A series of extremist homophobic leaflets distributed to the doors of Cambridge residents has been augmented this week by a particularly festive offering entitled ‘Christmas, Christ and Antichrist’. PinkNews reported this morning that the “sinister monk” responsible for the distribution of the leaflets has been arrested. I’m writing from almost 200 miles away, but I’m pretty sure the chorus of “about bloody time” is audible even from here.
The previous set of leaflets, which were distributed at the end of October, condemned a list of acts termed the “Works of Darkness”, amongst them “Homosexualism/Lesbianism” and “Transgenderism/Transvestitism”. Outraged recipients alerted the police, and were blithely rebuffed under the statement that “the content, context and actions of the male concerned fall short of any criminality at this time”. A spokesperson cited article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which entitles individuals to freedom of speech and expression “includ[ing] opinions which may offend, irritate, shock or disturb”. Who wouldn’t defend their right to be informed over their morning coffee that AIDS is God’s judgement on gay people, and that transgender people are “possessed by demons”?
Somewhere along the line, though, the police have changed their tune. In the wake of the Christmas leaflets (which described gay people as “like vampires in their insatiable lust” – mixing up your holidays there, mate!) ‘Brother’ Damon Kelly, 53 from Corby, Northamptonshire was arrested on Monday. This time police cited Section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, which states that anyone who “displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening or abusive within the hearing or sight of a person likely to be caused harassment, alarm or distress thereby” is guilty of an offence. Apparently Section 5 now overrules Article 10. But why?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not asking why referring to “transgenderists, transvestites, “queer-folk, “indeterminates”, “polyamorists” and “asexuals”” as “the increasing army of the deranged” and “the advanced guard of the Antichrist” gets you arrested – even if I am a little flattered by that last endorsement, and can’t help but imagine myself navigating the tourists along King’s Parade in a cloud of rainbow glitter bellowing “move along chaps, make way, Satan coming through!”. The leaflets are hate speech, pure and simple. They are in no way legally defensible. But neither were the previous ones.
As a resident of Cambridge, I have been let down by the police’s inaction. As a person who identifies under the LGBT+ bracket, I have been made to feel unsafe. Furthermore, as a university fresher, the lack of backlash from the university and the organisations within it has stunned me. Students representing the LGBT+ society at the University of Leicester reacted to the distribution of similar leaflets in their town with a counter leafleting campaign. The CUSU LGBT+ campaign, on the other hand, appeared to give the incident no official recognition whatsoever, save for some comments made by individual members reported in student publications.
Am I personally bothered about some extremist religious weirdo in a monk’s habit (whose ‘religious order’, it transpires, has a fascinating website)? Not really. What worries me is that, until Monday, no police action was taken to stop the spreading of graphic, bigoted, extremist hate speech. What worries me is that the university’s silence may be symptomatic of an environment in which LGBT+ students will not feel safe and supported.
I’m also worried, though, that “advanced guard of the Antichrist” might not fit neatly on a t-shirt!
Em studies Modern and Medieval Languages at the University of Cambridge and is also Comment Co-Editor at Get Real.