GAY TIMES June 1990

The controversy over “outing” —dragging the rich and famous out of the closet against their will — shows no signs of abating, and it has led to some surprisingly well-informed features about gay politics.

Bryan Appleyard in The Sunday Times (6 May) turned to ex-Tory MP Matthew Parris for his opinion on the state of gay rights in Britain today. Mr Parris responded by repeating his familiar and fatuous arguments such as that Mrs Thatcher is not anti-gay (“She has the attitude of an enlightened, intelligent woman of the 1950s. She thinks it is an illness or misfortune requiring sympathy and help but not legislation.”) Mrs Thatcher has never contradicted a Sunday Times report that she personally was behind Section 28. If she isn’t anti-gay why does she allow her party to make such vicious homophobic propaganda? Is she a hypocrite by any chance?

Mr Parris also thinks that abusive press coverage of gay matters is “helpful”: “The homophobic kind of tabloid story has actually helped the gay cause more than any other phenomenon in the last 20 or 30 years. The worst thing for gays is the kind of courteous way in which the subject used to be treated in the press. There was always some sensitively designed euphemism. But what screaming words like ‘poof’ do is get people used to the idea that “homosexuality is around.”

It’s a disarming argument, but couldn’t the press have simply ditched the euphemisms and used less contemptuous words to describe us? Couldn’t they have allowed us to be real people instead of “poofters”, “woofters”, “lezzies” and “queers”? They had the option to cover gay issues —which seem to fascinate them so much — in a balanced and fair way. Instead they chose to vilify us. Homosexuals have nothing to thank Rupert Murdoch for — unlike Mr Parris, who writes a column for one of his papers.

Parris also repeats his other nonsense about gay rights being hijacked by the “far left”, and suggesting that only the Tories have the real answer. Doesn’t he realise that it is the aggressive loonies of his own party who have turned our lives into a political battleground? Only a minority of gays are seduced by the empty promises of the far left; readership surveys in both Capital Gay and Him have found that large numbers of their readers were enthusiastic Conservatives.

Mr Parris should think long and hard about what he is saying — he is no longer an MP, he can stop making excuses for the Tories.

The Sunday Correspondent (29 Apr) also covered “outing” and quoted this excerpt from a letter sent to Outweek magazine: “I for one am looking forward to the next gay craze: ‘innings’. This is when a famous person is known to be gay or lesbian, but the gay and lesbian community finds them so reprehensible, we deny that they are in any way part of us. These celebrities are such an embarrassment that we rise up as one and thrust them back into their closets.”

Nigella Lawson explored the issue sensibly, too, in the London Evening Standard (9 May). In order for her — and perhaps some of her readers —to understand better what “outing” is all about, she made the analogy of hiding her own Jewishness in times of anti-Semitic persecution. “This would be shameful behaviour, though perhaps there would be many who would understand what I was doing and why I was doing it, even while they condemned me for it. But what if I went further and actually took part in the persecution of the Jews?” This, she asserts, is the kind of thing that gay MPs who supported Section 28 did. All the same, in the end she comes out against “outing”.

But the sport is not only an American phenomenon. Those readers in the East Midlands with eagle eyes might have spotted a tiny item in Out Right, their local gay freesheet, revealing that a certain Tory MP (whose name was named) was “Seen recently in that well-known gay watering hole, Gatsbys … with a companion (get those fishnet tights) … and left clutching their copy of The Pink Paper. Well, there’s a thing: it’s nice to know the boys in blue are in the pink!”

***

Writing in The Spectator (21 Apr & 28 Apr), worn-out Thatcherite Paul Johnson said: “It is now becoming increasingly difficult, for example, to discuss homosexuality or the related problem of Aids, except in terms approved by the homosexual lobby … Although a good deal of pro-homosexual material appears on the duopoly (of television) it is now almost inconceivable that a programme critical of such activities could be broadcast. That is censorship, and all the more objectionable in that it is imposed by the controlling elements in the media, rather than by the law and Parliament.” “Liberal fascism” he calls it, propounded by “homo-yobs”.

I’m afraid the latest Press Council adjudication against the use of the words “poof” and “poofter” (see elsewhere for details) will add fuel to Mr Johnson’s already considerable hysteria. But what he omits to mention is that in the popular press the opposite argument applies — anti-homosexual propaganda is the norm, with balancing opinions few and far between.

It is one of Mr Johnson’s sillier contradictions: he denies that it is possible to criticise homosexuals in print whilst doing so vituperatively.

***

On the front pages of local newspapers in Ealing, West London last month were to be found reports of the brutal murder of gay actor Michael Boothe (“Killers who stalk gays” — Ealing Gazette 4 May). A spokesman for the local Gay Association, Mr Peter Knight, was quoted as being “shocked and angered” and laid part of the blame with the media, MPs and councillors “who don’t think of us as real people.” As if to underline his point, the letters column of the same issue contained a missive from someone called R G Saxena who proclaimed: “I am not afraid to say it: the practice of homosexual acts is filthy, unnatural, sinful and vile.”

