And so, the Government is, after all, going to allow a vote on the gay age of consent. According to The Daily Mail (1 Jun) “The battle will really take off at the introduction of the next Criminal Justice Bill in about 18 months’ time, when attempts to amend the law will then be made by both Labour and Tory MP campaigners.”
The first shots have been fired, though, and the first heads raised above the parapet. Sir John Wheeler has already made it clear that he favours reform and will press for it, but a less likely spokesperson emerged in the shape of Edwina Currie. “I think the law is plain wrong, a great injustice founded on ignorance, cruelty and prejudice,” she is quoted as saying in The Mail on Sunday (25 May).
Mrs Currie is no stranger to controversy, and she must be inured to the kind of abuse which is coming her way because of this stand. “Mouthy Edwina Currie has set herself up as a sage,” ranted a Daily Star editorial. “She’s now campaigning for the homosexual age of consent to be lowered to 16. Take a spot of advice, Edwina. Stick to rotten eggs.”
This thoughtful approach was expanded by The Star’s bloated editor, Brian Hitchen, in his column (26 May): “With her latest outburst, the pushy MP is demonstrating that it isn’t only her jaw that’s becoming un-hinged.” After calling her a crackpot and a bird-brain, the grotesque Mr Hitchen goes on: “How can she possibly support such a hideously revolting idea which will contribute to the corruption of so many sick and weak-minded young kids?”
If Edwina has the courage of her convictions and sticks with this, she can expect a lot more of the same. And so can the rest of us. The Sun said (2 Jun): “Some Tories want change in 18 months. Others would wait a little longer. The Sun suggests we wait until the orchids are blooming in Bootle. We can be sure that even if the age were brought down to 16, the gay lobby would not be satisfied. They would want to follow the Danes and the Dutch down to 12 or 13.”
The Daily Telegraph (30 May) editorialised: “Many at some stage have a difficult choice to make. If homosexuality at the age of 16 is to be declared by Parliament as in all respects indistinguishable from heterosexuality, that choice becomes harder; the law ceases to direct the young or to express the preference-of most of society.” The Sunday Express (3 I May) thought the same: “If MPs place heterosexuals and homosexuals on the same legal basis they will imply that there is no moral difference between the two.”
The point about “protecting the young” was made over and over again. Lynette Burrows in The Sunday Telegraph (7 Jun) based her objections to any change on the idea that adolescent boys are easily persuaded to give up their heterosexuality by “predatory homosexuals who would gain most if they were allowed to recruit from among them.” Notice how the concept of “recruitment” is used by Ms Burrows as though it were an accepted fact rather than a dubious opinion.
She goes on to say: “One must conclude that the basis for the relentless self-advertisement of many homosexuals is related to this desire to recruit new partners. Many are dedicated to the untrammelled appetite for sex that is not moderated by the average female desire for relationship and stability and often results in degradation and disease. It is, nevertheless, a life-style that can easily be portrayed to a vulnerable teenager as the answer to all his problems of identity and sexual longing.”
But this kind of corruption is not limited to homosexuals, a fact which Ms Burrows in her anxiety to propagandise, seems to have overlooked. Lynn Barber (Independent on Sunday, 25 May) has not missed the point, though. She relates how she was seduced “at the age of seventeen by a man twice my age and although my school friends envied me for having captured an SOM (Sophisticated Older Man), I dimly realised at the time, and more clearly in retrospect, that he was really a DOM and there was something distinctly fishy about his relish for my school uniform.”
Lynette Burrows is unmoved: “It is as though the Government were to interrupt its campaign against smoking with an announcement that it was considering whether to reduce the age at which children could buy cigarettes. It leads one to ask, quite simply, is the Government mad?”
This kind of sneaky, selective and downright untruthful kind of argument will resurface over and over again in the coming months, and if the matter ever comes before Parliament, you can expect to see both the tabloid press and the right-wing broadsheets becoming ever more hysterical and reactionary. There are, indeed, many similarities between the stand the newspapers are taking now, with the one they took in the sixties, at the time of the debate on the original Sexual Offences Bill. This time they also have Aids in their armoury of bombast.
