GAY TIMES September 1996

“LOVE ALL” was the headline over a two-page spread in The Sunday Mirror (July 14th) concerning Martina Navratilova and the new love in her life – “stunning model” Hunter Reno. “She’s tall, she’s blonde and she’s beautiful,” said the paper, “But back off guys – she is also Martina’s.” The feature was decorated with several snatched photographs of Martina kissing her new beloved on the doorstep of their rented Wimbledon house. If you leave aside the icky feeling that many straight, male Sunday Mirror readers would be suffering an underpants disturbance from the sight of two women kissing, the story was generally sympathetic (“they had love in their eyes… it looked like a spontaneous show of affection.”).

The article went on to say that “the couple can expect rumblings from the gay community now that the news is out.” An unnamed ‘friend’ was quoted as saying: “Gays see Martina as their champion. A woman who speaks up for them and speaks out. They don’t think she should be hiding Hunter in the closet.”

What tosh. After the salutary experience of the Judy Nelson debacle, who can blame Martina for wanting to be sure before she goes public? And anyway, nobody can seriously lay charges of closetry at the door of Martina Navratilova. Not without deserving one of her legendary forearm smashes – right in the gob.

But the piece did illustrate the changing perception of gay relationships in the British press. Martina’s new amour was treated in exactly the same way as any other celebrity romance would have been.

Then came the bombing at the Olympic Games in Atlanta and news that one of the victims had been British. The Sun was soon on the case and headlined its report (July 29th) “Gay Brits in Bomb Hell – lover waits at bedside as Brian, 53, needs two ops to remove shrapnel.”

The first question has to be: what has Brian Carr’s sexuality got to do with his being injured in a terrorist incident? Well, nothing, of course. But the tabloids need to personalise everything, every story must have “human interest” angle or it won’t get into the popular press. And so, if it had been a “mum-of-two” instead of “a gay” who had been in Centennial Park that fateful evening, The Sun would have said so in the headline.

Mr Carr, and his lover, Chris Hankinson, were quite open about their relationship. There was no question of them being “outed” against their wishes, and so I don’t think The Sun can be criticised in this respect. Just for a change, the tabloids reported a gay relationship with sympathy and dignity. Chris is quoted in The Sun as saying: “We are a happy couple who have come through a lot, and now we are hit with this.” A photograph of them in happier times is captioned: “So close.”

The other papers were not quite so forthright and were obviously struggling with the situation. The Daily Express didn’t even try to convey the nature of the men’s relationship, describing them simply as “two friends”.

The Daily Mail, however, went a little further, describing Chris Hankinson as Mr Carr’s “companion and former business partner.” But it is obvious that they had been attempting to dig dirt in the village of Freethorpe, where Brian Carr lives. The paper quotes a neighbour as saying that “everyone knew about his relationship with Mr Hankinson. It didn’t really bother us. They were both nice blokes and we are all devastated by what has happened.”

But what kind of questions had the reporter been asking to elicit such a response? And what other little titbits did he dig up during his foray in Freethorpe?

We can only wonder what the tabloids have in store for Mr Carr when he returns home. Has The Daily Mail already constructed its familiar tale of a man who deserted his wife and two children to live with a gay lover? Will the respect and dignity that has so far been shown the couple by the paper evaporate as it always has done in similar cases in the past?

The Independent (July 15th) did a story on the home lives of Glyn Fisher and his partner Richard Carrington (and Richard’s two teenage sons Scott and Craig). When Richard’s wife left him, he decided to follow his gay feelings (which he said had always been there) and answered a contact ad. And – bingo – into his life came Glyn. The two of them set up home together and created a “pretend family” incorporating the two boys.

Despite a difficult beginning, the four of them have settled down to a generally pleasant life together. The boys have been teased at school, but are dealing with it very well. “Some of my good mates got into arguments with other people about it, because they stuck up for Dad, even when they didn’t even know him. You learn who your real friends are.” You do, indeed.

And finally to The Times, which carried an obituary of dancer Chris Komar, who died from an Aids-related illness last month. At the end of the eulogy a simple sentence – “He is survived by his partner Art Becofsky” – speaks volumes. This, and the other instances cited here, tell us that gay people are at last beginning to refuse to deny relationships that have enriched their lives. We will eventually reach the stage where no-one, however famous, will feel the need to insult their significant other – and the rest of us – by pretending that their love never existed.

***

Last month The Daily Mail was crowing it been right all along, and that Aids is, indeed, a “gay plague.” The paper’s journalists cursed the gay community for having “deceived” the general population into thinking they were all at risk. The “Aids Mafia” was traduced for having wasted “billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money” on unnecessary health messages for heterosexuals. The Mail congratulated the Government on its decision to target the funding more specifically at the groups most at risk, and said it should have done so from the start.

This month The Daily Mail’s career homophobe, Richard Littlejohn, was given a full page to attack Barnet Council because it has advertised for two men to work in Aids Education, specifically targeting men who have sex with men in public places (August 2nd). Mr Littlejohn prefaced his piece with the usual disclaimer, “This is not an anti-gay rant”, and then went on to rant maniacally about homosexuals who use cottages for their “revolting and dangerous anti-social behaviour.”

Littlejohn wrote: “We are constantly being told that the health service is struggling because of a shortage of money… yet there is never any shortage of money for Aids propaganda or for hiring field workers to service MSMs and equipping them with company cars and mobile telephones.”

