James Collard went to New York in 1998 to edit Out, one of the USA’s leading gay magazines. Now he’s back and he wrote in the Independent on Sunday about the differences in gay life here and in the States.
“Oh my Gaaad! You can show that on primetime TV?” one of Mr Collard’s colleagues exclaimed after seeing the tape of Queer as Folk. It seems that the country that invented gay liberation just can’t get over how much progress we’ve made and how far behind they’ve slipped.
“Perhaps,” Collard says, “the answer lies in what Britain lacks but what America must contend with – a powerful and highly organised religious right. Every step forward – a prime time kiss, a hard-won constitutional or legal ruling, a city council granting spousal benefits to gay couples, a move to include sexual orientation in a state’s ‘hate crime’ legislation – triggers howls of protest, concerted lobbying and reactionary ballot initiatives aimed at overturning gay-friendly legislation, all led by the religious right.
“The argument for acceptance isn’t just far from being won in the US – it may never be won. You just can’t debate with the Gospel truth… In America no matter how hard the gays shove, the Christians on the other side shove harder.”
Of course, we have our own religious right in this country, and although they may seem like a bunch of amateurs compared to the moral majority groups over the water, they are finding that they have increasing clout.
Since their success in sabotaging the age of consent legislation in the House of Lords, they have learned some valuable lessons in media manipulation. Let us not forget that Baroness Young is still in the House of Lords, ready to open the doors to her friends at the Christian Institute (as she did during the campaigns against the age of consent). She keeps up the pressure on the inside while they agitate on the outside.
The Christian Institute suddenly seems to be everywhere. If it isn’t issuing grossly defamatory reports with titles such as ‘Bankrolling Gay Proselytism’ it is, according to The Church Times, combing the ads in The Pink Paper looking for evidence that local health authorities are “promoting the most medically dangerous forms of sexual practice, facilitating criminal behaviour between homosexuals and engaging in homosexual proselytism.”
The Institute says it took three weeks to track down “£1 million of public money being spent on promoting homosexuality – including £675,000 in salaries for jobs advertised in The Pink Paper and £425,413 given to gay organisations by the London Boroughs Grants Committee.”
In The Daily Star, the Christian Institute claimed “schoolchildren as young as 14 are getting lessons in homosexual love and Sado-masochism. They are encouraged to try out being gay and how to pick up lovers in public toilets.” Ian Bainbridge of the Institute is quoted as saying “This is SHOCKING! Most parents will be appalled. This kind of teaching has no place in our schools.”
He’s absolutely right, and I’d be outside the school gates protesting with him – if it were true. But, I’m pleased to say, it isn’t. However, the Christian Institute doesn’t let small things like truth or accuracy get in the way. It knows what newspapers want and it gives it to them.
The Institute has mastered the art of exaggeration, elaboration and prestidigitation and take a perfectly innocent story and massage it until it seems like the end of the world. Once they’ve hooked the media’s interest (and slandering homosexuals is an almost guaranteed entrée into some papers), the journalists will then take over and inflate the Christian Institute’s little white lie into twenty-point bold.
Brenda Harrison of the Evangelical Fellowship for Lesbian and Gay Christians, made her point about this in The Church of England Newspaper: “Surely as Christians we are called to be people of truth and not bearers of false witness against our neighbours.”
Health authorities have been accused of spending tens of thousands of pounds of public money on promoting homosexuality,” reported The Daily Telegraph. And who were the accusers? Why, the Christian Institute, of course.
“Taxpayers fund the Internet guide to gay ‘cruising’,” announced The Times. On whose say-so? Again, the Christian Institute.
“Thousands of pounds of public money is being spent on a website which gives gay men a step-by-step guide on how to engage in sex in public places,” reported The Daily Mail (source: Christian Institute).
“Pupils asked to act out gay roles in class,” trumpeted The Daily Telegraph. And who says so? You guessed it.
By this constant hammering away of public perceptions, the Christian Institute hopes to create the idea that homosexuals are gobbling up half the taxes that lovely, normal people pay in order to fund perverted, child-abusing lifestyles.
