GAY TIMES November 1993

When is anti-Semite not an anti-Semite? Answer: when it’s Peter Tatchell.

Mr Tatchell’s group OutRage!was accused of being anti-Jewish following a demonstration, outside a synagogue, against the disgusting anti-gay remarks made by ex-chief Rabbi Jakobovits. The most disturbing aspect, though, was that gay newspapers decided to carry the “anti-Semitic” accusations on their front pages.

Anyone who knows anything about OutRage!must realise that it would be the last group to set itself up as racist, sexist or anti-Semitic; its politically correct credentials are impeccable. So how did its perfectly justifiable challenge to the Jewish community end up with headlines like: “Calls of racism by Jewish groups as OutRage!targets synagogue” (Pink Paper, September 24th) and “OutRage!accused of anti-Semitism” (Capital Gay, September 24th)?

In these anxious times, the gay press has a special duty. Like the rest of the press, it must aim to report the news fairly and with balance, and to keep comment and news reporting separate. The rest of the press, as we know to our cost, fails in this duty, which is all the more reason why we should try harder.

At the same time, the gay media has a duty to report events from a gay perspective. Our newspapers and radio programmes must go some way to balance the sometimes ill-informed and hostile reporting of gay life by straight papers. This does not mean that everything gay people do is beyond criticism, of course, but it does mean that honest and well-intentioned efforts in the struggle for gay rights should be reported sympathetically and fairly.

OutRage!feels aggrieved at the drubbing it received from Capital Gay and the Pink Paper and, indeed, Capital Gay’s report of the event could well have been written by any straight journalist with a desire to discredit OutRage!

It was angled to suggest that the direct-action group had deliberately set out to offend and insult Jewish people, when in fact the intention had been simply to raise awareness of the homophobia of leading figures in the Jewish community.

Perhaps OutRage!’s placard comparing Lord Jakobovits to the Nazi Heinrich Himmler was a mistake, but only because its message (that both wanted to use genetic engineering to eradicate homosexuality) was not clear. But it was not intended to upset those who were in concentration camps as has been suggested. Remember, gays wore pink triangles in those camps, too.

OutRage!prides itself on its defence of persecuted minorities, so accusations of anti-Semitism got them where it hurts. But that tactic does not let the Jewish community off the hook. Lord Jakobovits’ remarks were disgusting and sinister, but judging by the ensuing correspondence in the Jewish Chronicle, many Jews agree with him. The Jewish community cannot avoid the nastiness in its midst simply by claiming that OutRage!’s challenge “offended their sensibilities”. What about gay people’s sensibilities? After all, the remarks that sparked this row came not from some barmy fringe group but from the very top of the hierarchy, and when the ex-Chief rabbi speaks, it is with the voice of authority.

This means that all Jews now have a question to answer: do you agree with Jakobovits or not? And accusations that I am anti-Semitic for suggesting this will not wash. Jakobovits’ comments sprang from his interpretation of Jewish law, so unless they say otherwise, we have to assume that the people bound by that law agree. Significantly, the current Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, has not distanced himself from Jakobovits opinions.

We’re on similarly slippery ground over the growing threat of violence against gays emanating from the black community. The Independent (October 4th) reported on tensions between the predominantly white gay communities and the black communities in the south London districts of Brixton, Stockwell and Kennington. Increasing numbers of homophobic attacks are being reported, and the suspicion is that they are the result of the macho culture of young black men. This is expressed most clearly in ragga music which, according to The Independent “evolved out of Jamaican reggae and Afro-American rap and has lyrics that pay homage to macho virility”.

One song in particular is blamed for the rising anxiety, the notorious Boom Bye Bye. Buju Banton’s song contains the lethal line “Boom bye-bye inna battyboy head”, which translates as “shoot homosexuals in the head”.

The Indy reports: “Recent incidents include a young gay man followed by a black youth and beaten with a baseball bat; another had his trousers pulled down in the street and was beaten by black youths wielding a shovel; yet another was kicked to the ground and a road sign dropped on him. There have also been reports of assaults on lesbians.”

Someone at The Yard is quoted as saying: “Young blacks are being told in music that killing batty boys is culturally acceptable. It’s gone past fashion. Someone will be killed.”

