Kate Saunders in The Sunday Times (23 August) accurately described the Republican Convention in America as a “freak show”, a gathering of “nutcases from all over America… enormously fat people in fancy dress, gibbering inanely about tax cuts and anti-abortion laws.” And, of course, homosexuality.
However, President Bush’s decision to unleash the ratbags of the Right, in the shape of Pat Buchanan and Pat Robertson, may have backfired. The Times (10 Sep) tells us that the Republicans are now backtracking on the “extreme social conservatism” because it alienates so many sensible and moderate voters.
Campaigning in California, the Vice President “dumb” Dan Quayle “displayed a new tolerance of homosexuals, softened his opposition to abortion and redefined ‘family values’ so they no longer exclude the majority of Americans who do not live in nuclear families.
When asked on a TV phone-in about the gay-bashing speeches at the convention, President Bush said: “I don’t think you heard any of that rhetoric coming from me. You didn’t hear it coming from the President.”
The Democrats say that this apparent about-face is political opportunism. Well, of course it is, and it’s so transparent that surely even the American electorate can see through it.
But those ‘conservatives’ and their creepy ‘family values’ refuse to go away. Now that communism is dead they need a new enemy and, boys and girls, we are it: homosexuality is the new improved threat to “the tradition values of America”.
Take, for instance. The Battle of the Boy Scouts. Most readers will already be aware that the Levi Strauss jean company and the Wells Fargo Corporation have withdrawn financial support from the Boy Scouts of America because of their exclusion of the ‘three Gs’ – no gays, no godless, no girls. The Independent (10 Sep) brought us up to date on that particular rumpus by telling us “Gay activists have not been shy in pointing to recent biographical evidence that Lord Baden Powell (founder of the Scouts) was himself a repressed homosexual.”
The “family values” cranks, though, are hitting back. A Republican congressman has vowed to encourage a grass-roots counter boycott of Levi Strauss and Wells Fargo. “Throughout Middle America in the next six months people are going to be wearing a lot more Lees and Wranglers and a lot fewer Levis,” he said.
Catholic journal The Tablet published a letter (22 Aug) that should make the Pope hang his head in shame. It as from someone identified just as Francis. “On reading the report of the recent letter…. advising American bishops to discriminate against homosexual people seeking to enter the teaching profession or armed forces, I was dismayed to find that I have, apparently, misspent my entire life”
Francis tells how, during the war, he “fought partly to free the present Pope’s homeland” by spending four life-threatening years in the RAF. He says that he imagined he was doing his duty but little did I know I was simply a potential source of corruption to those around me and thus had no right to serve my country.”
After the war, Fancis became a music teacher and carried on his profession for 40 years “in the hope that I was making the most of the gifts God had given me.” But now the Church – through this statement – has made him realise he has a nature “intrinsically directed towards evil” and that according to the Vatican he is a “grace moral danger” to his pupils.
He asks, not without bitterness, whether he should now return his wartime medals to the Ministry of Defence “with an abject apology”. He wants to know whether those presently studying with him should be sent off to “a suitably heterosexual teacher.”
Francis goes on to say that he hopes a letter is now winging its way to the English Catholic hierarchy “strongly urging them to observe Leviticus 20:13 which recommends that homosexual people should be stoned to death. Nothing seems impossible under the present regime.”
I sincerely hope that the Vatican’s latest insult has encouraged more gay Catholics to move away from a church that treats them with such contempt.
The tenth anniversary of the West and Wilde bookshop in Edinburgh was celebrated with an article in Scotland on Sunday (23 Aug). Journalist Sue Innes interviewed Bob Orr and Raymond Rose, the two men who run the shop, and got a snapshot of how gay life has developed in Scotland over the past decade.
Bob Orr sees “positive change in the attitudes of young gay people. He thinks there is much more tolerance in Scotland than there is in England, which is good to think might be true,” says Ms Innes. “But I do not think there is better understanding.”
She may be right if other events in Scotland over the past few weeks are anything to go by. The Glasgow Herald (11 Aug) devoted a page to an extraordinary affair which has become known as “Fettesgate”. Even with a broadsheet page to play with, the article still didn’t manage to get to the heart of the matter. It started with a break-in at the Lothian and Borders Police HQ in which several highly sensitive documents were stolen. From this daring raid there followed a complex string of events that seemed to originate from the “criminal elements of Edinburgh’s homosexual community” which, according to the paper, is “so secretive that criminality can prosper and where many of its members live in constant fear of exposure.”
