GAY TIMES April 1994

The Sun used the fire at the Dream City “gay porn cinema” as an excuse to run several extremely unpleasant headlines. ‘Gay Porn Club Victims Died in Dresses” was one of them (February 28th). The whole sorry catastrophe, in which eight men died, was transformed into just another titillatory thrill for barbarous tabloid readers. The message was clear: these weren’t real people only poofters. (Garry Bushell even managed to make a “joke” out of it when he wrote “Actress Teri Hatcher is hotter than a cinema full of Kentucky Fried transvestites.” — Sun, March 2nd)

“Less than a week after the… debate in the Commons we have a graphic response to the fact that gay men remain second class citizens,” wrote Gareth Clumo in a letter to The Guardian (March 1st). “I predict that over the next few days there will be more outrage expressed over the possibility that men can actually stoop so low as to have sex with one another in a public place, than the fact that these men were murdered.”

And right on cue comes John Junor (Mail on Sunday, March 6th): “One would have thought there would have been a national wave of sympathy for the dreadfully burned survivors and the relatives of the dead. Isn’t it extraordinary that there has been none. One would have thought there would have been a wave of revulsion against whoever set the place on fire. There hasn’t even been that… Coming just a few days after the unsuccessful attempt to lower the legal age for buggery to 16, the news of this fire in this sleazy cinema did not do the homosexual cause much good. How could it after the disclosure that a fire exit had been boarded up to stop homosexual patrons from using the unoccupied area for casual sex with complete strangers?… Are these really the sort of people whom Sir Ian McKellen and Mrs Edwina Currie want to hold up as men to respect?”

Reeling from the almost unbelievable callousness of those remarks, I returned to Gareth Clumo’s letter: “Society should ask why gay men have to recourse to finding sexual pleasure with strangers in less than appropriate places. Could it be that the reasons lie in the inability of the law to equalise the age of consent, and more importantly that gay sex is intricately tied up with such laws as the Public Order Act 1986 and Sexual Offences Act 1956? While these laws remain on the statute book, gay men will be sexual outlaws and victims of murderous campaigns of which the Holborn case is only the most extreme.”

***

[Note: Legislation to lower the age of consent for gay men to 16 – equal with heterosexuals – was amended in the House of Commons to 18 as part ofthe Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. When the result was announced a mini-riot ensued outside Parliament].

Paul Johnson, the prominent right-wing “historian” and Catholic apologist was thumping his familiar tub in The Spectator (February 12th) about what he considers to be the gay stranglehold on the media. During the age of consent debate, he asserted, the opposition never got a look in. Every time an editor speaks out, he says, he is inundated with angry letters and his offices are invaded.

“As a result of this campaign of intimidation, this putsch to reduce the age of consent for male homosexuality to 16 has met virtually no resistance from the media. I have counted a dozen articles in the national papers written by members of the homosexual lobby, putting their case. I have not seen a single forthright statement of the case against, though some editorials have made caveats and one or two readers have managed to get letters of protest published. There is no question, of course, of broadcasting anything critical of homosexuality on radio or television. Quite the reverse.”

Ten minutes after reading this, I switched on the television to hear an elderly woman on the BBC news screaming that homosexuals “ought to be sent out of the country and shot”. I wonder if this was “forthright” enough for Mr Johnson? Or does he want more.

“The homosexual lifestyle is inherently sterile and the very promiscuity which goes with homosexuality is an attempt to stifle the void at the core of the homosexual’s existence,” wrote Chaim Bermant (Jewish Chronicle, February 18th). “Momentary gratification, frequently repeated can, in its crude way, add up to a form of satisfaction, but the constant search for physical gratification is in itself a proof of unhappiness.”

If that isn’t strong enough for Johnson, what about The Daily Star (February 21st), which thought it was wrong that MPs were even considering the issue. It said that a survey showed the majority of Britons would be “outraged” at a reduction in the age of consent. “If they win it will be a disgrace… They should stick to matters that affect us all, like jobs and wages. Not pander to a bunch of pansies and perverts.”

