GAY TIMES July 1991

The Daily Star’s now-notorious POOFTERS ON PARADE headline (17 May) referred to a recommendation from the parliamentary Armed Forces Bill Committee that members of the Services should not be prosecuted for homosexual acts that would be legal in civilian life. The committee did NOT, as The Star so untruthfully put it, call for “homosexuality to become legal in the Armed Forces”. Even if the recommendation were to be implemented, soldiers, sailors and air force personnel will continue to be hounded out of the Services if they’re discovered to be gay. They’d still lose their pensions, their service record and their reputations, they just wouldn’t be court martialled and sent to prison.

In an editorial in the same issue, The Star said: “Our Service men and women are the envy of the world. They have earned universal praise and respect for their courage, discipline and professionalism. Is this all to be destroyed by poofters on parade?”

The editorial labels gay groups “these strident, mincing preachers of filth”. To support the argument, corruption of youth is invoked (“How sickening that young recruits will become open targets of filth”) as well as indiscipline (“Just think of the effect on discipline of cat fights among queens on the front line.”)

In case there should be any doubt about the author of this piece, we can turn, four days later, to The Star’s editor. Brian Hitchen, who was telling us in his weekly column to: “Shove your queer ideas in the closet.” He asked: “Can you see our tank drivers welcoming a Pansy Division? And if a paratrooper was daft enough to indent for a candy-striped canopy, he might find that it didn’t open too swiftly.” (Is he condoning murder, by any chance?)

Sir Brian says: “And though the homosexual lobby will reach for their pens to complain or lisp falsetto abuse down my phone, I’ll tell them this for free: people are sick and tired of your ‘gay’ nonsense and the pretence that homosexuals are normal and that it is heterosexuals who are out of step.”

Well, he’s right in one respect—the homosexuals have reached for their pens, but mostly to write complaints to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) or — in the case of GALOP, the Gay London Policing Group — to the Kennington Police Station in south London and the Director of Public Prosecutions, demanding that The Star be prosecuted under the Public Order Act.

But is there any use writing to the PCC about such abuse? We’ll have to wait and see — but I know that they have been inundated with objections about this particular outburst. And I also happen to know that earlier this year, Hitchen was given an informal, feather duster-style rap on the knuckles by the PCC, over this very issue. All the same, it is clear that he has no intention of abiding by either the spirit or the letter of the PCC’s code of practice as far as gays are concerned. We want action and we want it NOW!

In its editorial on the subject, The Daily Mail (17 May) claimed that the Committee had recommended “laws banning homosexuality among members of the armed forces should be scrapped”. “Surely there is a very large range of actions which contravene military regulations,” the paper continued, “like falling asleep on guard duty for instance — which come nowhere near to breaking the ordinary law of the land. It is because service conditions are unique that they call for separate military law.”

Excuse me — but where in civilian life are you likely to have the opportunity to “fall asleep on guard duty”? This is an offence which could not occur in any other sphere of life — how on earth it can be compared to a homosexual relationship that could occur anywhere, any time is something, perhaps, The Daily Mail could explain to this puzzled reader.

But we aren’t talking about logic here. We aren’t talking about a fair hearing. We’re talking about pure prejudice and maybe even deliberate mendacity.

***

On the day before the Armed Forces Committee report was made public, the tabloids had been full of a story about lesbians in the Navy. “Gay Wrens Force Sailor Girls Into Lesbian Orgies” was The Sun’s version (15 May), while The Daily Star’s front page screamed “HMS DYKE!”

Call me paranoid if you like, but was it really coincidence that this story broke precisely when it did? Or could some scheming homophobe at the Ministry of Defence have ensured that the story was leaked when it was to undermine the Committee’s recommendations? And what is the story anyway? If you read closely you’ll see that it rests entirely on the allegations of one woman — which doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t true, but neither does it mean that it is. One thing I’d like to bet on — now that it has served its purpose, you’ll never hear another word about this supposed incident.

