GAY TIMES May 1992

Most depressing sight of the month was Jason Donovan on TV reading his statement outside the High Court, insisting that the verdict in his libel trial had nothing to do with homosexuality, and everything to do with protecting his reputation for honesty.

Behind him, gay protesters held up banners reading “Gay is not libel” and “Being Gay is No Shame”. Unfortunately, the jury didn’t agree with them. Neither did the tabloids. “£200,000 — Glad Not To Be Gay” said The Daily Star (4 Apr); “Too Hunky to be Gay” said The Sun; while The Sunday Telegraph (6 Apr) was pleased to announce “Jason’s libel win gives gays a straight answer”. This kind of reaction cut deeply into the feelings of gay people around the country. Just who had been insulted by what? I know I felt a deep sense of affront when I saw the newspapers crowing at what they saw as another slap in the face for the queers.

Those same papers, though, were unanimous in their opinion that £200,000 was a ridiculous amount to give. The judge, Mr Justice Drake, almost begged the jury not to do it. He rightly pointed out that compared to the sufferings of those who are maimed and crippled in accidents, and who often receive very little compensation, being labelled a homosexual pales into insignificance. Judge Drake argued that it was “very debatable” whether it was defamatory to call someone “a queer” in this day and age.

He could have added that the gay community actually considers it a privilege.

Yes, after all these years of campaigning and agitating, suggesting someone is gay is still considered £200,000 worth of “slur” in the minds of “right-thinking people” (which is what libel juries are supposed to be). Of course, Jason isn’t the first to win money for the “slur” of being called a homosexual. We have only to look back to 1959 when Liberace managed to extract cash from The Daily Mirror because it had implied he was homosexual. Even more recently, the footballer Justin Fashanu sued The People on the same grounds, and won. He later “came out” in a splash front page story in The Sun. There were rumblings from The People that they would take Fashanu to court to get their money back, but they never did.

Nicholas Farrell in The Sunday Telegraph wrote: “Until 1861 a man could hang for engaging in homosexual relations, and as recently as the early 70s, many doctors still regarded homosexuality as an illness to be treated by electric shock therapy. Sex in private between consenting males over the age of 21 may have been legal since 1967, but how far have attitudes really changed. To judge from the High Court jury, not much.”

Perhaps the most telling comment on this whole sad affair came from the unlikely source of Julie Burchill in The Mail on Sunday (5 Apr) when she wrote: “Someone should tell Mr Donovan that there is no shame in any person being a tough, proud homosexual — but a good deal in being a straight-as-a-die prima donna. Compare La Donovan’s thin skin with a quote from the super-camp Julian Clary last week: ‘I want a reaction, and I don’t care if it’s adoration or rejection, so long as it’s not wishy-washy indifference.’ Who’s the real man here?” Well, Julie Burchill, I guess.

For gay people, though, there is little consolation in all this. If Jason really does not consider it libellous to suggest that someone is gay, then he should donate any damages he receives to a gay charity. After all, it is we, the homosexual people on the receiving end of the insult, who should be compensated. He doesn’t need the money. We do.

***

Julie Burchill is rapidly becoming the most prominent commentator on gay issues in the straight press. In the April issue of Cosmopolitan she was writing in her usual splenetic style about “the Aids brigade”. I read the article three times and I’m still not sure what the crux of her argument really is.

I think the gist of what she is saying amounts to this: Madonna, Elizabeth Taylor, Princess Di and the rest of the “great and goody-goody” crew who have made Aids their priority are jumping on some kind of bandwagon, which makes them feel good and humane without their having to take any risks.

They are involved in Aids causes because — says Burchill — it’s a safe charity, and a selfish cause (“I don’t want to get it, so let’s look after numero uno”). She makes the point that while Africa is decimated by the plague, we in the West are only concerned about worthless showbiz personalities who die to a fanfare of trumpets. “Aids plague in Africa, not many dead gets two inches on the inside page,” she writes, while: “the death of Freddie Mercury is a front-page screamer and a pull-out souvenir.”

There are lots of other interesting points which get lost in a sea of clever-dick remarks and convoluted similes. However, the message comes over loud and clear that Julie has reached the conclusion that gay men are the ultimate oppressors of women. This, I think, is her problem. It is because she imagines all gay men hate women (or, worse still, patronise them) that she has got this bee in her bonnet about Aids. She thinks women who “hold homosexual men in high regard are sexually dysfunctional”. I have the sinking feeling that Julie, like all her other journo chums, thinks Aids and homosexuality are synonymous. Aids, as far as she’s concerned, is still the gay plague.

I agree that the Aids establishment is not beyond criticism, and yes, she might well have a point about the motives of some of its supporters. But the real bottom line is that while she is fascinated by gay men, she resents that fascination almost to the point of psychosis. She hates us because we tell her something about herself which she doesn’t want to know. She tries to explain away her obsession with us by making allusions to the empty, arty-farty showbiz lives that she thinks gay men lead. She thinks our lives are empty because she imagines they don’t have women in them. She even quotes the American feminist Marilyn Frye: “Gay men generally are in significant ways, perhaps in all important ways, more loyal to masculinity and male supremacy than other men. The gay rights movement may be the fundamentalism of the global religion which is patriarchy.”

Julie Burchill should think more carefully about her motives for writing about Aids in the way she does. Or would that be too painful for her?

***

A CFC is a kind of filthy emanation which poisons everything it touches; sensible people wish to banish it from the world. CFC stands for Conservative Family Campaign, so now it all makes sense.

During the election campaign The CFC (prop. Stephen Green) was issuing press releases like confetti.

Nearly all of them concerned homosexuality. At the CFC’s prompting, The Sun reported (26 Mar): “Social workers are telling ten-year-old kids in care that gay sex is part of growing up.”

