Peter Tatchell on Outing Bishops

I was in conversation with Peter Tatchell yesterday in St Mary’s after the Sung Eucharist yesterday morning. The whole of the conversation was recorded and can be seen on the cathedral website.

One of the things that I wanted to ask him about was whether he still thought it was appropriate to out gay bishops, something that he has done in the past. I wasn’t too surprised to hear him justifying the outing of gay public figures who use their own influence to inhibit the lives of other gay people.

I was interested to hear him say that he and those whom he works with are currently considering outing bishops again.

The whole of the segment on outing people is in the video extract above. The particularly relevant bit comes at the end:

Kelvin Holdsworth: For what it is worth, I find myself very often wondering these days whether we are heading back in that direction [of outing], with bishops in England directly preventing their clergy from marrying at the moment in a way that is not likely to happen in Scotland. And some of them perceived to be in partnerships. And that seems to me to be back in that territory.
Peter Tatchell: You are absolutely right, and we are amassing the evidence right now. I’m not saying that we will use it, but we are certainly thinking about it – because people have a right to privacy so long as they are not using their own power and authority to harm other people and when other people are being caused harm and suffering we have a duty to try and stop it. If this is the only way, it is certainly not the preferable way, it’s not the first option but as a last resort I think it is morally and ethically justifiable.

My own view that it is perfectly justifiable to out those who are gay who use their authority to inhibit the lives of those gay people in their care. It seems to me that it is perfectly legitimate for anyone with concrete evidence of a bishop who has supported an anti-gay policy such as the recent pastoral statement in the Church of England and who is in a same-sex partnership, to draw attention to that hypocrisy in public.

What do you think? Is it reasonable to out bishops who are themselves gay and in partnerships who are supportive of policies which would inhibit their gay and lesbian clergy from marrying?


  1. I agree — as The Rt Rev. Barbara Harris says, “it is okay to be in the closet as long as you are not using it as a machine gun nest”

  2. Erika Baker says

    While the CoE policy is completely crazy and homophobic, it is consistent in itself.
    Gay sexual relationships are not permitted for clergy.
    So the official line is that all CP’s clergy follow this rule – and who knows, some may actually follow it! Stranger things have happened!

    But marriage is different because it is defined as a sexual relationship (and the Alice in Wonderland “I am not seeing reality” ignores marriages between people who cannot or do not want to have sex).
    And so no amount of looking elsewhere can distract from the fact that your married gay priest is not celibate.

    That’s the faultline.
    And outing non-married gay bishops, partnered or not, does not touch this.
    They can all to a man say that they are following church policy.

    • Stephen Peters says

      Yes, Erica. But somehow, and more hugely, no. That Gay Bishops hide and allow gay clergy to be demonised on any front, is just not on. Church Policy or no = They should be working to change this appalling policy, not supporting it to harm the lives of truly loving couples.

    • Rosemary Hannah says

      The whole insane situation is made more invidious by the fact that one of the arguments trotted out against marriage between people of the same gender is that they could not (in the eyes of some detractors) actually have sex. Sex was, to these people, certain acts and certain acts alone. I suspect the same arguments pertain in the HoB and that people in partnerships with another of their own gender can make what is, in the eyes of the HoB, a perfectly valid case they are not ‘having sex’ with their partner.

      The situation is nuts, perfectly nuts. The answer is for straight people, and for celibate people, who have the least to lose, to stand up, and shout. The higher up the ecclesiastical tree they are, the more important it is that they do this.

  3. Richard says

    Both Erika and Stephen make fair points. As I see things, those who scramble for scripture to justify treating people as second class citizens in a way that trench troops scramble for the last round of ammunition as the “enemy” marches inexorably
    forward, will view outing as inflammatory.
    If anything, this could widen the schism. Could this fracture the C of E in a way that women’s rights threatened to? As the breath of equality, dignity and fairness dominates the secular world and is very much present in many hidden corners of the church, possibly so. It could certainly further damage the church’s membership.
    If these are possibilities then perhaps the church’s leaders might be forced to discuss this in the open should outing occur. I remain sceptical that fundamentalists will cast aside their theological guns as it were, but the church will be a healthier place for having open and honest debate and reflection- and action. I’d rather see a reduced sized church that is founded on fairness and honesty rather than a larger body that hides behind the armour of theological confusion and hypocrisy on this issue.
    I’m saddened to reflect that I don’t believe that the main church will countenance or confer equality and dignity. Whatever the cost. Hopefully, I might be wrong.

