GAY TIMES – January 1991

World Aids Day was well served on television and in the broadsheets, but the tabloids continue to promote the idea that HIV is not a problem for heterosexuals and that those who say otherwise are “homosexual propagandists”.

The welter of research findings, predictions and anecdotes had no effect whatsoever on those, such as Garry Bushell in The Sun and Brian Hitchen of The Star, who continue to insist that Aids remains a ‘gay plague’. “The Mawkish Minority had a field day, relentlessly pushing their claim that the awful disease threatens us all, despite the bitter controversy over this point in the medical world,” said a Star editorial (3 Dec). “Aids is a horrible killer illness. But so are cancer, heart disease, multiple sclerosis and a host of others. And they strike a lot more people in this country than Aids. Sufferers from these menaces … must be wondering why Aids is singled out for such lavish attention. Is it because Aids has ravaged the high-profile world of show business, killing many male entertainers? … It’s a queer old world, isn’t it?”

Garry Bushell, of course, managed to put it even more offensively. “It’s almost impossible to switch on TV without seeing some sanctimonious twerp rattling off a load of scientific-sounding mumbo jumbo proving the end of humanity is nigh … That may be true in the entertainment industry — riddled as it is with a mafia of promiscuous shirtlifters who are dropping like ninepins.”

Maybe heterosexual Aids is not happening here in a dramatic way — yet. But I would refer Mr Bushell to an article in The British Medical Journal, reported in the London Standard (30 Nov) under the headline “Aids will destroy nations”. It referred to African nations, of course, and we won’t wait to hear what Mr Bushell’s disgusting reaction to that would be. And no doubt he considered the World Health Organisation to be a “front for poofter propaganda” when it announced (Standard 27 Nov) that it now estimates that between eight and ten million people are HIV positive worldwide.

Glenda Jackson has a message which Bushell et al will find incomprehensible: “The battle against HIV and Aids will only be won if we acknowledge it is our fight and not someone else’s. If we don’t meet this challenge, we will have lost our humanity.”

However, there is no “scientific-sounding mumbo jumbo” involved in the stark fact that more and more women are becoming HIV positive. The heterosexual spread of HIV might be slow — one prediction said it could be thirty years before it reached the same level among heterosexuals as homosexuals — but it is inexorable. To encourage complacency at this stage, when millions of lives could be saved, has little to do with protecting gay rights, and everything to do with saving innocent people who are being deliberately misled by neurotic homophobes.

Bushell, Hitchen and the others who encourage heterosexuals to believe they are immune to HIV, are a public health hazard, and their rantings should carry a Government health warning.

***

The religiously-inspired are also a menace to their fellow citizens. The alarmingly crazed Graham Webster-Gardiner of the Conservative Family Campaign spoke to The London Standard (27 Nov) about the Terrence Higgins Trust: “They are simply a homosexual propaganda group. If they stopped their particular practices, Aids wouldn’t be a problem.”

Mr Webster-Gardiner is against the dissemination of practical information about safer sex, as is Councillor Joe Brennan of Galway, who described an Aids leaflet aimed at young Irish people emigrating to or already living in Britain as “immoral, obscene and pornographic” (Irish in Britain News, 30 Nov). “Let’s have the courage to tell everyone that by adhering to Christian principles we will avoid Aids,” he says.

There is nothing particularly “Christian” or “principled” about encouraging people to put their lives on the line in order not to offend some ridiculous dogma invented for use in an age long gone.

***

The “loony left” seems to be coming back into fashion as newspapers sniff out every grant — however inconsequential — made to gay people by local authorities. Bristol City Council has been put through the tabloid wringer for daring to give £500 “to pay for 15 lesbians to take acting classes” (Daily Star, 29 Nov). The Star wheeled out “angry Tory councillor” Marmaduke Alderson to say: “The decision is a classic example of how far away Labour is from the mainstream of politics.”

