Council’s proposed sex establishment policy is ‘homophobic’: Rainbow Hamlets talks to the BBC

BBC London news reports that amateur strip night at iconic LGBT venue the White Swan could be banned as a result of Tower Hamlet council’s recent sex establishment consultation. When invited to comment, we referred the BBC to our published response to the Council’s consultation on the proposed policy from which the BBC has taken the following:

“The fear expressed to us is that a licensing policy driven by a majoritarian approach by tightly knit, residential communities, may actually lead to an unwelcoming atmosphere for LGBT venues down the road and an unsafe atmosphere for LGBT people.”

As we understand it, the proposed policy is unlikely to be put before the full Council until April. However we are aware that this is a matter which people feel very strongly about. We have written today to the Council drawing their attention to the BBC report and expressing our fears for community cohesion if this matter is not handled appropriately. We have also offered our assistance to the Council in developing the final draft to mitigate the effects of the policy on the White Swan.

Click here to read our response to the consultation in full. (Opens in a new window in pdf format)

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Rainbow Hamlets responds to the Home Office consultation on Police Powers to Promote and Maintain Public Order

During the Commons debate on the second reading of the Protection of Freedoms Bill in March 2011, Edward Leigh MP argued in favour of an amendment to section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986. Section 5 currently outlaws both the use of threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour and the display of a sign which is threatening abusive or insulting if they are done within the hearing or sight of a person to whom they are likely to  cause distress or alarm. Mr Leigh would like to see the word ‘insulting’ removed from the section. He believes that the inclusion of the word ‘insulting’ places undue restrictions on the freedom of expression. In October 2011 the Home Office announced a period of consultation to discuss, among other matters, whether section should be amended as Mr Leigh suggests.

We are conscious that the argument for the decriminalisation of insulting words and behaviour has to some extent been fuelled by those seeking to express views about homosexual identity and behaviour based on a religious orthodoxy. This is after all  the section of the Act under which Mohammed Hasnath was prosecuted for posting ‘gay free zone’ stickers on the DLR network last year. Understandably we are very cautious about the proposed amendment.

Those in favour of the amendment suggest that, when compared against threats and abuse, insults are the lesser of the three evils. We disagree. Those who employ insult as a debating tool do so because they understand that such insults generate a dynamic of their own. We believe the effects of the ‘gay free zone’ sticker campaign could easily have been foreseen and we strongly suspect that they were. Like the symbolic burning of poppies on Armistice Day, it represented a deliberate attempt to exploit cultural sensitivities in order to foment tension, undermine community cohesion and ultimately radicalise Muslim youth. In our view, if we dismiss insulting words and behaviour as the lesser of three types of conduct, we afford too little credence to the lasting and pernicious effects of such insults, usually manifested in the breakdown of community cohesion.

In our opinion, the word “insulting” in section 5 fulfills a valuable function and removing it potentially creates a permissive environment in which insult becomes a legitimate means of disrupting community cohesion. In our view such a change would have a disproportionately detrimental affect upon LGBT people, and in all likelihood other groups such as the Muslim community.

We feel that those who are responsible for instigating this debate have lost sight of the fact that section 5 does not outlaw insulting words and behaviour per se, but insulting words and behaviour which foreseeably will cause alarm or distress, and are therefore misrepresenting the debate. We do not understand the basis on which it is claimed that the right to cause distress and alarm through by way of gratuitous insult is protected by the right of freedom of expression. It has fallen to the courts to consider this point on a number of occasions, most notably in the case of Percy in which Mrs Justice Hallett stated:

“A civilised society must strike an appropriate balance between the competing rights of those who may be insulted by a particular course of conduct and those who wish to register their protest on an important matter of public interest.

It has always been our position that the ‘gay free zone’ stickers overstepped the boundaries of legitimate public debate. We wish to retain the right to be able to walk through the streets of Tower Hamlets without being subjected to hurtful insult purely because of our sexual orientation or gender identity. We strongly oppose the amendment of section 5.

Our response in full to the Home Office consultation can be accessed through our documents page

LGBT History Month Event

Saturday 18 February at 14:00

Tower Hamlets Local History Library

Turn your memories of queer life, space and place into poetry and create your own version of community history. No experience needed; all ages welcome.

Sophia Blackwell, poet and performer, leads a workshop for LGBT people.

 

Sophia, a regular on the UK poetry scene, has been holding crowds spellbound for over five years in bars, nightclubs and festival tents.  Here’s what they said about her debut collection “Into Temptation”

‘Her poems often carry the same sense of gleeful abandon as a child let loose with a dressing-up box. At the same time, there is a fierce, shaping intelligence at work here, and a quiet but persistent note of melancholy.’ –Alan Buckley, PBS (Poetry Book Society)

‘Some of Sophia Blackwell’s poems read like Nico should be singing them to John Cale’s viola, some as if Shakespeare’s slut sister taught him all he knew, while others are as new as the next dawn. Dirty, juicy, knowing and open – works for me.’ –Stella Duffy, novelist, actor, comedian and improviser

‘A classic work from a toughly modern poet. Full of such contradictions, Sophia Blackwell’s work is as sassy and sexy as the poet herself with a side order of innocent and dreamy. Worth a lot more than the cover price!’ –-Fyne Times Magazine.

 Tickets are free of charge, but places are limited and booking is essential. For more information and to book a place, email localhistory@towerhamlets.gov.uk