who spin-off series Torchwood was also famed for its positive portrayal of bisexuality and its lead actor John Barrowman being ogled by men and women alike. What we need is more positive bi visibility to combat both aspects of biphobia – fear of coming out and the prejudice that leads to bi erasure.