Tiny beacons of hope extinguished

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The Independent Online
THEY started in genial mood. For three hours, in the bitter cold outside the Commons, thousands of gay men and women, determined that the age of consent should be equalised at 16, sang, cheered, waved flags and held candles as tiny beacons of hope.

The change was sudden. From about 10.15pm, when the first intimations of failure appeared, the mood swung viciously, turning to an anger that was frightening to witness. The news finally broke at 10.35, when one supporter ran from the St Stephen's entrance of the Commons, shouting furiously: 'We've lost 16, it's not 16]'

The crowd gave a low rumble which built into a roar: booing viciously, stabbing the air with their fists, they screamed 'Shame] Shame] Shame]' and 'Bastards] Fascists]'

When MPs began to leave, they directed their malice against individuals. Pushed up 15-strong against the barriers, they roared out the names of MPs and Cabinet ministers they believed were gay as if taking pleasure in 'outing' them against their will.

The stewards from the moderate pressure group Stonewall turned to journalists, begging them to understand that this was not the normal behaviour of the gay community.

Even when MPs who supported the 16 amendment began to talk, the large crowd started to shout 'Not Enough] Not Enough]' As those MPs tried to offer comfort, using loudhailers, the crowd surged forward, overturning metal barriers which had kept them at a distance from the entrance. They attempted to storm it but police closed the doors just in time. The crowd beat on the doors, demanding to be let in.

Eventually they dispersed, but their anger has definitely not gone away.