GAY TIMES March 1994

Rumours have been circulating for months that two Government Ministers have been involved in “sordid gay goings-on”. There has been talk of “gagging writs” to stop newspapers naming them. Everyone was fascinated, but there was no evidence.

Then, for a moment, it seemed that gay (or bisexual) ex-soccer star Justin Fashanu was about to put flesh on the bones of those rumours. The People (February 6th) reported that he was trying to sell them his story of “three-in-a-bed sex romps” with high-ranking Tories for £300,000. The newspaper did not name names (“for legal reasons”) and did not pay the fee requested (although a smaller amount did change hands).

Then came the “scandalous” death of Tory MP Stephen Milligan from a solo “sex romp” that went wrong and suddenly Justin was there again, this time in The Sun. “Kinky MP: Cops Quiz Gay Fashanu” screamed the front page on February 9th. Fashanu claimed to Sun reporters that he knew the dead MP, and described him as a “weak man”. In The Daily Express he was quoted as saying: “I knew him and I knew that he was homosexual.”

However, the following day — after a visit from the police — Fashanu was backtracking and saying he didn’t know Milligan and that his tales of sex with Tory MPs were a total fabrication. “Fash the Trash” said The Daily Mirror (February 10th). “For years he touted to the highest bidder the tale of his claimed affair with a Government Minister. He has demanded money — usually £5,000 — to name the senior Tory who gave him a tour of the Commons, during which he jumped on the Speaker’s Chair. He also said he shared a bed with a married Minister.”

It seems Justin Fashanu has made a real mess of his life. His greed has ruined his football career, he has sacrificed his claim to be a hero for the black community and he has done nothing to endear himself to the gay community either. With the age of consent debate pending, we needed this kind of undignified sensationalism like we need a hole in the head. In his attempts to screw money out of the scummy papers he has played right into their hands. And if there is any truth in the stories of ministerial hypocrisy over gay sex, then it has surely been buried under this torrent of lying and money-grubbing.

In The Guardian, Martin Woollacott wondered why there is such an appetite in our press for these sordid and cruel tales of sexual misdemeanour or difference. “Why is it that at a time when tolerance or understanding of different sexual preferences is supposedly greater than ever before,” he asks, “should there be such a fearsome taste for stories of sexual irregularity in the Western world?” He says that the nature of coverage of these matters has changed from “prurience posing as Puritanism” into “sadism masquerading as entertainment”. He says: “At the centre of the sort of popular exposure which is becoming a regular feature in Anglo-Saxon countries is an element of cruelty, delight at seeing a person twist in the wind.”

The Government is once again muttering about a privacy law. But the press feels reasonably safe that it will never happen. After all, they have the power to stop it.

***

In Statistics Corner this month we have the ultimate gay number: 1.1 per cent! “The Gay Myth and the Truth” crowed the front page headline of The Daily Mail (January 21st). “The most exhaustive survey ever conducted into British sexual habits has buried the claim that one man in ten is gay… the key finding is that only 1.1 per cent of men had a homosexual partner in the year prior to the interview,” said the paper, and you could almost hear the champagne corks popping. It revelled in what it regarded as a “setback” for the age of consent campaign. The other papers were quick to take up the clarion call. “We’ve been conned by the gay lobby,” said The Sun, “For years they’ve told us that one man in ten is homosexual. Governments pump millions into AIDS propaganda as gay actors mince into Number Ten. Teachers tell children homosexuality is normal. A campaign grows to make gay sex legal at 16. But now the truth is out: a survey shows that barely one man in 90 is gay. The loud-mouthed luvvies should belt up.” While The Star said it was “Glum for Gays” because “there aren’t many of them.”

As the week progressed, more consideration was given to how the figures had been arrived at. What The Daily Mail and its even more dishonest rivals had failed to tell readers was that even the authors of the survey had said that the figures should be regarded with caution and be seen as only very conservative estimates. It took Peter Kellner in The Sunday Times (January 23rd) to point out the significance of the numbers who had refused to take part in the survey. Sixty per cent of those men approached had agreed, while an incredible 40 per cent had refused. “Imagine you are a gay teacher, army officer, Tory MP or a married man with a gay lover. Would you be part of the 60 per cent or the other 40 per cent? And if you join the 60 per cent would you tell the truth? All of it?”

Perhaps the most telling comment on the whole affair was by AN Wilson in The London Evening Standard (January 28th). “What are we to make of the idea that less than one per cent of the population are practising homosexuals?” he asks. “If this is true, I think I know all of them, plus a handful of ‘straights’ masquerading, for their own perverse reasons, as gay.”