The Mail also carried an editorial on the same topic: “Many people reading the words of the Barnet Healthcare advertisement on this page will be astonished that taxpayers’ money can be spent in such a way. They will wonder how it is that the Health Service can demand ever more cash, yet finance homosexuals to hang around public lavatories. Let it be said loud and clear: gays should not be discriminated against and Aids is a terrible affliction. But we despair for the future when even NHS Trusts succumb to such offensive, politically-correct clap-trap. Health Secretary Stephen Dorrell should remind these people that they are squandering our money.”

The Daily Mail’s concern for the health and well-being of gay men is touching, isn’t it? Last month it thought Aids money should be spent on targeting gay men, this month it seems to have changed its mind. When The Daily Mail expresses concern for gay people it can be roughly translated as: we are concerned that you are not all dead yet.

Their nasty arguments don’t stand up to logical analysis anyway. If only half a dozen people are prevented from becoming HIV positive by the efforts of these proposed “Aids propagandists” it will save the Health Service several million pounds.

On that basis they seem like a bargain.

Over in The Sunday Telegraph, (June 30th) Dr James Le Fanu was also telling us off, describing safer sex campaigns aimed at the straight community as “a betrayal”, saying that the risk to heterosexuals was comparable to being “struck by lightning”.

But then came a report in New Scientist describing a variant of HIV called subtype E. “A super-strain of the Aids virus, said to be of particular danger to heterosexuals, has spread from Thailand and America to Britain,” reported The Daily Telegraph (August 1st). Research by the Harvard School of Public Health has found that “the strain is more adept at infecting cells lining the vagina and tip of the penis than other subtypes.”

Let’s hope this turns out not to be the beginning of something horrible for heterosexuals, and that complacent newspapers are not going to have to eat their words. Let’s also hope that thousands of heterosexuals — lulled into feeling that they are immune by politically-motivated journalists — are not going to have to find out what it feels like to be at the battle front of such a horrible illness.

The nature or nurture debate was revivified last month by American science journalist Chandler Burr, here on a flying visit to hype his book “A Separate Creation — how biology makes us gay.” Mr Burr concludes that homosexuality is genetic and hormonal in origin.

The Daily Express’s coverage of the book asked rather barmily “Could you be gay for a day?” and advised us that “the gene runs in families. Women who are lesbian are more likely to have other lesbian family members, but not more likely to have more gay family members.” Work that one out if you can.

Chandler Burr concludes that the discovery of a “gay gene” will not result in attempts to eradicate homosexuality, as many activists fear, but will lead to more tolerance. “You cannot discriminate against people for an aspect of themselves that hurts no-one and is outside their control,” he told The Daily Express.

I wonder what “ex-gay” organisations like The True Freedom Trust and The Courage Trust will make of Mr Burr’s theory? The Catholic magazine The Tablet carried a report on these Christian groups that claim to “cure” homosexuality. “The ministries themselves now avoid the term ‘healing’ and want to get away from the concept of ‘sick’ homosexuals surrounded by ‘healthy’ heterosexuals,” the paper said. “In fact the former have much to teach heterosexuals about relationships, being often more sensitive, being more willing to be vulnerable and more honest about the need for physical affection. Living Waters, which set out to be a ministry to homosexuals, now finds that two-thirds of its work is with heterosexuals.”

But if this is so, what are these groups for? Why do they continue to torment their victims by setting them impossible tasks that damage them even further? The answer is that they are not motivated by humanity, but by the Bible.

QUOTES OF THE MONTH:

Joke overheard in the White Swan: Question: ‘Why do people hate Michael Portillo on sight?” Answer: “Because it saves time.”

“Does the Guardian think that Mark Simpson’s abusive attack on Gaytime TV is editorially justified? And ought you not to have pointed out that Simpson himself was auditioned for a presenting role on the show? Simpson’s real problem isn’t so much with Gaytime as with the whole business of what he calls ‘gay identity’. What a pity, then, that he should inadvertently have revealed himself as one of its most stereotyped manifestations: that of bitchy, jealous old queen.” Neil Crombie, series editor for Gaytime TV, getting his own back in the Guardian letters page

“I always had an eye for a pretty girl,” Julie Burchill vouchsafed to Brighton magazine, Printer’s Devil. And she went on to confirm, “I’m a lesbian.” Then, displaying the consistency for which she is justly renowned, she proclaimed: “I would call myself a heterosexual that’s in love with a girl. I don’t find women attractive at all, frankly, I find men attractive.” So that’s cleared that up then.

“It really upsets me to see people doing my mother in drag. How would you feel if it was your mother?” complained an upset Chastity Bono recently to an American gay magazine. While you can see her point, for any drag queen Cher is too good an opportunity to miss. (Rex Wockner)

“More lovely men please — it’s what the trade wants and needs. Might I suggest that circulation could be doubled by a cover picture of Ryan Giggs in a jockstrap? Just a thought.” So wrote “a Pimlico dealer” to Antique International magazine, thus dispelling that old myth about gay men and the antiques business.

An interview with Madonna in the Budapest magazine, Blikk, which was (mis)translated into Hungarian and back again is causing much merriment. “Are you a bold hussy-woman that feasts on men who are tops?” Blikk asked. “Yes, yes,” said Madonna, taking a break from filming Evita, “this is certainly something that brings to the surface my longings.” Then, protesting “I am a woman not a test-mouse!” Madonna confided, “I am a tip-top starlet.” The interview ended on a touching note. “Thank you for your candid chitchat,” said Blikk. “No problem friend who is a girl,” replied the tip-top one.

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