The Ealing Guardian (4 May), in the meantime, also featured the murder on the front page. In its letters column local Tories were still screeching about “the promotion of homosexuality in our schools” — an issue which had been laid to rest by the local council a couple of years previously when they dropped their commitment to teaching that homosexuality was an “equally valid” lifestyle. Coincidentally, the Ealing Gay Association also had a letter included asking local Tories to “consider carefully the tenor of their election campaign, who they are fighting and who takes the brunt of their appeals to the public’s baser instincts.”

Through each letterbox in Ealing’s Springfield ward also came the local Conservative’s own newsletter In Touch. This reproduced “loony left” stories from national newspapers, some of them more than four years old, and most of them long-discredited as lies and invention. Naturally the majority of them concerned ratepayers’ money “wasted” on lesbian and gay issues.

The Tories will naturally deny that their hate-mongering contributed anything to the climate which led to the murder of Michael Boothe; the local Jesus-in-jackboots brigade will also say it has nothing to do with them; rentagob MP for Ealing North, Harry Greenway will pooh-pooh such a suggestion, even though his homophobic activities in Parliament are ceaseless.

Mr Knight has a point when he says (Ealing Recorder, 4 May) that such worthies should “hang their heads in shame”. The problem is that they appear to have no shame.

***

THE Calcutt Committee — set up by the Government to look into press abuses of privacy — has now finished its report and seems to have set its face against any new law to protect privacy. Instead the committee will recommend that the Press Council be restructured and reformed —short of giving it statutory powers — perhaps giving it greater independence from the newspaper industry which, at present, finances it. The committee believes that any legislation restraining the press would be seen as interfering with free speech.

It’s a difficult issue and there is no doubt that the press has tried to clean up its act. There is even a rumour circulating that The Daily Star has made a new editorial policy not to include any more anti-gay stories. I don’t know how true this is, but there certainly hasn’t been anything that gays could object to in that paper for a couple of months now.

The newspapers self-imposed “Code of Conduct” sometimes seems precarious, but generally the salaciousness and gay-baiting has calmed down considerably. Is this going to be a permanent development, or are they just waiting until the fuss dies down before they start their tricks again?

***

As an antidote to Garry Bushell’s offensive diatribes posing as TV criticism, his opposite number on The Daily Mirror, Hilary Kingsley, was writing recently about her own attitudes to gays on television.

First of all, establishing her own unblemished straight credentials (“Well, I haven’t started fancying the leaning lesbians on 4’s Out on Tuesday. Yet.”) she objected to the outmoded approach to homosexuals in TV sitcoms. Specifically, she weighed into Don’t Wait Up: “It’s the sort of sitcom that feels as though it was written in 1962 — full of frightful old snobs, young snobs and, last Sunday, two unmarried men at whom we were supposed to hoot because, you know, nudge, nudge, wink, wink. One of them liked knitting. Scream! And dear brain-dead old Angela made it even more side-splitting (I don’t think) wittering on about them ‘finding Miss Right’. They don’t say ‘gay’ on Don’t Wait Up. They just lap up the cheap laughs. Pathetic, in other words.”

She concludes: “Gayness can’t remain just a joke on TV. Arts shows and drama can’t be straight-only zones. I’m not saying Percy Sugden should suddenly Come Out. But in a careful, realistic way, things must change.”

It was Miss Kingsley, by the way, who helped Gorden Kaye to come out with dignity when The Sun was planning to do a number on him. She was also responsible for a charming interview with Michael Cashman. Let’s have more journalists of her calibre, please.

***

The Guardian carried a report by Judy Rumbold of what life is like for gays in South Africa (12 May). And pretty grim reading it made, too. It’s a primitive country torn apart by so much hatred that there seems no end to the injustices. Gays get stick from everyone.

Aids education is next to impossible because on the white side there is a strong Calvinist influence which makes even “heterosexual sex an undesirable notion outside of marriage” while on the black side Aids is regarded as “a white man’s disease” and “because it is invisible in its early stages (few blacks have contracted full-blown Aids yet), they won’t believe it will kill them”. One Aids educator says that in some sections of black South African society it is taboo to talk about sex. “There aren’t any words that are polite in the language for penis, vagina or sperm, so how do you get the message across?”

The famous gay activist Simon Nkoli says: “None will be free till all are free.” But I don’t think he’ll get many takers for that philosophy on either side of the racial divide.

***

I owe an apology to Martin Spafford for reproducing, in last month’s Mediawatch, anti-gay comments which were attributed to him by The London Standard. These comments were related to the NUT’s annual conference. In fact, Mr Spafford was seconder of a motion to the conference calling for the repeal of Section 28 and for better sex education in schools. In other words — he’s on the right side, not the Right side. I’m sorry to have reproduced such an error, and apologise most profusely.

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