GAY TIMES November 1995

“Let 16-year olds have gay sex and stand as MPs, say young Lib Dems.” This was the sneering headline over The Daily Express’s report (September 21st) on the Liberal Democrat Conference.

Michael Winner, though, thought the whole idea of teenage parliamentarians was a good one (although he was equivocal about an equal age of consent). He wrote in The News of the World (September 24th): “Why not? Most 16-year olds are exceedingly bright and untainted by ‘adult’ stupidity… If it came off we could have dozens of gay 16-year olds in the House of Commons. I don’t know why, but I find that immensely desirable! Make a change at least, wouldn’t it? And let’s face it, a few hundred straight MPs haven’t done such a great job anyway.”

Mr Winner has a point. But the likelihood of “dozens of gay MPs” is receding by the moment. The Independent reported that “the Conservatives are choosing ‘safe’ married men as candidates for the next election and rejecting single men, women and non-whites.”

A survey by the paper showed that of the 26 candidates so far selected for Tory seats, all are white and all but three are married (one of them is divorced) and, worst of all, one of them is Dr Adrian Rogers!

The Independent says that “single men on the Tory candidates’ list claim that they are being weeded out by local associations to avoid suggestions of homosexuality or philandering. Three disappointed hopefuls say their marital status was a factor.”

Do the Conservative grass roots honestly believe that marriage is an automatic guarantee of sexual probity? I merely mention the names Tim Yeo and David Mellor and then rest my case.

Dame Angela Rumbold, the Conservative vice-chairman (sic), says that in selecting married men, some constituency associations imagine they are getting “two for the price of one”, with wifey “doing the donkey work”. But even she admits that such thinking is “frightfully old-fashioned”. The truth is, they are rejecting bachelors because they don’t want to see them popping up on the front page of The News of the World.

At the last election it became clear that Labour, too, was screening out potentially gay candidates in order to avoid what they considered “adverse publicity”.

It seems that before Parliament starts making righteous noises about equality in society it ought to put its own House in order. Where’s the democracy they keep squawking about when a whole section of the population is, in effect, denied the opportunity to participate in the legislature? Unless they lie their heads off, of course.

***

BARRYMORE WATCH: This new feature will bring you news of the tabloids’ pursuit of Michael Barrymore in the run-up to the launch of his new TV series. We start with “Barrymore Pal is Rent Boy” which was The Sunday Mirror’s splash front page headline (September 10th).

You had to turn to the double-page spread inside to discover that it was only virtual reality. Barrymore had simply shared a drink and a chat with the supposed rent boy and, even the paper had to admit, didn’t know anything about his “profession”. No story, but plenty of innuendo.

Although Private Eye reported that the editor of The Sun had told his journalists to lay off Barrymore, its September 23rd edition carried a picture of Michael with Paul Wincott, a young man in his 20s. According to the paper, they “shared an evening at an East London flat” and the star left at 6am. Did the journo sit outside all night long just for that? No wonder these Sun chaps often appear deranged.

Even more unpleasant was a piece by religious maniac John Macleod in The Glasgow Herald (September 29th). He used the Barrymore episode to launch an all-out attack on homosexuality. “A homosexual lifestyle is unnatural, dangerous and evil,” he wrote. “It is a lifestyle remarkable in its practice — as has been borne out by study after study — for promiscuity, instability, neurosis, substance-abuse, and suicide, untold depths of degradation and misery and self-loathing. It may seem a very easy way at present to Michael Barrymore… but it will end, in the next world, if not in this, in his utter destruction.”

When will the Barrymore bomb burst in the tabloids? Watch this space.

***

The Republicans in the USA — often regarded as the sworn enemies of homosexuals — are finding that “the gay lobby” is as much inside as outside their ranks these days. An interview with Andrew Sullivan appears elsewhere in this issue of Gay Times and, in the meantime, the London Evening Standard’s Washington Correspondent, Jeremy Campbell, told us (September 13th) that “the religious Right, implacable foe of deviant pleasures and egregious couplings, is mellowing on gays.” He cites the 1994 elections that swept the conservatives into power and says that exit polls showed that “34 per cent of gays voted Republican.” The Republicans have found that fanatical and dishonest opposition to gay life is actually counterproductive. It turns many voters off.

