The editor of The Daily Star, “Sir” Brian Hitchen, is a member of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC). He was a member of it at the time he wrote his disgusting “Poofters on Parade” articles. Now the “self-regulating body, of which he is so fond, has given him a smacking which even he must have felt through that thick skin of his.
The Commission said that Hitchen “rode roughshod over the sensitivities” of those of his fellow citizens who are gay. It said that The Star “failed to make a distinction between its legitimate expression of strong opinions and their publication in terms which could encourage the persecution of a minority.”
The Star published the adjudication without comment.
This ruling has come at a time when rumours are circulating that the Tories and their newspaper lapdogs are considering playing the “gay-scare” card again. Evidence of this is already appearing (“Labour will allow gay sex at 18 — Kinnock plan sparks Aids fury” — Sun, 3 Oct; “Kids may be given lessons in homosexuality — courtesy of a left-wing council” — Star, 22 Sept). We are promised a particularly vicious and dirty election campaign, during which nobody’s feelings will be spared; I can’t see that such a well-proven tactic as the “gay-scare” will be left out of the fray.
If, despite the clear and uncompromising precedent that the latest PCC ruling sets, the newspapers start up again with their vilification, then we will know that their commitment to self-regulation is as meaningless as we all suspected it would be.
Take, for example, The Sunday Mirror (13 Oct) which carried a photograph of a social event organised by The Lesbian and Gay Police Association. Article 7 (ii) of the PCC’s Code of Practice states that “unless their enquiries are in the public interest, journalists should not photograph individuals on private property without their consent” Well, is a boat on the River Thames private property? And given that the photograph was taken through a long lens could it be said to have been obtained by subterfuge (also against the Code of Practice)?
Admittedly, the photograph is grainy and indistinct, but it is not beyond possibility that individuals could be identified from it. And who knows what other pictures The Sunday Mirror has in its files for future use?
The accompanying article wasn’t particularly hostile, although it could be argued that the fact that it was printed at all is an act of aggression. The fact remains that the photograph appears to be a breach of the Code of Practice.
So, come on, LAGPA, make a complaint and help us further define what the limits of press harassment of gay people are going to be.
The showbiz cabal that seems to monopolise media opinion on homosexuality in this country was in full voice last month. What with Ian McKellen getting an audience with the Prime Minister, Derek Jarman launching a new film and book, and Antony Sher being in a new play, it was queer artists to the fore.
Ian McKellen provoked the biggest hoo-ha with his 40-minute visit to Downing Street. The Independent (25 Sept) thought it was the “simple and sensible thing” for Mr Major to do; if he included some of McKellen’s demands in the Conservative manifesto it would bring back those gays “exiled” from the party because of the Thatcher era’s hostility.
The Daily Telegraph (25 Sept) thought otherwise. “Mr Major surely cannot, and should not, give the homosexual pressure groups what they want … Most Conservative supporters, probably most voters, regard homosexuality as something to be discouraged. They will not admire Mr Major for seeing Sir Ian.”
Peter McKay of the London Evening Standard (26 Sept) added nothing to the debate with his stupid opinions: “Homosexuals can’t be represented by Sir Ian McKellen just because he’s a famous one who favours more liberal laws. How about homosexuals who want tougher laws? Or homosexuals who hate proselytising gays?” Oh, please, Mr McKay, take a running jump, won’t you?
George Tyndale, a columnist in the traditional mould on the Birmingham Sunday Mercury (29 Sept) offered this friendly advice: “It’s difficult to think of a bigger vote-loser than a campaign to make it legal for perverts to pester impressionable teenagers. When Aids first hit the headlines, gays were leaping back into the closet before you could say HIV positive. Mr Major might find the opinion polls better news this weekend if he told them that is where they should stay.”
So, what are we to think? Are the Tories really softening their line and becoming more friendly? The Sunday Telegraph (29 Sept) took a little look at that small number of Tories who are prepared to put their head above the parapet.
