Peter Tatchell is, arguably, the United Kingdom’s most visible, most vocal and most recognized LGBT rights activist. He has been a gay activist since the early 1970s. He is the co-founder of the United Kingdom’s OutRage! and is known for protesting against the U.K.’s former law criminalizing homosexuality, and against the Church of England and the Catholic Church, among other issues. He was arrested in Moscow for participating in a gay Pride event that had been banned by the mayor, and he even tried — twice — to perform a citizen’s arrest on anti-gay Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.
In other words, you wouldn’t ever expect to see Tatchell taking sides with an anti-gay evangelical Christian preacher. But that’s just what he’s doing.
Shawn Holes, a Baptist street preacher from New York, has been fine more than $1,500 for an incident earlier this month in Glasgow, Scotland, when he stood on a street corner telling passersby that, “Homosexuals are deserving of the wrath of God — and so are all other sinners — and they are going to a place called hell.”
Holes admitted in court that he breached the peace by “uttering homophobic remarks” that were “aggravated by religious prejudice.”
But Tatchell says that Holes was not inciting violence against gays, that the punishment is way out of line, and that officials should concentrate on prosecuting real hate crimes instead of wasting time and money prosecuting people like Holes.
Tatchell said: “Shawn Holes is obviously homophobic and should not be insulting people with his anti-gay tirades. He should be challenged and people should protest against his intolerance. However, in a democratic, free society it is wrong to prosecute him. Criminalisation is not appropriate. The price of freedom of speech is that we sometimes have to put up with opinions that are objectionable and offensive.”
Tatchell also said he would have gone to court to testify on Holes’ behalf if he had known about the case in time.
The prosecution of Shawn Holes for preaching his personal religious beliefs is a prime example, unfortunately, of justthe kind of thing that right-wingers here in the U.S. warned of when they were speaking out against the federal hate crimes law. Their religion teaches them that homosexuality is sinful, and as long as they do not advocate violence against LGBT people, they have the right to believe what they want and talk about their beliefs to others.
And we in the LGBT community have to remember, if we try to abridge the free speech rights of our opponents, then we are putting our own free speech rights in jeopardy.
As Evelyn Beatrice Hall — or was it Voltaire? — once said: “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”