  4. Dennis says

    When you go outing an anti-equality CofE bishop be prepared for all sorts of ugly hate filled email. I saved a few of the nicer responses just because they were so amazingly horrible. A couple of emails were frightening and a right wing Anglican blog tracked down and posted my work contact information. Six and a half years later I still get sick at my stomach thinking about it. And honestly it has no impact on anyone other than the now out-of-the-closet bishop who will lie and deny deny deny. Do it but be prepared for an ugly situation on your hands.

  5. James Byron says

    What’s to be gained? The ’90s mass-outing did nothing to change the church’s homophobic trajectory, and I doubt a repeat would do an any better. Either the bishop will refuse to comment, and the story dies; or they admit it, and are forced to resign. It could backfire hugely, making the people doing the outing look vindictive. Many traditionalists would sympathize with the outed bishops.

    Besides, what makes people think there’s any gay English bishops to out? Everything I’ve seen to date has been rumor and innuendo, usually nudge-nudge comments about Anglo-Catholics with a love of white port and vestments.

    The problem is, at heart, economic: rich evangelical parishes could bankrupt the church overnight if they chose. A handful of bishops can’t change that. Instead, open evangelicals need to be convinced to change their minds. Any fight for equal rights that isn’t supported by people like Ian Paul, N.T. Wright, Graham Kings and Nicky Gumbel will go nowhere.

  6. Peter Ould says

    From the conservative side, if you’re going to out anybody, out them because they’re being hypocrites. There is nothing to be gained from outing men who have been sexually active in the past but are not any longer, or who have always been celibate. But if there are members of the House of Bishops who are sexually active with someone of the same sex, outing them is less to do with homosexuality and more to do with hypocrisy. It is unacceptable in any line of business to demand one thing of your staff and then to do the exact opposite yourself.

    Of course, what will happen in practice is that men will be named who are celibate, or who have repented of previous sexual activity and this will just backfire, because it will be seen to be vindictive and nothing more. As far as I know, there are no hypocrites in the House of Bishops on this issue, but please do correct me if you have any knowledge to the contrary.

  7. It seems difficult to justify perpetrating one sin towards another on the basis of the fact they themselves have perpetrated an act of sin(hypocritical abuse of power). This doesn’t seem to me like the Jesus who stood before Pontius Pilate.
    We may ask ourselves what then do you do?….do we really gain anything by not just fighting sin with sin. But by promoting sin (outing)…for surely such it is! We do nothing to advance the cause of justice.

  8. It is not my view that we can derive our ethics from scripture – for that reason, I’m a little hesitant about the comparison with Jesus standing before Pontius Pilate.

    There are quite a lot of examples, I think, when Jesus did speak directly about hypocrisy.

    There’s also Nathan the prophet confronting David over Bathsheba.

    None of these proves anything – scripture doesn’t prove an ethical decision to be right one way or another. It is worth noting though that scripture seems to me to be far from one-sided on this matter.

  9. Was very mindful Kelvin of these examples when jesus was confrontationist…..but outing is just horrible

  10. I don’t actually agree with the statement “scripture doesn’t prove an ethical decision to be right one way or another”
    but do understand the complexity of: ‘that scripture seems to me to be far from one-sided on this matter.’
    At Mass yesterday (my first in my new parish:
    I was harangued by a parishioner who objected to the fact that I had told the congregation that ABM-A (Australian Church’s Missionary Agency) has launched a campaign for funds for Gaza
    She told me, as rightists do….that all Palestinians are wrong!….didn’t seem to know that most Anglicans in the Holy Lands are Arabs of Palestinian origin.
    She obviously hadn’t heard my first sermon …that catholic means universal and that our God & Jesus loves everyone! That is what ‘universal’ means.
    The Church is just awful…hypocritical yet loved by God…just as She loves those who are different from us.

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