Commenting on the same measly grant (I mean, five hundred quid, I ask you!), our old friend John Smith (Man of the People) said: “Homosexuals are constantly reminding us that they are really quite normal human beings and no different from anybody else. Fair enough. But if that’s the case, why the hell do loony authorities keep treating them as something special?”

Well, John dear, it isn’t so much local authorities who treat us as ‘special’, it’s people like you. I notice you are silent on grants made to other minority groups. Why not put the boot into authorities that give money to rugby clubs, opera companies and scout troops? Could it be that you have something of an unhealthy obsession with homosexuals?

Meanwhile The London Evening Standard reported an “outcry” over Essex University’s plan to hold “the first United Kingdom conference on gay and lesbian studies, partly financed by the European Commission”.

As we know, as far as the right-wing press is concerned, the EC are a bunch of loony lefties (“Euro Laws will turn UK into Gay Paradise” — Daily Star), but where exactly is the “outcry” we have been promised? Well it seems to consist of some obscure local councillor, Doug Pallet, saying “This conference is an abomination”. Well, he’s entitled to his opinion, I suppose, and now he can go and stick his head in a bucket.

***

On the subject of the latest Aids statistics, Julie Burchill wrote (Mail on Sunday, 21 Oct): “The fact that simply because a large number of rich, white homosexuals went on holidays to Aids-riddled Haiti in the Seventies and Eighties and indulged themselves with dirt-poor native boys for the price of a Pina Colada, we are now in the second Dark Age of sexual misery. It ill-behoves them now to wag their fingers at us, as we attempt to clean up the mess they’ve made.”

Who exactly is the “we” Ms Burchill refers to? And following her logic, might I ask how Aids reached Haiti the first place in order for it to be carried out into her world? Presumably she wouldn’t have minded if it had stayed there. Which raises another hornets’ nest of racism.

***

The Press Council will be disbanded on January 1st, and its place will be taken by the Press Complaints Commission. This will be operated almost entirely by newspaper editors themselves. So much for independence. The new commission will be just another front the newspapers have invented to stave off the introduction of legislation to curb the more disgusting antics of the tabloids.

It isn’t clear yet what the terms of reference will be, but at present the editors of national papers are considering a 16-clause draft code of conduct.

The good news is that this is thought to include Calcutt’s recommendation that no unnecessary references to sexual orientation should be made, but the bad news is that the Commission will not (unless there is a reconsideration) consider complaints from “third parties”. Therefore, only those who are deemed to have been directly affected by a story will have the right of access to the Press Complaints Commission. It is unlikely that there will be another opportunity to challenge press homophobia in the same way as last year’s “poof and poofter” adjudication did.

I will be interested to know how the Press Complaints Commission would deal with a story such as that carried in The People (9 Dec) concerning a gay man employed as a butler in Downing Street. The paper splashed the story on the front page and on several pages inside. All it amounted to was a statement that the man is gay and that after loyally serving Mrs Thatcher, he was doing the same job for Mr Major. The inference, though, was clear — a gay man should not have a job in Downing Street, not even as a butler. How can the new commission control such spite? And does it even want to? We’ll have to wait and see.

***

A lot has been made in the popular press about Holland’s derision to reduce their age of consent, for homosexuals as well as heterosexuals, to 12. It was a story tailor-made for the sleaze papers who approached it in their usual hysterical manner, insisting that children cannot possibly be interested in sex, and are only capable of being exploited.

A more considered view was offered by The Independent on Sunday (18 Nov) which had actually done some research on the matter and found out the background to Dutch thinking. “The outcry abroad was a misunderstanding,” it quotes Gert Schutte of the Reformed Political Association as saying: “The new law was ‘not a liberal law’, it merely clarified things.”

The Independent on Sunday says that “relaxed attitudes to under-aged sex, coupled with good counselling and health services, have not led to the kind of hell imagined abroad.”

Mrs Willie Swildens, the woman who sponsored the new law said: “There must be some difference in the British way of living … I thought you were a free-thinking society, but perhaps you aren’t.”

I can assure you, Mrs Swildens, there’s no perhaps about it.