There’s no doubt that black youths get a very hard time, and in some ways their violent reactions against white society are understandable. But the establishment of a kind of pecking order, with gays at the bottom, isn’t the answer. Black boys might well feel that they’re regarded as the lowest of the low, but then their thinking seems to say “at least I’m better than a battyboy”. It’s a dangerous reasoning and one which the black community has a duty to challenge. And if I say that this violence is a direct result of developments in black culture, am I going to be accused of racism? I’ll risk it, because if we are attacked by members of other oppressed minorities, we must not allow political correctness to get in the way of justifiable protest.

Even discussing political correctness is a minefield. Originally it had a benign and worthy intention – to change attitudes towards groups in society that have traditionally been marginalised or neglected. This I don’t object to. Britain is riddled with racism, sexism, homophobia and disregard for those with disabilities, and any effort to improve the lot of these groups is to be applauded. But then the zealots got to work and the whole thing went too far. Political correctness has become, in some quarters, a kind of religion with its own heresies and blasphemies that will be severely punished. You have to watch your language when talking about minorities because the permissible terminology used to refer to them seems to change by the day.

Those at the forefront of political correctness often fire their cannons with little regard for the target. Many people who are generally sympathetic to the aims of gay activists are alienated by aggressive attacks on their lack of political correctness. An example of this was given by Cynthia Heimel, reporting from Los Angeles for the Independent on Sunday. Ms Heimel had been invited on to an “Oprah-ish TV show” to discuss “Straight women and gay men: a wonderful blendship?” She was a panelist along with two gay men and their straight women best friends. During a commercial break she noticed that the other panelists were having a “fierce whispering tantrum”.

“‘They keep defining me as a gay man,’ said a guy with great socks. ‘Don’t they understand that I’m not just gay. I’m a person too, that my personhood is more important than my gayness?’

“‘I know,’ said a woman, ‘They don’t understand that it’s not about being gay or straight, it’s about friendship and empowerment’.

“Yeah, totally,’ I said, trying to be one of the gang. ‘Hey, nice socks,’ I said to the socks guy. ‘Oh, but they would be, you’re gay.’ The four panelists glared at me. ‘Hey, come on. It was a joke! Ha ha,’ I said feebly. “‘Don’t you see it’s wrong to stereotype like that?’ asked the sock guy’s best friend. “‘But it’s a positive stereotype and it’s true,’ I said. ‘Gay men look good, straight men look like they’ve just emerged from a trash bin.’ I got four cold shoulders. I shrivelled into a little ball.”

Poor old liberal straights. One minute we’re demanding they respect our difference, now we’re demanding that they disregard it. No wonder they’re confused. The Right-wing were quick to pick up this kind of excess and now political correctness has taken over from loony-leftism as the “reason” to resist change and progress. PC has become a powerful propaganda tool for reactionary pundits.

Take a couple of examples, the first from Richard Ingrams in The Observer: “The schedules of Channel 4 are usually a good guide to what is politically correct. So I was interested if somewhat alarmed last week to see a whole hour being devoted to promoting Ludovic Kennedy’s campaign for the legalisation of euthanasia. If I am right, it looks horribly as if euthanasia has now joined abortion, gay rights, doing away with nuclear energy and saving the whales as something we all have to be in favour of.”

Notice how Ingrams has craftily made it seem that all the above listed issues are the province of the politically correct (i.e. loonies) and can therefore be disregarded by sensible people.

And then we have Garry Bushell, writing in The Sun (September 29th) about the gay character in Casualty (BBC 1): “Inevitably Ken is painted as a sympathetic character rather than a sleazy khazi cruiser. This is because TV drama is life as Big Brother Beeb would like it to be rather than how it is, and ‘positive images’ are a must for all minorities.”

Bushell makes out that any attempt to portray gay people as whole human beings with a full range of emotions is nothing but “political correctness”, and in Bushell’s book PC is just one more left-wing conspiracy aimed at undermining the lives of “real” folk. Astute readers will know, of course, that Mr Bushell is peddling a political agenda of his own which is as dogmatic as that of any Socialist Worker, Take this which, believe it or not, appeared in his television review (October 6th): “Most voters want an end to immigration and a real crack down on crime – including the immediate return of the death penalty.”

The right-wing press has been full of stories about the “legions of the politically correct” who, they maintain, are stifling free speech. To hear them tell it you’d think it was no longer possible to criticise anyone with a black skin, a gay orientation or a disability. The only problem with their argument is that their pages are full of abuse for these groups.