According to Campbell, Bill Bennett, an arch-conservative, hero of the Right and author of a best-selling book on “virtue”, has “signalled a new armistice with gays by calling for an end to scapegoating them for the decline of the family, when wholesale divorce must surely be laid at the door of heterosexuals”.

“Tolerance rather than acceptance” is how Bennett describes his shifting stance. Campbell thinks it is “more of a change than it sounds”.

Meanwhile, an American scholar, Professor W Scott Thompson of Tufts University, a prominent member of the gay Log Cabin Republicans, has written an essay about the founder of the Republican party, Abraham Lincoln. Its title, “Was Abe Gay?”, and its assertion that Lincoln shared a bed for four years with a merchant named Joshua Speed has caused a furore among traditionalists (as reported in The Daily Express, October 3rd). Although he subsequently married, Lincoln continued to write “extraordinarily tender letters” to Speed. Carl Sandburg’s biography of Lincoln describes the two as having “a streak of lavender and spots as soft as May violets”.

Even our own raving Right-wingers couldn’t wait to get in on the act, and in The Daily Mail letters column (October 5th), R. Beardsmore says that “obviously the Gay Lobby will stop at nothing in its quest for moral acceptance… Does this latest accusation about President Lincoln mean that we should look at Morecambe and Wise in a new light?… Maybe it would be better to say that the Gay Lobby can’t see a belt without hitting below it.”

I don’t know about you, but I can think of better things to do below the belt than hitting.

***

The Daily Express (October 5th) told us that “Labour’s pledge to give lesbian, gay and unmarried couples equal rights to their partners’ pension benefits will hit traditional families.”

Apparently, the Labour Party’s leadership had given its backing to a resolution allowing people to nominate who should benefit from their pension if they should die. Very few pension schemes give equal rights to unmarried couples, gay or straight, though even our very own Conservative Government has said that they don’t mind if they do (see Employment Focus, Gay Times, August).

The Express quoted Jim Brooks of the Clerical and Medical insurance company as saying that the change would cost millions. “What would have been a widow’s pension will become eligible to all.”

On a point of information, Mr Brooks — could you tell me how gay couples can ever benefit from the billions of quid they have contributed to pension schemes over the years and then seen disappearing into the pockets of “traditional families”? Given that we aren’t allowed to marry, how can we protect our partners if one of us dies?

The time for change is approaching, but I have a feeling that if the papers are going to present it as “the gays are trying to take our money away from us”, the opposition will be fierce. Indeed, The Express invited its readers to ring in and vote on whether they thought equal pension rights should be extended to gay men and lesbians. 90% said “no”.

Of course, it would be better if pension schemes adopted a fairer policy of their own volition, but they won’t do it without pressure. Start lobbying your pension scheme trustees today!

***

The Bishop of Portsmouth, the Right Revd Timothy Bavin, was one of those named in the infamous OutRage! outing incident earlier this year, and went public shortly afterwards to admit as much. Now The Times (September 15th) has announced that the Revd Tim has given away all his worldly goods (except his collection of opera records) and will move into a Benedictine monastery in Hampshire. There he will be able to forget all about homosexuality. Benedictines don’t do that sort of thing. Do they?

Well, I’m afraid Father Andrew Brenninkmeyer does. Characterised in The Daily Mirror (September 16th) as “the dirty monk”, Father Brenninkmeyer’s taste for young men led him into all kinds of trouble at the Benedictine abbey at Worth in West Sussex. One of his victims told how Brenninkmeyer “stripped during confession and suggested that the young man take off his clothes as well.” There are also tales of seductions on the sofa, and candlelit dinners for two. “Younger priests easily fell under his spell,” says The Mirror.

The good father has now been suspended and is believed to be in Switzerland. He has expressed “his deep remorse for any distress and suffering that may have resulted from his actions”.

Well, that’s OK then.

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