***

While watching the drama of Mrs Thatcher’s departure unfold, I was sipping a glass of recently opened champagne and thinking about Oscar Wilde’s comment about the demise of that other heroine of Victorian values, Little Nell. “You’d need a heart of stone not to laugh.”

Commenting on the despatch of Thatch in The Observer (25 Nov), John Sweeney wrote a most cheering article entitled “Iron Lady drags her tin men to the scrap heap” in which he predicted the fall of some of Mrs T’s most ardent followers. Among those he named were Kelvin MacKenzie — editor of The Sun — whose dismissal was “long overdue” and Bernard Ingham, the Machiavellian press officer. The latter is gone, the former still clings on. The “pall of failure”, according to The Observer, also hangs over Norman Tebbit, although the Chingford thug is still stirring trouble for gay people.

In a letter to The Daily Telegraph (7 Dec) Tebbit wrote: “Many people have the strongest reservations about the practice of some local authorities in fostering young children into the care of adults who engage in unnatural sexual practices. Those who defend such authorities frequently do so by claiming there should be no discrimination by public authorities between those of normal sexual orientation and homosexuals. In the care of young children, at least, I would certainly not agree with them …”

Nothing new here, but the point of the letter is to draw Telegraph readers’ attention to a circular advertising a National Foster Care Association workshop entitled ‘Towards an Equal Service for Lesbians and Gay People’.

Mr Tebbit says: “I am told that the National Foster Care Association is funded by the Department of Health and the Scottish Office. I find it hard to believe that it is appropriate for taxpayers’ money to be used by the homosexual lobby to ‘develop anti-heterosexist attitudes’ among vulnerable young children in the care of local authorities. Surely such children have problems enough without having homosexuality rammed down their throats.”

The following day, The Daily Express reported that Health Minister Virginia Bottomley had “launched an enquiry” at Mr Tebbit’s behest. She is quoted as saying: “Under no circumstances should there be any question of subordinating the interests of any children to the promotion of equal or gay rights.”

And so you have another gay fostering scare story conjured up by an ace propagandist who recognises the mileage he can get out of twisting and distorting an important issue. Norman Tebbit is a shrewd operator, and if The Observer’s prediction does not come true, and he escapes the sinking of the Thatcher flagship, we can be sure that he will not leave this subject alone.

The reptile has given due warning that the Tories have found an issue that is ripe for exploitation, and the gay community should start preparing for the fray immediately. I suggest that Stonewall or CHE commission an independent study into gay and lesbian fostering so that when the time comes — as it surely will — for the big attack on gay fostering (and in the process, gay rights in general), we can refute the carefully-orchestrated scaremongering with authoritative evidence.

***

A tabloid newspaper’s agony aunt is very important for she provides an excellent source of semi-justifiable titillation for readers. It is clear from agony columns that the great British tabloid-reading public is the most sexually hung-up in the world. Naturally, among the cries about “My husband’s kinky demands” or “He’s having it off with my sister’s daughter’s friend”, there is plenty of homosexuality. Sometimes the advice proffered is reasonable. Deidre Sanders in The Sun has been offering an 0898 phone-in on gay relationships to her readers which, although expensive, couldn’t be faulted.

Often, though, the advice is abysmal. What doesn’t vary is the relentlessly negative way in which the problems are presented. The People’s ‘Dear Barbara’ column (2 Dec) featured “Secret shame of the Desert Rat buddies”, and you can imagine what that was, she also offered “Dismay of Being Gay” (18 Nov). Then our old pal Deidre in The Sun (6 Dec) was featuring “Gay gang rape has ruined my life.” The Daily Star’s Patricia Mansfield was providing advice to a woman under the heading “Lesbian lover is bored with me.” The News of the World has brought us “Gay obsession with pal’s son”.

Notice the key words in these headings: “dismay”, “bored”, “shame”, “ruined”, “obsession”. No tabloid paper could allow a gay person to be seen as successful, happy or well-adjusted. If they did, it might give the lie to the rest of the dross they print about us.

 

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