GAY TIMES March 2000

Terry Sanderson’s autobiography “The Reluctant Gay Activist” is now available on Amazon

Two clapped-out institutions in this country are hanging on to their existence by the slenderest of threads. One is the church and the other the Tory party. Both have tried to revive their fortunes by using prejudice against gay people as a means of getting their irrelevant voices heard by an indifferent populace.

Seeing Cardinal Winning’s apparent success in claiming the moral high ground north of the border, the archbishops and rabbis and mullahs and their yapping dogs at The Daily Mail lined up for a spot of very enthusiastic – but, of course, “morally necessary” – pervert bashing.

The language they employed was typical. Cross a weasel with a snake and what do you get – a fork-tongued Church of England bishop, perhaps.

To prove my point, the Bishop of Liverpool wrote an article in the Daily Telegraph under the heading “There is a difference between homophobia and moral guidance”. Take this tit-bit for starters: “This brings us to the nature of the (homosexual sex) act. Kant said we should test the ethics of an action by applying to it the maxim: acts as if this were to be the law universal. If homosexual practice were to become such, the species would not be in a position to recreate itself.” He then extolled the virtues of celibacy: “Young people in our schools need to hear from single and celibate people, gay and straight, who live fulfilled lives without any sexual intercourse.”

Is it too obvious to say that if Kant’s maxim were applied in a similar way to celibacy, the human race would equally cease to exist?

But what of Bishop Jones’ own past record in the days when he was a humble teacher and not a weasel? A former pupil of his wrote an open letter to The Daily Express, reminding the bishop of an incident that occurred in his classroom twenty-five years ago. “As you rolled over the blackboard that morning, there in capital letters was a message written by someone unknown saying that I was a ‘queer’. It was days after my 12th birthday. You rubbed the legend out and went cheerily on as though nothing had happened… That episode in your classroom was the beginning of the most terrifying year of my life. … What wounded most of all was that teachers like you did nothing to stop it.”

I thought at first that the Archbishop of Canterbury had read this when he entered the fray by saying: “there must be adequate safeguards to protect children”. From whom, exactly? From the imaginary armies of gay proselytisers that we hear so much about but never see? Or from the lousy bullies – and sometimes their teachers – who make gay children’s lives intolerable?

Next in with his size nines was the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks. He landed a hefty kick in the groin of gay people with his pronouncement that “homosexuality is forbidden in Judaism”.

He had the grace to admit that: “…homosexuals were sent to Auschwitz just as Jews were. Therefore, if our society has become more tolerant, that is a good thing.” If it’s such a good thing, why is he trying to make it less tolerant? “There is a real danger,” he said, “that the repeal of Section 28 will lead to the promotion of a homosexual lifestyle as morally equivalent to marriage.”

But your holiness, suppose someone had come along and said, “Jews are not Christians, and therefore their marriages are only pretended” what would you say? Such thinking has been carried through into action and was rightly crushed in a World War. Now the people who were the victims of that intolerance seem happy to practise it against others. And just like Bishop Jones, someone from Mr Sacks’ school days appeared to let him know that homophobic bullying is not some fanciful invention of gay propagandists but was happening right under his nose. In this case it was my own partner, Keith Porteous Wood, who told The Times that he had been driven from school by incessant taunting by pupils and teachers alike – while in the same class as Jonathan Sacks. Mr Sacks said he didn’t remember anything about it. How convenient. Or maybe how complacent.

Then came the mullahs and the imams. The Muslim Council of Great Britain said it opposed the Section’s repeal. “We do believe that the repeal of Section 28 will expose our young children, even at a very tender age, to immoral values and practices. Any teaching which presents homosexual practices as equivalent to marriage or in a morally neutral way is profoundly offensive and totally unacceptable.” The Hindus, in the shape of the National Council of Hindu Temples, didn’t want to be left out of the gang, and opined: “Homosexuality is an unnatural state which must be discouraged.” And the Sikhs? “We do not recommend these gay activities at all so we do not think Section 28 should be repealed,” a spokesperson for the Network of Sikh organisations told The Daily Telegraph.

So, at last, religions are united in what they do best – persecuting people. It’s a pity that the same unanimity cannot be extended to the Spice Islands of Indonesia where Muslims and Christians are slaughtering each other by the thousand. Or to the Middle East where Jews, Muslims and Christians kill each other with mad abandon. Much easier to give the gays a good kicking, at least the “faith communities” can agree on that.

Meanwhile, Yasmin Alibhai Brown, The Independent’s liberal Muslim columnist (the only one in the known world), admitted that homophobia was rife in the ethnic communities in this country. But, she says, “hardly anyone wants to admit that racism and Islamophobia exist within the white gay community.”

