GAY TIMES January 1994

“Five years ago, one scientist began to question whether the causal link between HIV and Aids was proven,” said The Independent in an editorial (December 2nd). “The overwhelming majority of specialists now believe that it is; as our knowledge of medicine has grown, many of these doubts have been laid to rest. Valid though it is for a specialist to ask such a question, at least one newspaper has seized on it and turned it into a story suggesting that an overzealous Aids ‘establishment’ driven by a variety of crusading motives, has invented the ‘myth’ that HIV causes Aids. This reassuring message sells papers. Unfortunately, it may also cost lives.”

And yet still The Sunday Times peddles its line that HIV is not the cause of Aids – but that “lifestyle” factors, such as gay sex, are. Despite constant barracking from those who spend their lives studying this virus (and whom The Sunday Times dismisses as the “HIV bandwagon” or “the legions of the politically correct”), the paper continues to insist that it is right.

It is easy to be wise after the event, of course, and it is right that the voices of sincere “dissidents” should be heard. But I am suspicious of The Sunday Times’ motives. Its editor, Andrew Neil, is backing a long-shot with this. He hopes that one day, when everyone comes round to accepting his paper’s contention that there is no African Aids epidemic and that the “public misinformation campaign” was a big conspiracy, he will be lauded and acclaimed as a prophet among fools. He hopes that his paper will regain some of the glory and prestige that it had when it successfully campaigned against the drug Thalidomide. But Aids is a horse of a different colour, and there are grave dangers in the ST’s chosen course.

No one has all the answers about Aids, so it would be foolish to set any theory in stone. That goes double for The Sunday Times, which is pushing its own theory as though it were incontrovertible truth. In the process, it is managing to convince many people that they are in no danger from HIV.

Creating complacency in this epidemic is woeful and wilful. Until we know better, the most conservative like is the safest. Stick to condoms.

***

Outrage!’s attack on the anti-gay comments of Lord Jakobovits has served its purpose of getting the Jewish community to discuss its homophobia. The Jewish Chronicle (November 26th) carried a front- page lead on OutRage! and also a comment feature by Jack Gilbert of the Jewish Lesbian and Gay Helpline.

Mr Gilbert rejects the idea that there is a “hierarchy of oppression” within minority groups. He still thinks that OutRage!’s attack on Jakobovits was a display of “latent anti-Semitism” and is forcing Jewish gays into a crisis of loyalties. In an attack on Gay Times, Mr Gilbert says that my views on the topic, as expressed in MediaWatch, are “noxious” and that the whole Jewish community cannot be held responsible for the views of one man. He says that OutRage!’s demo and my opinions remind him of his experiences in American universities when he battled against “campus and Left anti-Semitism” which were characterised by claims of “disloyalty” and “collective responsibility” and the “demonisation of Jews with Holocaust imagery”.

I feel affronted that what was intended as a serious and sympathetic contribution to the debate should be presented by Mr Gilbert as anti-Semitic. It cannot bode well for the development of this debate if every time someone utters justified criticism of events in the Jewish community they are branded as racists. Mr Gilbert should beware of providing a handy escape route for those homophobic Jews who have a case to answer.

I accept that Jewish gay people need to reconcile their ethnic identity (as opposed to their religious beliefs) with their sexuality. But why should other homosexuals remain silent while prominent figures within the Jewish community – and not just Lord Jakobovits – feel free to issue the most abusive anti-gay tirades? OutRage! is an equal opportunities irritant – it chooses its targets on the basis of their homophobia, not their race. Anti-gay feeling is a problem for the Jewish community – just as it is for the population at large.

As gay playwright Tony Kushner – author of Angels in America – put it, in an article on the same page of The Jewish Chronicle: “I doubt if Jews are more homophobic than anyone else, but there is a particular quality to Jewish homophobia that is difficult for gay Jews to accept. One would think that the history of the Jewish people would teach one the tremendous evil of bigotry and prejudice. It’s very distressing when one comes across Jews who haven’t learned that lesson.”

The theme of a “hierarchy of oppression” was also the subject of a speech by Peter Tatchell at a human rights conference organised by Liberty. Mr Tatchell began by reminding his audience that oppressed groups seem to spend almost as much time hating each other as they do fighting the. common enemy. He cited the Buju Banton affair as an example of how homophobia was accepted as natural by many in the black communities.

Reporting reaction to the speech, The Voice, a newspaper for the black community, quoted Lee Jasper of the National Black Caucus as saying: “I think Peter Tatchell’s anti-Jamaican feelings need attention drawn to them. I have talked to a number of Black gays and he should also realise that racism is alive and well in the gay community as it is anywhere else.”

We know there are racists in the gay community – and it is an issue on which we cannot be complacent – but that still doesn’t justify homophobia. And that is the crux of the problem. When does the “I’m more oppressed than you are” rhetoric end and proper dialogue begin?