Humphrey Berkeley was the Conservative MP for Lancaster in 1966 when he got a Second Reading for the Sexual Offences Bill: “I have no doubt it cost me my seat,” he said. He recalled comments from colleagues at the time: “One said: ‘We would support it if you made 80 the age of consent’. Another said: ‘And as long as they have their parents’ permission.’”
Derek Jarman desires, more or less, the same end result as Sir Ian but the two men couldn’t be more different in approach. Sir Ian appeared in photographs soberly dressed, carrying a briefcase and looking every inch the establishment figure he was aiming to suggest he was. Mr Jarman, on the other hand, was seen cavorting in fancy dress with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a group of gay male nuns who were canonising him.
Both these communicators are more interesting when they’re talking personally then when they’re riding their political hobbyhorses; both of them — and Antony Sher, too — revealed something of their relationship with their parents.
McKellen was telling in an interview (Sunday Times, 29 Sept) about the effect his coming out had on his step-mother who lives in a Lake District village. “An old friend said: ‘Oh, poor Gladys, this means she’ll have to leave the village.’ Of course, she didn’t. She’s a Quaker, very sensible and far-sighted. I’m a huge fan of the Quakers.”
Derek Jarman gave an interview to the gloriously-named Minto Clinch (Mail on Sunday, 13 Oct). He said: “Maybe because it escaped the war, everyone believed that Great Britain was a wonderful democracy with the right to rule the earth. That was very strong in my childhood but there was no language for emotions in our house, nor in the houses of my friends. There was no way I could have discussed my private life with my parents. Right up until the time of their deaths, I never spoke to them about being gay.”
Antony Sher talked to Lynda Lee-Potter in The Daily Mail (4 Oct): “My mother and father were absolutely wonderful from the moment I told them I was gay, which was quite early on. I expected my mother to understand, but not my father. It must have been so foreign to him with his upbringing. And yet he was marvellous.”
The brave and persistent high profiles adopted by these men are undoubtedly helping the cause of homosexuality — as well as individual gay people. And they illustrate something that was written by novelist Martin Amis as part of David Hockney’s new book (as quoted in The Independent on Sunday 13 Oct): “All I know for certain about homosexuality is that it asks for courage. It demands courage.”
Erstwhile “TV critic” and right-wing loony, Garry Bushell has moved — rather unceremoniously it has to be said — from The Sun (circulation 3,762,151) to The Star (circulation 845,973). What a promotion! And nobody deserves to lose 3 million readers more than our Garry (or `Gazza Gonads’ as Private Eye calls him).
Mr Bushell threatens that he will continue to be nasty to gay people —despite what he claims are pleas for him to lay off from “a twerp at Gay Times”.
Oh dear, we’re shaking in our shoes, Gazza, sweetheart
So, how is The Guardian doing after last month’s threat of a boycott? Well, Peter Preston, the editor, was amenable to demonstrators and listened to what they had to say. The paper has since carried several articles and news stories which are satisfactory from everyone’s point of view. On October 7th they reported the pressure being put on the Home Office to change the law. There was also a report on police attitudes to cottaging and news of the Christian brainwashers trying to turn gays straight. Ernie Pook’s Comeek — a cartoon — also covered homosexuality quite sensitively. A couple of days later a feature by Mark Simpson about gays in the armed forces appeared.
But is it enough? And is The Independent singing siren songs in an effort to attract those wavering gays, hungry for news about their community? There’s no doubt that the Indy won hands down last month on the sheer volume of its coverage. It carried many news items and pictures — including coverage of the “Reach Out and Touch” Aids rally in Hyde Park, a story, with pictures, about Ian McKellen in Downing Street together with a supportive editorial, Derek Jarman being sainted, events in America, a major feature about the gay age of consent throughout Europe.
