Scotland has had another month of conflict over homosexuality. While religious fundamentalists try to turn back the clock to the Middle Ages, the police and the gay community have both learned salutary lessons about what happens when mistrust and suspicion reign.
The first controversy was sparked by the submission of a report by the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland to the Highland Health Board, which is preparing a report on Aids in the Highlands. Written by “Wee Free” minister Donald Boyd, the document calls for — among other things —the recriminalisation of homosexuality, compulsory HIV screening for “selected people” and a study of the role of unisex clothing, hairstyles and “thoughtforms” in promoting homosexual behaviour.
At the press conference launching the document, Dr Boyd was closely questioned by a crowd of cynical journalists and was, within minutes, struggling to make sense of his own rantings. According to The Scotsman (May 21st) he was asked whether “women wearing trousers would create a disposition towards homosexuality”. The manic minister said it was a legitimate question worth asking. One journalist made the point that if he was suggesting that homosexual promiscuity should be criminalised in order to stop the spread of Aids, shouldn’t heterosexual promiscuity be similarly forbidden?
“There was a long silence. ‘It’s never been criminalised has it?’ In Calvin’s Geneva, he was reminded. Boyd struggled, initially arguing that homosexuality was a greater health risk, and then finally insisting that there were differences, and heterosexual promiscuity should not become criminal.”
I would love to have been at that press conference to see Boyd squirming as his infallible fundamentalist logic was so easily dismantled by a group of merciless unbelievers.
You’d think that Boyd could be safely written off as a nutcase, with nothing worthwhile to add to a serious debate, but his words hit the target with at least one newspaper commentator — John Macleod of The Glasgow Herald (May 25th).
Macleod wrote a long article in support of the Presbyterians, an article which provoked a large response among Scotland’s gay community.
“There is a myth of homosexuality,” wrote Macleod, “a crafted image of gentleness and civility. The reality is a culture of perversion, obsession and hatred. It is murder, like that of Joe Orton, battered to death by his gay lover. It is homosexual rape, today such a hazard in Kelvingrove Park that Glasgow University Union now buses students home. It is paedophilia…it is serial killing, like Dennis Nilsen…It is simple yobbery, like the lesbians who abseiled from the gallery in the House of Lords. Streets at night swarm with homosexual prostitutes… Homosexuality is unnatural, antisocial and wrong. And if it is madness to say, then the Free Presbyterians and I delight in madness.”(Note: John MacLeod was later ‘outed’ as gay in Scotsgay Magazine (No.30) by Garry Otton, its media correspondent).
These are only random selections from an article which paraded every myth, slander, distortion and prejudice that the homophobic squawking classes have ever invented about us. Macleod wallows in what he sees as his moral superiority, and seems incapable of seeing the anomaly of a supposed Christian preaching hate.
The response to the article was equally robust. I received several copies of it from readers in Scotland who were outraged by its extremism. Many of them had written to The Herald condemning the paper for having carried such stuff.
“Moral fascism” said Paul Trainer of Scottish Aids Monitor, while in the correspondence column of The Herald, the Deputy General Secretary of the Scottish TUC said that Macleod’s sense of logic was “taking a long, long lunch” and that his article was “naive and dangerous”. Dr David Kinloch of Strathclyde University said that Macleod was “obsessed by the spirit of factionalism” and his article fired “the ‘culture of hatred’ he erroneously detects among homosexuals”. Dr Kinloch says: “That spirit if indeed it can be dignified by such a word is no different from that which is alive and well in Bosnia today.”
Eventually The Herald granted a right of reply to a gay Church of Scotland minister (May 28th). It was given — as a genuine right of reply should be — the same space and prominence as the original article, but was undermined by the fact that the author asked to remain anonymous. “The charge of being anti-social, indeed, ought to be reversed,” wrote the clergyman. “When Macleod writes as he does in his usual provocative and bellicose tone, he helps reinforce the intolerance and prejudices that give rise to ‘gay-bashing’ and, ultimately, to far more vicious and sinister abuses of the homosexual community, such as the incarceration of ‘pink triangle’ homosexuals in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. Just how anti-social are we, indeed? ‘The streets swarm at night with homosexual prostitutes’. If it were true, God help us all, but the man doth protest too much. His claim is risible for its patent untruth.”
