PETER TATCHELL | September 14th 2008
"It was only in 2003 when all anti-gay discrimination in the criminal law was finally repealed", writes Peter Tatchell, a human-rights campaigner ...
From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, Autumn 2008
Intelligent Life asked 11 eminent people from different walks of life to look back over their adult lifetime and name the freedom we have gained and lost that means the most to them. They were free to take freedom in any sense, political or cultural, social or technological. What mattered was that it mattered to them.
THE ACTIVIST: PETER TATCHELL
Aged 56, human-rights campaigner and Green Party candidate for Oxford East
The freedom to be gay. It began with the partial decriminalisation of male homosexuality in 1967, but it was not until 2003 that all anti-gay discrimination in the criminal law was finally repealed--ending centuries of arrest, imprisonment and blackmail. Other reforms include scrapping the ban on lesbians and gays in the armed forces, enacting civil partnerships and allowing same-sex couples to foster and adopt children. Legal protection against discrimination was fully extended to cover lesbian, gay and bisexual people in 2007.
These reforms not only established equal human rights for gay people, they also helped prompt more liberal public attitudes. While there is still homophobic bullying in schools and queer-bashing violence, and although same-sex marriage remains illegal, lesbian and gay people today enjoy a degree of freedom that was barely imaginable in my teens.
The right to protest. While this right has not been removed, it has been progressively restricted and eroded--to the detriment of democracy and free speech. In my youth, there were few police powers to stop peaceful demonstrations. Now there are many. You have to give the police advance notice of protest marches, and all protests without prior police permission are banned within half a mile of Parliament. The police also have the summary power to dictate the location and duration of demos and to limit arbitrarily the number of protesters. They can also confiscate any placards that could cause "alarm" or "distress" to members of the public and can arrest the placard holder.
This is a draconian power, since any protest is liable to cause alarm or distress to someone--especially religious folk who often plead distress at any ridicule or criticism of their faith. In addition, the police have the power to arrest a protester whose words or actions might prompt members of the public to react in ways that breach the peace. This means that non-violent, lawful protesters can now be arrested in order to prevent a potential violent, illegal reaction from others.
Up next: the freedoms gained and lost by Andrew Roberts, author of "Eminent Churchillians" and of "Masters and Commanders: How Roosevelt, Churchill, Marshall and Alanbrooke Won the War in the West 1941-45" (Penguin, September)
Picture credit: Christina Snyder/flickr
Co-ordinated by Horatia Lawson