It was inevitable that the outing volcano, which has been rumbling for a couple of years now, would eventually erupt. It happened last month. Out spewed all the drivel, the bollocks, and the shite that the media has been dying to get out of its system all this time. Thousands of column inches and hours of air time on TV and radio were devoted to it. And, unusually for the British media, there was only one opinion: outing is the worst threat to civilisation since Hitler. In fact, if you took the hysteria seriously, Peter Tatchell might well be Hitler reincarnated. Or, at the very least, Damien the Antichrist. He was certainly accused of dealing death when one of his alleged “victims”, Sir James Kilfedder MP, dropped dead on a train. The extra stress, the papers claimed, had brought on the heart attack.
But no one mentioned the life-long stress closet cases have to endure.
The whole thing had been brought to a head by the Bishop of London, David Hope (he of the “grey” sexuality) who called a press conference to reveal to the world a letter he had received from Peter Tatchell. The letter was a gentle, courteous and completely non-threatening request for the Bishop to come out with dignity.
Bishop Hope used the press conference to present himself as a desperate man under intense pressure. In truth, it was a shrewd move from a consummate church politician. The image Mr Hope was aiming for was that of the persecuted innocent. This was summed up by a photograph of him on the front page of The Times (March 14th). He is shown thrusting a large golden cross before him, as if trying to render unto ashes the demon Tatchell.
The press conference offered an opportunity for the Bishop to give reassurance to those young people struggling with their sexuality; he could have told them that it was OK to be gay. Instead, he moaned about “greyness” and “intimidatory tactics”. His moral cowardice shone like a beacon.
The papers in the meantime needed a hook for their story, and it came when someone labelled the letter “a blackmail note”. From then on, every variation on the blackmail theme was employed — even though the letter contained no such thing. Calls were made by some papers to make outing illegal (not, though, by The News of the World — how would they make a living without it?).
For a month, Peter — the first “enemy of the people” to live in a council flat — became the only man in the country whose name could not be written without the addition of an insulting adjective or abusive tirade. “An odious, nasty, vicious rat,” said Norman Tebbitt in The Sun; “Rabid,” said Nigella Lawson in The Telegraph; “Fascistic, cruel, wicked and evil,” said Cruella Currie in The Times; “Revolting,” quoth Richard Littlejohn; “Reptilian,” was the opinion of John Junor. The Daily Mail thought Tatchell “an insidious bully” while The Independent voted him “the least attractive character in public life”. A couple of papers even suggested that they wouldn’t grieve if he were assassinated.
Poor Pete was not even safe from those gay public figures who consider themselves to be on the “respectable” end of gay politics. “Brutal, savage and fascist,” was the opinion of the actor Simon Callow in The Daily Express. “He’s so palpably vengeful. He’s a fanatic, a person intoxicated by his own importance.” (Careful of the pot-and-kettle syndrome, Simon)
Michael Cashman — ex-soap star and a Stonewall high-up —also thought OutRage!’s tactics were “revolting”. He apparently told The Daily Mirror that Tatchell and company see themselves as “the sex police of the gay world” and said that victims of outing were “thrown on to a bonfire of discrimination fuelled by fear, hatred and ignorance.”
The media encouraged this gay in-fighting, of course. It gave them justification for their gay-bashing and helped them further avoid addressing the real issues. Even The Guardian, which can usually be relied upon to give both sides of the story, was reluctant to come off the sanctimonious bandwagon that the rest of Fleet Street was riding.
Of course, this concentration of hatred upon OutRage! and Peter Tatchell was a simple projection of the generalised disgust felt for homosexuality. It put me in mind of the correspondence which has been raging all month in The Daily Telegraph about how “that lovely little word gay” has been made to mean something distasteful by homosexuals. The correspondents don’t have “anything against” homosexuals, of course, just the word that describes their disgusting existence.
And so it is with outing. Those who oppose it couldn’t give a stuff about the misery and oppression that the closet represents. They just want to make sure we stay in it so they can be spared uncomfortable feelings. Heterosexuals don’t have closets, and they have no right to foist them on other people. Moreover, respected gay figures have no business justifying the cowardice of powerful closet cases.
In an early day motion, Labour MPs called for the media not to collude with OutRage! in its campaign. That might be hard for newspapers to do — especially if OutRage! comes up with something they just can’t ignore — but it wouldn’t surprise me if we heard nothing more of OutRage! or outing in the straight press for a considerable time to come.