GAY TIMES November 1994

The papers just can’t get enough of gay parenting. After last month’s court decision to award the custody of two children to their lesbian mother and her partner, the focus this month has been on writer and comedian Sandi Toskvig.

While promoting her latest Channel Four show, Ms Toskvig told The Sunday Times (September 18th) that she and her female partner, Peta, had three children, all of which were conceived with the help of a man friend and a syringe from Boots. The Daily Mail enthusiastically reproduced this story on September 21st.

Sandi and Peta, it seems, have generated an admirable amount of love and happiness within their little pretend family. Journalist Chrissy Hey, who conducted the interview, describes the set-up thus: “Jessie is six — she has just learned to ride her two-wheeler. And Megan, who is four, can sing — word-perfect — every song in the musical, Annie. Both parents delight in the baby, Theodore — they want to send telegrams around the world because, just yesterday, he learned to roll over. At the end of the day, when Jessie is kissed goodnight, she says to her parents: ‘Leave the door open so I can hear you laughing.’ The atmosphere is cosseting, calm. No arguments. Their lovely house, in a corner of the home counties, is always full of people.”

Who wouldn’t be pleased to see children in such a sensitive and caring — not to say privileged — household? Well, The Daily Mail wouldn’t, to start with. It tacked on to the original interview some comments by Diana Verity, the mother-in-law of the man who donated his sperm to the women. “God didn’t intend two women to be parents,” she is alleged to have said, providing the requisite downbeat headline over the otherwise optimistic story.

Mrs Verity unquestioningly trotted out all the usual drivel about lesbian mums: “I think it is wrong for children to be brought up in such an environment. You just wonder what sort of life, what sort of persuasions they are inflicting on the kids… It does not seem natural to me. I feel for childless couples and I think that artificial insemination is great. But this is not what we had in mind by scientific progress.”

Then The Independent carried interviews with three children who had been raised in lesbian households, to find out how they felt about it. All of them were positive about their situation and expressed nothing but unconditional love for their “two mums”. None of them suffered the deleterious consequences which our detractors keep droning on about. The Daily Mail decided to reproduce these stories, too (September 22nd) and once again decorated them with headlines that totally undermined what was said: “At first I cried when I learned that my mother was a lesbian” and “I wouldn’t want to be gay myself”. Once more the positive had been rendered negative to the casual reader.

This all came on the heels of the tabloid campaign against the two women who had been awarded custody in a Manchester appeals court (see last month’s Mediawatch). The Sun carried an interview with the father who had lost the appeal. He was presented throughout the article as the victim of a wicked gay conspiracy to rob him of his children. The two women were slandered and misrepresented throughout. After reading this inflammatory presentation, readers were asked to ring one of The Sun’s notorious “You the Jury” phone lines. “Was the judge right to take away Tom’s girls?” was the loaded question. The “jury” had only heard the prosecution, of course. The defence had not been allowed to say a word.

By Monday (September 12th) — suitably charged up by this emotionally slanted and utterly one-sided piece — 34,000 readers had responded. 26,303 of them said “the judge was wrong to force a dad to hand over his daughters to a lesbian mum and her lover”.

Just another piece of lucrative tabloid gay-bashing you may think (I work out that Mr Murdoch made at least £2,000 from the premium-rate telephone calls). But The Sun’s phone-in actually encouraged 26,303 people to be actively anti-gay. Homosexuality was probably a matter of indifference to these people, until The Sun encouraged them to take a stand, to make a decision. Now 26,303 positively believe that lesbian mothers are not a good idea and, as we all know, once minds are made up, it is difficult to change them. If they had been given the whole story, heard all the evidence, it might have been a different matter. That is why The Sun and its insidious and continuous gay-bashing are so dangerous.

This inflaming of anti-gay feeling and the encouragement to act on those feelings is very dangerous. Far from being harmless irritants, the tabloids are cleverly undoing much of the bridge-building work that gay people have done with their straight friends and families.

***

The pretty hacks have been at it again. This time The Sun’s hunky tempters teamed up with a scuzzy male prostitute calling himself Jason. Jason has convictions for theft and grievous bodily harm, but — thank the Lord — he says he is not homosexual. Acting on a tip-off from Jason, handsome reporters Guy Patrick and Alistair Taylor, homed in on a circuit judge in a Durham hotel room.

Jason introduced Guy Patrick to the judge as another rent boy, and then the two of them commenced provoking His Honour into being indiscreet (as you would be when dealing with a possible sexual partner). The judge’s comments were recorded with the help of hidden tape recorders and then faithfully and humiliatingly reproduced on the front page of The Sun (September 24th).

Jason, Guy and Alistair — what a crew! — walked away with a handsome pay-off from Mr Murdoch and the judge found his job on the line after the Lord Chancellor ordered an enquiry into the matter.

Following this up, The Sunday Telegraph (September 25th) quoted one of the judge’s colleagues, who said of him: “He is one of the kindest, most generous, nicest people I have ever met. As a barrister he is efficient and good at his job. I can’t speak too highly of him. Everyone knows about his sexuality, but he never allows it to interfere with his judgement, his professional life or his relationship with his friends. Knowing him, he will take this publicity very badly.”

As an example of his generosity, the Judge had lent Jason £500 to pay compensation to a man he had beaten up. The way a sneaking rat like Jason repays such kindness is to sell his benefactor down the river. And yet even Jason must feel he’s in bad company when mixing with Scum journalists like Guy Patrick and Alistair Taylor.

