The press debate on Aids was given fresh impetus last month by the launch of the Government’s new education initiative. Aimed primarily at heterosexuals, the campaign was immediately condemned all round for targeting the wrong audience.
Dr James Le Fanu of the Sunday Telegraphsaid (21 Feb) that the Health Education Authority had originally wanted to address the message to gay men but when the advertising agency came up with “an ingenious idea that had matchstick men doing bizarre things in odd positions” it was “rejected as ‘insulting’ by representatives of the homosexual community.” This led, he said, to “inverse discrimination” — that is ‘insulting’ straights by suggesting they were equally at-risk. He quotes the British Medical Journal as saying: “There is no evidence that HIV infection is being spread by casual vaginal intercourse,” and concludes that the money being spent on the present campaign is being wasted.
The other papers were quick to take up this point. The Sunsaid (3 Mar): “Why do these ads show only boy and girl couples? Showing love’s young dream makes pretty pictures. The truth is uglier. There have been 44 cases in Britain involving heterosexuals. But a massive 1079 homosexuals have been affected.” The People(21 Feb) opined: “The money would be better spent if concentrated on those most at risk.” Whilst the Daily Express said: “Anal intercourse —overwhelmingly confined to homosexuals — is without doubt the primary means of spreading the Aids virus. Propaganda that does not focus on that is a con.” Writing also in the Daily Mail (19 Feb), Michael Fumento an “Aids analyst” said that the threat from vaginal intercourse was “one-in-a-million”. He said that there were many reasons why we weren’t being told this. He quoted a “San Francisco health official” as “defending the practice of suggesting that heterosexuals were at risk because it made them ‘socially conscious’ of the problems of homosexuals.”
“Another reason,” wrote Mr Fumento, “is to do with research money. A lot of gay people are convinced that funds would be slow in coming if Aids wasn’t perceived as a general threat.” He didn’t stop there, either. “Are the pharmaceutical giants (who receive vast sums of money from governments to search for a cure) and some contraceptive companies exploiting the plague fear for financial reasons?”
Then along came sex researchers Masters and Johnson to throw a spanner in the works. Promoting their new book about Aids, M&J claimed in the Mail on Sunday(6 Mar) that “there has been a world-wide cover-up on the immense peril of the Aids epidemic and millions of lives are now needlessly in danger.” Their conspiracy theory, based on their own rather limited research, said that the estimates of the numbers “infected with Aids” are “up to 50 per cent too low.” That the “disease has already broken out alarmingly into the ordinary population and is now spreading at an alarming rate by normal sexual intercourse.” They also claimed that people had not changed their sexual behaviour to any extent in the light of Aids — not even gays. They resurrected the ideas that Aids can be spread by day-to-day social contact — even from lavatory seats. All these ‘facts’ said M&J were being denied in order to avoid “mass panic”. However, on 9 March the Independent was quoting Dr Jonathan Mann, director of the World Health Organisation Aids group saying: “Masters and Johnson know a lot about sex, but I don’t know how much they know about Aids”. Dr Mann warned against irrational fear of Aids and emphasised that it cannot be caught in the ways suggested by Masters and Johnson.
Later that week the Daily Mail was saying that Masters and Johnson had withdrawn their claims about Aids spreading amongst heterosexuals, although they stuck by everything else they had said. Our old friend George Gale couldn’t let the opportunity pass, of course, and in The Daily Mail he wrote: “The silence of the authorities allows Aids to spread unchecked among homosexuals. And, with terrible irony, homosexual lobbyists, acting to protect their community from public hostility, do most to assist the killing disease flourishing in their midst.”
The next issue of the Mail on Sunday(13 Mar) tackled that line of thinking in an editorial: “There is a school of thought that believes there is something called ‘the homosexual lobby’ rather in the way in pre-war days the troubles of the world were blamed on a Jewish conspiracy. The ‘lobby’ was first discovered by far-out American Rightwingers who regarded Ronald Reagan as being dangerously radical. Angus Macpherson who wrote our report last week, recalls not so long ago attending a Daughters of the American Revolution meeting where the mention of Aids brought a storm of applause. The disease would do for homosexuals what the gas chambers did for Jews!” And the paper went on to insist that they were right to report the Masters and Johnson study, and defended all they’d said.
Meanwhile, the Independent (4 Mar) reported: “There has been a sharp decrease in the incidence of hepatitis B. The disease is transmitted in the same way as Aids, suggesting that the Aids campaign is proving successful.”
So, what are we to make of this rag-bag of confusion, contradiction and paranoia? Where can we get information about Aids that is not being manipulated by financial or political vested interests? I think the truth of the matter is that it is too soon for anyone to know precisely how the Aids crisis will develop, and it foolish and irresponsible for anyone to claim they are making anything more than an educated guess. Meanwhile, we have to take care that those who are interested in making money or political capital from this tragedy do not mislead us with statistics and theories that add nothing to the debate but plenty to their bank balance.
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CAN I believe my eyes? The Sunactually reporting events of interest to gay people in a way that wouldn’t offend anyone but the most hardened homophobe? On 25 Feb the Suncarried what appeared to be an interview with Michael Cashman, actor and activist. Mr Cashman was allowed to slag off Clause 28 without contradiction.
