GAY TIMES October 1990

Given the hysteria that Aids continues to engender in our society, I’m surprised that it has taken so long for the papers to get around to the Terrence Higgins Trust. There have been hostile noises in the past, of course, but these have come mainly from predictable sources such as The Sun, and could be dismissed on that basis. However, when The Independent decides to do a job on the THT, we have to take it a little more seriously.

The paper gave a whole page over to Oliver Gillie (31 Aug) to write about the “Aids trust undermined by internal strife”. The gist of the piece was that THT is basically a gay organisation which does not give adequate attention to non-gays affected by HIV. It suggested that inefficient financial control and poor management led to a “haemorrhage of staff’. Allegations were also made that fundraising has been cocked up to the extent that some of the events actually left the organising bodies insolvent.

I don’t want to suggest that just because the Terrence Higgins Trust is possibly the most effective Aids organisation in the country that it is beyond criticism; it has certainly had a turbulent history. But The Independent report did seem to depend almost entirely on the testimony of disaffected ex-staff members. And again, no-one doubts that mistakes have been made: how could they be avoided in an organisation challenging a disease that has been stigmatised in a way that no other has since leprosy blighted the Middle Ages?

There is no model for the THT, it is the first in its field and nobody really knows how it is supposed to develop. Unlike other charities, it elicits hostility rather than goodwill from Joe Public. With the crisis still developing, we can only guess about what lies ahead. Nobody knows for sure whether society’s attitudes to Aids will improve or deteriorate. And how much death and prejudice can workers take before they burn out?

The one-sided nature of the article can be illustrated by the case of the fund-raising effort for “Romanian Aids babies”. Apparently, the appeal was wound up while it was still pulling in money, the accusation being that it was “distracting attention from gay men with Aids” — which critics say is the Trust’s only real concern.

But as a subsequent correspondent, who had worked on the THT switchboard, pointed out (3 Sep): “In my view the (babies) appeal was too hastily launched: bearing ln mind the trust’s existing workload, the Romanian crisis should have been handled by a separate agency specifically devoted to the task. One abiding memory is that of the offensive way in which many telephone callers demanded assurance that their donations would not, in any circumstances, go to benefit ‘homosexuals and drug users’, who, as I was told, were wholly undeserving of sympathy, having brought their misfortune upon themselves.”

The Independent has gained a reputation for taking gay issues seriously and of covering Aids responsibly. But there seems to be a contradiction — the intention may be worthy but the result is often ill-informed and shallow. The half-baked attack on The Terrence Higgins Trust (which will provide ammunition for those who want to make life even more difficult for those working in the Aids arena) was only one example.

When OutRage organised its “kiss-in”, The Independent sent a reporter and a photographer to cover it. Nothing wrong with the news story or photo but on the same day the paper carried an editorial which began “Attempts by homosexuals to raise public awareness of the various forms of discrimination from which they believe they suffer tend to be counter-productive. Activism in any field is often one step from militancy and militant homosexuals are not generally a good advertisement for their Cause. Last night’s gay ‘kiss-in’ … is unlikely to increase public support.”

The editorial then said that “homosexuals have a good cause” and that the law, the police and other gay-bashers are behaving in a manner more befitting “Nazi Germany and Stalinist Eastern Europe”.

So, given that we’re being persecuted, isn’t protest justified? Don’t we, in such circumstances, have a right — or even a duty — to draw society’s attention to these flagrant breaches of human rights? “Unless homosexuals wish to alienate the public”, says The Independent, “they should conduct themselves with restraint.”

For all its sympathetic tone, this editorial isn’t a million miles away from John Junor’s accusation that ‘out’ gay people are “flaunting” their sexuality. The old we’ve-got-nothing-against-you-but-we-wish-you’d-keep-quiet argument sits uneasily with The Independent’s liberal pretensions.

On the subject of the “kiss-in”, The Guardian’s photo of the event was used in connection with an article about Aids and insurance. Under the photograph of the two men kissing was the crassly insensitive and offensive caption “The Kiss of Death?” Somebody at The Guardian wants their arse kicking for that one.

Deliberate offence was attempted by George Gale who wrote (Daily Mail 7 Sep): “Men kissed the men, women kissed women. Had it been the other way round the scene would have been gruesome.”

Unfortunately, the intended insult got lost as no-one seems to know what the silly old fart is banging on about. He’s advertised as “The man who cuts right through the nonsense”, but on this showing he should be renamed “The man who writes gibberish”.

***

There is a ‘minority group’ whose opinions are little heard in Britain’s media. I refer to the yobbos (aka hooligans, thugs, lager louts, and skinheads).

But now, at last, these pathetic amateur fascists have a voice in the press. The one among them who can write in joined up letters has got a job on the boot boys’ favourite paper — yes, The Sun. His name, as you know, is Garry Bushell.

I once swore that this sad little man would never sully this column again, but Our Gazza (as he prefers to be known to his ‘mates’ down the Dog and Bigot) is having his shortcomings paraded even more frequently by The Sun, who have now given him a weekly “soapbox” column.

Whereas in his “TV column” he repeatedly propounds the notion that foreigners are disgusting, homos are disgusting, sex is disgusting and the whole bleeding world beyond Wapping is disgusting (except for Sky television which, apparently, is wonderful). In his Saturday column he says exactly the same things. As Gazza himself might say: he repeats himself more often than a BBC programme planner eating chicken biryani.

To be blunt, Gazza has gone off. He’s told his one joke (see previous sentence) so many times that it is now stale beyond belief. He doesn’t infuriate or amuse any more, he just induces yawns. On 8 September, though, gobshite Garry betrayed his mates by suggesting — amongst the usual racism and homophobia — that Britain should tell the United Nations (a bunch of loony lefties, of course) where to get off and bomb Iraq off the face of the earth. He hoped, as he sat behind his comfortable desk at Fortress Wapping, that not many of “our boys” would be killed.

