The closet doors have almost come off their hinges this month, such has been the traffic through them. Did you know, for instance, that Alan Donnelly MEP, leader of the Labour group in the European Parliament, has revealed that he is gay and living with a male lover?
You might have overlooked his announcement because it came on the same weekend that the Tory MEP Tom Spencer was caught by Customs coming home from a weekend in Amsterdam fully equipped with a stash of gay porn, a few joints and a kinky rubber fetish outfit. They didn’t find his hit of cocaine, but he owned up to it anyway.
Mr Spencer must have thought he had got off lightly when Customs officers decided not to prosecute him and gave him a £550 on-the-spot fine instead. The settlement, they said, would be confidential.
Confidential? Nothing is confidential to our all-seeing newspapers who, naturally, splashed details of the incident across their front pages. The focus of the story rapidly shifted from Mr Spencer’s attempted smuggling of illegal items to his homosexuality.
So, when he appeared outside his palatial home, tenderly embracing his wife, Liz, everyone expected the usual Tory routine of denials, cover-ups and unconvincing statements of love and affection between spouses.
But Mr Spencer had obviously learned the lesson. It’s no use trying to hide anything from the media pack, because if you do, they will — by hook or by crook — sniff out the truth for themselves. They will then gleefully feed the dirty details to their readers bit by bit, extending the humiliation indefinitely. Mr Spencer decided that the best way out was to answer all the reporters’ questions unequivocally.
In fact, both he and his wife were almost embarrassingly open about their relationship. Yes, Mrs Spencer said, she knew Tom was gay, she had known since before they were married. Yes, she knew he had affairs with other men, and she didn’t mind in the least.
The Fleet Street mob were fazed. This didn’t fit the picture. Why wasn’t she planning to write a book, like Margaret Cook had, to get revenge on her lying, cheating hubby?
Well, simply because he wasn’t lying or cheating. He told her all about his affairs, and even brought his boyfriends home from time to time, to meet the wife and daughters. Throughout all this, Liz Spencer smiled happily, and said that she and her hubby were the bestest of friends, always had been and always would be.
Then it was discovered that Mr Spencer’s latest boyfriend was a “muscle-bound American porn star” called Cole Tucker. Not only that, but he was “HIV-riddled” (as The Sun so charmingly put it). Now, thought the press pack, Liz Spencer will crack. Surely she’s going to go up in the air over this tasty morsel.
But no, Mrs Spencer continued to smile her rather charming smile and said: “When we married 19 years ago, we agreed that our relationship would always be the central relationship in our lives. But we agreed that from time to time he would feel the need to be actively gay. It’s quid pro quo — I have the same freedom, and it has been exercised, although I’m boringly straight. I’ve had an Aids test two or three times, but I can assure you I’m HIV-negative.”
Tom’s daughter Lorna was equally sanguine about the whole thing. “It doesn’t change my attitude towards him. I’m very open-minded and it doesn’t bother me at all. It won’t change the person he is.”
And what sort of person is he? Well, his family give him glowing testimonials for his warmth, generosity, openness, lovingness and his responsibility towards them. And you don’t feel for a moment that they’re saying it through gritted teeth. His colleagues have nothing but praise for the work he has done in the European Parliament and are sorry that this incident has wrecked a creative and useful career. In short, Tom Spencer is one of the few “outed” Tories that you wouldn’t mind having to dinner.
As Suzanne Moore in The Mail on Sunday wrote: “Their arrangement may not be everyone’s cup of tea but, compared to the ramblings of a Ron Davies or the humiliation of so many Tory wives, what emerges is a portrait of a modern, strange but wonderfully strong marriage.”
But despite Mr Spencer’s transparency, The Daily Telegraph couldn’t resist misrepresenting him. In an editorial, it said that the MEP was trying to make out that he was forced to resign by the Tories because of his homosexuality, rather than the fact that he had broken the law. “In much the same way, friends of Peter Mandelson liked to put it around that the former Trade Secretary was being hounded out of office because he was homosexual. They hoped to elicit sympathy for him on this account to divert attention from his real offence, which was to have unwisely borrowed a vast amount of money from a Cabinet colleague without telling anyone about it. The smokescreen didn’t save Mr Mandelson’s job, and now it has failed to work for Mr Spencer, too.”
This is simply not true. If anything, it is the other way round. Mr Spencer came clean about the smuggling (more than he had to) and it was the papers that made his sexuality the central pillar of the story.
Other countries, too, are finding that the media can be used to create events. In Czechoslovakia, the head of the secret service, Karl Vulterin, was sacked, apparently after a complaint from Christopher Hurran, the head of Britain’s MI6 station in Prague. It was felt that Mr Vulterin had mishandled the circumstances surrounding attempts to recruit an Iraqi diplomat to spy for the West and ruined a rare opportunity to penetrate the security surrounding Saddam Hussein. The diplomat was now on the run and fearful for his life and that of his family.
Mr Vulterin gained his revenge on Mr Hurran by having it announced on Czech television that Mr Hurran is a homosexual and lives in Prague with his Venezuelan boyfriend. This vengeful ‘outing’ was different to anything that happens on these lines in this country, because, of course, spies, by their very nature, need to be secretive.
