As people around the world prepare to watch the Queen’s annual Christmas Message on TV, veteran activist Peter Tatchell asks if she will utter the word ‘gay’ this year
I’ve been waiting 60 years for the Queen to acknowledge the existence of the LGBT community. So far, she never has. Might she break her silence when she delivers this year’s Christmas Day message? I hope so.
If she did, it would be an important first – a real milestone and a powerful symbol of Establishment acceptance. It would also be a PR coup for the palace; projecting a modern, compassionate and inclusive monarchy.
While I doubt that Elizabeth II is a raging homophobe, not once in her 60-year reign has she publicly affirmed the existence of LGBT people or gay members of her own royal family. While politicians and parents all over the country have accepted us, the Queen has turned her back on queens.
In previous Christmas Day broadcasts she has spoken approvingly of the UK’s many races and faiths. For six decades, however, she has ignored LGBT Britons. Judging from her silence, it seems that we are the unspeakable ones – the people she cannot bear to acknowledge or mention in public. If she treated black and Asian Britons in the same way, she’d be denounced as a racist. Why the double standards?
Regardless of whether these omissions are a reflection of the Queen’s personal views or the result of advice from her courtiers, as monarch she bears ultimate responsibility. Her silence sends a signal of exclusion and disrespect.
Her neglect of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is deeply offensive. As head of state, she is supposed to symbolize and embrace the whole nation – not just heterosexual Britain.
Since she became Queen in 1952, the words ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ have never publicly passed her lips. There is no record of her ever speaking them. Even when she announced government plans for gay law reform in her Queen’s Speeches, she did not use the words lesbian or gay. Apparently, mentioning LGBT people is beneath the dignity of the monarch.
Go the official British Monarchy website, which documents all the Queen’s public statements and royal visits. Type the word ‘gay’ or ‘LGBT’ into the search facility. What do you get? Nothing.
The Queen visits lots of charities and welfare organizations. But never in 60 years has she visited a gay charity or welfare agency. She has, for example, ignored deserving gay charities like the Albert Kennedy Trust and Stonewall Housing, which support homeless LGBT youth. Although she is a patron of many good causes, none of them are gay or specifically serve the LGBT community.
Defenders of the monarchy point out that many royal staff are gay men. This is true. So what? Having gay staff wait hand and foot on the Queen is proof of nothing, apart from the fact that she likes well-mannered, well-groomed male servants. It’s the equivalent of rich white racists claiming that they can’t be racist because they employ black staff to clean their homes and cook their meals.
Besides, there’s some evidence of regal prejudice. Gay staff in the Royal Household used to be banned from bringing their partners to the annual Christmas Ball at Buckingham Palace; whereas heterosexual staff were always invited to attend with their partners. This homophobic discrimination was exposed by the LGBT human rights group OutRage! in 1995. It was only after our protest outside the palace and the ensuing bad publicity that the royals dropped the ban.
When there are major tragedies involving the loss of life, the Queen often visits the site and the victims in hospital. This did not happen when neo-Nazi, David Copeland, bombed the Admiral Duncan gay pub in Soho, London, in 1999, killing three people and wounding 70 others. At the time, it was the worst terrorist outrage in mainland Britain for many years. To most people’s surprise, the Queen did not visit the bombed-out pub or the hospitalized victims.
I wanted to give the Queen a chance to put her side of the story, so I contacted her press office. I asked them: Has the Queen ever uttered in public the words gay or lesbian? Did she use these words in any of her Queen’s Speeches when announcing the government’s gay equality laws? Has she ever acknowledged the existence of LGBT people in any public statement? Has the Queen ever visited a gay charity or welfare agency? Is she the patron of any organization serving the specific needs of LGBT people?
The Queen’s press office failed to give me any answers. I rest my case. The monarchy is homophobic – if not by conscious intent, then certainly by default.
As head of state, the Queen is supposed to represent and embrace all British people, not just some. How much longer will the LGBT community have to wait for royal recognition and acceptance?
Might this year’s Christmas Day message be the breakthrough moment? Fingers crossed. All she has to say is something brief and in passing. No big fuss or major pronouncement. Even just a fleeting mention will do. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender. It’s just four words. Over to you Your Majesty.