The murder of Michael Boothe changed gay rights forever but his killers still roam free

The death of this actor 30 years ago provoked outrage among the gay community and forced a massive overhaul of police policy. It was a terrible tragedy but gay men can live openly today because of Michael Boothe, says Stuart Hobday

Wednesday 29 April 2020 14:48
OutRage! forced the Met to accept that cruising was not a crime and that violence against gay people was
OutRage! forced the Met to accept that cruising was not a crime and that violence against gay people was

Michael Boothe was murdered 30 years ago this week. He was kicked to death by a group of six young men around midnight on 30 April 1990 at the entrance to Elthorne Park in Hanwell, west London. I have an unusual connection with this horrific crime in that I was a witness. I was the only person who walked past the waiting group before Boothe came along and was assaulted. Returning from work in central London I was nearly home when I crossed the road to avoid them and to my eternal regret I avoided looking closely into their faces, as afterwards, I was not able to give a detailed description to the police and to this day the brutal killing of Michael Boothe remains an unsolved crime.

It was though, a significant event in the history of gay men in London with a great knock-on effect for LGBTQ+ people in the UK. Boothe was a gay man who was seemingly targeted because the toilets in Elthorne Park were a known night-time meeting place for gay men. His murder was the trigger for the forming of OutRage! – a campaigning group that was organised to take peaceful direct action and was vocal about violence towards gay people. In particular, it challenged the policing of places that gay men would ‘cruise’ to find sex to try to change the police attitude from arresting gay men to arresting the perpetrators of violence towards them.

Formed by a 30-strong group of LGBTQ+ people 10 days after Boothe’s murder, with leaders including Simon Watney and Peter Tatchell, OutRage! was fuelled by anger about a series of murders perpetrated on London gay men and the perception that the police were not doing enough to prevent this violence or solve these crimes. OutRage! would last as an active organisation for 21 years and grew into a group that was ready to challenge homophobia in British society. Its advent is regarded as a turning point for LGBTQ+ activism in Britain.

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