An Open Letter to Justin Welby from Peter Tatchell

On the occasion of his enthronement as Archbishop of Canterbury.

 

 

Dear Archbishop Justin Welby,

Your enthronement as Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion will be an occasion for rejoicing by your faithful.

Like them, I wish you well.

I hope you will use your new authority to guide the church to accept equality and human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

Just over a decade ago, you expressed harsh homophobic opinions, condemning gay  relationships and the adoption of children by same-sex couples. You may have since revised these views but even now you oppose marriage equality.

One of your first public statements, when you were confirmed as Archbishop of Canterbury last month, was to declare your support for discrimination against gay people: namely your support for the legal ban on same-sex civil marriage.

Moreover, although you have expressed your support for civil partnerships, it is reported that you have not approved civil partnerships taking place in churches or church blessings for same-sex couples. 

You claim that you are not homophobic but a person who opposes legal equality for LGBT people is homophobic - in the same way that a person who opposes equal rights for black people is racist.

Homophobia has come to mean more than an irrational fear for gay people. It includes support for anti-gay discrimination and the denial of equal rights to people who are LGBT. In this sense of the word, you are homophobic because you support discrimination in law against gay people.  

Discrimination is not a Christian value; regardless of whether this discrimination concerns gender, race, faith, sexual orientation or gender identity.  

You say that you are listening to the concerns of the LGBT community but you continue to ignore and reject our claim for equal marriage rights. It does not feel like you are listening. Or perhaps you listening but not hearing?

You are not without precedent with regard to LGBT equality, in the UK and abroad.

Sadly, successive Archbishops of Canterbury have failed to speak out clearly and consistently against LGBT human rights abuses worldwide and against the frequent collusion with these abuses by local Anglicans.  Large swathes of the Anglican global communion actively support the persecution of LGBT people, mostly without rebuke.

The Anglican churches of Nigeria and Uganda are supporting draconian new anti-gay bills that are currently before their respective parliaments.

Uganda’s Anti Homosexuality Bill intensifies the criminalisation of LGBT people, including life imprisonment for mere sexual touching and the death penalty for repeat gay offenders. It also outlaws same-sex marriage, LGBT organisations and gay human rights advocacy.

Similar repression, excluding the death penalty, is enshrined in the Nigerian Same-Sex Marriage (Prohibition) Bill.

I urge you to speak out against these totalitarian homophobic proposals.

Such concerns aside, I note with encouragement recent statements by you that may indicate a softening of your stance and a greater openness to LGBT equality.

Most commendably, you support strengthening gay relationships and recognise that love between people of the same sex is no less than that of heterosexual couples.

You are quoted as saying: “I know I need to listen very attentively to the LGBT communities, and examine my own thinking prayerfully and carefully.”

Indeed, you have indicated that you are open to on-going discussion and dialogue with LGBT people, for which we thank you.

I urge you to show true moral leadership by standing against homophobic discrimination in favour of LGBT equality.

In the name of free speech, I have spoken out against the prosecution of Christian street preachers - even homophobic ones. I have defended persecuted Christians, especially in countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

I call on you to reciprocate.

It would, I believe, be wrong for you to collude - either consciously or by default - with those fellow Anglicans who reject gay equality.

I ask you: Would you make such compromises on equal rights in the case of ethnic minorities? I expect not. So why should LGBT people be treated differently?

My mother is a devout Christian. She believes that homosexuality is, according to The Bible, a sin; albeit not a major one. Equally, she believes homophobic discrimination is wrong. She makes a distinction between her personal beliefs and the law of the land.

I would, respectfully, urge you to do the same with regard to marriage equality and other legislation.

I understand and appreciate that you want to maintain Anglican unity and prevent a split in the communion. But is sacrificing LGBT equal rights morally justifiable in order to secure this goal? Is it a price worth paying to keep the church united?  Should gay human rights be compromised to appease those in the worldwide communion who endorse homophobic persecution and legal discrimination?

I urge you:

Be a moral leader for universal human rights, including the human rights of LGBT people.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Tatchell

Director of the human rights organisation, the Peter Tatchell Foundation

***

This Open Letter has prompted a response from the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. He has offered to meet Tatchell and begin a dialogue on LGBT issues; a significant breakthrough for the LGBT community, made all the more significant because Welby comes from the conservative, evangelical wing of the Anglican Communion. 

Welby wrote to Tatchell: 

Thank you for your very thoughtful letter. It requires much thought and the points it makes are powerful. I would like to explain what I think to you...and listen to you in return.

