GAY TIMES January 1996

THE Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement has wasted no time in getting homosexuality back on to the agenda at the Church of England’s General Synod. After the election to the Synod of a couple of openly gay priests, and an increase in straight sympathisers of lesbian and gay rights, the topic of homosexual clergy was brought back in a motion tabled by the Venerable David Gerrard, who is married with four children and says he comes from the evangelical wing of the church. It was accepted for debate next year.

Richard Kirker, General Secretary of LGCM, knows that on this topic there is no chance of instant gratification. He told The Guardian (November 27th): “I’m not deluding myself about the time scale involved. It will not be until the year 2000 that we have 30-40 per cent support in Synod.”

There is certainly a great deal of persuasion to be done at the grass roots if a survey reported in The Times (November 14th) is anything to go by. It found that only 15 per cent of clergy thought homosexual sex was acceptable. Among their flocks this reduced to seven per cent.

One of the new members of Synod with more to offer this debate than most is the openly gay vicar, the Reverend Malcolm Johnson. He wrote an article in The Pink Paper saying: “I know what havoc the Church has caused by its insistence on celibacy. I have seen the devastation, guilt and frustration it causes. Add self-loathing and alienation, and the person is almost totally destroyed.”

The Independent on Sunday (November 19th) carried an interview with another straight supporter of the gay struggle, the Reverend Cristina Sumners. Ms Sumners is an American who decided to take up the battle for acceptance because she was moved by the suffering of gay men and women during her training for the priesthood. She says: “Their pain was great and memorable. One told me with tears in his eyes that all he really wanted was to get married and have children. They regarded homosexuality as a curse that had been visited on them.” However, she was not always “so generously disposed towards homosexuals”, and came originally from the far right Presbyterian tradition in Texas.

We are not told what she thinks of that tradition now, with its seething hatred, fanaticism and authoritarianism, but there is plenty of evidence that right-wing “Christian” groups in the US are continuing their crusade against homosexuals. The American Family Association, for instance, is making threatening noises towards the Walt Disney Corporation because the company has had the audacity to extend its health benefits to include the partners of gay employees (Guardian, November 30th).

A New Hampshire teacher has been sacked by her school board, according to the Times Educational Supplement, because she asked her pupils to read Maurice, a novel by gay author E M Forster. The teacher, Penny Culliton, said she wanted her students to see a positive image of homosexuals, but fell foul of the Christian Coalition, which has taken over the school board. The Coalition has decreed — Clause 28-style — that teachers “neither implement nor carry out any program or activity that has either the purpose or the effect of supporting homosexuality as a positive alternative lifestyle”.

But there are signs of a fight back in the US. P-flag, the support group for the parents of lesbians and gay men, has, according to The Times, made a 30-second commercial accusing the ranting evangelists of “fomenting abuse and violence against gay and lesbian people”.

The advertisements, incorporating shots of televangelist Jerry Falwell saying “God hates homosexuality” and Christian Coalition leader Pat Robertson calling homosexuality “a sickness” (and in the same breath mentioning Adolf Hitler and Satanism) have put the Jesus in Jackboots fraternity on the defensive.

Pat Robertson’s Christian (sic) Broadcasting Network says it will sue any TV company that carries P-flag’s commercial. He says that the ad wrongly suggests that he “advocates or promotes heinous crimes against gays or directly caused the suicide of one or more homosexual persons”.

P-flag claims that 30 per cent of teenage suicides in America are homosexuals. A representative for the group is quoted as saying: “Middle Americans are not an intolerant lot. They do not realise the level of abuse and violence against gay people.”

Meanwhile, over in the Jewish camp, Rabbi Julia Neuberger wrote in The Guardian (November 18th): “Non-orthodox Jews are beginning to say, in the modern world, that our ancestors were wrong in regarding male homosexuality as an abomination. If we are going to say that sex is not only for procreation of children, but is for peace in the household and love, and for strengthening bonds between a couple, then that can be applied to a couple of the same gender as to a couple who are heterosexual.”

Could it be that moderation in religion is coming back into fashion?

***

The hot topic this month: is dance still an art form dominated by gay men?