I suggest “our boys” invite their hero out to the front and let him see how it feels to have nerve gas dropped on him. Then instead of Bushell On The Box we’d have Bushell In The Box — truly a cause for flag-waving.

***

The Independent (4 Sep) brought us news of the kind of equal opportunities we can well live without. Just when you thought McCarthyism was a thing of the past, the Commander of the United States Atlantic fleet, Vice-Admiral Joseph Donnell, announces that he wants to “counteract the impression that officers were more scrupulous in enforcing the exclusion of gay men than gay women.” And so he has ordered that his enforcers root out lesbians from the service. He admits that lesbian sailors are “hard working, career-oriented, willing to put in long hours on the job, and among the command’s top performers”. But they still have to go.

Is this man sane? Or is he a fifth columnist whose so to rob the US Navy of its best personnel? Maybe the wrong people are being rooted out in this instance.

***

In The Sunday Times of 2 September, Digby Anderson was propounding the idea that people who “inflict ill-health on themselves” should receive “lower priority” for health care. They should “go to the back of the queue or perhaps pay extra contributions”.

As well as people who give themselves heart attacks through ‘overindulgence’, and those who pursue risky sporting activities, the main burden falls — you’ve guessed it — on those who have Aids, because they “elected to be promiscuous”.

Anderson says that “the moral dimension added by patients with behaviour-related conditions who are to take up beds needed by the more conventionally sick can only make the frustration (of those awaiting treatment) more acrimonious”.

Digby Anderson likes to present himself as a moralist. However, his ethical code would be more suited to a snake pit than a country that claims to be compassionate. (With apologies to snakes of all persuasions).

***

The Daily Telegraph (4 Sep) told us of the quandary facing members of the Manx Parliament who have been ordered to fall in line with a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, which outlaws the outlawing of consensual homosexual acts. The Isle of Man is now one of the few places in Europe where homosexuality is completely illegal.

The dilemma arises from the fact that members of the House of Keys (as the Manx parliament is called) don’t want to repeal the cruel law. But if they don’t, Westminster will do it for them, thereby causing the forfeiture of “the right of the island’s 1,000-year-old parliament to govern its internal affairs.”

A five-man select committee investigating the matter has been gathering evidence. They went, for some reason, to Exeter and then to Jersey and Guernsey where the law was recently changed. They also went to Soho and interviewed Metropolitan police vice squad officers.

Is consultation with bigots and ignoramuses really the way to get a balanced picture of what gay life is like in our semi-civilised country? Why didn’t they consult the people the law actually affects? I suppose they thought gay opinions would be ‘unbalanced’ whilst, of course, the vice squad would be totally unbiased.

I have to ask: what is it that attracts nincompoops to politics? It takes a special kind of insensitivity to overlook the victims of a crime (and gay people in the IoM are, according to the European Court, the victims of an illegal act). Nevertheless, in its smugness, the House of Keys wants to keep its wretched, persecutory law. It may turn out to be its undoing. And not a minute too soon.

***

The front page of the Torquay Herald Express (14 Aug) had two major stories. The top one concerned 7-year-old Gemma Lawrence, who was kidnapped from a caravan park in Dorset. Underneath that, in even larger headlines, was “Child sex pest purge”, over a story concerning the police targeting of cottages in Torbay. “Police today launched a major crackdown on perverts preying on children in South Devon’s public toilets”, the story began. “For the first time warning signs have been erected outside toilets after a flood of complaints from parents and other members of the public.” No positive instances of child abuse around the cottages were cited as proof of this alleged “preying on children”.

That didn’t matter, the connection had been made in the reader’s mind between homosexuals and child molesters. According, to this nasty little rag homosexuals are invariably paedophiles. Whatever you might think of trolling in toilets, these are pretty slanderous conclusions to jump to. The supposed connection between men cruising cottages and child abuse is made repeatedly in the article, but without supporting evidence: “South Devon police commander Chief Supt Colin Moore admitted the increasing number of sex assaults on children is worrying him. And the crackdown comes as South Devon holiday camps review security after Gemma Lawrence was snatched from a caravan.”

Mr Moore is quoted as saying he cannot understand why homosexuals used public places for their “sickening habits” when private clubs and bars were available. He emphasised: “Expect no sympathy! You have been warned.”

Oh, don’t worry Chief Inspector, we know we can expect no sympathy from you or any of your hypocritical, flatfooted colleagues.

***

The Pope continues on his murderous way, this time on a tour of four African countries which are being inexorably destroyed by Aids. While in the Tanzanian capital of Dar-es-Salaam he said (Daily Telegraph 4 Sep) that the best way to defeat the disease was “marital fidelity and a resurgence of family values”. Condoms, he claimed, would “only encourage the very patterns of behaviour which have greatly contributed to the expansion of the disease.”

Western Tanzania, says Catherine Bond, the Telegraph’s East Africa Correspondent, “has an Aids epidemic to the extent that some rural areas have become depopulated and doctors in the tiny ex-Belgian colonies of Rwanda and Burundi say the adult HIV infection rate is about 30 per cent”

But still the Pope sticks to the unforgivable line, and some are suggesting that his inflexibility indicates that he is trying to elevate his teachings to the realms of the infallible.

This is all despite the fact the “love faithfully” idea is “totally impractical for the vast numbers of unmarried men and women in societies where polygamy is traditionally acceptable and men take mistresses after marriage as a matter of course.”

As the young people of Africa drop like flies, the Pope will fly back to his palace in Rome and remain unmoved. He should burn in the hell he is creating for so many others.

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