GAY TIMES June 1992

One of the most insidious arguments being propounded by the press at the moment is that “too much money is being spent” on Aids. “I am a woman with multiple sclerosis,” wrote a correspondent to The Sun (4 May). “Why is all this money being raised for Aids? Apart from some exceptions, this is a self-inflicted illness. What about people like me who don’t have a choice in what they get? How about a concert to raise money for motor neurone, Parkinson’s disease and MS charities — or have we been forgotten?”

The same point has been made over and over again: “Aids is a terrible thing, but often self-inflicted,” wrote “name and address supplied” to The Daily Express (24 May). “There are many other diseases in dire need of funds … etc, etc.” Or, as Garry Bushell put it (Sun, 22 Apr) “It is wrong to whitewash Freddie Mercury’s life, wrong to spread the myth of heterosexual Aids and criminal to divert funds from less trendy but more pressing concerns like cancer research.”

Mr Bushell and all those others who imagine that Aids research and education projects are awash with undeserved money may not have seen the small item in The Guardian (30 Apr) which revealed that “MPs criticised health districts for diverting money meant for Aids care into other projects.”

Another example of this resentment at the spending of even paltry amounts on trying to educate gay people was illustrated by a front-page spread in the Chatham News (24 Apr) which screamed “Gays’ night out on an NHS handout”.

This concerned a disco organised by Medway Gay Health Forum — with a £450 grant from the local health authority — as a vehicle for disseminating safer sex information. The paper’s only apparent concern was not that gay men should be educated about HIV but with “The amazing party with £450 backing from health authority” and “a fancy dress competition in which men dressed up as women”. The reporters who covered the event falsely claimed to be representatives of the health authority’s press office.

The distortion continued on April 28th when Diane Nicholls, a columnist on The Chatham Standard wrote (under the heading “What next: a benefit for syphilis?”): “If the health authority has £450 to spend on a shindig perhaps it might consider an event at a Medway School on Friday night. Little Hannah Barnes will be celebrating her sixth birthday. Her family is supporting her courageous fight against inoperable stomach cancer. A charity is paying for them to go on a dream trip to Florida and friends have organised a benefit evening for their pocket money. Now, help for brave Hannah would be real magic.”

The homophobic logic which says that any money spent on Aids could always have been used better elsewhere is gaining increased currency. But using the same reasoning, I suppose there are people suffering from other diseases who could more usefully spend the money being “wasted” on a trip to Florida — what about an electric wheelchair for someone crippled by arthritis?

Any old journo can draw up a sentimental and ill-informed list of priorities, but it is the health authority that has to decide —based on real information and consultation — where the money can be most effectively spent. And even in cold cash terms, they know that if the “sex-education disco” prevents only one person becoming infected with HIV, it will have paid for itself a hundred times over.

The editor of The News, Gerald Hinks, defended the sensationalism of his front page by saying that the money had been used to “preach to the converted”. Meanwhile, over in the Chatham Standard, a series of vox pop interviews conducted in the Rainham shopping precinct indicated that the local population are far more enlightened than their papers give them credit for. The opinion was unanimous that the disco had been a good idea. In fact one housewife even managed to say: “There’s too much homophobia around.”

I hope the editor of the paper was listening.

***

An article about gay cartoonists, written by Adam Mars-Jones, appeared in The Independent Magazine (11 Apr). The article — reporting a conference in America entitled “The Wacky World of Lesbian and Gay Cartoonists” — told of arguments among delegates about whether heterosexuals or closet cases have anything to contribute to gay culture. This debate was provoked by the news that the editor of Gay Comics intends to allow such people to contribute to future issues.

The article prompted an interesting letter the following week from Neil Patrick, who was angry at the contention that “gay culture is about liberation”.

“According to mainstream gay thought,” wrote Mr Patrick, “gays must toe the party line on all things gay, liking only such approved things as Derek Jarman films and The Golden Girls. A homosexual who does not distance him or herself from the heterosexual community is deemed a closet case and a hypocrite …Gay culture is not concerned with ‘finding general truths’, it wishes isolated truths; it wishes alienation for its members from the rest of the population.”

