GAY TIMES December 1990

The coming out of gay football ace Justin Fashanu has stirred up a hornets’ nest of resentment in Britain’s black community. The fact that he chose the sleaze-bag Sun in which to do it seems to have hurt them most of all. There was, of course, little dignity in making the declaration to Mr Murdoch’s money machine. The story was reduced to a catalogue of ‘gay romps’ and (most distasteful of all) sex with a Tory MP. As one columnist in The Voice (“Britain’s best Black Newspaper”) said (30 Oct): “Apart from the money, what drives a man to confess his bedroom antics to an anti-gay paper like The Sun?”

The sum involved is said to be £30,000, but Justin Fashanu didn’t just sell his coming out story for that — he sold his place as a black hero. As The Voice’s editorial put it: “His sexuality is his own business, but when such disclosures are portrayed in such a fashion it is an affront to the black community. Positive images of black people are still rare in the British media. But, through sport, black individuals have carved out positions of respectability … That’s why Justin Fashanu’s actions are so damaging … Telling the world you’re gay is one thing, but claiming that your conscience and faith in God led to the publication of such revelations is pathetic and unforgiveable.”

I agree that Justin could have done it better, but I doubt very much whether he would have got a different reception from the black community however carefully he’d handled it. In the same issue of The Voice is a report from the International Black Gay and Lesbian Conference which said that “anti-gay feeling is rising alarmingly within the black community”. And evidence of that was provided by The Voice’s columnist Tony Sewell: “We heteros,” he writes, “are sick and tired of tortured queens playing hide and seek around their closets … Homosexuals are the greatest ‘queer-bashers’ around. No other group of people are so preoccupied with making their own sexuality look dirty.”

Apparently the Fashanu family is powerful in its native country of Nigeria, and so the Nigerian High Commission in London explains until recently homosexuality was punishable by death there: “In Nigeria we treat homosexuals with utter contempt,” said a spokesman. “Homosexuality is still illegal in Nigeria. I can assure you that the Nigerian people as a whole do not like them.”

I don’t suppose the diplomat who said those words would want to shout too loudly about Nigeria’s other human rights abuses, including public executions, imprisonments without trial, and the persecution of trades unionists and political dissidents. However, like so many other military regimes throughout the world, they can openly brag about their brutality to homosexuals, and nobody says a word — least of all Amnesty International.

The week before the Fashanu story, The Voice had also been adding its weight to the strident calls for a ban on gay people adopting children. “Why gays and lesbians aren’t fit to be parents” said the headline over comments by a “senior black church leader”, Bishop White of the Bibleway Pentecostal Church, south east London. He said: “It’s immoral … Children should remain in care rather than go to a homosexual couple.” Meanwhile, Rajunder Daniel, race relations advisor to the Church of England said: “I always fight for the minorities, but in this case, it would be morally wrong to place an innocent child with a gay couple.”

And here we come to another problem — the religious mania which grips the minds of so many black people. The Voice’s religious correspondent Marcia Dixon also commented on the Fashanu saga: “For several years Justin Fashanu has been a high-profile Christian, extolling the virtues of Christianity. To read that during the course of his Christian Life he was conducting homosexual affairs seems totally absurd, because it would mean that his Christianity had no effect whatsoever on his conduct.”

There is little doubt that some of the black churches are so way out they’re almost in orbit and it never seems to occur to them that perhaps it isn’t homosexuality that’s at fault but their irrational reactions to it.

Some ground was made up in the November 6 issue of The Voice, when an obviously more thoughtful leader writer commented: “Black people know only too well what it’s like being treated as a second-class citizen. Unfortunately, the experience of racism has not given us a greater degree of tolerance or understanding when it comes to accepting those who are different from ourselves. The treatment of gays and lesbians within our own community is proof of this. The black community is generally hostile and damning of its gay brothers and sisters, displaying the sort of narrow-minded ignorance we normally associate with bigots and racists … Can we morally demand equality and respect, if we are denying the same to members of our own community?”

I hope readers of The Voice are listening and comprehending.

***

Eight years ago, Justin Fashanu sued The Sunday People when it reported “his strenuous denials of rumours that he was homosexual”. According to “Man of the People” John Smith (28 Oct), his paper paid the footballer several thousand pounds in damages for “the alleged slur on his manhood.”

Now, claims Smith, they’re out for a refund. “Before this two-faced tittle-tattler starts congratulating himself on a healthy bank balance, I should warn him that we plan to take steps to ensure he returns every penny of the cash he screwed out of The People.”

Well, you can’t have it all ways, Justin.

***

In a new book of parliamentary insults, someone said of Norman Tebbit: “If a wasp flew into his mouth, he’d sting it.” Yes, Mr Tebbit is proud of his hard and vicious reputation. Reviewing The Guardian’s annual anthology “Bedside Guardian” (I Nov) he wrote: “For me at least the book has a negative side in the selection of pieces portraying Aids sufferers as tragic heroes rather than (as most of them are) victims of their own lifestyle. I wondered if syphilitic heterosexual bankers would have attracted the same sympathy, let alone near hero worship, as HIV-positive homosexual actors.”

But, of course, Guardian readers can give as good as they get, and in the letters column (5 Nov), Michael McHugh wrote: “Like so many others he is using Aids as an excuse to moralise and to judge, and his suggestion that HIV-positive people are the subject of ‘hero worship’ is repugnant. The many men, women and children who are living with Aids deserve our help, our support and our love like anyone who is ill. Many of the people living with Aids that I know have gained my respect because they are living with dignity in the face of hate and ignorance like that portrayed by Mr Tebbit.”

