GAY TIMES August 1990

So now we have the full recommendations of the Calcutt Committee and, once more, the Press have been given a “final warning” (the third one in as many years), and told to put their house in order before the law does it for them.

There is good news for gays, though, in Calcutt’s tough, 18-point code of practice for the press, which includes “The press should avoid prejudicial or pejorative references, to a person’s race, colour, religion, sex or sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or handicap. It should not publish details of a person’s race, colour, religion, sex or sexual orientation, unless these are directly relevant to the story.”

Since Calcutt was published, the papers have whinged ceaselessly about the threats to free speech and the restrictions the recommendations will put on legitimate investigative journalism. And yes, it is a shame that every newspaper will feel the heavy hand of the proposed Press Complaints Commission, which would replace the existing Press Council. After all, it was basically the behaviour of The Sun and its imitators that brought this all about, so why — ask the broadsheets — do all the papers have to be punished?

In a letter to The Guardian (June 29th), Bob Jones wrote: “By choosing not to deprecate … the clear evidence of gradually declining standards in tabloids such as The Sun and later The Star and other imitations; and by refusing to offer genuine opposition to the gradual take-over of most of the press media by Murdoch and his ilk, you (the responsible papers) have allowed this situation to come to pass. It may be too late now; but this whole Calcutt nonsense could be laid to rest, and British journalism become the richer if all you ‘quality’ papers got together in a determined effort to oppose and get rid once and for all of the worm in the bud … of British journalism.”

The Guardian’s media editor, Georgina Henry, must have taken this on board, because on July 5th she roundly condemned The Sun for openly flouting the Calcutt recommendations: “Was it only two weeks today that the report on privacy and related matters was published to howls of anguish from the press? … Turn to yesterday’s front page of The Sun. A ‘picture exclusive’ of Mandy Smith … taken, the story said, when (Bill) Wyman visited her at … a convalescent home … where she has been recovering from a disease which has caused dramatic weight loss. And it was taken with a telephoto lens.”

This, Georgina Henry says, flies straight in the face of Calcutt who recommended that it should be a criminal offence to “take a photograph… of an individual who is on private property, without his consent, with a view to publication and with the intent that the individual shall be identifiable.” The Sun’s editor, Kelvin MacKenzie, in his typically arrogant manner, had nothing to say.

Calcutt also says that “Making enquiries about the personal lives of individuals without their consent is generally unacceptable. Publishing material about the personal lives of individuals without their consent is not acceptable. An individual’s personal life includes matters of health, home, personal relationships …”

So, how does The News of the World convince anyone that it is taking Calcutt seriously when it publishes a story (June 17th) about comedian Joe Longthorne revealing “Mimic’s astonishing life with his boyfriend”? Where is respect for privacy when the paper talks about “TV star dusts as ‘hubby’ goes to the pub”?

And how does The People square its story (June 24th): “The gay ex-lover of dead MP Allan Roberts has been struck down with Aids” with Calcutt’s recommendation “Newspapers should apply the same principles of accuracy, respect for privacy and non-discrimination to stories about the recently-dead as to stories about the living”?

The tabloids are incapable of self-regulation, and no amount of final warnings is going to change them. So why doesn’t the Government just go ahead and implement Ca1cutt? Richard Toye answered that one in The Guardian (June 24th) when he said: “because it would take away one of the most important weapons in the Tory armoury: a slavish and compliant press willing, and able, to perform dirty tricks and disinform the public.”

* * *

The Plymouth Evening Herald is no friend of gays and has joined with local police to persecute men who have been convicted of “indecency” offences in public places (almost every issue seems to have reports of cottaging convictions, complete with names and addresses).