Tatchell proposed that there should be an Equal Rights Act to protect all minorities. “Instead of campaigning separately around narrow and specialist agendas, such as race and sexuality,” he said, “it makes more sense to forge alliances to unite everyone suffering injustice around a common campaign to challenge all forms of discrimination. An inclusive and broad-based agenda of ‘equal rights for all’ is more likely to maximise support and minimise opposition.”

But Anne Kane of the Anti-Racist Alliance responded in The Voice by saying it was “difficult enough to gather support around a single issue let alone forcing people to take on board a whole range of other views which they might not agree with as well.”

Other views they might not agree with? What does this mean – that it’s OK to be a black homophobe and that anyone who points it out is automatically a racist?

I still hold to the view that a pecking order of oppression exists, and that gays are at the bottom. But that does not mean that all hope is lost. If we can provoke discussion among other communities that suffer discrimination, then maybe one day they’ll get the message that Peter Tatchell put so succinctly: “Some people believe that there is a hierarchy of oppression – that some groups, are more deserving than others. That can’t be right. All victimisation should be opposed.”

***

Masochism must be more widespread in the gay community than I thought. What else could explain that the most popular newspaper among readers of Gay Times (according to our recent readership survey) is The Sun?

Thirty-six per cent of you read Mr Murdoch’s homophobic rag, whereas only nine per cent of you read The Independent, which has been consistently supportive of the gay struggle. (The Guardian, thankfully, is the most popular daily broadsheet – 30 per cent).

On Sunday, our favourite read is Murdoch’s other flagship, The Sunday Times, (the survey says 33 per cent of us have looked at it in the past four months) and The News of the World is the favourite Sunday tabloid with 22 per cent of us taking a peek.

I find it sad that so many gay people are prepared to put money into an empire which is waging a relentless war against them. Every pink pound in Murdoch’s pocket will help him continue his campaign of vilification.

Every time we buy one of his papers or subscribe to one of his TV channels we give him the resources to pursue gay people with an almost obsessive hate. Commenting on The Sun’s cruel persecution of stricken star Michael Jackson, Auberon Waugh in The Daily Telegraph (November 20th) said: “The manhunt for Jackson is conducted with a sadistic relish which only the born-again Murdoch could inspire… (The singer) is said to be suffering from total nervous collapse and breakdown, which is easy to imagine. Is there to be no pity for this poor hamburger victim?”

Pity? Such weakness is alien to Murdoch. And besides, it doesn’t make money.

***

To get to the heart of the Government’s somewhat unconvincing “back to basics” campaign, The Independent commissioned a poll to find out the nation’s real opinions on personal morality. It was surprised to find widespread support for single mothers, which was a gratifying poke in the eye for the creepy Peter Lilley.

Several questions about homosexuality were asked in the survey. The paper concluded that attitudes have “softened” (although not as much as we would have liked). Twenty-five per cent of the survey thinks sexual relations between two adults of the same sex are “not at all wrong” – in 1983 the figure was 17 per cent. Homosexuality is always wrong according to 35 per cent as opposed to 50 per cent in 1983. Disapproval is greatest among the over-55s, Conservative voters and those in lower income groups.

Most disappointing was the question about the age of consent. Only 12 per cent of the survey thought it should be 16. Fifty-six per cent thought it should remain at 21. But, as the paper pointed out, much depends on how the question is asked. Last year Stonewall also commissioned a poll on this, but their question was phrased more “positively” (“should the age of consent be the same for everyone” rather than “What do you think the age of consent for gays should be?”). On that occasion 74 per cent were in favour of equality.

The Independent editorialised that “People tend to react cussedly when politicians preach at them” and welcomed these signs of more tolerant and liberal values.

While we’re on the subject of surveys, The Daily Telegraph (December 2nd) reported the International Social Attitudes poll had found that “easier going sexual attitudes do not extend to homosexuals” with only 12 per cent of men and 14 per cent of women agreeing that homosexual couples should have the right to marry.

***

Stephen Fry repeated – in The Spectator – his oft-quoted assertion that the present Cabinet contains six adulterers and “at least two homosexuals” and so should be careful in pontificating at the rest of us about morality.

This outraged John Junor in The Mail on Sunday (November 21st). “Is he just making a wild, unfounded allegation?” grunted the curmudgeonly columnist. “I very much hope so. But if it is otherwise, and Mr Fry does have information denied to the rest of us, then why having quite gratuitously raised the matter, doesn’t he have the guts to name the two ministers? There are 20 men in Mr Major’s Cabinet. Each of them is married. Which two of them then, according to Mr Fry, are leading double lives? Isn’t it damnable that, thanks to Mr Fry, even the 18 innocent ones are from now on going to be under suspicion?”

“Innocent?” asked Allison Pearson, a new columnist in The London Evening Standard (November 23rd). “Of what are the other two supposed to be guilty?”

