GAY TIMES August 1991

The Sunday Mirror thought it was on to a winner when it made the “scandalous” discovery that Southwark Council in London had fostered a 15-year-old youth with two gay men. As the paper prepared to harass and vilify the people involved, the Council obtained a court order to stop it.

The Sunday Mirror, in a fit of indignation, challenged the order in the High Court and managed to get it modified: the story could be carried, but the people involved could not be named or approached.

“A Victory for Free Speech!” crowed The Sunday Mirror in an editorial (30th June). “The Sunday Mirror has won a great victory … Southwark Council, voted in by local people and funded by every tax payer in the country, did not want YOU to know what it was doing in YOUR name and with YOUR money. In short they did not want you to know the full story.”

This might sound noble, but rings hollow to those of us who know what such newspapers make of their “freedom of speech”. Indeed, the very same issue proved that the court injunction was a very necessary check to save innocent people from persecution. The Sunday Mirror managed to track down the boy’s mother and, in a double-page spread, headlined “How Could They Hand My Mixed-Up Boy Over to a Couple of Gay Men?” it proceeded to scandalously twist and distort the situation.

They started by claiming that the mother was “outraged” and “shocked” at the decision by social workers to place her son with a gay couple. “I’m saddened and disturbed by what is going on, but I’m powerless. It’s like he doesn’t belong to me anymore.” Shocking? Disgraceful? It seems so, until you read much further and discover that the boy was physically and mentally abused by his father. “His dad never showed any fondness or affection for him and would beat him.”

Mum admits that her son has been a rent boy but says that she is convinced that he isn’t really a homosexual. But isn’t this it’s-only-a-phase reaction indicative of the wishful thinking of parents all over the world when they discover that their child is gay? The only person who really knows the truth is the young man himself — and he insists that he is gay.

So, is this youth in danger from his foster parents (because, let’s face it, that’s the implication at the bottom of all this hoo-ha)? If you read well into The Sunday Mirror’s “exposé” you will find that the mother “stressed she was not anti-homosexual, and she respects the men caring for her son. ‘He has introduced me to his foster parents and I like them. He seems happy and stable. I’m not trying to say that there is anything wrong with their home life. It’s just that the whole thing was rushed through while I was looking the other way. I should have been consulted.’ This does not sit very easily with The Sunday Mirror’s shock-horror presentation of the story. The Sunday Mirror insists that it had no intention of crucifying the individuals concerned.

If that is the case, why did it pursue the whole matter through the courts? Couldn’t it have quite easily commented on the whole issue of gay adoption and fostering without referring to specific cases? It tries to justify its actions by claiming it was “protecting free speech”. In fact, it is just another tabloid newspaper doing what tabloid newspapers do best —hurting people.

Of course, there is a human interest angle to this, but that can go hang when there are political points to be scored. “Outrage Grows Over Gay Foster Parents” announced The Daily Mail (1 July), ensuring its readers knew that Southwark was “Labour-controlled”. A Tory councillor, Mrs Heather Kirby is quoted as saying: “I have suggested that Southwark should not carry out children’s services at all.”

The London Evening Standard carried a particularly nasty editorial (2 July) saying that the Council’s decision was “absurd and perverse”. “What sort of values allow them to discriminate against heterosexual foster parents? And how many children are going to be betrayed by the folly and laxity of Southwark social workers before they are brought to book?”

With the cruel, ignorant moralising running at this pitch, it seemed that Southwark’s by-now famous “pretend family” was doomed.

“Monstrous!” screamed The Sport (28 June) just for once not applying the word to a pair of female breasts. “The Sport is not into gay bashing,” it shamelessly announced, before happily bashing gays. When even a degrading, pornographic pile of dung like The Sport can feel morally superior shows just how deeply homophobia is ingrained in our society.

Then, The Sunday Times put a new angle on the matter (7 July) when it discovered that a “Tory flagship council fosters boy with gays”. Wandsworth council this time, had “fostered” an 18-year old “who says he discovered he was gay last year”. Excuse me — but did they say an 18-year-old boy? I was under the impression that 18 is now the age of majority in this country. When does a boy become a man? When it’s convenient to the paper’s point of view, that’s when!