On July 2nd it reported that a “police spy mission” was on the cards for Clicker Tor toilets on the A38 near Liskeard. This “spy mission” turns out to be another of the police’s sordid operations peeping at people using the toilets through holes in the ceiling. After a crackdown on the same toilets in January, fines totalling £6.050 were imposed on 20 men. The Evening Herald ruined the lives of many of the victims by choosing to print their names and addresses and personal circumstances. A few days later the paper listed the locations of all the toilets that are alleged to be “worst” for indecency. Local queer-bashers now no doubt know exactly where to look for their victims.

But you don’t have to have been cottaging to find the all-seeing eye of the Evening Herald making your life a misery. On July 7th it reported a shoplifting case, in which the judge ordered that the charges be dropped. The man accused of the crime was said to be “an Aids victim”, and, even though he was not convicted, his full name and address were included in the item. I am told by someone who knows him that the man involved in this case lives on a particularly rough housing estate and it is unlikely that the news of his HIV status will be received sympathetically by his neighbours. Why did the paper feel it necessary to identify him? Was it spite or simple thoughtlessness?

The police activities do not find universal approval, though. In The Independent (June 20th), Janet Daley was commenting on the dreadful waste of police resources these cottage trawls involve. Where are the police when women are being raped or harassed, she wanted to know? The answer, she found, was that they were in the toilets at Baker Street tube station, peering under the cubicle doors, trying to apprehend men engaged in “acts of gross indecency”.

“The women of London may rest easier for knowing that while they may risk their lives travelling on the Tube even in broad daylight, the sad men who seek their sexual satisfaction in the Baker Street toilets will not go undetected,” she wrote, and went on: “It is an unchecked epidemic of petty house-breaking and assault that demoralises private individuals, making urban life a miserable and fearful business for the most defenceless sections of the community. Which is why one uniformed constable on a train platform is worth three in plain clothes lying on a lavatory floor.”

***

The social work magazine Community Care carried a couple of articles about rent boys in Glasgow, and their relationship to the spread of Aids in the city (June 28th/July 5th). One of the most fascinating findings of the first report by Terry Philpot concerned the ambiguous nature of the male prostitutes’ customers. “Gay men don’t seek out female prostitutes, but the clients of rent boys aren’t necessarily gay. Jim Black cites the case of a man known to him who is happily and securely married with children, who has no desire for an emotional relationship with another man, but every desire for gay sex. Netta McIver said: ‘If a man wants sex with a woman, he comes to the city centre. If a man wants sex with another man what is that about? Is he bisexual? Married? Is he gay, but not part of the gay scene, so it’s much more covert, undercover and ambivalent?’”

The second report showed that hardly any of the rent boys used condoms for anal sex. And changing their attitudes seems like a mammoth task. As Jim Black, senior social worker at Ruchill Hospital, the west of Scotland’s main Aids centre, puts it, “the whole subject of rent boys is a real ‘hot tattie’ in terms of legal complications, police attitudes and even the boys’ own sexuality.”

Best of luck to the social workers, but when they’re working with a group of people who are often on the run from the law and from deprived, poverty-stricken backgrounds you’d think the police would be able to at least compromise a little bit, taking a back seat for as long as educating these lads takes. But no, it seems, the police have now assumed the mantle of Thatcher’s moral enforcers, so it’s unlikely that they’d let up on their “vigilance” long enough to allow any education project to succeed.

***

The excellent and effective demo by Brighton Action Against Section 28 at Brighton’s very own Nuremburg Rally (otherwise known as the International Congress for the Family) was covered by most of the papers; but was presented as “a security lapse” rather than an attack on the deadbeats who organised this dangerous right-wing rant.

The Observer (July 15th) reported that “Many of the speeches were dire” and that must have included the one by American psychiatrist Professor Melvin Anchell who said (according to The Sunday. Express, July 15th) that school sex education had led to “a national sexual calamity … He said homosexuality was glorified. Pupils were led to believe it was normal practice and teachers frequently brought homosexuals into the classroom to give first-hand experience of gay life …’ Such horrendous teachings not only create perverts out of some students but an over-tolerance of perverts is instilled in their minds. It teaches children the characteristics of pimps and prostitutes.’”

