Ever since right-wing newspapers discovered that they could make easy political capital from lesbian and gay issues, journalists have become skilled at angling stories to fit their agenda. They have been assisted in this by ruthless Tory councillors who comb council minutes looking for instances of Labour’s support for gay rights. Once discovered, these often-trivial matters are fed to the press who then invert, distort and inflate them.
One of the favourite techniques for bashing the Labour Party with the gay cudgel is to suggest that if gay people get a slice of the public pie — however small — then it must inevitably be at the expense of heterosexuals. The latest instance of this came when Avon City Council decided to make a grant of £2,320 to Bristol Young Lesbian and Bisexual Women’s Group. “Gays win, Scouts lose” was the baldly stated headline over the story in The Daily Telegraph (March 2nd). Couldn’t be clearer than that, could it? The lesbians were getting money that rightly belonged to the Scouts.
The Daily Mail, which more or less invented this trick, headed its version of the story: “The lesbians cash in — Scouts lose grant as ‘politically correct’ councillors fund a women’s group instead” (March 2nd).
All the ingredients were there. First of all, everything rests on the assumption that the very idea of giving public money to gays is “scandalous”. It then moves on to suggest that gays have somehow stolen the money from the Scouts (which is, of course, a worthy organisation for ‘normal’ people). How did they manage this? Well, with the connivance of “Socialists and their left-wing lackeys — and the Liberal Democrats who support them in a coalition” (this is a direct quote). Another essential element in the scenario is the “outraged Tory councillor”. In this instance it is Mr Michael Roe who says: “The decision shows what a myth it is for people to speak of ‘New Labour’ because when they control the tax-payers’ money, they pursue politically correct ideals”.
So, what’s the truth behind all this? Well, the Scouts have done very well out of Avon Council over the years. Six years ago their grant was £28,000. This has been steadily eroded by what a Labour councillor, Betty Perry, claims are Government cuts. All the same, the amount of money given to the Scouts over the years amounts to hundreds of thousands of pounds. This makes the grant to the lesbian group seem like small beer indeed. I’m not saying that the Scouts are undeserving. It would be good if everyone could get what they need, but it isn’t the Labour Party that capped Avon council’s spending.
No, this story was a clever concoction of mischievous half-truths put together by a local Tory councillor and a journalist with a political agenda. The angle they created for it ruthlessly exploited the lives of lesbians and gay men, with no regard for the possible consequences on them.
And this wasn’t the only example of the if-gays-win-straights-must-lose approach. The Sunday Times (an increasingly despicable rag) told us that “BBC spends £4m on gays and women” (February 19th). The story stated that “the Corporation is set on creating its own politically correct world out of touch with reality” simply because it wants to be fair to women, the disabled and its lesbian and gay employees.
The paper said: “The policies mean that black and disabled people should be represented in every department, lesbian and gay staff are invited to enrol on free self-defence courses and anybody who feels harassed about anything can ring a free helpline.”
How terrible! The BBC actually wants to treat its employees fairly! This is something that The Sunday Times seems incapable of understanding. But, of course, “licence-payers’ money” is being used to finance this “nonsense” and so, once more, homosexuals are portrayed as sponges that soak up heterosexual taxes.
The Sunday Times, of course, is owned by Rupert Murdoch whose own television interests would be greatly enhanced if the BBC didn’t exist. His newspapers let pass no opportunity to defame the Beeb. One has to ask: is this journalism or is it commercial propaganda? The very existence of this story — and many others like it —shows that a once-great newspaper has been reduced to filling its pages with distortion in order to promote its proprietor’s financial interests.
Next up with The Trick was The Mail on Sunday which returned to the gays in the military “scandal” (February 26th). “Forces won’t give in to ‘gays’” was its front-page headline, reviving the habit of placing the word gay in quotation marks. In an editorial the paper said that the idea of homosexuals being allowed to serve openly in the forces was a “threat” that “must be fought”. It quickly got on to the “they’re stealing our money” gambit by saying that if those gay service people who have been unfairly dismissed from the forces were to be compensated, “millions could be paid out to those who knowingly broke quite sensible and long-standing rules designed to uphold military discipline.”
According to The Mail on Sunday, if such people receive reparation: “war widows, crippled service personnel and those who gave unstinting service to their country might feel bitter”. Well, so they might — and some of them might even be gay themselves. But surely anyone with a just cause for compensation should receive it — why should gays be excluded from the fight for justice? The paper then went on to say that if this leads to the legalisation of homosexuality in the armed forces it will “be a triumph for political correctness”.