All good, stirring stuff. But it probably felt a mite familiar to people in London who also buy City Limitsmagazine, because the interview had been lifted from their pages by the Sunwithout credit.
The following day the Sunwas congratulating itself by quoting Michael Cashman as saying the report had been “balanced and responsible”. Then on 8th March the Suncarried a story, which it had lifted from the previous day’s Daily Mirror. It concerned Status Quo guitarist Francis Rossi revealing how his 20-year-old son’s Coming Out had vastly improved their relationship.
Mr Rossi sounds like a sensible chap, dealing with his son’s gayness well (“It took immense courage for him to tell me and I admired him for it. Coming out of the closet suddenly made him more mature. We can talk to each other man to man… we are great mates.”)
Underneath this story was a helpful little chart entitled “10 Ways to Tell Your Dad You’re Gay” provided by “a counsellor with long experience” and looking remarkably like a precis of my book How to be a Happy Homosexual. Not that I mind so long as the message is getting across, although a small credit would have been appreciated.
However, not all the Sun’s correspondents thought Mr Rossi was right to tell his story. Fiona Macdonald Hull (11 Mar) said that whilst “no parent would disagree with Rossi” (er… urn) she wasn’t too sure about the lightness of his telling the world about his son’s Coming Out. “If I were his child, I think I would expect a decent father to treat the details of my private life with the confidentiality they deserve.”
According to the News of the World(13 May) Simon Rossi, the young man in question, agreed. He was “furious” at his father and feared that the revelation might destroy his career. He also expressed a quite reasonable fear that ex-lovers would “come out of the woodwork” and make further trouble. No doubt the News of the Worldis prising them out of the cracks at this very moment.
SPOOF letter-writer Henry Root is not dead, but still catching the unwary in his net. William Donaldson, the prankster who, posing as H. Root, writes to the famous encouraging them to say things they’ll regret, has been in correspondence with Graham Webster-Gardiner, chairman of the crackpot Conservative Family Campaign. The London Standard(19th Feb) revealed that after Henry Root had suggested to Webster-Gardiner that the CFC’s idea of “tagging and isolating homosexuals” was a good one, Mr W-G had replied: “I’m pleased that you agree with us about homosexuality… There is no doubt that God quite clearly pronounced judgement on those who acted unrighteously and this is clearly happening to those who abused themselves with drugs or used their bodies in abnormal and unnatural ways as the homosexuals do.”
Despite the fact that its leadership seems to be showing signs of mental instability, The Conservative Family Campaign is, it seems, quite highly thought of in Downing Street.
The old adage about the patients taking over the asylum has never seemed more applicable to the Government than it is today.
HOW times have changed — and yet how they’ve stayed the same. The stodgy old Daily Telegraphactually carried an obituary for Divine (9 Mar), which I’m sure must have puzzled and outraged many of its elderly readers (particularly the one who seems to write in at fortnightly intervals accusing homosexuals of ‘purloining that delightful little word gay’).
However, having failed to mention Mr Milstead’s sexual orientation in the obituary, the Telegraphsignalled the fact to its bewildered readers with the traditional euphemism “He was unmarried.” After years and years of sending establishment closets to their graves without making any direct reference to their gayness, the Telegraphjust can’t kick the habit — even with someone whose celebrity sprang almost entirely from his homosexuality. If there’s a Heaven in heaven, I’m sure Divine will be seeing the joke.
The Daily Telegraph(11 Mar) tells us that the Rev Tony Higton, speaking at a “mass meeting” of the Jesus-in-jackboots fraternity at Central Hall, Westminster, said that he “sensed demonic influence at work in the Synod.” This is not the first time Mr Higton has said, when people have the temerity to disagree with him, that Satan is responsible.
As was demonstrated with James Anderton, nothing turns off the British public faster than a raving fanatic. We should, therefore, encourage Mr Higton to pursue this kind of lunatic ranting and see him disappear into the obscurity that such headbangers deserve.
Quotes of the month: “Has Mr Gummer no homosexual friends? As a former Chairman of the Conservative Party, how does he treat those of his colleagues in the party who are homosexual?” David Steel on John Selwyn Gummer’s attack on Church of England Bishops for not being ‘tough’ enough on gay clergy – Sunday Express(Mar)
“The old traditionalist right and the new, loony left have conspired between them to give birth to Clause 28. It is a throwback to a more intolerant age. It has no place in the new Britain.” – editorial in the Sunday Times(13 Mar).
THE gay mass lobby of the House of Lords conducted in connection with Clause 28 produced possibly the biggest ever single-issue postbag for peers. And yet Lord Ardwick, writing in the London Standard(24 Feb) said: “For weeks we have been receiving a dozen letters a day from sad, frightened or angry homosexuals. They have overdone it, I’m afraid. The sheer weight and suspected orchestration of the lobby has irritated its opponents.”
And yet if we’d all remained silent and done nothing, no doubt his Lordship would have said: “There is no significant opposition to this legislation, so it passes without comment.”
Clever, isn’t it, how the argument can be rigged so that whatever we do, and however we do it, we’re sure to be doing it wrongly.