So, is MI6’s policy of employing open homosexuals — confirmed in 1996 by Sir Gerry Warner, former deputy head of MI6 — simply ‘political correctness gone mad’? Or is there a place for uncloseted gay spies?
Oleg Gordievsky, a former KGB officer who spied for Britain, says (in The Sunday Telegraph) that the present relaxed policy on homosexuals with in MI6 is partly his doing. He advised MI6 that the Russians were no longer targeting homosexuals in the diplomatic service because they perceived Western attitudes to have changed to the extent that it was no longer possible to blackmail gays into treachery.
“Is that policy a terrible error of judgment?” asks Gordievsky. “In my experience, homosexuals can make excellent intelligence officers. These days they are no more vulnerable to blackmail than married men. They also cost the service less — since they do not have children whose education in expensive private schools the Foreign Office is obliged to pay for. There is absolutely no reason in principle to ban homosexuals, any more than there is a reason in principle to ban women.”
He does accept that there may be some postings to which homosexuals may not be best suited. “The Czech Republic is one of them — as are most countries in the former communist bloc. Attitudes to homosexuality there are akin to what they were in Britain in the fifties. Homosexuals are objects of ridicule. An openly homosexual intelligence officer would attract gossip and curiosity, most of it malicious.”
Intelligence gathering — or spying — is not an area that easily lends itself to equal opportunities. A female spy in a fundamentalist Islamic country would be ineffective because she would not be able to get anywhere near the power base. Equally, an openly gay spy would find it difficult to be effective in a grossly homophobic country. And as the intelligence that is gathered can mean the difference between life and death for so many people, we have to accept the world as it is, not as we would want it to be.
However, this argument can be taken too far the other way. In The Mail on Sunday, Mark Almond, a lecturer in modern history at Oriel College Oxford, attacked the Foreign Office for even contemplating including equal rights for homosexuals. “The men from the ministry are no longer the fuddy-duddies they used to be,” he sneers. “Private life once used to be compartmentalised from pin-striped day job. Not anymore. The Civil Service has been coming out all over.”
He then goes on to blame Mr Hurran for the plight of the Iraqi double agent. “It emerges that family and friends of the Iraqi defector face what one can describe politely as an uncertain future back home. Saddam’s reaction to treachery is well documented. And the defector himself, sitting in an MI6 safe house in Surrey, must be horrified at the outcome.”
But isn’t this where we came in? Wasn’t it the Czechs who mucked up the Iraqi operation, and wasn’t it Mr Hurran who tried to do something about their inefficiency? So why is he — or more correctly, his sexuality — being blamed for the whole catastrophe?
The Czechs may be sniggering about Mr Hurran’s sexuality, but that doesn’t let them off the hook for the disaster they have created with their stupid bungling.
There might have been surprises for those who were outed as homosexuals, but what of the shocking revelations of those who were outed as heterosexuals — the most startling being John (“I’m Free!”) Inman.
He might have made a career by playing the big Nancy with the tight trousers and the powder puff, leading people to assume, quite innocently, that he was gay. But you could have heard a sequin drop when The Express revealed that Inman has had a girlfriend (whom he describes as his partner) for 28 years. He won’t say who she is, of course.
So, if they were so close and passionate, how come he’s never married her? (At this point, sensitive readers may wish to avail themselves of a sick-bag before reading further.) “I have considered it,” says Inman. “I’ve often thought it might be nice, but you see I’m already married to a business they call show.”
Then there was the case of James Dreyfus, who is also making a tidy living out of playing the Nancy, firstly as PC Goodie in The Thin Blue Line and, more recently, in Gimme, Gimme Gimme on BBC2. Over at Elle magazine, he was being described as “the straight-in-real-life actor”. Could it possibly be the same James Dreyfus who gave a coming-out interview a week earlier in the Pink Paper? Obviously the folks at Elle don’t read the gay press.
But the most shocking of all was the headline in the The Express: “Gay Callow ‘true love’ for a woman.” According to the paper, “the theatrical world” will be rocked by the news that Our Simon “has admitted to an exhilarating and intensely passionate relationship with a woman”. In this instance, names are named. The lady in question is Peggy Ramsay, literary agent for such luminaries as Joe Orton and Alan Ayckbourn. Apparently, when Simon was in his thirties and Peggy in her seventies, they became totally besotted with each other (despite the fact that Simon was deeply in love with a young Egyptian gentleman at the time).
But you have to read to the end before you find out that it was a platonic affair. All the mad passionate expressions of undying devotion were those of friendship, not sexual obsession. Indeed, “our” Simon is still very much ours.
Meanwhile, The Sun’s gossip columnist, appropriately named Shaft, revealed that: “Two of the Premiership’s most gifted foreign footballers are having a gay affair.” He went on to say: “Shaft is happy for them. But in line with my strict no-outing policy, I won’t be releasing names on a team sheet.”
However, a few days later he claimed that he had been overwhelmed with requests to provide a few clues as to the identity of these soccer idols. No, he said. But later that week he wrote: “Nice to see one of our gay football mates out and about on Monday afternoon. Hampstead Village in North London is great for those that’s-frightfully-you boutiques, and you’re only a stone’s throw from the Heath.”
The Sun’s no-outings policy is beginning to develop cracks. How long before the urge to revert to type overcomes the boys at News International?