GAY TIMES June 1995

The Daily Telegraph was pleased to announce on its front page (April 22nd) that Labour defence spokesperson David Clark had confirmed that his party would “lift the ban on gay soldiers” within months of coming to power. This simple re-statement of established and public policy was seized upon as though it were brand new and became a rather transparent attempt by the Tories to make yet more political capital out of homophobia. What a scandal! What a disgrace! The politicians had a field day: “Left-wing clap-trap,” said Sir Nicholas Bonsor, chairman of the backbench Tory defence select committee (Sunday Times, April 23rd); The Defence Secretary, Malcolm Rifkind said the idea was “foolish” and predicted “a breakdown in discipline”.

The Tory papers were quick to offer support to their political allies. “In battle your life can depend on the man at your shoulder,” said The Sun. “You can’t work as a fighting team if you think he might be worried about breaking a nail.”

The Daily Mail gleefully pointed up the similarities between the Labour “danger” and Clinton’s early debacle over the same issue, as did The Sunday Telegraph (April 23rd). Lord Henley, a Junior Defence Minister, said gays in the military “would be a key election issue” – perhaps a forewarning of Tory tactics to come.

Edwina Currie, stepping out of line and refusing to exploit anti-gay feeling for party political gain, wrote to The Daily Telegraph in support of equality for gay soldiers. “Generals and Admirals do have a duty to maintain good discipline and morale. That turns on what a man or woman does, not what he or she is. Bad behaviour comes from anybody, gay or straight… If such people want to put their lives at the service of their country, we should be proud of that fact and be sure that they are welcome.”

This, of course, gave the old reactionaries who make up the Forces high command an opportunity to parade once again all the tired old anti-gay chestnuts. Wing Commander D W Sutcliffe joined in The Daily Telegraph’s extended correspondence on the topic. “For most Service people ‘outed’ homosexuals are, variously, figures of ridicule, contempt or revulsion: they are neither accepted nor acceptable and become an isolated and divisive influence within a necessarily united organisation.”

Of course, all this talk of “discipline” doesn’t seem to apply to heterosexuals in this context. They can behave as badly as they like to gay colleagues and apparently the boss will look on approvingly. After all, the poofters deserve it, don’t they? Or, as Mark Lawson wrote in The Independent (April 25th): “You would really have to want to be a soldier, wouldn’t you, to sign up despite the opposition and hostility which you know you must face… Lord Henley and Malcolm Rifkind are concerned about attacks by vigilante heterosexuals… but if that is the objection, then surely the politicians should make clear that they are worried about gay soldiers being killed by their own side rather than their alleged inability to kill the other side.”

Wing Commander James Jay told The Daily Telegraph (April 27th) the “young men and women in the confined and restricted locations are very vulnerable.” Vulnerable to what, one might ask? Sniper bullets? Being sent on life-threatening missions by blood-crazed generals who couldn’t give a damn about individual soldiers? Not at all – they must be protected from “revolting homosexual perversion” which might “influence them morally”. All of a sudden our tough-guys and gals are portrayed as pathetic, insecure creatures unable to say a simple “no thanks”.

Lt Col Patrick Winter (Daily Telegraph, April 26th) thought he would feel safer “fighting alongside a heterosexual and not with someone who could well be more concerned with protecting his male ‘partner’ than protecting me”.

It’s all so tiresome and predictable, but at least this time the Brigade of Bigots didn’t have it all their own way. A group of MEPs, headed by Carole Tongue, wrote to The Independent (April 26th) saying that “No party must shirk from enacting the appropriate law, which would send an unequivocal message to the British people of tolerance, of belief in equal citizenship and opposition to prejudice and bigotry.”

And Mrs M G Corfield wrote to The Telegraph, “As an ex-WAAF, I know that homosexuals served with valour during the last war. My husband’s commanding officer was homosexual, and had great courage, discipline and integrity.”

However, by May 5th, the Labour Party was showing signs of cold feet. Speaking in a parliamentary debate on the RAF, David Clark appeared to be backtracking on the clear, unequivocal statement which had (he says erroneously) been reported by The Daily Telegraph. “A Labour government will establish a commission, if the problem is still there, to study the experiences of other nations and to adopt the best practices,” he said, adding that the chiefs of staff would be included in the commission.

It puzzles me why anybody would want to join the military in the first place, but given that many people do, there should be equal opportunities for all. Good luck to those sacked gay personnel who have challenges to the law pending in the courts.

***

I have spent most of my working life in the field of mental health. During that time, I have met many psychiatrists and been able to observe them closely. My conclusion is that most of them are badly in need of the treatment they prescribe for other people.

My cynicism was increased last month when Professor Charles Socarides came to town. This is the psychiatrist who still believes that homosexuality is an illness that can – and should – be cured. “A dread dysfunction, malignant in character”, he calls it. He was invited to Britain (from America) by the Association of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy, who wanted him to express his views to their members.

A rapidly convened group calling themselves Fags and Dykes Gone Mad protested about the lectures. They were duly cancelled, not on the grounds that such dangerous guff really isn’t acceptable any more, but because the organisers were afraid of “heckling and fire alarms being set off”.