The Guardian (5 Sep) took the story up, but got no nearer the truth. “The affair is a story of the gay criminal underworld in Edinburgh and the often precarious links between the police and their sources. It is a tale of tip-off fees denied and of possible blackmail against at least one senior figure in the legal establishment, said to be associated with a gay fraudster sentences to six years for his part in A £280,000 bank scam just before the break-in.”
Frame-ups, cover-ups, conspiracy theories and guesswork abound in this complex web of lies and denials. And the situation hasn’t been helped by the leak last month of the police report of criminal cases where charges have been dropped allegedly because of a “gay conspiracy”. It is difficult to know whether the police are trying to blame the gay community for all of this in order to cover their own bungling ineptitude or whether there really is some vast unseen mafia of gay criminals intent on humiliating the police. It’s one of those mysteries that could rumble for years, feeding the paranoia of those in power for a long time to come.
Meanwhile, over in Glasgow, a frightening tale of blackmail was recounted in Scotland on Sunday (6 Sep). Brian McKenna, a gay businessman, was the victim of an organised extortion racket. He paid out £8,000 to a gang of “pimps and rent boys” before he finally “broke down in tears on the phone and told them to do their worst”. Which they certainly did – arriving at his business to demand more, phoning his staff, setting fire to his shop and house, wrecking his car, promising to set up rent boys who would falsely claim that he had paid them for under-age sex. In the end he came out to the city police and asked for help. The police have been magnificent in backing his stand against the criminals.
Mr McKenna and other victims of the blackmailing gang eventually went on Scottish Television to tell how “closet gay men in Glasgow, terrified of being exposed, had allowed themselves for the past 18 months to be blackmailed. Beaten up and robbed by former partners or by pimps who control the rent boy scene.”
Mr McKenna’s neighbours have rallied round him and have already rushed to his aid when one of them spotted a man with a knife breaking into his house. He has now set up a crisis line for anyone else who has suffered as he did (and he thinks there may be 1000 men being exploited as he was).
After this, the air outside the closet smells incredibly fresh.
Francis Wheen in The Literary Review said that Rupert Murdoch had “made a fortune from selling excrement and in the process, has debauched our culture and corrupted our youth, produced a generation of lager louts, sex maniacs and morons.”
William Shawcross, Murdoch’s latest biographer, doesn’t agree, and although he accepts that Murdoch has a lot to answer for, he says he would “hesitate to ascribe quite such metaphysical force to him.”
Indeed, Murdoch could not have single-handedly caused the deterioration that our society is currently undergoing; Mrs Thatcher should be up there in the dock with him. But Murdoch and his media empire have played a pivotal role in the degradation of decent values. His papers have normalised brutality, they have lauded mean-minded prejudice, they have turned us all into a baying mob, anxious to humiliate and torment our fellows. He has taken his newspapers into the gutter and the others have had to follow in order to survive. Now he is engaged in undermining the broadcasting services.
We have been treated, over the past few weeks to endless displays of his dubious “morality”. The Sun, as usual, led the rat-pack in a disgusting pursuit of the Royal Family and a Government Minister. Not content with revealing the dalliances and indiscretions, they had to pour salt into the wounds by revealing and ridiculing the intimate details of people’s sexual activities. The term bedbug takes on a whole new meaning.
I hold no brief for the Royals, and I believe that we are entitled to know when they are wasting public money, but I do not think that even they deserve to be put into a pit so that we can all point and laugh. There is no escape for them — they cannot even seek therapy to help them recover from the humiliation without The Sun telling the world about it. After all, as Frank Bough so tellingly said, “Aren’t we all entitled to a sex life?”
I wonder how the journalists who have organised this inhuman spectacle would feel if their bedroom preferences were to be splashed across the front page in full colour. With sound effects on an 0898 number? Nobody deserves that, I don’t care who they are.
And I fear it isn’t over yet. When they’ve finished with Di and Fergie, who will be next? Well, perhaps we had a trailer from The People (6 Sep) which reported that columnist Taki Theodoracopulus had said, in an American magazine, that Prince Andrew has a “sexual secret … which wasn’t hard to guess.” He is also reported to have said: “The Queen’s fourth child (Prince Edward) is paid out of the public purse to pursue a theatrical career and assorted bachelors.”
Rumours abound that there are photographs of Prince Edward in circulation that would not displease a Murdoch editor. Who knows, perhaps they are already in the possession of The Sun, locked away in a safe until the time is right to squeeze maximum circulation figures from them. I don’t know what effect such a story would have on the gay community, but we ought to be ready for it. It really is only a matter of time.
