When the Scouts Association announced that it was introducing a new equal opportunities policy, which would at last allow openly gay men to become leaders, the reaction from the press was utterly predictable. The combination of homosexuals and “our children”— just about the only combination these days that can elicit the kind of screeching hysteria and unbridled homophobia we saw last month — was perfect for the tabloids.
With such potential for whipping people up, there was no way that our sworn enemies in Fleet Street were going to present this story as a simple news item. It needed the full shock-horror-political-correctness spin, and the papers on the moral-panic roundabout didn’t disappoint.
“Fury over gay Scout leaders” screamed the front page of The Daily Mail —”parents, MPs and churchmen condemn ‘equal opportunities’ policy” —while The Sunday Telegraph headlined: “Scouts admit gays: Baden-Powells outraged”.
And that was the starting signal for every foul bigot and knee-jerk MP to come crawling out of their fetid netherworld to slander homosexuals in the most effective way they know how — by suggesting that we are all paedophiles.
Hugh McKinney of the Conservative Family Campaign was quoted by The Mail as saying: “Parents are outraged to think that their children could share intimate personal contact with homosexual men on camping trips.” Backbench MP Jacques Arnold, who advertises himself as secretary of the “All-Party Parliamentary Scout group”, said: “Youth groups act as a honey pot for perverts. Open homosexuals are inappropriate.”
Writing in The Daily Mail, Simon Heffer said there was a good case for discrimination. It was, he said, “the only thing that keeps our children safe”.
“No one wishes to reduce the rights of homosexuals who act within the law and with the same discretion we expect from heterosexuals,” Mr Heffer wrote rather unconvincingly. “But the matter of whether they should be put in positions of authority over children involves the rights of more than just themselves. If a choice has to be made between the freedom of homosexuals to become Scoutmasters, and the safety of our children, it is a simple one. Our children must come first at all times.”
This theme of homosexuals as rampant paedophiles, totally unable to control their perverted sexual impulses when in the company of children, was carried on throughout the popular press. “Would you want your son to spend a weekend camping with a gay man?” asked The Sun. “No, we don’t think you would. It is another victory for the politically-correct gay lobby… Being gay is a private matter. But when it impinges on public life — especially where children are concerned — it is a very public concern. That is not prejudice. That is the common-sense view of the majority.”
An isolated voice in favour of the Scouts’ changes came in the unlikely form of Mary Kenny. Writing in The Daily Express, she said: “Homosexual Scout leaders are not exactly an innovation. Running jokes about them have been around for as long as l can remember. Whether bringing this out into the open will make folks more tolerant is a moot point. People are sometimes willing to accept in a nudge-nudge kind of way, something they would baulk at when formalised and officially approved. More awareness of homosexual orientation may also lead to more vetting and thus, paradoxically, less camping about on the campsite.”
She says that “in less watchful times” many a lad has been helped by a respectable homosexual. “It is a question of the older person behaving morally — not whether he is gay or straight.”
And surely this is the crux of the matter. There are gay men who are paedophiles, and they should be kept away from children. But there are an awful lot more gay men who are not paedophiles, and who want to work with children for all the same reasons that heterosexual people do — to impart knowledge, to put something back into society and maybe even to increase tolerance. What’s so terrible about that? As Michael De-la-Noy wrote in a letter to The Sunday Telegraph: “Scoutmasters who happen to be gay have been giving admirable service for years. Indeed, without gay Scoutmasters, gay teachers and gay clergy, some of our most essential institutions would have collapsed ages ago.”
But as our own James Cary Parkes in The Guardian said: “Gay men and kids, now there’s a queer combination. Just the stuff to set every tabloid editor spouting puns and indignant innuendoes.” And, indeed, the “gays and children don’t mix” card was played for all it was worth by The Mirror when it revealed that the mother of a child who was to be fostered by a gay couple in Southwark had complained to the paper about the arrangement. “This is political correctness gone mad,” she is reported to have said.
