Some of the gay community’s most vicious and implacable enemies must be putting the flags out this month, for it seems that their day has come. A right-wing conspiracy, orchestrated by The Daily Mail, has caused the Government to ditch a major piece of social legislation because, according to critics, it would damage “family values.”
The Family Homes and Domestic Violence Bill, which would have extended protection from violence to all members of the family, was the first casualty of the new-found power of the right-wingers. This humane piece of legislation was progressing nicely until it was spotted by former hell-fire preacher William Oddie. Mr Oddie, who has a raft of anti-gay journalism under his belt, wrote an article in The Daily Mail claiming that the new legislation would give equal rights to unmarried partners and “go most of the way towards abolishing matrimony as a legally distinct state”.
It was untrue nonsense, but The Mail’s puritanical editor, Paul Dacre, decided to turn the issue into a “campaign”, dubbing it “The Live-in Lovers Charter”. The ploy succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.
Behind the scenes, groups like Family and Youth Concern (for whom William Oddie’s wife works), the All-Party Pro-Life Group, Christian Action Research and Education or CARE (sic), the Conservative Family Campaign as well as Catholic MPs (whipped up by John Patten) mounted a “family values” offensive which eventually caused the Government to cave in to their demands.
There was a triumphalist air at The Daily Mail, which suddenly realised that it had the power to dictate to Parliament. Immediately it followed up with other “campaigns” against proposed changes to the divorce legislation and laws on mental incapacity.
The paper’s distorted and untruthful presentations of these reforms as “subverting family values” and “introducing euthanasia by the back door” did not go entirely unchallenged, however. The Independent called them “claptrap” and editorialised (October 27th) “The possession of a small majority in the House of Commons must be irksome in many ways for Her Majesty’s ministers. But of all the myriad disadvantages it confers, that of having to take Lady Olga Maitland seriously must be the pits.”
The paper went on to say that it was a classic case of the “rump wagging the dog” and that any changes forced on to legislation by right-wing Tory idiots “would substitute nostalgia for wisdom and authoritarianism for enlightenment”.
The Independent warns us that “as the election approaches there will be more of this [right-wing social authoritarianism]”. The Tory bigots have been bolstered by the fact that Labour seems afraid to be too critical in case it is perceived as opposing “family values”.
The implications of all this for the gay community are plain to see. The prospect of any pro-gay legislation being introduced into be fallen upon by the forces that have already dictated the fate of these other reforms. They would claim once more that “the country has shifted to the Right and has dumped the permissive morality of the sixties”. They will claim that Britain has embraced this mad fundamentalist agenda that they are promoting.
This is not true, of course. Opinion polls show that the British are not a moralistic nation, and they demonstrate this in the ways that they live — a third of children are born out of wedlock, for instance. In truth, the country is having these reactionary opinions inflicted upon it by a relatively small group of people who are taking advantage of the Government’s weakness.
Then The Mail turned its malign focus upon gays (3rd November). It published a “confidential letter” from the Commander of the Fleet which “reveals furious opposition among all ranks to lifting the current ban on gays in the military”. The letter, written by Admiral Sir Hugo White (married 29 years, we’re told), is the usual mish-mash of bigotry and prejudice, and says nothing new, but The Mail devotes three screaming, ranting pages to it.
One of the points made by the Admiral is that: “There is a silent majority in the UK who understand and sympathise with our corporate stance.” He provides no evidence for this (or for much else of what he says). The Daily Express (October 10th) asked its readers: “Should homosexuals be allowed in the forces?” Surprisingly, 84% of those who rang in said “yes”. On the same day, Teletext held its own phone-in on the same topic. Sixty-eight per cent of its respondents thought gays should not be allowed in the forces. Even so, this hardly represents overwhelming support for the military top brass’s virulent homophobia.
I doubt whether that is going to stop The Daily Mail fulminating against us. The scary part is that in these final days of a hopeless Government, The Mail’s disgusting rhetoric may be taken seriously and acted upon.
Andrew Sullivan’s book Virtually Normal was launched last month on a wave of hype unprecedented for a gay polemic. Just about every newspaper interviewed him, The Guardian serialised the book and finally there was a full-scale debate at the prestigious Cafe Royal in London. But what exactly was “the argument of his life” which Mr Sullivan “had to win”?