Peter Preston, quoted in The Sunday Telegraph (22 Sept) says: “Without being flip about it all, on the one hand it’s being said that The Guardian already has no readers left in the gay community because The Independent is now thought of as the gay community’s paper. Others say unless The Guardian thinks about these things more carefully then they will move on to The Independent.” According to the report, Mr Preston has not ruled out the possibility of Guardian writers being sent to gay and lesbian awareness workshops.
Whether you’ve decided to forgive The Guardian or have found that The Independent gives better value for your 40p, it’s important that we all continue to support one or other of these papers with our daily subscription. They’re both suffering in the recession, and it would be a shame if either of them went under — particularly as it means that some of the other ghastly rags would pick up their readers.
They always say that whatever happens in America today will happen here tomorrow. Let’s hope that’s true of the leaps and bounds being experienced over there in the arena of gay rights. Indeed, so rapid is the progress being made in the USA that it prompted Andrew Stephen, The Observer’s US correspondent (22 Sept) to pronounce that the gay struggle is more or less over in the States — and homosexuals have won. He cites several victories won in the courts, in industry and in the media. But the thing that has convinced him most of all that it’s all over bar the shouting is the fact that “more gays are moving into the suburbs and away from the city ghettos such as San Francisco’s famous Castro district.”
Meanwhile, The Independent Magazine (5 Oct) reported the extraordinary events in a New York City election. Because of a boundary change, the Greenwich Village district had become “gay-winnable”. The candidates were an out gay man, Tom Duane, and a woman, Liz Abzug. Ms Abzug, sensing the political reality, declared herself to be a lesbian.
This took the wind somewhat out of Mr Duane’s sails. “Two gay candidates are running,” Liz announced, “But only one of us is a woman — who has lived in double jeopardy, and who has double energy, and double broad-based constituency.”
Mr Duane, not to be out-gayed in this way, called a press conference at which he announced that he was HIV positive. He subsequently won the nomination.
I sincerely hope that if ever gay people in this country find themselves in the happy position of being able to fight their political battles on their own platform, it won’t reach the stage of “let the most right-on win”.
We have quite enough already of the politically super-correct making us feel guilty about not behaving in a manner befitting our gayness. Whatever that might be.
Meanwhile, California’s Republican Governor, Pete Wilson vetoed a bill toughening up laws against employers discriminating against homosexuals — despite having promised to support the bill before his election. There followed large-scale riots, comparable to the demonstrations in 1979 when Harvey Milk was assassinated. But, according to The Independent (5 Oct), “the governor may have miscalculated,” A poll found that Californians overwhelmingly support the bill. Now the gay community can force a state ballot that could eventually make the bill into law — if they can get 50 per cent support for it from the electorate. “Given that an estimated 10 per cent of California’s 30 million population are gay, this is by no means an impossible target,” says The Independent.
The Daily Mirror (14 Oct) told us that Princess Di is receiving hate-mail from “anti-gay fanatics” because of her support for people living with Aids. A friend of the Princess is quoted as saying: “It is all rather unpleasant for her.”
We know what she means. We have to put up with similarly vicious hatred all the time, only it doesn’t come anonymously through the post — it’s printed in tabloid newspapers. The common denominator between Di’s letters and some of the outpourings of our press is that it all emanates from the minds of psychotic homophobes.
A nice riposte was carried in the London Evening Standard (17 Sept) to the “goody two shoes, holier than thou heterosexuals” in Hampstead who seem to think that only gays have alfresco sex. K Simmonds wrote: “My area, perfectly respectable and residential, has been blighted by male kerb crawlers looking for women prostitutes. And do they go home to ‘do it’ in private? Of course not. All the activities described on Hampstead Heath can be seen daily on Tooting Bec Common … with all the accompanying evidence of their coupling littering the ground. They also ‘do it’ in cars, in alleys and even in our gardens. You never know what you’ll find among the rose bushes.”
GAY TIMES DID NOT PUBLISH A DECEMBER ISSUE IN 1991