I have some sympathy for Mr Patrick’s thinking. We are seeing a rapid rise in this country of the awful political correctness that presently afflicts the American gay community. Our diversity — perhaps the most delightful thing about gay life — is being chipped away by those who want some kind of gay Israel.

Well, I for one am not emigrating to some ghastly queer ghetto where thought is controlled, where heterosexuals are never forgiven and where Keith Alcorn is king.

***

The Sunday Telegraph (26 Apr) reported that “John Patten, the Education Secretary, is being challenged by a leading pro-family pressure group to have the courage of his religious convictions and halt the Government’s plan for compulsory Aids education in schools.”

The “pressure group” in this instance is called The Family Education Trust and it claims that the Education Department’s advice to schools about HIV education will simply “alert young people to perverted practices of which they might not otherwise have been aware.”

So, who are The Family Education Trust? It turns out to be the “educational wing” of Family and Youth Concern. And who is Family and Youth Concern? Enter our old friend Valerie (stop-that-immediately-you-filthy-creature) Riches. “Children should be told the truth about Aids,” she says, “if they don’t have sex and don’t take drugs, they won’t get it.”

Is this woman in her right mind? Tell teenagers not to have sex and expect them to take any notice? Is she living on the same planet as the rest of us? Mrs Riches is pressing to meet John Patten to demand that children are told about sex in her way — no condoms, no fornication, no fun.

Given Mr Patten’s contention, as expressed in The Spectator, that society doesn’t believe enough in hell and damnation, she might just get her way.

***

Sir Ian McKellen gave an interview to Vanity Fair magazine (April issue) saying that his most important role in life is that of gay activist. “That’s the only thing I’ve ever done really,” he is quoted as saying, “That’s what it can say on the gravestone. That will be the obituary.”

This did not please John Junor who, in The Mail on Sunday (10 May) wrote of Sir Ian: “As an actor he has always been overrated. As for his tombstone, I don’t give a damn what it says on it. I just think it is damnable that he will go to his grave as a knight.”

Junor, who grows smaller with each of his columns, has long since been rumbled as a miserable old twat who said all he had to say years ago. He has spent his whole working life squawking the same narrow-minded and childish Tory propaganda. His own knighthood came not from any talent, but from licking the least pleasant parts of Mrs Thatcher’s anatomy. As for his epitaph — what about: “Here lies a silly old bigot who was no use to anyone, least of all himself’?

***

The Sunday Telegraph has been, and continues to be, the vehicle for some of the most virulent of anti-gay propaganda. But since it escaped the clutches of Peregrine Worsthorne, the paper has also been carrying regular features and news items that would interest rather than appal homosexuals. It wouldn’t surprise me to hear — in these days of plummeting circulations — that there is a deliberate editorial policy to try and attract a gay audience.

The May 10th offering was a big feature highlighting the influence of gay men in shaping the musical theatre. “Any historian of the New York or London stage will readily tell you, without homosexuals the modem musical would not exist,” wrote Douglas Kennedy. He quoted Leonard Bernstein as saying: “To be a successful composer of musicals you either have to be Jewish or gay. And I’m both.”

Mr Kennedy points out that three forthcoming West End shows are all inspired by gay icons. The Blue Angel is associated with Marlene Dietrich, just as Sunset Boulevard is with Gloria Swanson and Grand Hotel with Garbo.

The Telegraph feature tries to explain what it is about musicals that particularly appeals to the gay consciousness. It proposes that in the straight-laced fifties it was a coded way for gay men to express themselves without being too blatant. Writer William Goldman put it this way: “The homosexual on Broadway had to dissemble: he wrote boy-girl relationships when he really meant boy-boy relationships. They were like mulattos in an all-white neighbourhood.”

