Gay rights campaigners stand up for free speech of opponents

By staff writers
October 29, 2009

Supporters of gay, lesbian and bisexual people's rights have expressed support for the freedom of those who criticise them, casting doubt on claims by a Christian group who suggested that gay rights activists are trying to stifle free speech.

The Christian Institute accused the “homosexual lobby” of trying “to shut down any criticism of homosexual conduct”. The comments were made following a police investigation into a Norwich resident who expressed allegedly homophobic views.

However, several gay rights campaigners have themselves responded to the incident by affirming their support for free speech.

Pauline Howe complained to her local council about Norwich's first Gay Pride event, claiming that there are only “a minimal number of homosexuals”. In a letter in which she described gay people as “sodomites”, she blamed “their perverted sexual practice” for spreading diseases and for the “downfall of every empire”.

Her cause was taken up by the Christian Institute after she was visited by police who thought her letter to a public body might constitute a “hate incident”. The police decided to take the matter no further.

Ben Summerskill of Stonewall, which campaigns for lesbian, gay and bisexual people's rights, said that “her views are pretty offensive, but nevertheless this is disproportionate”.

Meanwhile, the gay human rights campaigner, Peter Tatchell told Ekklesia that he believes that “freedom of speech is important and must be defended”.

He said that he considers that the police were right to point out to Pauline Howe “the harm and damage such intolerance can cause”, but is glad that they took the matter no further.

"Although Ms Howe used very offensive, inflammatory language to abuse gay people, I would not agree with criminalising her” he added.

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