In the end, the unnamed vicar shames Macleod and his Wee Free fools: “His moralising miasma further poisons the atmosphere of a world surely broken enough in social fragmentation.” The gay minister says that if Macleod is going to preach, he should “preach a sermon on reconciliation” and suggests as the text 1 John 4:18. “Perfect love casts out fear.”
But it would be wrong to conclude from this that The Glasgow Herald is a homophobic newspaper. On May 29th it invited Bob Cant, a well-known figure in Scottish gay circles, to describe what he would like to happen on an imaginary “Eighth Day”, when every fantasy can come true. Mr Cant let his imagination run riot: “A Scottish Parliament has just passed a law against homophobia and has asked me to promote a national celebration day to promote the law,” he fantasised.
To ensure that everyone who wanted to go to the celebration could get there, there would be free planes and trains for anyone prepared to declare themselves gay. “Counsellors would be on hand to assist any known heterosexual trying to pass as gay for the day.” MPs and public personalities would be made honorary homosexuals; football matches would have compulsory half time entertainment of gay male choirs singing Jimmy Somerville’s greatest hits and a specially commissioned Ode to Male Bonding. Police would stop any excessive and disgusting displays of heterosexuality. Newspapers would have to hand over their front pages to lesbian and gay groups, TV stations would be forced to broadcast The Wizard of Oz, Now Voyager, My Beautiful Laundrette and other gay classics. “After that, Back to Normal would take on a whole new meaning”, he said.
But fantasy sometimes spills over into real life, and there was nothing funny about the “Magic Circle/Fettesgate” affair which stunned Edinburgh last year. Duncan Campbell tied up some of the loose ends of this saga in an article in Scotland on Sunday (May 23rd). He says that the events of Fettesgate could only have happened in the “hothouse atmosphere created by Edinburgh’s role as national capital and seat of legal power”.
Campbell says that the explosion of white collar crime in Edinburgh during the 80s had been spectacular. When the police failed to make much headway in investigating it “detectives threw aside professional training and caution, and looked for a different explanation – an imagined conspiracy of gay lawyers. One critical mistake of the ‘Magic Circle’ myth was that these frustrated detectives stopped looking for who was bent, meaning a crook, and started looking at who was bent, meaning gay.”
He says it became a self-sustaining fantasy, fuelled by sensation-seeking tabloid journalists and gay crooks alike. He admits that a small band of gay criminals became very influential among Edinburgh’s small gay community, and like most leeches, they took a great deal of shaking off. “The Pink Triangle (the gay centre in Broughton Street – since renamed) became a centre for petty crooks who happened to be gay, with their retinues of sleazy hangers-on and young men.” Honest gay campaigners, such as Ian Dunn, did their best to clean the place up. He asked the conmen and fraudsters to stay away from the centre, but with little effect.
Most of the dubious characters involved in trying to hijack the Edinburgh gay scene are now in jail and the gay community breathes a sigh of relief.
Campbell says that there was no widespread anti-gay conspiracy in the Edinburgh police force. Nor was there an anti-police gay conspiracy in the legal and prosecution services. The whole “Magic Circle/Fettesgate” imbroglio turned out to be paranoia gone haywire.
One aspect of the whole affair which seems to have passed without much mention is the part played by The Sun newspaper. Spurred by its obsessive homophobia, it gladly fanned the flames lit by liars and thieves. It paid Derek Donaldson, one of the leading protagonists in the mess, £10,000 for a story which he had duped out of William Nimmo Smith, the QC appointed to investigate the matter. Donaldson was a petty crook with a string of previous offences. Just the sort of person The Sun would be glad to deal with. He is now in prison.
The corruption of the Murdoch rag in rewarding criminals and deceivers seems to have been forgotten. Its repeated slandering of the gay community has gone unchallenged. There has been no apology for headlines it ran suggesting that the “gay conspiracy” fantasy was true, and only minimal subsequent reporting of the inconvenient facts of the matter.
For all the lying and cheating that has happened in Edinburgh over the past two years, The Sun can take its share of the blame, but it walks away laughing.
Jonathan Keates wrote in The Observer (June 6th) “One of the current favourites in the demonology of right-wing journalism is the so-called proselytising homosexual,” (regular readers of Mediawatch will, however, have been familiar with this particular mythical beast for many years). “As in the case of the Abominable Snowman, Bigfoot and similar hominid ghouls with which our imagination peoples the earth’s waste places, nobody has actually seen one, but they all know someone who might have. Quite how the proselytisers go about their work is thus never specified, neither are the feelings of the proselytes themselves, gobsmacked on the road to a gay Damascus.”