That didn’t stop The Sun editorialising: “A man who pays for homosexual sex, consorts with criminals and revels in hard-porn videos lays himself open to blackmail. (He) is unfit to sit in judgement of others. Not to put too fine a point on it: he’s a bloody disgrace.”

What we have to hope is that the Lord Chancellor will make good his promise that homosexuality in itself is no bar to being appointed a judge. It should be a signal to the Murdoch press that the real disgrace in this episode lies with their disgusting policy of paying criminals to help them ruin the lives of useful citizens.

***

The following day The News of the World made the earth-shattering revelation that 26 years ago the new Bishop of Durham, Michael Turnbull, had “committed an act of gross indecency” in a public lavatory.

This piece of edifying information had been unearthed by a reporter by the name of Chris Blythe. Mr Blythe has a long pedigree of “outing” clergymen. In fact he’s persecuted more Christians than a Roman emperor. As long ago as 1989 he was posing as “a friend and admirer” of some aged clergyman, getting him to fantasise about naked boys at the beach while secretly taping the conversation. (“Evil fantasies of the Kinky Canon” — NoW, June 4th 1989). Chris Blythe’s by-line has appeared under several similar headlines since then.

But the Turnbull case raises some interesting issues. Given that he has spoken out against homosexuality among the clergy (following the party line) are we really sorry that he was “outed” by the press? After all, even those who oppose outing as a general rule say they will make exceptions in the case of hypocrites who condemn gays with one hand and shove their todgers through glory holes with the other.

“The Murdoch press voice an undiscriminating contempt for homosexuality that is still widespread,” said The Church Times (September 30th) on page 10, while on page 18 it averred that Murdoch’s rags “felt easier condemning hypocrisy than homosexuality”. Confusion obviously reigns at The Church Times as it does throughout the rest of the C of E.

Then there’s the issue of his sexuality. Turnbull swears on a stack of Bibles that he isn’t homosexual. But, as The Guardian (September 28th) asked, “What is a homosexual? Who decides?” As the paper says, the whole issue is “bedevilled by confusion, sexual politics, bigotry, fear and outright fibbing.”

But Guardian reporter Tim Radford himself seems confused by “self-declared celibates who rather bafflingly also describe themselves as homosexuals”. I don’t think he would be similarly puzzled by heterosexual celibates such as Cliff Richard (now that really has clouded the issue).

As double-talk collides with hypocrisy, it will be interesting to see how this affair affects the debate on gay clergymen within the Church of England. It seems that the Bishop of Durham can frequent a cottage, then repent and be forgiven (and subsequently be elevated to the fourth most senior position in the Church), while other clergymen don’t fare so well. One such wrote to The Guardian (September 30th) telling that “after a similar incident, I was forced to resign my living, lost my home, and was told ‘really there is no place in the church for someone who has done what you have done.” He says that he has lived with the shame and hurt for many years, but now feels nothing but contempt for a church that can apparently pick and choose who it forgives.

Come on Archbishop of Cant. Get this sorted out.

***

The Sunday Telegraph (September 25th) carried a letter from Stephen Misander which sought to “correct the impression often given of The Sunday Telegraph as unsympathetic to the concerns of gay men”. Mr Misander said that “the photographs of sportsmen in your pages are by far the most erotic published, and give great comfort, especially to elderly gay men — retired officers and the like — who are unable to ‘come out’ in the way of their younger brethren and must therefore rely on ordinary family newspapers like your own for a little light entertainment of that kind.”

Quickly turning to the sports section, which I generally cast aside without a glance, I saw what Mr Misander meant. There were certainly plenty of photographs of footballers in “action”, leaping in the air, rolling together on the ground and generally contorting themselves so as to cause distress to their shorts at both front and back. Intimate fondling and kissing, as well as legs being wrapped around each other were also evident.

The following week, the fogeys responded, as I suspect they were meant to. PHW Rayner of Birmingham wrote: “If I seriously thought that the editor of The Sunday Telegraph chose sports illustrations on the basis of the `gay thrill factor’, I would immediately tell my newsagent that I had decided to ‘come out’ and into another Sunday newspaper.”

We should not forget, of course, that The Sunday Telegraph’s correspondence column was once the medium of expression chosen by that other great letter writer, Mrs Edna Welthorpe —endlessly outraged alter ego of Joe Orton.

***

Theatre critics on the national press are at each other’s throats about the number of gay plays presently adorning the London stage. The Daily Telegraph’s Charles Spencer complained of a “flood” of homosexually-themed plays which he said were deliberately written to make heterosexuals feel “uncomfortable, if not downright unwelcome”. Milton Schulman supported this stand in the London Evening Standard. The headline over his piece (“Stop the plague of pink plays”) said it all.

The only known gay critic in captivity, Nicholas de Jongh, also of The London Evening Standard, was quick to contradict the idea that the West End had been “taken over” by queer carryings on. The vast majority of plays explored heterosexual relationships, he said, and anyway, “the theatre works best and most powerfully as a mirror to the entire spectrum of humanity, not as an old-fashioned suburban net curtain.”

Of course, it’s sheer coincidence that so many gay-themed shows have arrived at once. No conspiracy is involved. My only complaint is that so many of them are crap. It’s a long time since I cringed with embarrassment in a theatre, but I certainly did at a performance of Jonathan Harvey’s Babies at the Royal Court.

I may be siding with the gay playwrights, but please — give us quality not quantity.

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