GAY TIMES March 2001

The traditional perception of newspapers is that The Mail and The Telegraph hate gay people, while The Guardian and The Independent love us.

But last month there was a very interesting cross-over of values, when The Daily Telegraph had to admit that, really, it doesn’t mind us, and The Guardian dropped its friendly mask and got nasty.

It started with an interview with Tory shadow Foreign minister Francis Maude in The Daily Telegraph. Mr Maude is of the Portillo persuasion (politically-speaking, that is) and opined in the interview that “it should be perfectly possible for the leader of the Tory party to be gay.”

Mr Maude told The Telegraph: “We were the first party to have a Jewish leader, the first party to have a woman leader, so I could absolutely conceive of that happening. The fact is that we are a country where there are homosexual people. That’s part of life, so disapproving of it is rather like disapproving of rain: it’s pointless. We mustn’t give the impression that we are against homosexuality.”

Compassionate Conservatism in action, you might think, but many Telegraph-reading members of the Tory party did not agree, and a couple of days later they made their feelings quite clear as a tidal wave of hatred washed from the paper’s correspondence column.

Pastor Ken Slater led the charge with a quotation from Revelations 21 verse 8, in which he listed the many categories of sinners who were headed for the “fiery lake of burning sulphur”. Top priority for the swimming pool from hell are sexual deviants.

Nigel Simms, in the same batch of letters, was repelled by the thought of “a newly elected Prime Minister, standing at the door of number 10, waving to the assembled media, whilst kissing and cuddling his boyfriend.”

The Rev J. W. Hughes thought that it “beggars belief, even in these Dark Ages, that sexual perversion should be spoken of in the leadership of anything… the perversion of homosexuality should not be allowed in any form of public life.”

Jason Robertson castigated us for our “disease-creating practices” while John Horsely also thought that practising homosexuals should be excluded from public life. And then came Lynette Burrows, career homophobe and sister to the equally appalling Victoria Gillick. She produced statistics that she said proved beyond doubt that “a disproportionate number of homosexuals molest children.”

Letter after letter was burning with the same disgust and detestation. Such was the scale and depth of loathing that The Times reported that the more liberal elements on The Telegraph’s staff had protested vigorously to the editor about the tone and extent of the homophobia, and some had even threatened to resign.

In order to mollify its revolting journos, The Telegraph promised to put the other side of the argument the following day. And, indeed, another ten letters were printed, nine of which expressed shock and disbelief that such bigoted opinions could find a platform in the 21st century. (The other one was from a frothing-at-the-mouth Air Chief Marshal Michael Armitage who claimed to have been corrupted by reading Peter Tatchell’s book Safer Sexy. One can’t help wondering how the Air Chief Marshall came to be in possession of the book in the first place, and what prompted him to read it in such detail, but hey ho.)

The Telegraph also concocted an editorial for the same edition saying: “Some readers of The Daily Telegraph seem not to like the idea that the Conservative party might one day be led by a homosexual… With respect to our correspondents, we disagree.” There then followed a gentle distancing of the paper from the rabid elements within its readership.

One point seems to have been forgotten amid the brouhaha – we’ve already had gay Prime Ministers. And some of them were even Tories.

Anyway, you might be saying to yourself, what’s so shocking about Daily Telegraph readers showing their true, blue, homo-hating colours? Isn’t that why we all read The Guardian?

Oh yes, The Guardian. Now let’s take a look at something that our traditional friend in Fleet Street thought appropriate to print after the resignation of Peter Mandelson. It was an op-ed entitled “It’s a gay thing” and was written by Hywel Williams. Mr Williams is himself gay, so presumably The Guardian thought it OK for him to pronounce that Peter Mandelson’s homosexuality is a fatal character flaw that was bound to destroy him.