***

The Independent Magazine (Jun) carried a long profile of the people in the Isle of Man who orchestrated the campaign against gay law reform. “Frank and Dorothy Duggan are a born-again, bungalow-dwelling, sister-and-brother team of furious proselytising and newspaper-letter-writing powers,” writes Amanda Mitchison. She gives a sample of their surreal conversation:

“Frank: Homosexual practice is learned behaviour. It is a wilful sexual perversion. It is unnatural. As someone once wisely said, homosexual sex is dangerous — one go and you’re hooked …

Dorothy: It is evil … satanic really …

Frank: Legalise them and there will be no limit. Soon they’ll want marriage and then to adopt children and the age of consent will get lower: 18, 16, 14, 12 —until it becomes paedophilia.

Dorothy: A high percentage of these paedophiles are homosexual …”

Another self-appointed enemy of Manx gays is Mel Cheetham, who runs a stone mason’s yard. He “started his petition on the island calling for a referendum on the legalisation of homosexual practice, which he believes to be ‘unnatural and utterly disgusting’.

Cheetham carries a copy of the petition wherever he goes. “I stop at roadsides where I see fellows digging the road. The rougher the fellows are the more keen they are. And they say in no uncertain terms what they would do to these homosexuals — they would flatten them. They would obliterate them. They use very, very strong, old-fashioned language.”

There is little doubt that these strange people do, indeed, represent Manx opinion on the subject. But the Isle of Man is not really like anywhere else. It is an in-bred, conservative and, frankly, weird community. It will soon be kicked into the 20th century whether it likes it or not.

***

In a disturbing article in The Independent (20 May), William Rees-Mogg told of a visit to the Salvation Army’s headquarters in London, to speak to Dr Ian Campbell “an important observer of the world HIV epidemic”.

Dr Campbell appears to be doing sterling work in collating statistics and trying to bring more attention to the threat to the world that the world doesn’t want to know about. But then we come to the “solution” to the problem as proposed, we are told, by villagers in rural Zambia: “faithfulness in marriage, abstinence until marriage, and the adopting of a Christian lifestyle”.

Lord Rees-Mogg says: “The ‘unzip a condom’ approach to the HIV epidemic reminds me of the filter-tip response to the issue of cigarette smoking and cancer. It is not wrong, but it is a distraction from the real issue. The Judeo-Christian sexual code has a function to provide for the care of children, and also like Jewish dietary laws, to prevent the spread of disease. That is, in some ways, a similar approach to that of Alcoholics Anonymous, which is also prepared to accept the logic of abstinence and the need for community support … In Christian terms, sexual morality is determined by spiritual needs, but in Darwinist terms, Christian morality is a strategy for survival.”

Three days later, Mary Kenny was writing a remarkably similar article in The Daily Mail: “Condoms, in short … are just not enough to combat Aids … Parallels can be drawn with organisations like Alcoholics Anonymous. AA does not say ‘Practise safe drinking’ to those in the grip of alcoholism. It teaches people to build up a taboo against drinking, and shows them the joys of sober living through community and, indeed, spiritual support … If something is killing us, we develop an instinct to stop doing it. Morality has acted as a strategy for survival. We had believed that modern medicine and science had rendered such strategies obsolete. But once more, history teaches us the old, old lessons that if we don’t have certain moral standards, we perish.”

Both writers are committed Christian propagandists and can be numbered among those religious opportunists who see Aids as a wonderful tool for reviving their flagging fortunes. Like vultures they gather round the corpses of those who have fallen, hoping to ensure their own survival by picking our bones. The ideas propounded by Rees-Mogg and Kenny aren’t all that far removed from the “God’s wrath” theory of Aids. If carried to their logical conclusion we will end up in another sexual dark age, like the one so vividly and horribly remembered in the TV series “A Secret World of Sex”.

Religion does not hold the key to stopping Aids, but we must be vigilant that our tragedy is not hijacked for exploitation by authoritarian forces such as the Salvation Army or the Catholic Church.

