In halting tones, the Church of England’s third-ranking bishop says his sexuality is “ambiguous.” Another bishop announces he is gay.
Such statements may be cracking the Anglican Communion’s official disapproval of homosexuality.
“We never thought we would succeed so quickly,” says Peter Tatchell, leader of Out-Rage!, a militant gay group dedicated to “outing” prominent people as homosexuals. “We are effectively determining the policy of the Church of England toward homosexuality.”
Disowned by most other gay movements in Britain, reviled by commentators and denounced by church leaders, Tatchell, a 43-year-old free-lance writer, runs his war against prominent figures he maintains are closet homosexuals from a $63-a-month apartment in a shabby public housing project in south London.
In recent months, public demonstrations, private goadings and weekly meetings with his 30 followers have yielded the biggest coup so far.
On Monday, Tatchell expanded the campaign to politicians. He announced in a television interview that he had written to 20 lawmakers from four parties, including two Cabinet ministers, urging them to come out.
Tatchell, who started his group in 1990, brushes aside charges of bullying, intimidation and intrusion into privacy.
“There are times when you have to use confrontational methods. … Our tactics have put the hypocrisy and homophobia of the Church of England into the public domain,” Tatchell said last week.
The controversy boiled over this month when the retired bishop of Glasgow and Galloway, the Rt. Rev. Derek Rawcliffe, 74, became the most senior Anglican clergyman to reveal that he is gay.
Days later, the bishop of London, the Rt. Rev. David Hope, called a news conference. He produced a letter from Tatchell urging him to declare he was homosexual.
“I am deeply distressed,” complained Hope, a 54-year-old bachelor. He said he was celibate, neither heterosexual nor homosexual, adding, “I am talking about being more ambiguous about my sexuality.”
The head of the church, Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, issued a statement supportive of Hope.
Stonewall, a gay-rights group headed by the actor Sir Ian McKellen, said outing “alienates possible supporters of equality.”
Rawcliffe and Hope were targets of a campaign dating back to November, when Tatchell and followers picketed a meeting of the church’s governing General Synod, carrying placards naming 10 alleged gay bishops.
Tatchell, however, admits he doesn’t know whether all 10 were sexually active. “Some are, some aren’t,” he said.
Five more bishops, including Rawcliffe and Hope, were not named on those placards but were selected for what Tatchell calls “gentle persuasion” - private meetings and letters saying OutRage! has details of their personal lives and urging them to declare themselves homosexuals.
The church’s official position is that homosexual acts “fall short of the Christian tradition.” The church also bars ordination of sexually active homosexuals; it allows marriage among priests.