He continued: “The notion that it is possible to convert to homosexuality, as though to unleaded petrol or monetarism, is grasped with the same desperation as that other faggot-basher’s canard, that all queers, stewed in guilt and misery, pine to return to a world in which the horrors of family life, divorce, rape, wife-beating and child abuse are somehow rendered respectable in a context of heterosexual orientation.”
Mr Keates must have been reading an article by Colin Welch in The Independent (May 24th). Welch trotted out every out-dated, discredited, illogical, irrational bit of bilge that has ever been invented to insult homosexuals. “Does the gay community exist?” he asks, and at once you are alerted to the fact that we are in for another round of the same old guff. “If there is any prejudice, I am sure that it is not against homosexuals as such but against homosexuality organised, aggressive, imperialistic. It asserts ‘rights’ that are offensive to many.”
Mr Welch asks if all homosexuals agree with Peter Tatchell all the time – how did he come to be such a prominent spokesperson, anyway? Who elected him? That’s a reasonable question, but it becomes swallowed in the usual smugness and ignorance that afflicts these ten-a-penny bigots. “Do all homosexuals think that they should be free to use public money and institutions to proselytise? …Homosexuals have described to me their sexuality as a grievous burden and handicap, not to be lightly or eagerly transmitted onwards…They are not gay at all, but sad!”
Well, this is all very original, I’m sure. I haven’t read anything like it in the British press for…ooh, it must be three weeks now.
The worrying thing is that such drivel should appear in The Independent, the newspaper we have come to regard as a safe haven from this sort of stuff. Yet there was a little redemption in The Independent on Sunday (May 23rd) which carried a scathing attack by Neal Ascherson upon those newspapers, and their commentators, who are trying to convince their readers that the Aids crisis is over. At last someone has had the guts to stand up and say it: The Sunday Times, Michael Fumento, James le Fanu, Geoffrey Wheatcroft, Professor Gordon Stewart and several other journalists, have been conducting a campaign to undermine efforts to convince the populace that Aids concerns everyone. They have created a theory that there is an all-powerful, omnipresent “Aids industry” which is selling lies about the disease “in order to protect gays from hatred and contempt”.
Mr Ascherson explained it thus: “All stories about sex sell newspapers…and stories about sex which tell readers what they want to know sell even more newspapers.” What it seems readers want to know is that they can “aspire to have a naughty, normal sex life without being made to feel guilty and without having to take lessons from a pack of mincing poofters.”
He maintains that the concept of an ‘Aids industry’ was invented by the people and newspapers named above, simply so that they could shoot it down. Says Ascherson: “The campaign against the ‘Aids industry” is not just nonsensical or an evocation of prejudice in order to pander to it…The defeat of the campaign against the ‘Aids industry’ will be a victory over boorishness and also a sign of the times.”
It seems that the Wapping liars and their clones have been found out again.
Just in case anyone should think that I never have anything positive to report about Christian attitudes to homosexuality, there are two little items which might help correct the balance. According to The Daily Telegraph (May 18th) “An attempt to ban Church of Scotland Ministers from blessing homosexual relationships in church was defeated by 534 votes to 328 at the Kirk’s General Assembly.” Apparently, the motion had been put after the Rev Margaret Forrester blessed a lesbian couple at her church in Edinburgh last year.
Meanwhile, The Church Times (May 28th) reported: “The decision last week by the Government of the Irish Republic to decriminalise homosexuality and set 17 as the age of consent (it is 21 in the UK) has been broadly welcomed by the Church of Ireland. The Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Revd Dr Donald Caird said there had been calls for many years for decriminalisation, and it was the correct course of action.”
That is a major obstacle out of the way of the reform, and that can be nothing but good news.
The Sun (June 10th) reported that “Gays force Cher to sell up”. Apparently, the superstar is “worried that she will be blacklisted by gays” if she stays in her luxury home in Aspen, Colorado – the state that banned pro-gay legislation.
Of course, it could be that Cher has a conscience and is selling up because of loyalty to her friends. But we couldn’t expect The Sun to understand anything as noble as that.