I wonder if Tebbit saw The Sunday Mirror on 4 November. It contained the heart-rending story of seven-year-old Colin Smith, who died recently from Aids. His parents told how the family became the target of a ferocious hate campaign because of their son’s condition. They received abusive phone calls and letters, they had “Aids graffiti” painted on their house, scratched on their car and even chiselled into their front door. All this directed at a small child. Colin’s mother says: “I just couldn’t understand the mentality of those people.”

Perhaps she should apply to Norman Tebbit for an explanation.

***

A Gay Times reader wrote to The Daily Star to protest at its calling a lesbian couple “maladjusted deviants”. He received a reply from Peter Hill, Associate Editor: “I think it is perfectly justified by any standards of decency. The idea of lesbians bringing up children is a cruel mockery of family values. And, by the way, it is ILLEGAL for lesbians to adopt children. They have to lie that they are single parents.”

This is a wonderful illustration of how ignorant tabloid journalists are. There is no law that says lesbians cannot adopt children — although I am sure some Tory backbencher is working to put that right — and given that there is no such thing as homosexual marriage how could a lesbian be anything other than a single parent — or two single parents living together?

Peter Hill is a crazy mixed up man. Emphasis on crazy.

***

The death of George Gale, the ghastly bigot who constantly harped on about his hatred of homosexuals, has illustrated how newspaper opinion rests in the hands of a small, but powerful, journalistic mafia. Tributes to Gale were paid by John Junor, Peregrine Worsthorne, Richard Ingrams and Paul Johnson as well as other Fleet Street notables —all of them sharing the same right-wing credentials.

To a man, they went    on about how George was “unique”, and didn’t follow the party line, (oh please, do me a favour!) Under his irascible exterior, George was a real sweety, they insisted. If you could get beyond the filthy intolerance, there was a heart of gold (“behind a mask which some found intimidating, even awesome, there beat a warm, generous and truly affectionate heart” – was how Paul Johnson put it in The Spectator). Translated into English it probably means: What a miserable bleeder he was, but we’d better say something nice because he’s only just hit the floor.

But even as one Gale blows itself out, another arsehole steps forward to fill his shoes. Or more precisely a Butt — Alan Butt who writes a Gale-esque column in The Exeter Leader: “So Exeter University Students are to hold a Lesbian and Gay Rights Week. In the name of sanity why? … If the students believe such promotion is necessary, then I’m raving bonkers. Most people know the positive image of this sad section of our community. Most are sick to death of being lectured on how we must accommodate (if not encourage) homosexuality.” (25 Oct).

No doubt Butt is taking lessons from that other clapped-out fogey, Richard Ingrams, who made a name for himself as a satirist. Now he’s about as funny as Romania. In a two-page interview with The Observer (28 Oct), Ingrams repeated the opinions he’s been peddling for years in his column in the same paper. Here’s one that won’t surprise you: “My antipathy to homosexuality is directed against homosexual campaigners rather than individual homosexuals. If I’m sitting side by side with a homosexual at lunch, I’m not going to get up and spit in his face since I don’t feel that individual repugnance. I don’t feel repelled by homosexuals if I meet them.”

Well, that’s very nice of Mr Ingrams, although I doubt whether any self-respecting homosexual would consent to have lunch with him in the first place. He quotes in support of his opinions that maladapted individual, Rabbi Blue: “I was impressed to hear him say on the radio that, although he is homosexual, he never uses the word ‘gay’ since there is nothing gay about being homosexual: it is all very difficult and complicated and not very nice. I think that is true of the homosexuals one knows, whose lives are on the whole neither happy nor gay.”

Naturally Mr Ingrams knows only unhappy homosexuals because he conveniently dismisses all others as mere ‘gay campaigners’. He doesn’t want to know the other side of the story. His mind is closed.

Yes, I think we can assume that there is nothing gay about Richard Ingrams. But he has a genius for creating gloom wherever he goes.

***

A few years ago, the then-Premier of Queensland, Australia, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, made it illegal to serve gay people in the pubs and bars of that state. He was given to calling homosexuals “revolting, evil animals”.

Now, according to The Daily Telegraph (3 Nov), Sir Joh is charged with corruption and perjury. He is alleged to have lined his pockets at the state’s expense. Hopefully his fall from grace will now be followed by painful humiliation and a long jail sentence. [Note: In fact, the jury in Bjelke-Petersen’s trial for perjury were unable to reach a verdict and he was considered too old to face a second trial. He died in 2005]

Of course, trying to ride to power by exploiting anti-gay prejudice is seen as a proven and easy option by many politicians with questionable motives. The Tories are dab hands at it, and so is Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina. In the recent Congressional elections, Senator Helms tried to make homosexuality the “hot button” of his campaign (Sunday Telegraph, 4 Nov). “‘I don’t shake hands with no faggots,’ declares the dungareed North Carolina farmer … where Senator Jesse Helms, at an election rally for the faithful, has been inveighing against the ‘lesbian-gay lobby undermining our nation’s values.’”

Helms retains power by a whisker, but he did it only by appealing to the lowest, basest and most disgusting instincts in his constituents, and by playing every dirty trick in the book. Sooner or later the idiots who follow Helms will realise that they’ve been taken for a ride. Meanwhile we fight on, and you can help by boycotting Marlboro cigarettes.

Nearer to home we can read of the “slurs” that were directed at Mary Robinson, the newly-elected President of Ireland. Ms Robinson is well-known for her liberal views on a variety of “controversial” topics and her opponents exploited this mercilessly. “Ms Robinson is a supporter of homosexuals and lesbians they shouted, as though it were an accusation of something on a par with murder.” (Independent).

Ms Robinson did not deny her liberal credentials and she won through. Could it be that the people of Ireland are tired of the politics of hate? Are they at last willing to listen to the other side’s opinions on abortion, contraception and gay rights? I hope so.

***

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 in 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.

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