The sheer craziness of these people would be pitiful if they didn’t wield such influence — indeed, many of them occupy positions of high office. We need to watch them very carefully. Our very safety is at risk from these perverters of compassion and humanity.

* * *

Even as hundreds of gays marched through the streets of Ealing, west London, to protest at the murder of gay men in that recently-gone-Conservative borough, local MP and champion parliamentary attention-seeker, Harry Greenway was working assiduously to make life ever more difficult for gays. As well as voting for a ban on artificial insemination for lesbians, he wrote in The Ealing Gazette (June 29th): “Could I remind members of the (recently-dismissed Labour) council that one of their first actions was to demand that all schools —including schools for children as young as five years of age — should teach that homosexuality is as valid a lifestyle as marriage.”

Shocking. Except, of course, they didn’t say that at all. A school governor in the borough, Neal Underwood, took the trouble to look up the policy referred to by Mr Greenway and found that what it actually said was: “In the case of high schools and colleges, developing respect for individuals and their caring relationships (including homosexual relationships) and increasing understanding of sexuality in the context of love, personal relationships and home life with a view of encouraging individual self-respect. This will not apply to first and middle schools.”

So, Mr Greenway’s poor, at-risk five-year olds were, in fact, exempt from the council’s policy. Which leaves us wondering whether the MP is deliberately distorting the facts or whether he is simply ignorant on the issue.

Harry was also there to provide The Star (July 14th) with a quote about Waltham Forest Council’s decision to allow gay men and lesbians to become foster parents. “It’s outrageous,” he blasted, “Children are entitled to be brought up by sexually normal parents. Putting them into homes where they are lesbian or homosexual can lead to undue influence on the child’s sexuality.”

Yet again, Harry the ignoramus flies in the face of the facts —there have been properly controlled studies showing that children brought up in gay households are no more prone to become homosexuals than anyone else.

Councillor Christine Smith, Waltham Forest’s Conservative social services spokesman (sic), was quoted in the London Evening Standard (July 13th) saying: “The committee’s decision is horrifying and disgusting … (it) means that homosexuals will be welcomed when foster parents are selected. Yet the Local Government Act lays down that local authorities must not promote homosexuality.”

A Government circular regarding Section 28 of the Local Government Act actually says: “Local authorities will not be prevented by this section from offering the full range of their services to homosexuals on the same basis as to all their inhabitants.”

Does Mrs Smith know what she’s talking about or is she simply, like Greenway, pig-ignorant?

***

Most of the Sunday papers carried the picture of Martina embracing Judy after the champ’s record-breaking Wimbledon victory.

Naturally the creeps and weirdos who produce The Sun couldn’t abide it and it only took them a few days to uncover the “knocking copy” they were looking for. It seems Margaret Court, an ex-Wimbledon champion and now a bizarre, Bible-bashing born-again “mum-of-four”, made some off-the-cuff comments on a tiny radio station in Perth, Australia. These became a gigantic front-page headline for The Sun (July 12th): “Martina ‘Turns Girls into Gays’” it screamed. Mrs Court is reported as saying: “Martina’s a great player, but I’d like somebody at the top who the younger players could look up to. It’s very sad for children to be exposed to homosexuality.”

So how does Martina perform this alchemy of turning “girls into gays”? Who exactly did she seduce? You have to turn inside the paper to find that “Mrs Court did not suggest that Martina had ever acted improperly towards young tennis girls.” So, what about this headline, then? “Mrs Court … admitted that she ADMIRED Martina for being so open about her sexual preferences. She said she believed the player had no alternative because ‘it would have been impossible for her to cover it up.’”

It seems that the promised “huge scandal” was nothing more than the meanderings of a has-been who has now retired into the deluded world of fundaMENTAList religion. When will The Sun carry the headline: “Evangelism turns ordinary people into morons”? Or “The Sun turns fact into fiction”? Not in the super, soaraway future, one suspects.

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