Welby is the first Archbishop who has offered to meet Tatchell. Not even Rowan Williams made such an offer. 

 

Justin Welby, the new Archbishop of Canterbury. Photograph: Getty Images

Peter Tatchell is Director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, which campaigns for human rights the UK and worldwide: www.PeterTatchellFoundation.org His personal biography can be viewed here: www.petertatchell.net/biography.htm

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Why the Liberal Democrats by-election surge is not all it seems

The Lib Dems chalked up impressive results in Stoke and Copeland. But just how much of a fight back is it?

By the now conventional post-Brexit logic, Stoke and Copeland ought to have been uniquely inhospitable for the Lib Dems. 

The party lost its deposit in both seats in 2015, and has no representation on either council. So too were the referendum odds stacked against it: in Stoke, the so-called Brexit capital of Britain, 70 per cent of voters backed Leave last June, as did 62 per cent in Copeland. And, as Stephen has written before, the Lib Dems’ mini-revival has so far been most pronounced in affluent, Conservative-leaning areas which swung for remain. 

So what explains the modest – but impressive – surges in their vote share in yesterday’s contests? In Stoke, where they finished fifth in 2015, the party won 9.8 per cent of the vote, up 5.7 percentage points. They also more than doubled their vote share in Copeland, where they beat Ukip for third with 7.3 per cent share of the vote.

The Brexit explanation is a tempting and not entirely invalid one. Each seat’s not insignificant pro-EU minority was more or less ignored by most of the national media, for whom the existence of remainers in what we’re now obliged to call “left-behind Britain” is often a nuance too far. With the Prime Minister Theresa May pushing for a hard Brexit and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn waving it through, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has made the pro-EU narrative his own. As was the case for Charles Kennedy in the Iraq War years, this confers upon the Lib Dems a status and platform they were denied as the junior partners in coalition. 

While their stance on Europe is slowly but surely helping the Lib Dems rebuild their pre-2015 demographic core - students, graduates and middle-class professionals employed in the public sector – last night’s results, particularly in Stoke, also give them reason for mild disappointment. 

In Stoke, campaign staffers privately predicted they might manage to beat Ukip for second or third place. The party ran a full campaign for the first time in several years, and canvassing returns suggested significant numbers of Labour voters, mainly public sector workers disenchanted with Corbyn’s stance on Europe, were set to vote Lib Dem. Nor were they intimidated by the Brexit factor: recent council by-elections in Sunderland and Rotheram, which both voted decisively to leave, saw the Lib Dems win seats for the first time on massive swings. 

So it could well be argued that their candidate, local cardiologist Zulfiqar Ali, ought to have done better. Staffordshire University’s campus, which Tim Farron visited as part of a voter registration drive, falls within the seat’s boundaries. Ali, unlike his Labour competitor Gareth Snell and Ukip leader Paul Nuttall, didn’t have his campaign derailed or disrupted by negative media attention. Unlike the Tory candidate Jack Brereton, he had the benefit of being older than 25. And, like 15 per cent of the electorate, he is of Kashmiri origin.  

In public and in private, Lib Dems say the fact that Stoke was a two-horse race between Labour and Ukip ultimately worked to their disadvantage. The prospect of Nuttall as their MP may well have been enough to convince a good number of the Labour waverers mentioned earlier to back Snell. 

With his party hovering at around 10 per cent in national polls, last night’s results give Farron cause for optimism – especially after their near-wipeout in 2015. But it’s easy to forget the bigger picture in all of this. The party have chalked up a string of impressive parliamentary by-election results – second in Witney, a spectacular win in Richmond Park, third in Sleaford and Copeland, and a strong fourth in Stoke. 

However, most of these results represent a reversion to, or indeed an underperformance compared to, the party’s pre-2015 norm. With the notable exception of Richmond’s Sarah Olney, who only joined the Lib Dems after the last general election, these candidates haven’t - or the Lib Dem vote - come from nowhere. Zulfiqar Ali previously sat on the council in Stoke and had fought the seat before, and Witney’s Liz Leffman and Sleaford’s Ross Pepper are both popular local councillors. And for all the excited commentary about Richmond, it was, of course, held by the Lib Dems for 13 years before Zac Goldsmith won it for the Tories in 2010. 

The EU referendum may have given the Lib Dems a new lease of life, but, as their #LibDemFightback trope suggests, they’re best understood as a revanchist, and not insurgent, force. Much has been said about Brexit realigning our politics, but, for now at least, the party’s new normal is looking quite a lot like the old one.