GAY TIMES March 1991

When the Tories do something unforgiveable, they seem to have an unending supply of academics waiting in the wings to justify it. And so it is with their present anti-gay proposals.

First, Clause 25 of the Criminal Justice Bill — an abuse of citizens’ rights that would be unbelievable in any other context. There could be no excuse for such legislation, and yet out from the woodwork slithers Norman Stone (“Professor of Modern History at Oxford University”) to write in The London Evening Standard (7 Feb) that “The gays do protest too much.”

In a pathetic apologia for the Government’s apparent attempts to re-criminalise homosexuality without appearing to do so, Professor Stone (once one of Mrs Thatcher’s chief advisers) wrote about Oscar Wilde —perhaps history’s most poignant victim of cruel sex laws: “Now, what caused the Wilde disaster? Was it the persecution by law of homosexuals in England? Or was it just in the nature of the beast that it would all end in tears?” he asked.

Yes, in Norman Stone’s book, the victim is entirely responsible for the crime. His reasoning is that homosexuals get sent to prison because of “the nature of the beast” rather than because of unjust laws. Therefore, and QED, Clause 25 was quite justifiable.

Stone ends his article with the favourite trick of right-wing propagandists — invent a threat and then ascribe it to the enemy: “We can do without all of this gay trumpeting from the woeful-countenanced non-knight, Derek Jarman. We can do without any public statements to the effect that ‘gay pride’ needs statutory endorsement: public decency, the family, are part of civilisation, and we should support them.”

When did anybody ask for gay pride to be given “statutory endorsement”? And why should the non-persecution of homosexuals present a threat to public decency and the family or, indeed, civilisation? And since when has society existed for the exclusive use of heterosexuals?

Mr Stone says that: “It is, of course, a ridiculous waste of police time” to stake out cottages and provoke gay men into criminal acts. He says that he is pleased that “London juries nowadays are inclined to acquit if ever they find police entrapments of this kind.” He then says: “The police should be dealing with serious crime, of which there is too much.”

Perhaps someone should tell Norm that Clause 25, on the face of it, is going to turn the things he thinks are trivial into “serious crimes”, provoking even more spiteful police activity.

If Norman Stone thinks the gays protest too much, I have to reply that maybe the professor doesn’t know enough.

On the other hot topic — adoption and fostering by gay couples — the social work magazine Community Care offered (24 Jan) a forum piece. Making the case for fostering was Don Smart who has been trying, with his partner John Elderton, to adopt a boy with Downs Syndrome. He told a sorry tale of dithering and dodging by the social work agencies when the application was made: “The last time we tried we were interviewed by a psychiatrist, which at first we did not mind. I later found out that hetero-couples would not have had to undergo this interview … I contacted five London boroughs to see what response I would get from them about fostering babies with HIV and Aids. Either they didn’t have a policy about working with lesbians and gay men, or they did not see that at present there was a need for such a service. As soon as they knew I was gay they tried to ring off. Many of these places have an equal opportunities policy but not when it comes to being gay.”

The other side of the argument was put by Richard Whitfield; “emeritus professor of education at Aston University” he is also chairman of something called the National Family Trust, which sounds remarkably like one of those dreadful right-wing Christian pressure groups which hide their real motives behind inflated and misleading titles. Any organisation which has “National” and “Family” in its name must, these days, be treated with utmost suspicion.

Professor Whitfield abuses his academic training by employing in his article every trick and device to misinform the reader. His opinions are presented as fact, with no evidence to back them up. He, like Norman Stone, creates bogeymen to frighten the nervous. “For children to stand the best chance of thriving in our culture they need, ideally, to experience the unconditional love of a mother and a father figure who are committed both to the child and to each other. In this way the youngster daily experiences role models from each gender, helping over a long period, often at margins of awareness, to promote the emergence of a secure sexual identity.”

Oh really? By “secure sexual identity” I take it that Whitfield means a heterosexual identity.