Under the heading “Don’t let gays make us lower our standards”, Philippa Kennedy in the Daily Express said: “What I hate to see, and what reinforces prejudice against gays, is the kind of performance we witnessed outside the House of Commons on Monday night, of painted transvestites, weeping men of all ages, strident intolerance and surging anger bordering on violence. At a time when reasonably-minded people are genuinely willing at least to be persuaded to drop the age of consent to 16, they behaved like a bunch of stereotyped screaming queens which only served to underline that MPs made the right decision.”

Over to Simon Heller in The Daily Mail “If liberal opinion — and this government—worried a bit more about the freedoms of families to get on with their lives… and a bit less about legalising sodomy with schoolboys, it might achieve something useful.”

Melanie Phillips, in The Observer (February 27th) was commenting on criticism which had been directed at Labour front benchers David Blunkett and Ann Taylor, who had voted against 16. She said they were entitled to their opinion, and should not be vilified or punished for them. She thinks that gays should be free from “prejudice or discrimination” but then confusingly goes on to say that the age of consent should not be equal. “The agenda underlying the consent at 16 controversy,” she wrote, “is to equalise not just treatment of individuals, but homosexuality and heterosexuality themselves. To gain acceptance by the majority, the beleaguered minority claims it is not deviant, that gay sex is as natural as heterosexuality. Those who tell the truth, that this is a lie, then have to be suppressed by social or political ostracism. The very word normal has to be air brushed out of existence, along with David Blunkett.”

Ronald Spark (ex-leader writer on The Sun) penned an article for The Mail on Sunday in which he claimed that prejudice was a good thing. He said political correctness had now put a stop to the free expression of good old English hatred. His piece was a straightforward defence of racism, sexism and homophobia.

Over in The Sun, Richard Littlejohn began his diatribe by reassuring us (February 24th) that “My view of homosexuality has always been that I couldn’t care less, provided that I don’t have to watch, participate or pay for it through my taxes.” Fair enough, you might think, but the easy-going tolerance is rather superficial, for within another couple of paragraphs he is writing: “Homosexual activists say [the vote] was a cop out and there should be equality… That depends on whether you believe normal sex is the same as your 16-year-old son being buggered by a wheezing moustachioed leather boy two or three times his age.”

He says a sizeable number of those supporting equality were actually “interested solely in increasing the supply of fresh ‘chickens’ on the sordid gay meat rack”.

From his indifference, Mr Littlejohn rapidly descends into schoolboy fantasy, probably acquired behind the bicycle shed, of what homosexuality is about (“And another one bites the pillow”). He says that Edwina Currie has been “the most vociferous MP in favour of… schoolboys barely past puberty legally to have anal sex — even though it is the surest and quickest way of spreading AIDS.”

He concludes by saying that “I think my views on this issue are a fair representation of what most reasonable people in Britain think.”

He might be right. They might all be as frightened, thoughtless and ill-informed as he is.

So, Mr Paul Johnson, despite your protestations that adverse comment on homosexuality is verboten in the media, I think you will find that the few examples I have cited here (and there are many more) prove what a wilful idiot you are.

Johnson’s real point, though, seems to be not that there is no criticism, but that the criticism is not vituperative enough. There isn’t enough loathing for his liking. So who better to turn to for more of that than Johnson’s all-time hero (as quoted in Today, February 21st): “The Pope denounced homosexuals as ‘deviants’ yesterday as MPs prepare to vote on setting the age of consent for gay sex. Homosexual relationships were a ‘moral disorder’ and must never be made legal, he said.”

Paul and John-Paul — what a shame they can’t marry. They’d make such a perfect couple, richly deserving each other.

Not that the naziness stops there. We haven’t even started yet on the personal abuse that was heaped on those at the forefront of the campaign.

On Edwina Currie: “She is such a dreadfully vulgar woman. I would have been against reducing the age of consent for homosexuals anyhow. But with her brazen hussy hectoring added to their camp and insensitive clamour, the cause, as far as I was concerned, never had a chance.”—Peregrine Worsthorne (Sunday Telegraph February 27th).