But there are also differences. Nowadays there is an organised gay voice (or “the powerful homosexual lobby” as the tabloids would have it) which can make itself heard much more effectively than in those previous times. We also have some supporters in the press. Barbara Amiel in The Sunday Times (7 Jun) wrote that although she does not think that homosexuality is “normal” she can see the injustice of an unequal age of consent. She says that she is tired of the debate on gay rights being so diametrically split between those who think gays can do no wrong and those who imagine they can do no right. “What seems most difficult for human beings to achieve is fairness and equilibrium,” she wrote, “Our legislators and intellectuals either fall off the right or the left side of the issue. This all puts me in mind of the United States, where until 1973 the American Psychiatric Association ruled that homosexuality was a mental illness, but now classifies those people who dislike homosexuals as mentally ill … And before we all become infected with the mental version of middle ear disease and lose our balance, could we simply get a uniform age of consent for human beings of all inclinations.”
Maureen Messent, in her column in The Birmingham Evening Mail (ironically called Straight Talk) was unequivocal in her support. “I’m disheartened that, in 1992, Britain is Hitleresque in its conviction that to be gay is evil. Please don’t quote the Bible at me either. There is nothing like the mention of homosexuality to bring out the bigots … I’ve often been troubled by the lip-smacking lubricity masked as modesty that emanates from the anti-gays. Homosexuals, after all, do not waste their time denouncing – as they have every reason to denounce — the sordid goings-on in the heterosexual community. Dozens of little children done to death annually are not murdered by homosexuals, remember. They’re mostly the victims of their heterosexual parents.”
This opportunity to change the law is something that so many people have worked hard to create; it has taken years for us to get here and we mustn’t let the bigots snatch away our chance of equality. Now is the time for us to get mobilised. We have to prime our MPs and start persuading those who can’t make up their mind that the just thing to do is to change the law.
After his “victory” over The Pink Paper in the libel courts, Duncan Campbell expressed his feelings about the case in The New Statesman (22 May). In the course of the extraordinary article he managed to transform his own disappointment and anger with the PP into a withering attack on all things gay. “The conduct of The Pink Paper and the inability of the so-called ‘gay community’ to deal with or contain the poison it has spread has perpetuated needless harm and suffering. It has made me sorry to be gay,” he said.
Mr Campbell draws attention to The Pink Paper’s often “malicious” activities ‘against those for whom it bears a grudge. He tells how the paper’s journalists would routinely circulate missives defaming him to Garry Bushell and Richard Littlejohn on The Sun and how The Stonewall Group, Ian McKellen and Michael Cashman were all targeted with “repeated and untruthful attacks” in May, 1990. These, he says, are “the latest in a long list of my friends” the PP has “sought to pick off.” In the letters that followed the article, Eric Presland supported Campbell’s assessment of the “nature of The Pink Paper”. “I work with a gay theatre company, Homo Promos, which recently sent a press release about a fundraising record sale to The Pink Paper, among others. A few days later another member of the company was rung up to be told in no uncertain terms that, he had been ‘spotted’ having a drink with Duncan Campbell . . . The Pink Paper (and its sister paper Boyz) would never again carry information about Homo Promos.”
Mr Presland points out that for a small community theatre company to lose “two of its four possible outlets to its target audience is quite serious.”
I do not wish to see The Pink Paper go under, but nor do I want to see its continued use as a platform for personal vendettas. For these reasons, I will not be contributing to its appeal fund.
Having just returned from a visit to America, I’m rather Rossed-out. The newspapers and the television in the States are obsessed with H Ross Perot, the rat-faced Texan millionaire who making a bid to become President. The American people seem stunned by their daring in supporting such an unknown quantity. They are behaving like rebellious teenagers telling Daddy Bush that they don’t love him any more and that they’re running away from home. The trouble is that nobody seems to know what Mr Perot’s policies are, and nobody seems to care either. He says “you ain’t seen nothing yet” and, indeed, we ain’t.
All we know so far is that he doesn’t want homosexuals in the White House (“I put a very strong store on strong moral values. I don’t want anybody who is a point of controversy with the American people — it will distract from the work to be done”), nor will he tolerate men with beards or those who “cheat on their wives”.