However, I — and I suspect the vast majority of Gay Times readers —came from an “ideal” heterosexual family, as described by Whitfield. How come I’m homosexual? How does the professor explain this apparent total failure of his theory? Who’s to say that in reverse, children raised in same-sex households wouldn’t stand a better chance of turning out straight? I don’t know. And neither does Professor Whitfield, although you’d never guess it from the dreadful certainty of his opinions.

By denying gay men and lesbians the opportunity to foster and adopt, the country is throwing away a precious and much-needed resource. We can’t afford to do that.

***

Simon Hoggart, the columnist who has taken over the space thankfully vacated by Richard Ingrams in The Observer, got off to a good start (20 Jan) when he wrote: ‘‘Being a homosexual must often make for a difficult life, made worse by endless priggish preaching from some commentators. They were out in force last week after the argument on whether Ian McKellen should have accepted a knighthood. The gist seems to be that, in their infinite compassion, they didn’t mind what homosexuals actually did, provided they retained a fitting sense of their own inferiority. They even trotted out the wearisome old saw that ‘gay’ was a serviceable little word before the homosexuals hijacked it. So it was, and so was ‘queer’ before the bigots got hold of that.”

This point could not go unanswered by one of “this blabbering clique” (as The Guardian succinctly branded Fleet Street’s polemicists — 9 Feb), namely “Mandrake” of The Sunday Telegraph who wrote (27 Jan): “Of course ‘queer’ was sometimes used as a term of abuse, but then anybody who thinks that ‘gay’ is merely a neutral or commendatory replacement hasn’t been reading The Sun regularly.”

What Mandrake overlooks — or is, perhaps, incapable of comprehending — is that homosexuals chose the word “gay” for themselves, and however hard it tries, even The Sun cannot turn it into a word of abuse. I am happy to label myself gay, and in however sneering a fashion the word might be employed, I feel no insult from it. Sticks and stones, Mr Mandrake, may break my bones, but being called gay makes my chest swell with pride.

***

“Most of us have secrets of some kind in our past, things we would rather other people didn’t know about and that we try to hide from the rest of the world — and sometimes from ourselves. Yet the paradox is that when eventually it comes out, there if often an overwhelming feeling of liberation; one no longer has to live a lie, terrified that somebody will discover the truth.” So wrote Liz Hodgkinson in The Guardian (23 Jan) as she explored the topic of coming out.

Of course, coming out is not confined to homosexuals any more. It seems the concept of unburdening ourselves of oppressive secrets is now seen as therapeutic by a wider public. The article quotes a GP, Dr Susan Horsewood-Lee, as saying: “Any patient with a terrible secret — or something they imagine is terrible —thinks that I, as their doctor, can guess all about them by simply looking at them. Then they find, to their surprise, that when the secret is out, nobody cares — and in an instant, years of stress and tension can vanish.”

This opinion is supported by psychotherapist Vera Diamond: “If you’re in the public eye, the worst that can happen is that it’s a one-day wonder in the newspapers … you have to be really bizarre for anybody to take the slightest notice. Most people just want to get on with their own lives.”

This is something the gay community has discovered the hard way. Coming out is still a big step for most people, but it’s getting easier all the time.

***

The apparently never-ending saga of newspapers using the words “poof and “poofter” as words of abuse against gay men has taken a new turn. I wrote to The Sun’s ever-so-independent Ombudsman, Mr Kenneth Donlan (ex-managing editor of the paper), complaining that the-paper-that-supports-our-boys was not adhering to the Press Council’s ruling on insulting language.

Mr Donlan replied: “The words poof and poofter are colloquial, they are not necessarily degrading as you suggest. I believe your allegation that the words are abusive and dehumanising to be false. It also smacks of over-reaction and to be read as hyperbole of the worst kind … I know that there has traditionally been a nasty section of society lobbying against the homosexual community. This is now disappearing as tolerance takes hold and I believe that all will benefit in the long run.”

Such arrant nonsense would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic. Who does Mr Donlan believe this “nasty section of society” to be? Does he read his own newspaper?