“Now that she is associated with the screaming deviants who besieged the Commons on Monday night, Edwina Currie is in trouble. Her chances of winning the Bedfordshire Euro-seat were never strong. Now she is regarded mainly as a fag-hag, they are receding. So what do you think she should do next? Learn to write? Become an Anglican woman priest? Edit a new edition of Baden Powell’s Scouting for Boys? Run ChildLine?”—Simon Helfer (Daily Mail, February 24th).

“There’s something about the tone of Edwina Currie’s voice that gets right up my nose. It’s a prim smugness, a Miss Clever-Clogs attitude that brooks no argument” — Philippa Kennedy (Daily Express February 20th).

On Ian McKellen: “Chris Serle included excerpts from a programme about lowering the age of consent on Radio 4. We heard an unnamed man say he found homosexuals an abomination. Sir Ian McKellen, the age-of-consent activist, told the caller he was little better than a Nazi. Serle said it showed the extraordinary prejudice that still existed. Perhaps so. The caller was indeed an unenlightened man. But what he said didn’t seem quite so repellent as the smart, right-on assumptions of Ian McKellen…” — Peter McKay (Sunday Times February 20th).

“Just how the hell did he ever come to get a knighthood?” wondered ‘Sir’ John Junor (Mail on Sunday, February 27th) “The answer, of course, is because he is a Shakespearean actor. Isn’t it odd how as a society we give high honours to what are termed ‘serious’ actors, no matter what their personal lives are like, when so many talented performers, like Norman Wisdom, end up without even an OBE?” (Junor, incidentally, got his knighthood for services to Thatcherite arse-licking.)

Enter the demon king himself: “Peter Tatchell and his disgusting allies in Outrage! peddle gay propaganda to confuse vulnerable youngsters outside school gates,” said Richard Littlejohn (Sun February 24th). Poor old Pete, he (by virtue of his high-profile association with OutRage!) was made the whipping boy for the riot-ette which occurred outside the House of Commons after the vote was announced. Talk about “anything you say will be taken down and used against you” — Peter Tatchell’s words were twisted at every opportunity. Several papers had asked him whether OutRage! intended to “out” slimy gay MPs who voted against 16. Peter measured his words saying that no decision about future tactics had been decided. Nevertheless, The Daily Star managed to make a front-page story out of it (February 23rd). “We’ll ‘out’ top MP storm gays” it said, claiming that “a top politician is to be named as a homosexual by gay activists.” All the same, it’s four weeks later, and we’re still waiting.

The paper produced no evidence that anyone had ever made the “outing” threat, but that didn’t stop it demanding that the police “take action”. “They should hunt down the leaders,” thundered an editorial, “which should not be too difficult considering how strident they are — and prosecute them. Blackmail is a serious crime, punishable by imprisonment.”

That’s true. False accusation and distortion by newspapers, on the other hand, seems to be perfectly acceptable.

Peter tried to defend himself in a letter to The Independent on Sunday (March 6th) which had, the previous week, carried a somewhat unflattering profile of him. “I have never threatened to ‘out’ MPs,” he said. “It seems that whatever my style of campaigning, I cannot win. While pursuing conventional lobbying tactics I am described as sour and dull. When prompting humorous and imaginative forms of protest, such as the OutRage! ‘Kiss-In’, I get accused of trivialisation. It all goes to show that anyone who rocks the boat for queer freedom will always be wrong and will be branded an extremist.”

He’s right, of course, and the papers had a field day with the disturbance outside Parliament. The Daily Express (February 23rd) had no doubt who was responsible. “A militant gay group called Outrage! was behind Monday night’s siege of the Commons,” it announced. MP Peter Bottomley even claimed that the commotion — or “rampage” — (which he said was caused by “a bunch of screamers”) had swung the vote against us. He said that he would think twice about supporting us again after being “pelted” outside the Commons.

He’s what I think they call a non-conviction politician.

Did the demonstration have any effect upon the outcome? Would it all have been different if we’d stayed at home?

Before the vote was announced, it was a peaceful, good-natured affair, although The Daily Express objected to the demonstrators “outrageous behaviour” — holding hands, dragging up, booing — that sort of thing. There were a lot of people, but they were calm. It was hardly surprising that they became angry on hearing the news that smug MPs had decided to continue denying them equal rights of citizenship in their own country.

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