I will readily admit that racism exists within the gay community -as it does in the wider community – but never in all my years in gay life have I ever heard anyone make an anti-Islamic remark. It just doesn’t figure in people’s calculations. Although, God knows, if anyone is entitled to be ‘Islamophobic’ it is gay people. Some leaders in the Muslim community in Britain regularly call for the death penalty for homosexuals. And in those countries such as Iran, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia that have Islamic legal codes, executions of gay people are quite common.

And it isn’t just the official preachers that tried to raise their profiles by inciting hatred against us. The dreaded “committed Christians” in the House of Lords, the ones who actually assassinated the repeal, were given another opportunity to parade their sad, dirty little minds.

Take Lady Janet Young, for instance. She revelled in her moment of glory, giving interviews here and there, and making stirring speeches about what was RIGHT and what was WRONG (not right and wrong in her opinion, mind you, but absolutely right and absolutely wrong). She gave two almost identical interviews, one to The Times and the other to The Telegraph. In them it emerged that Baroness Young, although a thrusting woman, didn’t actually practise what she preaches as far as family values are concerned. Rachel Sylvester in The Daily Telegraph wrote: “She was the first female director of NatWest, the first woman to lead the Lords and now the first female chairman (she would never call herself chair) of the Association of Conservative peers. … She left her children at home while she climbed the career ladder, something which was, in her words, both ‘very unusual’ and ‘controversial’ at the time. ‘People said to me, do you think you should be doing this? I said it’s up to me how I manage my family’.”

No Lady Young – what you did to your children, leaving them in Oxford while you lived in London, communicating with them only by telephone and letter – was the very antithesis of the family values you are so fond of foisting on others.

Another adherent to the do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do persuasion is David Mellor. Writing in The Sunday People under the headline “Protect our kids from the clutches of this gay mafia”, Mr Mellor said that repeal was “another attack on the idea of ‘family’”. I hardly need remind readers of this column – although I will take some pleasure in doing so – that Mr Mellor was chucked out of the last Government for his adultery and fornication – while dressed in Chelsea football strip – with a woman called Antonia de Sanchez. Methinks gays are not the only ones that children need protecting from.

Meanwhile, The Daily Mail was obsessively screeching about the evil of homosexuality. Every day for weeks it carried two-page spreads putting the case against repeal. It organised a write-in, polls, and sought opinion from every shade of the religious divide. It even managed to get a gay Uncle Tom to write an anti-repeal piece for them. Every day a new editorial would appear, each one more hysterically self-righteous than the last.

It seemed that gay people were being dealt a hefty blow by the righteous brigade. Reading the papers you would imagine that the whole world had turned against us. The hatred issuing from the correspondence columns as well as the editorial columns was fearsome.

But then the forces of liberalism suddenly got their act together. In The Guardian, Peter Preston discussed his twin daughters, one straight one gay. Of his gay daughter he wrote: “She isn’t some notional stereotype invented to scare elderly cardinals. Nor is she a visitor from an alien place… This is our flesh and blood; part of us, a reflection of us. We don’t have to say she is equal, she IS equal. And no drizzle of incomprehension, no fear fostered in ignorance, no puny section, can alter that. It isn’t tolerance we need. It is knowing what makes our heart beat.”

Andrew Marr in The Observer railed against the “myopic fools” in the churches and Lords. But he also pointed out that the debate over section 28 had become something much more than a mere spat over gay rights. It had become a battle between liberal, plural Britain and reactionary, narrow Britain. “In their campaign against an unused but symbolic piece of legislation, a law which essentially says that gay people are lesser, all these leaders have offended not only homosexuals but also the liberal order which is everyone’s main protection in a plural Britain. They are using their enemies’ sword, arguing in a way which, if turned against their own lifestyles, they would find jaw-droppingly offensive. They are silly fools.”

And so, was the small fortune that The Daily Mail spent on its campaign to incite hatred against homosexuals worth it? Had it created the climate of intolerance that it so fervently desired?

Not if the age of consent debate in the House of Commons was anything to go by. MPs were falling over themselves to state their liberal credentials and demonstrate their commitment to the noble virtues of equality and liberty. The backlash against the backlash had arrived.

The Daily Telegraph then commissioned a Gallup poll to show the state of play after the ballyhoo. It must have been dismayed to discover that “An almost universal tolerance of homosexual relationships now obtains in this county.” When asked whether section 28 should remain, 51% said yes, while 43% said it should be repealed and 6% didn’t know. Hardly the overwhelming majority that The Daily Mail has been claiming. 72% thought homosexual behaviour to be morally neutral and “simply a fact of life.” 53% said that both homosexual and heterosexual relationships were of equal value.

Seems that our ranting prelates, rabbis and cardinals have not only shot themselves in the foot, they’ve shot themselves in the head.

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