I’ve often thought that it would be fun to form an all-gay amateur operatic society so that we could put these shows on in the way that they were meant to be seen. It would also give all those queens who long to play the Shirley MacLaine part in Sweet Charity a chance to shine. As for myself, I fear nowadays I’d have to make do with the Hermione Gingold part in Gigi. “Ah yes, I remember it well.”

***

The Daily Star happily reported (12 May) that “Parents may soon be able to abort their babies simply because tests show they may grow into homosexuals, junkies or drunks.”

The story concerned a TV programme in America in which it was claimed that scientists would soon be able to identify the genes which predispose people to “undesirable” social traits — and therefore to “eliminate” such individuals before birth.

The moral arguments surrounding this issue were taken up by Myles Harris in a Comment feature in The Daily Mail (13 May). Mr Harris asked: “What price will we pay for these medical miracles?”

He made the point that although the new knowledge might well be used to screen out genetic diseases like Multiple Sclerosis, there was a possibility that disease had a part to play in the overall scheme of things — a part that we don’t understand yet. And as for the other “antisocial” individuals who might be banned from living — who is going to play God and decide what is a desirable social trait and what is not? “The endless random variations involved in sex among younger members of our species ensures that we are all as alike, but at the same time subtly different enough, to survive any changes that the environment may throw at us.”

Indeed, it has already been argued among some scientists that homosexuality has an important role to play in the successful evolution of human life. Fascistic geneticists tamper with it at their peril.

***

The Independent on Sunday (26 Apr) reported a Government minister saying that he is “proud to be called a bigot”. Need we be worried? I think not, as the culprit is the lamentable John Selwyn Gummer, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Religious Mania. Mr Gummer is surely retained in the cabinet only as light relief.

Gummer is of the “Jesus in Jackboots” fraternity, and seriously proposed the other day that the reason the Common Agricultural Policy failed was because witchcraft is so prevalent among foreign farmers. I kid you not. His black magic speech was not widely reported because … well, I suppose the afflicted should not be mocked, even by Fleet Street …

However, Labi Siffre took Mr Gummer’s ramblings seriously and answered them in a letter to the loS (3 May). Gummer’s description of Jesus (“He called us to believe in Him: not to argue whether He got it right or not”) could well have been applied to Adolf Hitler, said Mr Siffre, who then went on to say: “Gummer’s abdication of intellectual and moral responsibility has been the root cause of injustice, bigotry, atrocities, misery and suffering for thousands of years.” Mr Siffre says that Jesus supplied the complete answer with his entreaty to “treat others as you would like them to treat you”.

He goes on: “Based on Jesus’s ideas, it would seem that if a man can be a priest then a woman can be a priest; and that if heterosexual love is valid, then homosexual love is equally valid. Thus, at one stroke, Jesus has solved the two most contentious issues currently facing the church.”

It’s unlikely that Mr Major’s very own Witchfinder General is listening — he’s probably got other voices whispering in his ear.

***

The Sunday Telegraph (10 May) reported that flags were flying at half-mast in the gay districts of San Francisco on the day that Marlene Dietrich died. As is usual at such a time, twenty-four hours were allowed to elapse before the newspaper muck-raking began in earnest; Marlene was given a clutch of respectful obituaries before the papers began the usual lap of dishonour.

According to The Sunday Times (10 May) Marlene was a drunk who started on the whisky at 7am. The article is accompanied by a photograph of an old lady in a wheelchair who is patently not Marlene Dietrich which hardly lends the story credibility.

In The People on the same day, Bernard Hall, the star’s former secretary was telling of Marlene’s lesbianism: “I have never found men sensitive enough to give me much pleasure, darling. Now women … that is a different matter altogether,” he quotes her as saying.

They also carried a photograph, which was taken through the window of her apartment by someone purporting to be cutting the trees on the street outside. She was terrified by this incident, which represented a gross invasion of privacy and is perhaps one of the factors that led to her final bout of depression and decline.

I hope they’re proud of themselves.

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