Given that the Press Complaints Commission (chairman Lord McGregor) refuses to even answer letters on the subject, it becomes clear that the gay community now has no means of redress against tabloid aggression.

***

Welcome Out department (a monthly round-up of newspaper ‘outings’):

  1. Movie veteran Van Johnson, 74, whose step-son revealed that the former heart throb left his wife for a chorus boy — (London Evening Standard, 12 Feb).
  2. St Paul. (Yes, theSt Paul), who has been outed by Bishop John Spong of Newark, New Jersey. (Guardian 4 Feb)

***

Tory MP Julian Critchley, wrote a gloriously splenetic critique of that other member of the blabbering clique, John Junor, in The Independent (9 Feb). Of Junor, Mr Critchley said: “His talent owed less to Momus, the God of mockery, than a flair for vulgar and common abuse … His is the voice of the anonymous letter-writer, of the men and women with a taste for green ink, the senders of hate mail.”

While she was in office, Mr Critchley was one of Mrs Thatcher’s most consistent and effective critics. He has, like so many of us, waited a long time to rejoice in her downfall. It is therefore highly appropriate that he should now be allowed the pleasure of spitting at her rusting tin men. It’s good to see him giving Junor a helping hand towards the scrap heap.

***

“The BBC is to launch a series for homosexual men and women in the autumn,” announced The Daily Telegraph on the 25th January, and once more the floodgates were open.

“And Now Our Show For One-eyed Mexican Dwarfs” said Andrew Penman, in Today (26 Jan). It was the ironic headline over an attack on minority programming in general but gay programming in particular. He mentioned Brookside’s and EastEnders’ gay characters and said: “Shows such as this portray gays as living in the same world as the rest of society, faced with many of the same problems — and a few more besides. This has got to be better than dumping them in their own slot which everyone else can ignore.”

I agree. Gays must remain visible in the mainstream, but the difference is that gay programmes are not only about gays they are also for gays. They can address our specialised concerns in a way that regular documentary or drama can’t.

In this connection that twittering blue-nose Mary Kenny was going on (Daily Mail, 31 Jan) about “Why I no longer watch TV”. Apparently, she is afraid she’ll catch sight of “teenagers sprawled before the awesomely decadent, and wholly unfunny, Julian Clary, who seemed like a character out of a movie about the decline of the Roman Empire, as interpreted by Fellini.” Of the proposed gay programme she says: “Gosh, thank heavens I won’t be watching it. I’m all for tolerance and respect for privacy” (er, um) “which indeed is why I do not choose to see any broadcasts about anyone’s sexuality.”

Fair enough. Mary Kenny has done what people have been advising Mrs Whitehouse to do for years — switch off. But one fears that if this new Beebgay series should come to pass the tabloid press, the National Viewers and Listeners Association and the Broadcasting Standards Council are going to have a field day.

Aunty deserves a pat on the back for being such a game old bird.

***

The Sun was telling its readers (13 Feb) “How the Tories Save Kinnock £50 on Poll Tax”. Apparently, the Tory council in the West London Borough of Ealing, where Mr Kinnock lives, is about to reduce its poll tax by said amount. How did they do it? Well, to start with they chopped everything to do with gays and lesbians. According to Council leader Martin Matlam, they saved £600,000 by axing the Gay and Lesbian Advisory Service”. They also didn’t pay (as did their loony left predecessors) “£1,000 to the Ealing Gay Festival” or £1,915 to Lesbian Switchboard.”

This might all sound quite reasonable to your average Sun reader. But I also happen to live in Ealing and I saw no evidence of any “Gay and Lesbian Advisory Service” — certainly not one that gobbled up £600,000. And if there had been an “Ealing Gay Festival” I’m sure I would have known about it. And does anybody know the whereabouts of “Lesbian Switchboard”, because I can’t find any trace of it.

It seems that either the previous council in Ealing kept very quiet about its gay facilities or The Sun and its pet Tories are lying again. I wonder which one it is?

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