Finally, The Sun — an old hand at this game — couldn’t let an opportunity pass and told its readers (February 27th): “What a scandal it would be if a penny of tax-payers’ money is handed over to these men. For Queen and Country was never meant to mean that.”
On the anniversary of the age of consent debate, Nigel Nelson, The People’s political editor had been retailing the details of a persistent rumour that a Government minister is gay (February 19th). “I gather that the path of true love might not be running smoothly between this minister and his gay lover,” he wrote. “I hear the politician formed a close relationship with an airline steward called Karl last year. So much so that he was prepared to set his fly-boy up in a London flat, a necessary addition to his domestic arrangements as he is supposed to be happily married.”
Mr Nelson says that something seems to have gone wrong in the relationship as the pair haven’t yet “got their pad together”, but he invites Karl to contact him — presumably to provide the scoop of the century.
I don’t know what we are to make of it all, but if you are into conspiracy theories, the minister — whoever he might be — could be little more than the victim of a political plot aimed at destroying his career by rumour-mongering. Whether the rumours are true or not, there is little about this affair to enhance public perceptions of homosexuality.
More statistics are emerging that give an insight into attitudes towards lesbians and gay men in this country. The Daily Express ran an excerpt (February 8th) from a new book called “Teenage Religion and Values” which is based on a survey of 15,361 British schoolchildren aged 13-15. It revealed that “Despite the emergence of gay rights and a general increase in tolerance, the young have a conservative attitude towards homosexuality: two in five think it is wrong and just over one in five aren’t sure. Fewer than two in five find it acceptable. Remarks from those we spoke to crossed the range from: ‘It’s disgusting, the idea makes me feel sick’ to ‘It’s all right if they do it out of my sight’.”
Meanwhile, MTV, the satellite youth channel, interviewed 3,000 young people in nine European countries, including the UK, about their attitudes. It was reported in The Independent (February 14th) that: “In some areas, the British were less tolerant than other Europeans. The UK had the lowest percentage (59 per cent) who found homosexuality acceptable, a figure equal to Spain but far lower than every other country.”
One of the reasons the younger generation seems to be inheriting its parents’ hang-ups about sexuality is surely because proper sex education is discouraged. This was well illustrated by the case of biology teacher, Vincent Pedley, who had — during the course of his sex education lessons — discussed oral sex and told pupils that masturbation was normal. He did not deny this but said that his remarks had been taken out of context. For this he was sacked by the governors of the Jewish comprehensive school where he worked. They said that such matters should be “left to religious teachers” (Daily Mail, February 17th).
Mr Pedley subsequently took his case to an industrial tribunal which agreed that he had been unfairly dismissed and awarded him maximum compensation. The tribunal said that the governors and the headmaster were “liars” and had “fabricated” elements of their case against Mr Pedley. Perhaps they need a bit of moral education themselves.
However, this kind of thing is inevitable when children’s education is put into the hands of Holy Joes. Then sex education becomes the one school subject where truth-telling is discouraged.
Michelangelo Signorile — the American who is credited with the invention of outing — wrote of the “alarming breakdown of safe sex among gay men” which is indicated by recent research in the USA (Guardian, March 1st). Signorile asks us to make a separation between “political rhetoric” and health education.
He maintains that we must face up to the complex motivations and thought processes that attend decisions about safer sex. When that unadorned cock is probing our arsehole, being well informed about safer sex is no guarantee that we are going to make a responsible choice. Signorile even admits to having had unsafe sex himself quite recently.
Signorile’s main point, however, is that most of the onus for safer sex has, until now, been put upon those who are HIV-negative. The message has been: if you don’t have HIV, then you must take precautions to ensure that you don’t get it. Signorile says that perhaps more emphasis should be put on the responsibilities of those who know they are HIV-positive. He tells of conversations he has had with HIV-positive men who “regularly engage in unprotected sex, rationalising that the other guy is responsible for himself and must know what he’s doing.”
He quotes clinical psychologist Walt Odets as saying: “Many HIV-positive men quite understandably have different ideas and feelings about life and live with different values and objectives from HIV-negative men. Despite what we would like to believe politically, many positive men are not taking responsibility for protecting negative men from HIV and do not see why they should.”
Although this could be seen as in some way “blaming” HIV positive people, Signorile is simply trying to face up to the truth of the situation. He says: “The gay community has the power to alter the course of the Aids crisis if we face this challenge and change the things that are in our control. That responsibility now rests with our Aids organisations as well as with each of us as individuals.”
It’s a hard message, but this is a merciless virus, and we need to be ruthless in fighting its onslaught.