Indeed, one of the constant themes that the Christian Institutes poisonous propaganda dwells is that homosexuals are not to be trusted with children.
But I came across this little statistic in The Church of England Newspaper which I don’t think the Christian Institute would be quite so anxious to put about. “Of the 100,000 people in Britain convicted of sex offences, 25 per cent were regular church-goers.” These figures were produced by the Free Churches Council – but then, it’s easy to ignore or hide the truth, especially when it doesn’t fit your argument.
And it is not only the Christian Institute that is willing to peddle untruths in order to uphold the Christian message. The Church of England Newspaper carried a letter from the Rev Philip Foster of Cambridge. It advised readers that “careful studies among the gay community and the straight community” have come up with some familiar statistics. Such as? “Those who undertake gay lifestyles” can expect their life expectancy to be reduced by 25 years. And that loss of life expectancy is reduced by two years for those men who are in “stable, long-lasting relationships”.
Mr Foster also claimed that “homophobia is an invented condition or ‘crime’ by the gay lobby and attempts by association to be likened to racialist hatred.”
Fortunately, Richard Kirker of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement was on hand to slap down the Rev Foster (as well as the editor of The Church of England Newspaper). He told the paper that he was already familiar with these statistics, having seen them quoted ad nauseum in “reports put out by the Christian Institute, Christian Action for Research and Education and Education Intercessors for Britain and Family and Youth Concern.” He says that his own researchers have exposed these “facts” as nothing more than frauds.
One had hoped that these bogus figures, ridiculous as they are to those who know about these things, had been effectively dealt with but, like the Christian Institute, they just keep popping up.
More economy with the truth was to be found last month a little closer to home.
In The Guardian, a bitter argument has been raging over a letter written to the editor by Michael Cashman, former actor and Stonewall activist and now a Labour MEP.
In the letter, Mr Cashman takes a stand on who should represent the Labour Party in the forthcoming election for London mayor.
He said: “Diane Abbot’s assertion that Ken Livingstone’s GLC policies on equality are popular today fails to recognise the struggle or the reality. Furthermore, Livingstone’s token politics and lack of political nous actually gave the Thatcher Government an excuse to introduce Section 28… The right-wing tabloids joined forces and entered a decade of homophobia. It has taken us years to undo the appalling gesture politics of Livingstone’s reign at the GLC. We do not need him again.”
This infuriated those who had been around and fighting against Section 28. David Blood wrote: “So, if you stand up for something you believe in and there is a bigoted backlash, it is all your fault. Perhaps this is why the famous gays of New Labour have been silent about repealing the Section themselves.”
Since he is a New Labour loyalist many of his critics thought Michael was re-writing history to please his new boss, Mr Tony. The only place Mr Tony wants Ken Livingstone to have in London is at the bottom of the Thames with a large stone tied to his leg.
Then came Paul Patrick and Sue Sanders, who had been teachers in London at the time of the battle over Section 28. They recalled a meeting in the nightclub Heaven in which the resistance was being planned by a group of “famous but closeted lesbian and gay people.”
The pair talked about some of the education work they were doing around the issue of sexuality as part of the GLC and Inner London Education Authority initiative. “We were pleased to be asked to that meeting, which Cashman attended,” they said. “We remember his presence very well, as he continually expressed his joy at, and support for, the work we described. He was also much impressed that this GLC/ILEA initiative, under Ken Livingstone’s leadership, had been so well structured and sensitively run that none of its work made it into the tabloids at a time when they were at the height of their anti-gay hysteria.
“It is somewhat ironic that a campaigner like Michael Cashman, who knew the extent to which the campaign to put Section 28 on to the statute book depended on the re-writing of reality, should join with his Milbank friends in doing precisely that. We thought he had become politicised around the battle against Section 28. It would be a shame if his only contribution to gay rights was the right for a man to become a Blair’s babe, too. We thought better of him,” they continued.
Ah, ambition, ambition, how easily it can rob us of our memory – not to mention our dignity and loyalty.