I, for instance, was called a “liberal fascist” by a right-wing columnist when I won a Press Council ruling which said that words like “poof” and “poofter” should not be used as terms of abuse in newspapers. “We can no longer say what we like,” said The Sun and The Star. “The politically correct Nazis have stifled free speech.” I have seen no lessening of the newspapers aggression towards gay people since this ruling.

So, we should be careful about those who oppose political correctness – and remember that with their attempts to make it sound like a sinister undermining of “traditional values” they are creating a stick with which to beat reformers and progressives, a weapon to hold back change. At the same time, we should be cautious of those who take political correctness too far. The antics of a few extremists give our enemies a wonderful opportunity to oppose all our efforts to change things for the better.

Extreme political correctness also stands in the way of our vigorously fighting our corner when we are attacked by other minorities. I do hope that OutRage!will not be intimidated by this latest incident and will continue to make our supposed allies in the Rainbow Alliance face up to their homophobia.

***

“Raymond Burr was veritable giant of the small screen,” wrote The Daily Star in an editorial (September 14th). “What a shame that the tough, straight-talking star of Perry Mason and Ironside should turn out to be a gay ‘wife’ who liked nothing better than knitting and making strawberry jam. Ever get the feeling that there are some things you would simply prefer not to know?”

Yes, I do, actually. I’d prefer not to know the stinking opinions of the sleazy Daily Star.

***

For the real master of political correctness you have to go to the Vatican. Yes, his Holiness has done it again. The great dealer in Bull has at last published his enSlCKlicle, Veritatis Splendor(or, roughly translated, I’m a silly old prick). This document was widely leaked by The Times, so it doesn’t come as much of a surprise.

The Holy Father tells us that homosexuality, birth control, sex outside marriage and artificial insemination are all “intrinsically evil”. And, what’s more, if any of the troops dare to disagree, they will be severely dealt with.

It’s tragic that a man with an obvious psychiatric condition should wield such power over so many people in the world. But then again, they have a choice. They can tell him to take a running jump.

***

Mary Kenny, that pathetic apologist for all things Catholic, returned to the subject of gay sexuality in her column in The Sunday Telegraph (September 19th). “Two young homosexual men who ‘came out’ on a local BBC radio programme will not be prosecuted, the Crown Prosecution Service has said, even though one of them, at 20, is technically under-age.”

She says this is a wise decision because sometimes it is better for the law to turn a blind eye to minor transgressions. “By far the most sensible option is to engage in a sensible act of hypocrisy,” she says. And she should know, being an expert on the subject.

Before you get the idea that Holy Mary has changed her tune about gay rights, we have to read on, because the crux of her article is an impassioned plea that the age of consent should not be lowered. “In London there is a thriving rent-boy racket, there are gay culture pubs, clubs, porn, artefacts – you name it you can get it. It is possible that this is something you will never suppress; but it would be darned foolish,” she says, “at a time when Aids is on the rampage, to endorse it, encourage it, and give it the Queen’s stamp of approval.”

Kenny says that gay campaigners should be careful that they are not accused of “wanting to encourage pederasty, of being stalking horses for the cult of ‘boy love’, so assiduously pursued by such luminaries as, the late Michel Foucault, the influential French intellectual (the age he fancied was ‘13 or 14’).” Accused by whom? Well, by Mary, of course, who says that lowering the age of consent for gay men will “endorse a rent-boy culture by giving the law’s approval to teenage gay sex.”

Barbara Amiel in The Sunday Times (September 19th) launched a similarly vitriolic attack on gay rights. “Militant homosexuals want much more than their basic human rights to practice their tastes without legal sanction. They also want admiration and preferential treatment for doing so – as well as the redesign of basic institutions to suit their lifestyle.” She goes on to say that although she is a “profoundly liberal person” (cough! splutter! gag!) she “understands those hidebound conservatives who used to say that if you give these people equal treatment before the law, soon they will demand that homosexuality be taught as a desirable lifestyle in our schools.”

And so her profound liberalism leads her to believe that a lowering of the age of consent will result in the “sin” of “the militant’s demand for privilege and excess”.

These are the first shots across the bows as the age of consent debate gathers pace. We had better be ready for our opponents to trawl the very bottom of the sewer of slander in order to hold back reform. Sick bags at the ready, boys.

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