Lady Olga Maitland who, among stiff competition, is probably the most absurd parliamentarian — went even further in the numbers game (Independent January 20th) by saying that she had seen a survey done at the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford which showed that only 0.2 per cent of the population is homosexual. Keith Refson of the Oxford Lesbian and Gay Centre was quick to retort (Independent January 24th): “1 find it hard to believe than an organisation such as ours would attract more than a fraction of lesbians and gay men actually to join. And yet our current membership stands at approximately 0.4 per cent of Oxford’s population. Can any of your readers suggest how I might identify the 50 per cent of our members who are heterosexual?”

***

Most newspapers let us know their editorial stance on the age of consent, and for the most part it was entirely predictable. (Independent and Guardian supportive, Daily Telegraph and tabloids against). However, a mini-shock wave greeted the London Evening Standard’s decision to come out in favour. “Sexuality is private,” said the paper (January 24th). “It is our own business — not that of the Crown Prosecution Service. And as long as it remains consenting, and does not cause offence to anyone else, it should remain our business. But the current differential between ages of consent is a legal inconsistency which criminalises perfectly honest members of the community — while leaving others free to lead their private lives with impunity.”

The paper recognises that “some readers will disagree” (something of an understatement if the ensuing garbage in the correspondence column is anything to go by), but the fact that The Standard has taken this progressive stance is quite astonishing. After all, the Evening Standard is consistently homophobic in all other respects, often originating anti-gay stories that reverberate mightily through the rest of the press (witness its part in the Jane Brown saga).

Meanwhile, the commentators continue to explore every highway and by-way of logic and illogic to find ways to slander gay people. Mary Kenny in The Sunday Telegraph (January 23rd) tried to play the “unnatural” card. She says that although there is evidence of homosexuality in the animal world (“pygmy chimpanzees have a lot of same-sex orgasms”) there is no evidence of exclusive homosexuality in any other species except man (“the chimpanzees… don’t stop being heterosexual at the same time”). She says that biologists are always “drawn back to the evidence of Natural law” to conclude that exclusive homosexuality is not “natural”. She then scuppers her argument (which, as usual, is written from her Catholic perspective) by admitting that the Pope says: “the proper study of mankind is man”. (Actually, that’s Alexander Pope).

What animals do should ‘not be used as evidence of what is “natural” for people to do. There is, after all, much in human life that has no equivalent in the animal world, so why is she making an exception for homosexuality?

Meanwhile, Janet Daley in The Times (January 27th) gives the “children must be protected” line a new spin. She says that young men are at “psychological risk” from “the more strident activist voices” who are “turning homosexuality into a commitment which locks people into what might have been a transitory stage of their emotional development. A commitment which, as it happens, cuts them off from parenthood —one of the major satisfactions of adult life.”

She says that to be gay now is to be part of a “movement” and that gay activism takes away the freedom to move away from “the gay community” if that is what your feelings dictate.

She says that “gay activists” want young people to believe that “what you do in bed is what you are: that your sex life is not an incidental fact about you but your essence.”

What this argument fails to accept is that a homosexual sex life cannot just be “incidental” — heterosexual society will not let it be. If it were to be taken for granted, as is heterosexual orientation, then there would be no need for the fuss, no need for the shouting and agitating for equality. People would express their sexuality as it took them at the time. Gay people would then be able to parent more easily, if that’s what they wanted. It is not “gay activists” who kick up all the fuss about adoption and fostering or artificial insemination for lesbians. When an uptight heterosexual like Janet Daley can regard her much bragged-about gay friends as just other human beings, then there might be progress.

Sorry, Janet, the ball is in your completely heterosexual court.

***

When Jane Brown refused those tickets for the Royal Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet, she could not have realised that she was soon to become the latest victim of tabloid witch hunting. Her action in branding the story “too heterosexual” gave the right-wing press all the ammunition they needed to launch their attack. Here was a heady brew to sustain the fantasy world they have created: political correctness gone mad; a loony left-wing council and — the icing on the cake — a lesbian in charge of “our” children.

The political correctness ticket was played for all it was worth. “Romeo, Romeo, where art thou Homo?” was The Sun’s front-page announcement of the story.

“Don’t laugh at political correctness. It could seriously damage your freedom,” wrote Brian Hitchen, pig-like editor of The Daily Star. “There is always somebody eager to explain to (our kids) why the act of buggery is romantic and acceptable in a society gone mad. Cherished books of childhood are scorned as racist or sexist. Black dolls are outlawed by muddle heads who see nothing wrong in smoking dope but go batcrap over golliwogs. Potty politically correct teachers have even changed the words of the nursery rhyme to ‘Baa Baa, white sheep’.”