The story concerned a little magazine called Who Cares? (“the only magazine for young people in care”) which is published by the National Children’s Bureau. It devoted its latest issue to exploring the needs of young lesbians and gay men in care. The CFC presented this as “an abuse of any innocence these children may have left” with Chairman Green announcing: “To encourage them to experiment in homosexual activity is wicked.”

I’ve seen the issue of Who Cares? and I can honestly say that it is sensitively written and presented. The editor is obviously aware of her duty and what is required of her under the law. She writes: “The Government’s Section 28 says that no one must ‘promote’ homosexuality. The Children Act says ‘the needs of gay young men and women must be recognised and approached sympathetically’.” She hopes that the magazine satisfies both requirements.

It obviously doesn’t satisfy the CFC which was back on the offensive in The Daily Express (23 Mar) saying: “Labour and Liberal Democrat policies on gay rights would put children at risk from homosexuals.” Mr Green “condemned” the politicians concerned saying that any changes in the law would “endanger children”: What The Daily Express failed to extract from the CFC’s press release was revealed by The Independent (3 Apr). The CFC had actually said that Neil Kinnock and David Steel have supported “the child sex movement” (which is the CFC’s term for the gay movement).

The disturbingly maniacal Mr Green revealed to the Independent that “he’s nearly raised the £11,000 he needs to publish a book on homosexuals provisionally entitled Emotional Orphans.” The book will explain “how homosexuals may achieve heterosexuality” which he says is a “painfully difficult process”.

Perhaps he’d be better employed in writing a book about how CFC members can be turned into human beings.

***

When the Tories thought the election was going to be a close-run thing, they didn’t hesitate to use gay issues as a means of scraping up a few extra votes. The insufferable London Evening Standard got the ball rolling with a story they had been sitting on until the time was right to use it. They had discovered that “loony left” Haringey council in London had allowed a seven-year-old boy to be “handed back to his mother’s lesbian lover”, a woman with a string of criminal convictions.

It was indeed a sad case, and there is little doubt that on the evidence presented, the boy should not have been returned to the violent household which his mother’s lover kept. But while armed robbery, drug-taking, attempted murder, pick pocketing and grievous bodily harm might well be good enough grounds to make the women unsuitable parents for the child, their lesbianism was not.

The other Tory papers picked up the story with relish: “Outrage as boy is handed over to lesbian criminal” said The Daily Mail (I Apr) with The Sun announcing: “Lefties put boy in care of lesbian jailbird”. Note how the words “lesbian” and “criminal” become interchangeable in these circumstances: which is the more horrid prospect for the small boy to cope with?

Unlike the other propaganda rags, at least the Standard carried letters criticising its suggestion that lesbianism was a reason to deny a woman the care of a child. “Had the council’s social workers recommended giving the child into the custody of the mother’s male rather than female lover, and had that male lover had a record of violence and criminal convictions, the decision would have been just as bad even without the ‘lesbian’ angle.”

A lesbian mother, Michelle Saunders, also wrote in telling of her “outrage” at the story. “I have a six-year-old son who is very well-balanced and has a wonderful relationship with my lover, who is like a co-mother to him. Should anything happen to me I would want her to be given custody of my son, it makes sense and is, I feel, best for him.”

The Standard’s leader writer was unmoved by this: “The first responsibility of the councillors and social workers was to a vulnerable child, not to the homosexual community.”

The Sun linked this case with another, featuring the ever popular they’re-corrupting-our-children-in-schools angle, and editorialised under the banner “Gay Peril”: “A mother thought her daughter was in a maths class. At the time, 15-year old Niki was being given a lesson in lesbianism by a gay teacher … This is the same authority which put a seven-year-old child in the care of an admitted lesbian. What are they trying to do? Build a gay world?”

Yes, the Tory press had decided that if The Bogeyman couldn’t frighten the punters then maybe The Lesbian could.

The “lesbian lessons” to which The Sun referred made headlines after a mother withdrew her daughter from school. Mrs Polycarpou, carped: “How can this be normal? I am a Greek Cypriot … now we must seriously consider leaving the borough if not the country.”

Commenting on this case, The Daily Telegraph’s only liberal-minded columnist, Kate Saunders, wrote: “The infamous Clause 28 … tends to be supported by those who believe there is such a thing as classical sex — one proper, heterosexual way of doing it, which should be drummed in like a correct French accent. Failing to discuss homosexuality reinforces prejudices, and worsens the isolation and anxiety of people with homosexual urges.”

Then The Sunday Express (5 Apr) revealed that two gay men had adopted a 14-year-old girl with Down’s Syndrome from — of course — a Labour Council (which they did not name) in what the paper said was “the first case of its kind”. The paper wheeled out the grotesque Rhodes Boyson MP to say: “I do not believe that any child should be fostered or adopted by lesbian or homosexual couples. It makes no difference whether they are handicapped or not — it does not give them a fair start in life.”

The two men in the case met while working in a centre for the mentally handicapped, so it could not be claimed that they were not well qualified for the job. And, as if to underscore the abysmal ignorance of Rhodes Boyson, The Guardian (8 Apr) carried a piece on fostering by Meg Henderson, who wrote: “Advertising campaigns to recruit fosterers for the growing number of children in care produce ever fewer replies. It seems that in bad economic times, children come off worst, and as the extended family is largely a nostalgic dream, social workers have to pick up the pieces.”

Given this, it appears that the two gay men have probably rescued this little girl from a lifetime in an institution. Does that count for nothing?

With the Tories making such a fuss during the election campaign over the exploitation of Jennifer (of ear-ache fame), one wonders how they can justify using these two children in such a manipulative and cruel way to score cheap points for themselves.

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