After Matthew Bourne’s revolutionary re-working of Swan Lake to include a corps of male swans (reviewed on page 69), The Observer reported on the disposal of 155 paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures of the male nude which once belonged to Rudolf Nureyev. The paper says the sale, “tells us much about the dancer that was never made public while he was alive.”

The collection shows, according to The Observer, that “far from being a masculine Prince, as he was on stage, Nureyev was a promiscuous homosexual who hardly missed an opportunity to invest any encounter with sex.”

This theme of homosexual men not being “masculine” (whatever that means) was carried on in an article in The Independent (November 29th) by Jeffrey Taylor. Mr Taylor was writing about a forthcoming Channel Four film called Indian Summer, written by Martin Sherman — author of Bent. It concerns a male gay ballet dancer who is dying of Aids and who falls in love with his therapist, played by Antony Sher. Mr Taylor says news of the film “is already causing barely stifled groans throughout Britain’s male dancing community.”

But why?

Adam Cooper — who danced the Swan Prince in the above-mentioned Swan Lake, and who is a self-confessed heterosexual —is quoted as saying: “I turned Indian Summer down when I read an early script. I wanted nothing to do with the typical gay campness of the dancers in the film. I find it tasteless and offensive.”

Mr Taylor says that it is not true anymore that most male ballet stars are gay. “Certainly, in the 1940s, when our own ballet tradition came of age, homosexual dancers were in the ascendant — all the straight ones were in the army.” Oh really? And were gay men excused from the army, then? Only if they were “open”, and not many were in the 1940s.

Mr Taylor seems to be trying to convince us in his article that gay input into ballet is negligible. He quotes Greg Horsman, of the English National Ballet (described as “a doting father”) as saying: “People who assume all dancers are gay would be shocked to learn the truth about the percentage of non-gay men in ballet.”

Martin Sherman counters this with: “There has recently been a great effort to ‘heterosexualise’ the public view of the male dancer”. And he cites the dance films of Baryshnikov for almost totally excluding gay men.

But Mr Taylor is unconvinced by this: “Whatever else Sherman’s film achieves,” he writes, “there’s no doubt that it can only shore up a moribund old cliche that little bit longer.”

Just a minute — who exactly is doing the stereotyping here? Mr Taylor talks about straight dancers having to prove that “they are red-blooded males” all the time — what is that supposed to say about gay dancers? That they aren’t strong? Can’t dance “virile” parts?

That’s a slap in the face for every gay dancer who’s ever busted a gut for his art. The defensiveness of straight male ballet dancers does them no credit, it merely insults their gay colleagues.

***

Research by the BBC into “taste and decency” showed that viewers have become more “liberal and tolerant” in the past decade. Reporting the findings, The Daily Telegraph said: “Attitudes        to homosexuality on television had shown the greatest shift. In 1985, only 30 per cent claimed to know anyone homosexual while in 1995 that figure rose to 46 per cent. Even among older women, the least liberal group, the number prepared to accept homosexuality had risen to 40 per cent.”

The concepts of liberality and tolerance are, of course, anathema to The Daily Mail. Now that the paper could be mistaken for the official newsletter of Family and Youth Concern (aka The Festival of Light and The Responsible Society), it has a special interest in “taste and decency” on television.

“Leave aside the fact that a poll can produce any results desired,” editorialised the Mail, giving away one of its own tricks, “and consider this: if there is a greater acceptance of TV sex and bad language, is it not precisely because broadcasters have for decades been pushing at the barriers of what is acceptable? And a whole generation has grown up used to swearing and explicit sex on screen? The BBC claims greater public tolerance. The Mail would put it another way. Years of broadcasting crudity has produced a coarsening of attitudes.”

The interesting thing is not the predictability of this editorial, but the fact that The Daily Mail managed to get to the end without using the phrase “family values”. This is something of a record for the editor, Paul Dacre. All he needs now is the correct medication, and we might yet see him turn into a halfway rational human being.

***

Anecdote of the month comes from Sheridan Morley, who tells in The Independent on Sunday (November 12th) how he was once walking through Leicester Square with Noel Coward when they saw a film poster which declared “Michael Redgrave and Dirk Bogarde in The Sea Shall Not Have Them”. Noel murmured: “I don’t see why not: everyone else has.”

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