The Daily Mail was quick to reproduce one of Professor Socarides contentious articles. It did this, it said, in the name of free speech. Just because the Prof’s views are “politically incorrect” doesn’t make them wrong, declared the paper. Of course, as we all know, The Daily Mail is a bastion of free exchange – you can say anything you like in its pages, so long as it is right-wing, reactionary and deeply unpleasant. Yes, indeed, The Daily Mail provides free speech for a wide range of people – so long as they are extremists and/or thugs

Anyway, Socarides feels that society is under threat from homosexuality. He says that “the forces allied against heterosexuality are formidable and unrelenting”. He thinks that, far from being a small and persecuted minority, homosexuals are actually causing society to come apart at the seams. Such power we have!

Commenting on the significance of the invitation to Socarides, Susie Orbach in The Guardian (April 29th) wondered whether it was actually a deliberately inflammatory gesture aimed at getting the institutes which provide the training for NHS psychotherapists to dismantle their anti-gay policies. She says that “British psychoanalytic training and teaching is retrograde about sexuality… and by stirring up controversy through the vehicle of its most reactionary propagandist, the various institutes will be pushed — as they were two decades ago in the States — into confronting and dismantling their prejudiced position.”

One of the most interesting elements of this case is the fact that Socarides’ own son, Richard, who has a high-level job in the Clinton administration, is himself gay. It does not dampen Socarides’ determination to increase the torment of those most at war with their sexuality (which is what happens if you keep promising “cures” which just don’t work). But Richard refuses to be drawn into outright condemnation of his father. Quoted in New York’s Out magazine, Socarides junior says his father: “has a genuine fondness for his gay patients. I mean he does it from a wanting-to-help place and thinking this is helpful and this is a good positive thing for people.”

This says something quite profound and touching about father-son relationships in that the two men couldn’t be further apart (Richard the gay civil rights lawyer, Charles the fanatical homophobe). Yet neither is prepared to publicly condemn the other.

But the rest of us owe Professor Socarides no filial loyalty and he — and his odious, discredited theories should be opposed at every turn.

***

The Press Complaints Commission has a new chairperson in the form of Lord Wakeham. Speaking at the Scottish Press Fund, His Lordship promised that self-regulation would be strengthened to such a degree that those “illiberal liberals” who constantly demand statutory restraint of newspapers would be silenced.

Sorry your Lordship, but we’ve heard all this before from your predecessors. Haven’t the tabloids already had three warnings to sharpen up their act? Haven’t they already been told twice that time is up in the last chance saloon? And yet they are as bad as ever. Naturally, with their popularity at rock bottom, the Tories are in no mood to provoke an already aggressive press pack. They hope they can stem public alarm about the activities of the popular press with talk of a beefed-up PCC.

Wakeham promises that he will work “harder than ever before” to build up confidence in the Commission. Well, he’s going to have to work very hard indeed to convince this punter that someone like Piers Morgan — the editor of The News of the World — is going to take a blind bit of notice of him or the PCC. Why should he when the paper is adding so significantly to the profits of Mr Murdoch’s empire? It isn’t going to be the “illiberal liberals” who succeed in getting a privacy law, it’ll be the likes of Piers Morgan with their contempt for civilised values.

Even Woodrow Wyatt — who is a columnist on The News of the World — was moved to write in The Times: “That anyone is entitled to privacy in their own homes, in their cups or in their beds, is a concept wholly alien to The News of the World. The News of the World has as good as asked for a privacy law. The Government and the Opposition should no longer hesitate to produce one.” Lord Wyatt’s contempt for the paper does not prevent him continuing to contribute his weekly column to it.

That other great defender of free speech and democracy, The Sun, doesn’t like the idea of legislation to curb its intrusions, either. It made the point that such a law would only be useful to the rich and powerful and would, anyway, stop them investigating crooked politicians and businessmen. This is crap. All legislation which has so far been proposed has included a “public interest” clause which legitimises investigations into corruption and anti-social activities. There would be careful provision to protect journalists and newspapers which are genuinely acting for the good of society, and not just peeping through bedroom keyholes.

One improvement, though, is that Lord Wakeham has said that the PCC will now accept third party complaints, which may open the way to more successful protests about the general abuse of gay people in newspapers. We’ll be seeking out opportunities to put it to the test.

***

Lily Savage has been collecting glowing reviews as she trolls around the nation’s theatres, raising laughs galore from a grateful populace.

The Independent on Sunday’s Ben Thompson caught up with “the partially reformed Birkenhead scrubber” in Southend. There he discovered that the theatre shows contained a level of “scabrous piquancy” which is “unattainable in the bite-sized chunks in which television usually serves her up.” Indeed, TV viewers never get the best of Lil — the medium isn’t big enough for her.

Latest Lily-ism to set me rocking was her description of her own face: “like a ferret licking snot off a nettle.” But Thompson noticed that she continues the “subversive tradition of making gay jokes acceptable to a non-gay audience” and that the drag manages never to lurch into misogyny. The act, he says, “comes across not as a mockery of womanhood but rather a tribute to it.”

Long may she reign.

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