And if you think that even Americans wouldn’t be barmy enough to elect such a palpable divvy you haven’t seen the hysteria he is generating over there.
There is always the possibility, of course, that he might just break the mould and make it into the White House (which would certainly put an end to my career ambitions there, on several counts), but I have a feeling that when America finds out just what sort of a vicious creep Mr H Ross Perot is, their love affair with him will turn out to be short lived.
But you never can tell. Today (10 Jun) reported on “The Turning Point for Gay America” in which Margaret Hall described events in Springfield, Oregon (population 45,400) where a referendum resulted in a ten per cent majority wanting to “forbid legislation which protects homosexuals from
discrimination.” In Springfield it will no longer be an offence to bar someone from promotion or deny them a tenancy or mortgage because of their sexual preference. Any gay activity or service depending on public funds will be banned. In November the whole of Oregon will be given the opportunity to make the law statewide. A similar thing is happening in Colorado, and in New Jersey a right-wing group is suing the State, demanding it drops its gay rights laws. In Alabama there is a move to stop public-funded universities from allowing gays to organise on campus.
Meanwhile, The Sun (30 May) informed us that “A top woman officer has been booted out of the US army after admitting she is lesbian.” Colonel Margarethe Cammermeyer, who was decorated in Vietnam, served in the National Guard for 26 years and commanded the military’s reserve nursing staff in Washington state, is quoted as saying: “What does the Pentagon think I’m going to do? Sneak up on my nurses and seduce them in the operating theatre?” Ironically, Margarethe, that probably is what they think you’re going to do.
Today says that these events make many observers feel that it is the dawning of a new age of bigotry in the States. But one has to ask whether the old one ever really ended.
Nobody said the battle for gay rights was going to be easy or quick or without setbacks. However aggressive our opponents may become, it’s no longer possible for them to simply hate us out of existence. We’re here and we aren’t going away, and even stinking bigots who think hatred is “moral” can’t change that. Not even billionaire bigots.
We’ve all heard the arguments about how men are able, at 16, to get married and have children and, at 17 or 18, to join the army and kill people, as well as driving a car and drinking themselves stupid, but they may not have gay sex until they’re 21. To that list you can now add the ludicrous anomaly pointed out by The Independent’s diary (28 May).
The new video, The Gay Man’s Guide to Safer Sex has been given an 18 certificate by the Board of Film Classification — but the activities portrayed on it cannot be enjoyed by men until they are 21. “You can look, you see, but you’d better not touch,” warns The Independent.
So now we know where the new Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, stands on the question of homosexuality. He’s against it. On a radio phone-in he said that in the last days of the Greek and Roman empires “Jews were living in a society where homosexuality was the norm in certain sectors and we stood out against it then and we stand out against it now.”
This little outburst was followed by the Jewish Lesbian and Gay Helpline being banned from a charity “walkabout’ to be held on July 12th. The Jewish Chronicle (22 Jun) reported that the ban had brought forth a “concerted protest” to the Chief Rabbi from student and youth groups, as well as a delegation of Reform and Liberal rabbis, and a Zionist organisation called Honoar Hatzioni.
The Independent followed up the controversy with a feature (9 Jun) by Anne Sacks (no relation, I take it?) entitled “I’m Jewish, I’m gay and I’m shunned.” It gave a good insight into the problems of those Jews who want to be honest about their sexuality but who find themselves in a society which just about worships “the family”. But as Jeffery Blumenfield, director of the Jewish Marriage Council pointed out: “The Jewish community has not yet woken up to the fact that the family can take many forms.”
“Gay Sex Orgy at The Palace” screamed the front page of The Sunday Mirror (24 May) in an echo of the bad old days when this kind of hysterical headline was a daily occurrence. I wouldn’t have minded so much, but it wasn’t even true. However, you have to turn inside to find that the three footmen who were discovered bathing together weren’t actually having sex at all but were simply horsing around. “They were not actually having full sex” admits the Mirror’s informant, “but they were clearly enjoying themselves in other ways.”
On that basis, I suppose, the rugby player who last month flashed his pineapple-decorated willy at the Prime Minister was, in fact, having sex with Mr Major. Why wasn’t that splashed on the front page?