For Women is “the magazine for sensual women” and its glossy pages feature lots of raunchy articles and male pinups. I bought the second issue not because of the full frontals of stripper Rebel Red, but because of an article which explored the “centuries old love (and definitely non-physical) affair between gay men and straight women.” Writer Nancy Culp asserted that “there has always been an undeniable empathy between straight women and gay men. They have so much in common, not least of all the obvious fact that they both love men.”
The feature goes on to explore the way that some straight women become so obsessed with their gay male friends that they want to take the relationship that wishful “step further”. “When does this plain and straight forward fag-haggery stop and something approaching a hopeless obsession begin? Ask a randomly selected group of homosexual men if they have ever experienced this strange phenomenon and a surprising amount might answer in the affirmative.”
She also reveals that just as straight men fantasise about lesbians having sex, a large number of straight women have similar fantasies about gay men. “I’ve never been in love with a gay man,” says one of Ms Culp’s subjects, “but let’s say I am in love with the idea of gay men.” She goes on to say that she longs to accompany a gay couple home and watch them interacting. “I’m into the idea of gay men being really sensitive, but I also like the brutality of them going round f-ing each other stupid.”
The whole magazine would appeal to a gay audience and, indeed, the cross-over becomes ever more obvious in some of the advertisements. The telephone lines offer “Trevor — strip me down to my throbbing muscle” and “Three naval officers to fulfil your fantasy” as well as “Carl and John the Dreamboys duo challenge you to take them on.” Mike Arlen’s Guys — the homoerotic photo magazine— is also offered under the heading “When did you last have 20 nude men for under a fiver?”
It may be For Women, but I think there’ll be more than one bloke leafing through its pages.
The Guardian and The Independent continue to vie for the gay market. This month The Guardian wins hands down with five major features of interest to gay readers, whereas The Independent managed only one — a report on the emergence of the new “queer cinema” (12 Sep). In The Guardian lesbian and gay teenagers were catered for in a feature by Mark Simpson, while Maev Kennedy dealt sympathetically with the National Bisexual Conference. Madeleine Bunting reported on male rape and finally Bobby Pickering wrote (8 Sep) about the political “coming together of lesbians and gay men” after twenty years of separatism.
The interesting thing about these articles is that they are written for the gay readers rather than about them, making a pleasant change from most other papers, which carry on as though only heterosexuals read their rags; their style of reporting on gay issues is always one of exclusion. The thinking seems to be: homosexuals occur somewhere else, not among our readers.
The London Evening Standard (26 Aug) reported (for its totally heterosexual readership) “An explosive new study into American sexual mores which is likely to be received with horrified disbelief by militant gays.” Apparently, the study concludes that only “three per cent of the population are lifelong homosexuals. Occasional same-sex activity was admitted in just 4.5 per cent of Americans.” From this, it is argued, the “political clout” of the gay lobby will be reduced now that “their” numbers don’t look quite so “formidable”. “Their” success, it seems, came from the fact that “they” tend to congregate in big cities and show “a remarkable talent for gutsy and articulate activism.” But, of course, “they” don’t read The Standard.
Meanwhile Frank Johnson in The Daily Telegraph (9 Sep) was rambling on about how the Liberals (now Liberal Democrats) were the first political party in this country to “come out” in support of gay rights. Not all Liberals approved of the media’s attention to “a few exhibitionists” (apparently accepting the opinion that homosexuals can’t be ‘real’ Liberals, either and Mr Johnson says that he and his colleagues would “troop pruriently round the fringe in the hope of finding a man with a ginger beard and sandals announcing that he was glad to be gay. It is not a period in my career of which I’m proud.” I’m not convinced, Frank.
The other infallible sign that a newspaper thinks it has no gay readers is that it never, ever prints letters in its correspondence columns from openly gay people. After all, “we” can’t be allowed to take up “their” space, can we?
Were they or weren’t they? Did they or didn’t they? These are the questions surrounding Laurence Olivier, Danny Kaye and T E Lawrence (of Arabia).
Michael Arditti in the London Evening Standard (3 Sep) is certain that Olivier and Kaye did have an affair, even though this is denied by Olivier’s son, Tarquin.
Sheridan Morley (Standard 7 Sep) also says that the affair never happened. But wasn’t it the same Sheridan Morley who recently tried to convince us that Noel Coward wasn’t gay?
Peterborough in The Daily Telegraph (20 Aug) uncovered new evidence to suggest that Lawrence of Arabia was gay, but this was contradicted by a reader who had a friend, Basil Jones, who shared barracks with Lawrence. “I asked him if Lawrence was a homosexual. ‘Certainly not,’ Jones replied, ‘If you share a barrack room that is one of the first things you find out.’ “But, just for the record, he did “believe Lawrence was a masochist.”