Once again, a parade of ill-informed “experts” was hauled out to make the usual knee-jerk noises. Christopher Walby, chairman of the Institute of Directors of Social Services said: “As young people grow up, they often go through confusion about their sexual identity. To start labelling young people as gay is very dangerous.” Very dangerous? I would have thought leaving them with brutal, uncaring parents was even more dangerous, but I suppose it all depends on how deep your anxiety about homosexuality runs.

There were a few voices of reason. Penelope Leach, a “child care expert” said “living with a gay couple would not prevent the teenagers from choosing their sexual preferences when they were older. In the circumstances it sounds as if Wandsworth has made the right decision.”

Virginia Bottomley was quoted as saying that she would object to councils fostering children to gays on “ideological grounds”, but that it could be acceptable. “The most important thing is what is best for the child.”

Even Roger Sims of the Conservative back-bench health committee refused to “comment further without full details” – an example to the other speak-before-you-think, pronounce-before-you-know merchants. None of these cases is as cut and dried as the papers would have us believe, and pretending otherwise does a gross disservice to all concerned.

***

Stiff competition for the hypocrite of the month, but I’m plumping for Peregrine Worsthorne – again. In The Daily Telegraph (26 June) he was writing: “How often is moral indignation simply the cloak under which journalists – and anybody else for that matter – hide their sadistic pleasure in putting the boot in?”

He must have been referring to a piece which had appeared in his Sunday Telegraph Comment Section (16 June): “Anybody who knows anything about it knows very well why homosexuality should not be legalised in the armed services. But this does not stop calls for this ‘reform’, on the grounds of human rights and other such claptrap … It is another sign that, on anything to do with homosexuality, realism is deserting much of the educated classes. A book reviewer … refers – without quotation marks – to the ‘marriage’ of Britten and Pears. Britten and Pears had a perfect right to live together. But it was no marriage. When was it solemnised? Are there any children? Not only are the armed forces, who for so long have coped with homosexuality humanely and discreetly, to be made a mockery of but so also is the heterosexual institution of matrimony.”

Yes, that’s moral indignation. Did you get sadistic pleasure from it, Perry?

***

Let’s-blame-gays-for-EVERYTHING department: Sinister attempts were made last month to link gays with two particularly brutal murders. The husband of Penny Bell, the woman whose body was found in a car in West London, was said to have “a string of gay lovers” who were supposedly being “quizzed by police” (Daily Mirror 12 June). And Michael Shorey, the man convicted of casually killing his girlfriend and her flatmate, was said by The Daily Star to have “a string of close gay friends”.

Meanwhile, the horrible murder of six-year-old Barry Lewis by a gang of paedophiles was also laid at the door of the gay community. All the papers covered the story and, as an example of human depravity, it made painful reading. Several readers wrote to the editors of national papers pointing out that the repeated use of the word “homosexual” in their reports made it appear that this was another “gay” crime.

Why do newspapers do this? Why are they so anxious to make an association between homosexuality and just about every revolting crime that is committed? Is it carelessness, or do they do it on purpose?

***

Most of the time it is the papers that set the agenda, and we are obliged to react. Just for once it was the other way round. OutRage!’s gay wedding in Trafalgar Square got plenty of news coverage, and created a lot of comment about the state of marriage in general and whether it should be available to gays in particular.

First off the mark was the utterly immoral “morals crusader”, Mrs Victoria Gillick, who said in the London Evening Standard (12 June): “I regard most things gays do as a swansong, because there are not going to be a lot of them left in 20 years’ time. There will not be enough of them left to squeak.”

On the letters page the following day, Jill Venezuela retorted: “Just how outrageously unChristian Mrs Gillick has now become is evident … As she has 10 children herself, has she considered that one of them is potentially gay? Poor little squeaker.”