“Why can’t MPs be glad to be gay – if they are gay?” she goes on to lament. “One reason is that people like Sir John Junor find it repulsive… Making love isn’t a crime. But, as long as we are encouraged to think that homosexuality is base, those who practise it in high places will also be forced to practise hypocrisy – family values or no family values.”

Simon Hoggart in The Observer was ruminating on the use of sexual blackmail in Parliament as a weapon to bring recalcitrant MPs into line. “At the moment,” he says, in regard to newspaper exposés of private lives, “the unspoken rule seems to be that anything goes as long as it’s heterosexual…for now gays seem to be protected unless their behaviour is egregious.” He says that everyone at Westminster knows who Stephen Fry is talking about. “One is the victim of a smear campaign touted round the papers by a disturbed youngster he and his wife helped. He is trapped, unable to deny a rumour which has yet to become public.”

Labour will not use this information because, of course, they have secrets of their own. The whole thing rests on a “balance of terror”, where all parties agree not to start the “outing” process which might have a devastating snowball effect in Westminster.

Meanwhile, the whole “moral crusade” nonsense will, most commentators agree, be a flash in the pan. “Senior colleagues of the Prime Minister recognise that these are dangerous waters,” wrote Andrew Rawnsley in The Observer (November 14th). “Douglas Hurd and Kenneth Clarke, for whom liberalism is not a dirty word, are confident that they can dissuade Mr Major from wading in too deep. They are confident that Moral Majorism will not last long, perhaps only as long as it takes for one of the tabloids to debag another of his Ministers.”

***

When Channel Four announced its plans to make Christmas a little gayer this year, the reactionaries went into an apoplectic spasm. John Blackburn, MP was wheeled out by The Daily Mail to say that it unforgivably “tarnishes” Christmas, while the Bishop of Peterborough urged advertisers to boycott Channel Four. Most grotesque of all was the Archdeacon of Aston who claimed that the gay Xmas programmes were part of the story of a sick society. (“It is the story of the man in Cardiff who was killed for trying to stop youths stealing traffic cones.”) He even tried to make a connection between Camp Christmas and the murder of James Bulger.

The tasteless churchman and his revolting ranting did not impress Libby Purves who, in her column in The Times (November 29th) wrote: “I shall tune into Quentin Crisp, prefacing the broadcast with a short, emotional address from myself to the effect that what you are about to see is a man and a brother and that it behoves us today to love him, Martina Navratilova, Julian Clary and all gay celebrities, however annoying they may be. And to blame gay showbiz for the murder of a child by children is stupid and rather obscene; and there is no clear evidence that sexual deviation causes youths to steal traffic cones, either. So here’s to tolerance and yah boo to the bishop.”

Claudia Fitzherbert in The Daily Telegraph declared herself totally mystified by the reaction of the churchmen to the programmes. “Having sat down at my desk and pondered the puzzle for some hours.” she wrote, “I still find the observations utterly incomprehensible.”

Dillie Keane, in The Mail on Sunday (November 28th) didn’t think the gay Christmas was a good idea either. Not because it would cause civilisation to crumble, but because it marginalised gays instead of integrating them. “Surely Christmas is a time for unity, not division?” she wrote. “Gays, it seems, are being sidelined to a channel that nobody will be watching.”

Ms Keane wants to know why gay celebrities aren’t being invited on to “a cross section of festive programmes, which cater to all people, majority and minorities alike?”

This is an excellent question, but I wonder why she isn’t objecting to the fishing programme or the football match or the interminable church services – all of minority interest. I wonder why she imagines that gay people don’t need to have programmes about issues specific to their lives?

The gay programmes are on a public network available to everyone, so the real issue is not that gay people will be watching them, but that straight people won’t. Integration is, after all, a two-way traffic.

***

The British Medical Association’s News Review carried a “Head-to-Head” feature putting the case for and against gay law reform. Dinesh Bhugra a senior lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry in London put our argument in a mild and rational manner.

Speaking against was Gregory Gardner, a Birmingham locum GP and a member of the “interest group” Family and Youth Concern. “Why is the homosexual lobby seeking this change?” he asked, and answered with the standard Family and Youth Concern claptrap that because homosexuals “don’t reproduce” they must “recruit” new people into their lifestyle. “The second part of the homosexual philosophy,” wrote Gardner, “is the attempt to persuade society that homosexuality is neither perverted, nor dangerous. An example of this is the link between homosexuality and paedophilia… As with spoiled children, gay demands are insatiable. Victims to the core, the more they have the more they want. Homosexuals learn to enjoy activities that would have sickened them as children and then expect special protection and status… Allowed free rein, homosexual values will trash any society in which they are allowed to flourish… Under no circumstances ought homosexuality be regarded as anything other than a destructive habit system… homosexuality is a personal tragedy and a social calamity… etc. etc.”

The BMA News Review received a large response to this feature, and so did I. They will carry a two-page special to air some of these views in the January issue.

This is one that will obviously run and run.

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