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outrage

OutRage!

OutRage! is a direct action campaigning group in the United Kingdom which was formed to fight for what they saw as the rights of lesbian, gay and bisexual people. It is a radical group which has frequently been criticised for being extremist; members have been arrested on some OutRage! actions. For a time in the mid-1990s, some OutRage! actions were perceived as being a version of outing, where gay activists assert the alleged private homosexuality of public figures as part of a political campaign.

Formation

The group was formed at a meeting on May 10, 1990, called after the murder of gay actor Michael Boothe (which occurred on the previous April 30). Many of those involved in calling this meeting had been members of the Organisation for Lesbian and Gay Action (OLGA) which had itself arisen out of the campaign against Section 28. There were four principal founders: Simon Watney, Keith Alcorn, Chris Woods and Peter Tatchell. Between 40 and 60 people attended the first meeting, including many who had been active in the Gay Liberation Front and other campaigns.

A second meeting, this time in public, was held on May 24. Alcorn came up with the name and Tatchell wrote the first draft of what became the Statement of Aims. Michael Burgess and Steve Stannard were elected joint treasurer as the first officers. The first OutRage! action was on June 7 at Hyde Park Public Toilets to protest Metropolitan Police entrapment of gay men cruising, and attracted some media attention. OLGA offered the group office space at its base at the London Lesbian and Gay Centre, and regular fundraising was set up with the group selling T-shirts with its logo. One of the defining images of OutRage! actions was taken in September 1990 when the group organised a "Kiss-in" at Piccadilly Circus to protest against arrests of gay men for kissing in public. One member, identified as an actor called Richard, climbed up and kissed the statue of Eros.

From January 1991 the group established a series of "affinity, focus and caucus groups", which took on specific aspects of the group's remit. They were given intentionally obscene and insulting names: the Policing Intelligence Group (PIG), the Whores of Babylon (tacking religious homophobia), Perverts Undermining State ScrutinY (PUSSY - tackling censorship), QUeers Asserting the Right to Ride Every Line Safely (QUARRELS - on safety on London Underground), Expanding THe Non-Indigenous Contingent (ETHNIC), and Lesbians Answer Back In Anger (LABIA). To go along with these names, the financial team adopted the name QUeer Accountants Never Go Out (QUANGO).

Outing controversy

The issue of outing, which had already begun in the USA, split the group in 1991. There was no consensus and so the group agreed to have no policy. Those who favoured the tactic (principally Shane Broomhall and Patrick McCann) then established their own group outside OutRage called "Faggots Rooting Out Closeted Sexuality" (FROCS) which was committed to outing. They printed and distributed posters claiming Jason Donovan was gay, before contacting the Sunday Times with plans for a wider campaign. Peter Tatchell agreed to act as public speaker for the group. The outing plan was widely denounced by the press, before FROCS admitted the plan had been a ruse with the goal of getting newspapers which had themselves outed lesbians and gay men to denounce the practice of outing.

In 1992 the group suffered from entryism from far left political parties who wished to annex OutRage! as a front organisation. The most serious was by the Lesbian and Gay Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (LGCARF). The creation of the focus groups added to the vulnerability for a takeover and on June 25 the group took a decision to abolish all the groups. This decision was accepted by most but not by LABIA, and many of its members left, eventually to form the London chapter of the Lesbian Avengers.

The 1993 Actions

The then Chief Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits reacted to the 1993 discovery by Dean Hamer of possible genetic connections to homosexuality by saying it offered the opportunity for genetic engineering to eliminate homosexuality. OutRage! held an action outside a synagogue in London which was believed to be generally liberal, where it handed out leaflets comparing Jakobovits' remarks to those of Adolf Hitler. This action brought accusations that the group was being anti-Semitic.

Nine members of OutRage! were arrested in November 1993 in the offices of Benetton UK, where they had been organising a protest against the company's advertising. The nine were charged with various public order offences but were eventually acquitted.

Age of consent

See also: Chris Morris
1994 saw the issue of gay rights become more prominent in British politics as the House of Commons debated whether to equalise the age of consent for gay sex, then 21, with that for heterosexual sex at 16. OutRage! had organised a series of actions over the issue in previous years and it was prominent in the crowd outside Parliament on the night of the vote, where it had called for a peaceful presence. When news came through that equality had been rejected there was a near riot. Many in the crowd shouted the names of two Conservative Cabinet ministers who were widely rumoured to be gay.

After the vote OutRage! managed to invade the Labour Party National Executive Committee meeting where it protested about the 35 Labour MPs who had voted against equality. More light-heartedly, the group petitioned the Danish embassy for an invasion so that the UK could have Denmark's more liberal legislation.

Later the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000 equalised the age of consent for all sexual acts at 16 (17 in Northern Ireland).

Church of England

In autumn 1994 OutRage! began to concentrate on religious homophobia. It was revealed in the press that the new Bishop of Durham Michael Turnbull had a conviction for a gay sex offence, and OutRage! disrupted his ordination ceremony. There were other Bishops known or suspected to be gay in private, and OutRage! held a demonstration outside Church House naming ten Bishops and urging them to "Tell the truth!". Although the ten bishops were not named in the British Press, their names were published in the Australian gay newspaper the Melbourne Star Observer, and have since been published on the internet. At the same time, Peter Tatchell began a dialogue with the Bishop of London, David Hope, who had not been named as the group thought he could be persuaded to come out voluntarily. Press stories speculating about the personal sexuality of Bishops led Dr Hope to fear the worst and he called a press conference in February 1995 at which he denounced OutRage! for putting him under pressure, while admitting that his sexuality was "a grey area".

In January 1995 OutRage! had sent 20 Members of Parliament known or believed to be gay letters inviting them to come out. On March 20 the Belfast Telegraph carried the story that one of the MPs was from Northern Ireland, widely assumed to be James Kilfedder. That day he died suddenly of a heart attack. The press immediately assumed that the death and the letter were linked and some of the fiercest denunciations of OutRage! were written.

Dancehall

OutRage! have also made complaints against what they allege to be the anti-gay lyrics of certain dancehall stars such as Buju Banton and Sizzla, and published translations of some homophobic Rastafari oriented Jamaican Creole music. Sizzla had to cancel concert dates due to the protests of OutRage!

Good Gay/Bad Gay

The high-profile and often controversial methods used by OutRage! activists over the years has often brought mixed support from both the straight and gay communities; most notably from the more conservative wing of the gay community and those affiliated to the government, such as Stonewall who favour lawsuits over grass-roots activism to achieve their aims. Journalists in the British gay press have labelled groups like OutRage! and their allies the Gay and Lesbian Humanists, the Queer Youth Alliance, Chris Morris and Peter Tatchell as "Bad Gay" (owing to their "take no prisoners" approach) and the desk campaigners such as Stonewall as "Good Gay". Support for both approaches to gay rights activism is strong in the gay community, but OutRage!'s particular brand of tongue-in-cheek satirical bigot bombing tends to grab newspaper headlines.

Current Status

As of July 2008, OutRage! continues to be an active group and has a presence on the Facebook social networking site listing current news and campaigns..

As of November 2006 the original OutRage website ceased to be maintained and instead directs to Peter Tatchell's personal site which contains press releases which list OutRage! as an active group. www.outrage.org.uk is cited here as the website of the group, but this address now redirects to the personal website of Peter Tatchell.

See also

Further reading

  • Lucas, Ian. Outrage!: An Oral History. Continuum / Cassell Academic. London, 1998.
  • Henry, David Joseph. "Queerest of Conspiracies", London, Atlantic Print, 2005.

References

External links

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