Human Rights

Proud Thugs

I’m beginning to wonder whether having “former bodyguard to Robert Mugabe” isn’t a definite plus if you’re looking for a job as a steward for London Pride. It certainly seems so. How else does one explain the gusto with which they threw themselves at Peter Tatchell to stop him performing a citizen’s conversation with Harriet Harman MP?

Earlier in the afternoon at Trafalgar Square on Saturday, Tatchell had condemned the government’s shameful record on gay asylum seekers. OutRage! has urged the government for years to develop guidelines for dealing with asylum applicants fleeing persecution on the basis of their sexual orientation. There are guidelines form women and religious minorities. Not only has the government failed to do so, but the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, in particular has pushed the line that gay people can safely be returned to countries like Iran (which has a death penalty for homosexuality) as long as they “remain discreet”.

As Stonewall’s Ben Summerskill pointed out: “You only have to listen to people who were terrorised by the Metropolitan Police in the 1950s and 1960s to know that telling gay people to live discreetly is quixotic.”

So, back to Pride… Tatchell was followed by a Nigerian speaker, Davis MacIyalla, the outspoken leader of Changing Attitude Nigeria, who was driven from the country following a fresh antigay clampdown last year. Last month he sought asylum in the UK and the day before Pride he was arrested in London, and only released after concerted lobbying efforts.

Needless to say, the government’s speaker at Pride, Women and Equalities minister Harriet Harmon, was not going to have a smooth ridewhen she took the stage. According to Tatchell, who was at the side of the stage having spoken earlier:

“At several points during her speech a bewildered Ms Harman appeared to waiver and had to struggle to be heard. It got so bad that the gay Pride organisers came on stage and appealed to the crowd to stop jeering and listen to what she had to say. Their appeal had limited effect.”

As she was leaving the stage, Tatchell approached her and “tried to explain the crowd’s anger”. But then he was jumped by Pride stewards who violently shoved him out of the way and threatened to have him arrested.

Who are these jumped up Pink Stasi? I must say, they’d been behaving rather badly throughout the day, shouting at people and gesticulating wildly at anyone on the march who paused to take a photo and corralling people with all the finesse of trainee sheepdogs. Who made them the Minister’s protection detail? If it had been some strange collector of politician’s autographs who had vaulted the barrier, perhaps their actions might have been justified. But this was Peter Tatchell, a man whose devoted most of his life to fighting for the rights which these officious disco-bunny wannabe SWAT team now enjoy.

In contrast, Ms Harmon seemed to appreciate the tip. As he was being dragged away, she called out to him ‘Peter, give me a call and we can discuss your concerns.’ Apparently he plans to take up her offer, and – one hopes – things may improve in future for gay refugees… but no thanks to the ‘Pride’ organisers.