***

Not all local papers are aggressive and hostile to their gay communities, and a good example of friendly reporting came in Blackpool’s Evening Gazette (22 May). The paper’s chief feature writer, Jacqueline Morley, decided to investigate claims that Blackpool is “in the pink” and taking over from Brighton as “the UK’s premier gay resort”. She reported mainly on the Flamingo Club, now celebrating its tenth birthday, which has progressed from “a seedy top-floor dive frequented by a few stately ‘homos’ — and an elderly hooker who came out of semi-retirement for pigeon fanciers and bank holiday weekends” to become “Blackpool’s second largest, albeit least troubled, nightclub … the centre of Blackpool’s gay golden triangle”.

It’s a generally good-natured feature, full of affection, the only fly in the ointment being Superintendent Ken MacKay, who objected to a licence for another branch of the Flamingo, called Basil’s on The Strand. The Superintendent “overcomes personal aversion and reluctance to discuss homosexuality, to stress that the force is not anti-gay”. A bit of a contradiction there, but never mind.

Even the town’s tourism director, Barry Morris, has to concede — not with the best of grace — “We have some way to go before taking over from Brighton. It is not a record I have set out to get but it is a sign of the times. Gays are here to stay … Most are more law abiding than extremist elements of the so-called straight community.”

***

The tenth anniversary of the Aids epidemic was marked by most papers. The Independent’s review of the decade was headed “From five young men then … to this now” (4 Jun). It illustrated how, from such small beginnings in 1981, Aids has become pandemic. This should make salutary reading for those newspaper commentators who continue to insist that “only a handful of heterosexuals” are infected and so there is nothing to worry about. Once upon a time, only a handful of homosexuals were affected, and look what has happened since then. There is no room for complacency.

***

Not Out Department: This month’s celebrities who AREN’T gay, include Jason Donovan (Jason Says: I’m No Gay” — People, 26 May), and Prince Edward (“We expose Liar in ‘Gay Edward’ Slur” — News of the World, 19 May).

The NoW’s “liar” was Duane Hoffman who claims, in some ghastly American rag, that he “arranged male escorts for Edward as the bachelor prince visited the US”. Disgraceful. Given that Hoffman is “gay and dying from Aids” it’s obvious that you can’t believe a word he says. And, anyway, no true blue British paper would carry such disgusting innuendo about Eddie, would it?

But what’s this — Sean Smith, The Sunday People’s unpleasant gossip columnist, revealed that Prince Edward “joined a wealthy weekend party of boating enthusiasts … with his companion for the jaunt”. So, who was this companion “who joined him below?” — “Blonde and shapely?” asks Mr Smith. “Well, no actually. 1 can tell you he was a strapping young man and a damn good crew.”

***

Gratuitous Insult Department: “Why should gays be a charity? They’ll be calling rapists a charity next!” — Cub Pack leader Mike Turner, after being told some of the money raised in the TVS Telethon was to go to the local Gay Switchboard. (People, 19 May).

***

Michael Cashman’s TV documentary about homophobia was too much for some of the critics. Compton Miller in The Daily Express (29 May) said: “Most citizens living outside our gay-tolerant cities have an old-fashioned morality. Nothing propounded by Cashman or his discussion group of gays … would have convinced them that our laws are unjust towards homosexuals. Indeed, the ‘notorious’ Clause 28 … has successfully curbed the loony Left’s worst excesses. Cashman struck me as being too dogmatic and bitter to win many converts.”

The Daily Telegraph thought Mr Cashman “a bully” in his treatment of the aged, but grotesquely homophobic, Councillor Muffett of Worcester. Naturally the DT would have to speak up for such a person — even though he was the epitome of the hatred and irrationality that programme was supposed to be about — because he represents the majority of the paper’s readers.

Other papers thought Michael “courageous” (Observer, 2 Jun) and “persuasive” (London Standard, 29 May) and “dignified” (Guardian, 28 May).

It might be argued by the more impatient gay activists that this gently-gently approach to public relations has got us nowhere over the past twenty years, but homophobia is deeply ingrained in our culture, it will take generations to shift. It will need a thousand programmes like “Byline”, which chip away at irrationality, backed up by dignified and reasonable campaigning.

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