At the London debate, he was joined on the platform by — among others — Lynette Burrows, the Sunday Telegraph’s gay-baiter-in-chief. Ms Burrows recounted her experience of being “a token ‘straight’ at the homosexual debate” in the following Sunday’s Telegraph (October 15th). “A typical collection of homosexuals displays the same po-faced bigotry, the same denial of any common ground and the same herd instinct to attack which have informed the very worst of the anti-homosexual mobs in the past,” she said. “This was certainly the case last week; my arguments were ignored and I was accused of being simply dangerous. It struck me, as I am sure it struck Mr Sullivan, that if I had been the only homosexual in a large group of hostile heterosexuals, someone would have stood up for me out of a civility and courage that are usually very strong among the English.”
I was at the debate, and the reason that Ms Burrows’ arguments were laughed at was because they were laughable. I had fleeting feelings of sympathy for her plight — it cannot have been pleasant standing on a platform hearing her most cherished beliefs earning the titters they so richly deserve. But I did not come to her defence because her opinions were disgusting. She was saying in essence that because she finds gay sexual behaviour “repugnant” we should not have the same human rights as other citizens. Such opinions deserve derision.
The reviews then started to come in. After the hype, what did the critics think? Charlotte Raven didn’t like the book at all. In The London Evening Standard (October 16th) she wrote: “Apparently, our time would be much better spent in persuading the straights, by means of meticulous and exhaustive argument, that gays aren’t necessarily going to jump on your first-born, upset your grandma or pull down every picket fence they pass. In fact, as well as being potentially respectable, we are actually virtually sane. Especially the ones who join the Army… This is not an argument about homosexuality so much as an apology for it.”
Matthew Parris, in The Times (October 19th) has some sympathy with Sullivan’s right-wing credentials, but in the end parted company with him. “Having so bravely taken on the moral Right, having wrenched himself away from Senator Pat Buchanan’s anti-Sodom and anti-Gomorrah rhetoric and set out on an odyssey of his own, Sullivan turns back for one last glance at the burning city and tries one last time to form a bridge, frame an argument that his Church and those he has defied, would understand. ‘I can’t help it!’ he cries. ‘I’m virtually normal. I’m only a little bit queer.’ In saying this he wrecks the integrity of his case.”
Jeanette Winterson reviewed the book for The Daily Telegraph(October 21). “Sullivan’s desired goals of equal access to marriage and the military are not prizes worthy of capture… Heterosexuals are deeply questioning both institutions, and while lesbians and gay men should never abandon their fight for equal rights, nor should they abandon their critique of the mainstream.”
Sullivan did have some takers, though. James Collard in The Independent on Sunday (October 15th) thought that: “Virtually Normal is not just some primer for a political struggle, but the product of a long hard-won personal fight. As such, the book moves hearts as well as minds.” Roy Porter in The Sunday Times (October 15th) liked the idea of assimilation, as proposed by the book. “Sullivan’s rose-tinted silent revolution (equality before the law, sharing benefits and responsibilities) offers an attractive solution; to its sweet reasonableness one can only say amen. It remains to be discovered, if virtual normality were achieved, what would become of the gay scene.”
Although Virtually Normal is an interesting contribution to the debate on gay rights, it is not the answer its publishers purported it to be. The struggle goes on, and it won’t be won by long-winded theory. Give me action-persons Angela Mason and Peter Tatchell any day.
XQ28 IS BACK! Yes, the “gay gene” controversy has been re-opened by an article in Nature Genetics in which Dr Dean Hamer claims to have successfully recreated his original 1993 research proving that nature plays a large part in the creation of our sexuality. No other scientist has been able to repeat Hamer’s results.
Two years ago, when the original research was published, The Daily Mail famously headed its report: “Abortion hope after ‘gay genes’ find”. This time round The Daily Express echoed that sentiment with its own effort: “Test to see if your unborn son is gay” (November 1st).
Of course, there is no such test and, according to Dr Hamer, no “gay gene” either. The Independent (November 1st) told us: “Dr Hamer does not himself believe in a gay gene despite trying more than any other scientist to prove the existence of a genetic — and therefore inherited — component to sexual orientation. The primary conclusion of his latest work… is that there is a region on the X chromosome that influences variations in sexual orientation in men, but not in women.” That is not the same as having identified a specific “gay gene” that can be manipulated.
It’s all much too complicated for the layman to understand, but Hamer imagines that one day someone will find the gay gene. And it will be at that point that the moral debate begins in earnest. Hamer says that he will try to prevent anyone using his research to develop a pre-natal “test” for homosexuality. But if he doesn’t want his findings misused, why did he undertake what many regard as unnecessary research in the first place?
He may well be creating a monster which will eventually get out of control, just like that other dabbling doctor — Frankenstein.