Mr Williams says that many homosexuals suffer from a sort of “Mandelsonian deception” syndrome, particularly those who flourished in the 80’s when being gay was almost OK, but not quite. For the “orthodox careerists” among them, lying has become second nature. Mandelson has not been completely honest and upfront about his sexuality, and this, according to Williams, informs everything he does. Take his resignation announcement, for instance: “I’m afraid he couldn’t have been queenier if he had tried. The tousled locks, the quivering lower lip, the nostrils poised to flare: all signalled a gay at bay. This was camp High Noon.”

It was as though Mr Williams were projecting his own insecurities and self-hatreds on to the rest of us. So then, like The Telegraph, The Guardian found itself inundated with letters from its own outraged readers.

Nicholas de Jongh, who was once the paper’s chief theatre critic, wrote: “The conviction that present-day homosexuals, unlike their heterosexual counterparts, are inherently unreliable, dishonest and self-destructive, unfit to do anything more than act, make dresses, cut hair and decorate shop windows, flourished in the age of gay witch hunts – the 50s… By publishing an article dependent upon this discredited, malign claptrap, complete with tasteless references to ‘bare-backing’, ‘one man’s bitch’ and ‘the shifty fudge-packer’, The Guardian becomes the transmitter of a form of homophobia more virulent than anything published by the tabloid press.”

Mr de Jongh is right, of course, because if such stuff appears in The Guardian it gives it added credence. It’s easy to dismiss Daily Mail diatribes against gays on a they-would-wouldn’t-they basis, but not so easy to do so with The Guardian.

De Jongh was right, too, about the tabloids – why would they resist such a story? And tabloid-man himself, Richard Littlejohn of The Sun, really went to town on it, gratuitously dragging in Mr Mandelson’s boyfriend, Reinaldo da Silva. “Last night,” Littlejohn wrote. “Howell James, former aide to John Major and adviser to the Hinduja brothers, admitted that he used to sleep with Peter Mandelson’s Brazilian boyfriend. That’s right, a man who served in the private office of the last Conservative Prime Minister and now works for the man at the centre of the cash-for-passports scandal, had a homosexual affair with the current lover of a Labour cabinet minister, who was one of Tony Blair’s closest advisers until he was forced to resign this week over his own role in the same cash-for-passports scandal… Mandelson has consistently refused to answer questions about Reinaldo’s immigration status. Now we know why. What is he doing here? Apart from being passed around like a tray of biscuits across party lines?”

Littlejohn returned to the attack a few days later after Mandelson engaged the services of solicitors to try to stop some of the slanderous things that were being said about him. Under the headline “Mandy making a drama queen out of a crisis”, Littlejohn advised Mandy not to sue. “He reminds me of a journalist friend of mine who once considered suing for libel. After careful consideration, his brief told him he didn’t have a reputation to lose. Mandy’s got too much previous. This isn’t going anywhere.”

I’m sure Mr Littlejohn hopes he’s right, particularly after a little contretemps he had with Barnardo’s. The children’s charity won an out of court settlement after The Sun columnist called the staff of the charity “perverts.” Littlejohn had accused Barnardo’s of producing a teaching pack “featuring pimps, rent boys, incest, smackheads and prostitutes” and that far from protecting children from perverts, the perverts were on the payroll. In fact, the teaching pack was aimed at warning children of the dangers of prostitution and had been endorsed by the Home Office, Department of Health and Department of Education. The staff at Barnardo’s were, understandably, up in arms, particularly when they discovered that Littlejohn hadn’t even seen the material he was complaining about.

The News of the World couldn’t resist kicking Mandelson while he was down, either. It reported that the “family of Peter Mandelson’s gay Brazilian lover have accused the ex-cabinet minister of corrupting their lad. They insist that there was ‘nothing wrong’ with 28 year old Reinaldo when he left their humble home.”

The paper seems to think that the crude and primitive approach to homosexuality that holds sway in Brazilian slums is perfectly reasonable.

Under such pressure is there any wonder that the couple are having difficulty holding their relationship together? The Sunday Express reported that, indeed, there was speculation that the two year affair was at an end, and Mandy was devastated.

So, despite all the evidence to the contrary, it seems poor old Peter is human after all. Hard as it might be, you’ve got to feel a bit sorry for him.

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