Nigella Lawson in the London Evening Standard (3 July) had no doubt. Her column was boldly headlined “Let gays get married”. She wrote: “Most heterosexual people do think of homosexuals as being more promiscuous than they are, as having less stable relationships. But the point is, they insist on denying them the right to legitimate or stabilise any relationship they have. I don’t know whether this is humbug, double-think or a particularly logic-defying self-deception. Whatever, for anyone at the receiving end of these smug and superior generalisations, it is clearly a no-win situation and demoralising at that.”

Ms Lawson thinks that gays should be granted “legal, registered domestic partnerships”.

Mary Kenny, on the other hand (Sunday Telegraph 23 June) thinks it “signals an extraordinary search for respectability which seems to be one of the hallmarks of our times”. She notes that when gay liberation first started, homosexuals proclaimed they were going to create an alternative lifestyle with none of the trappings of bourgeois respectability. Nowadays, she says, “campaigning homosexuals want to express their sameness, ordinariness and respectability”.

I’m not sure that Mary Kenny saw the Trafalgar Square wedding, with its leather-clad brides and fishnet-stockinged bridegrooms. There was more than a touch of send-up there, but I take her point.

If we really want to have gay marriage, the people we need to convince are the ones who make a small fortune out of the institution – the caterers and dressmakers, the bell-ringers and car hire merchants. The Independent on Sunday thoughtfully conducted a straw poll among entrepreneurs in the wedding industry asking: “Should gay couples have legal rights?” Most thought it was OK; two dissented.

Lily Lamb, a cake decorator, donned her philosopher’s cap to pronounce: “It’s wrong to have homosexuals at all … I wouldn’t decorate a gay wedding cake on principle.” While Diana Shirley “a honeymoon holiday specialist” said she was “against homosexuals marrying, but on the business side I’m for it”.

Meanwhile, Barbra Streisand was reported in The Sun (1 I July) to have “boycotted her son’s wedding – because he married his homosexual lover in a gay ceremony”. Streisand, who used to sing about “people who need people” obviously doesn’t practise what she preaches.

Someone else who just can’t drag himself into the twentieth century is dreary Peter McKay of the London Evening Standard, who was maundering on about Martina in his column of June 20th. “Martina Navratilova’s former companion, Judy Nelson is photographed leaving an American court with her two handsome sons … aged 20 and 17 … Lesbians have rights too. But to appear in such a case flanked by her two sons struck me as particularly revolting … (it) appeared to me to turn an accepted moral order on its head. We expect a mother to attend court with her sons accused of breaking society’s laws. But here is a mother using her sons in pursuit of compensation from a relationship which – if not actually an insult to their very existence – affronts the basis on which they were conceived.”

Will somebody show Puffed up Pete the door, please?

***

The Independent on Sunday (16 June) carried an interesting feature on America’s present craze for “outing”. The article was subsequently lifted by The Sun and presented under the headline “Branded Queer by Evil Gays”. The Sun, as you can see, doesn’t approve of outing celebrities. This does not stop them reproducing the posters which name the people in question. The “sinister gay sex slurs” which shock The Sun so much are, in fact, child’s play when set against The Sun’s own record of outing. Remember Elton John? Not only did they name Mr John as gay, they invented a whole catalogue of “sex slurs” in order to justify their actions. I wonder when we’ll see the headline “Evil tabloid newspaper lies through its teeth?”

Not in the immediate future, I suspect.

***

Welcome Out Department:

  1. Patric Walker, astrologer, who was interviewed in the London Evening Standard (21 June). “And how does his homosexuality sit with his Catholicism? Big Pause. ‘How! Sexuality is a natural body instinct; Catholicism, religion, philosophy are totally mind things. The body tells you one thing, the mind another.’”
  2. David Harrison-Harvey “picked by the Government to head a crucial foreign investment campaign” and describing himself in the London Evening Standard (10 July) as “Mr Establishment, conservative with a small and capital C” decided to come out “publicly, painfully and purposefully” in protest at the attitudes of the insurance industry to people with HIV and Aids. Three cheers, and let’s have more of this kind of thing from those on the Right, please.

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