They haven’t actually. That little tale was a newspaper fabrication, as are so many of these ‘amusing’ loony left/politically correct tit bits. Richard Littlejohn, The Sun’s self-pro-claimed “irritant of the year” (wouldn’t His Master’s Voice be more appropriate?), was quick to take up the cudgels. “She is almost certainly anti-American, considers African wood carving a higher art form than anything Michelangelo ever turned out and believes disabled lesbian mud wrestling more ‘relevant’ than Beethoven. Otherwise she would never have been appointed. Jane Brown is what you get from job adverts in The Guardian — where strict adherence to the doctrines of political correctness is more important than an ability to actually do the job.”

Mr Littlejohn is unimpressed by Ms Brown’s record of improvements at the school in the face of overwhelming disadvantage, and seems unaware of the esteem in which she is held by the people who really know whether she is doing a good job or not — the parents. For it was they who threw this poisonous slander back in the face of the press. Instead of forming a lynch mob, as the sick tabloids were encouraging them to do, they stood shoulder to shoulder with the embattled headmistress and told the Fleet Street muck merchants to eff off. “She must be sacked immediately,” said Littlejohn. “She should be kicked out of her present job on her non-heterosexual ear and never allowed to teach again,” said John Junor in The Mail on Sunday.

“Get lost,” said the parents and school governors by way of response.

Just as it had broken the original story, The London Evening Standard (January 27th) was the first paper to confirm that Jane Brown was, indeed, a lesbian. (“a hatchet-faced dyke” as Littlejohn put it) and then the hunt was on for the dirt about her private life.

Jane Brown was besieged. The street where she lives was so cluttered with reporters and photographers that no traffic could move on it. Her neighbours were harassed and abused when they refused to supply the titillating details. The children at the Kingsmead School, where Jane Brown works, were “wound up” by all the attention. Years of valuable work on tolerance and understanding were blown out of the window.

Then the hate mail began. From all over the country — indeed, all over the world, for this had become an international controversy — the anonymous, green-ink brigade began bombarding Jane with threats to her life. It became so bad that at one point she needed police protection.

Meantime, the Education Secretary, John Patten, was in something of a cleft stick. A rumour was circulating that the story had been planted in The London Evening Standard in order to distract attention from the fact that, in the same week, he had had to “stand down on just about every recommendation he has made”. Government embarrassment over the failure of Patten’s half-baked schools’ policies needed to be minimised.

The story’s “political plant” theory was given further credence when it was revealed that the original remarks had been made last September. Where had the story been since then?

Now Patten’s much-vaunted legislation to put power into the hands of parent-governors has also backfired on him, because the very people he has empowered are refusing to suspend a woman whose “politically correct” philosophy he detests. (“We should be in no doubt about either the scale or danger of the PC advance, It is dangerous and if allowed to spread without challenge it could alter the nature of British life,” Patten wrote in The Daily Mail (February 11th).

The Times Educational Supplement took a calmer look at the issue (January 8th) and said: “The affair has highlighted the dilemma common for any teacher working in a multicultural, cosmopolitan borough, over where to draw the line between sound equal opportunities policies and political correctness.”

Ah yes, political correctness. Suzanne Moore in The Guardian (January 28th) was calling the bluff of the rampaging right-wingers: “Change is what it is all about. And that’s why I ask what the opposite of political correctness is… it is not tolerance. Instead, PC is being used to lunge at the heart of anyone who suggests that there is something wrong with the status quo. There are many things wrong with the notion of political correctness, chief of which is that it mirrors so precisely the faults of its opposition. Both understand that language is a vehicle for ideology. Both camps seem to think that language, literature, indeed culture is a fixed rather than a fluid entity, that the substitution of one word, one text, one sentiment for another somehow changes everything. Both are appallingly literal, concentrating on text at the expense of context. Why else, for instance, have we had to endure another spirited defence of Shakespeare, one of the ‘dead white males’ least in need of resuscitation?”

Over the next few weeks, in the run up to the local government elections, we can expect a glut of loony left/PC stories. Like this one from The Sun (February 11th): “Now you can’t even ask for a black coffee!” Apparently, “loony” Nottingham City Council has banned the use of the term “black coffee” and “black eye” because they are racist. Careful examination of the story reveals it to be a complete fabrication. It is based entirely on the testimony of an unnamed social worker. A council official says it is not the council’s policy. But by now the whole thing has passed into the mythology.

Or, as Suzanne Moore puts it, it appears that those so vehemently opposed to the concept [of PC] are doing very nicely thank you; the world may be full of kikes and dykes and whingers of all descriptions who want a piece of the action, but that’s tough. The fact, though, that some of them may even be getting it means something has to be done.”

That “something” often leaves a trail of broken lives: Jane Brown being just one.

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