She declared that she was not homophobic, but insinuated that her son would not be safe from the sexual attentions of Les and Peter, his proposed foster carers.
Les and Peter, it seems, have been successfully fostering for more than six years. Many children and adolescents have passed through their home and benefited enormously from the care, attention and commitment of the two men.
The Mirror, however, managed to locate one of Les and Pete’s rare failures, and this is the one to which they naturally decided to give prominence. “My hell in gay foster home” was the bold, reversed-out headline over the story in the edition of March 25th. It told the story of a teenager who had been placed with Les and Pete and apparently hated the experience. He had gone to their home quite voluntarily, but then, he said, he saw gay magazines and newspapers lying about, went to a gay festival with his carers (where he saw drag queens and heard people calling each other “darling”), attended gay parties at their home and watched a gay video called The Art of Gay Lovemaking while they were out.
“There were times when I sat on Peter’s knee while the parties were going on, Les and Peter used to have Gay News delivered,” the boy whinged. Leaving aside the fact that Gay News went out of business before the lad was born, there is no suggestion that anything improper went on. It was just that the boy was maladjusted and going through a difficult period — that much he admits himself. But to call Les and Pete’s home “hell”, as The Mirror did in its headline, seems grossly unfair.
To give The Mirror its due, it also carried the story of another young man who was fostered with Les and Pete. He has nothing but praise for them. His mother says that under the influence of the gay couple’s “warm and caring family” her son blossomed. She said: “My son is not gay and Les and Pete don’t flaunt their homosexuality. They have provided a much-needed father figure for him. He has found stability and warmth in their home… I have seen a big change in him. He is now a very funny child, spontaneous and out-going. I have a folder full of certificates and awards given to him, including one for pupil of the term. It’s all down to Les and Pete.”
Remember, this ringing endorsement appears under the headline “My hell in gay foster home”. With such distortion is there any wonder that when The Mirror asked its readers, “Should any child be placed with gays?” 10,005 rang in to say “no” while only 620 said “yes”.
Needless to say there was more to all this than the papers were willing to admit. Their stories and spiteful comments would not have stood up if it had been made clear from the start that, despite his mother’s objections, the boy in question desperately wanted to move to Les and Pete’s home. Nor would the full facts have supported The Daily Mail’s contention that the decision was “state-sponsored political correctness gone mad”. As The Times reported (well after the event), the mother failed to attend any meetings to decide her son’s future: “She failed to attend a case meeting two weeks ago at which social workers from Southwark council decided to place the boy with the homosexual couple who have been fostering children for six years. The boy, who has visited them and wants to take up the placement, is currently living with foster parents in Kent.”
The newspapers’ hysteria over this case is depressingly familiar. Their wilful ignorance on the subject and malevolent distortions can only stand in the way of gay fosterers providing a much-needed service. Instead, these disturbed children will find themselves stuck in council homes where the level of attention can never be the same and the potential for damage to them is huge. As James Cary Parkes concluded in The Guardian: “What we have here is a question of equality and, oddly enough, an argument for the best interest of the children themselves. It’s noteworthy that when gay men are allowed to foster children, more often than not the child has so many other problems that they’ve been rejected by their natural parents and social services have been unable to place them… These children are as much outcasts as the gay men who want to give them decent, safe, caring and, yes. Ioving homes.”
This hardly squares with The Mirror’s hypocritical editorial saying that cases like that of Les and Pete “should not be used as a chance for gay-bashing”. If this is so, why does The Mirror continue its hate-filled campaign against carers who are doing their best in difficult circumstances? If the paper truly has the interests of the children at heart, it would not want to see them dumped in council care until they are old enough to live in cardboard boxes on the streets. They would be glad that the children are receiving the loving stability they need to get their acts together and make something of themselves. And if generous gay couples are prepared to take on such an onerous task, it shouldn’t be the business of shiny newspapers to rip their efforts to shreds in public and incite hatred against them.