GAY TIMES April 1990

The Church of England’s present turmoil over homosexuality may seem irrelevant to most of us but, as someone commented on TV this month: “Until the Church accepts gays there’s little hope of progress in parliament.” Consequently, the Church’s own press is full of homosexuality at the moment.

After publishing its brave editorial in support of the Osborne report (“The next question is the unbanning of homosexuals” — 16 Feb), The Church Times received the predictable drubbing from the Rev Tony Higton: “I am sad to see that The Church Times has become a vehicle for homosexual propaganda,” he says, overlooking the fact that it is also a regular vehicle for his anti-gay diatribes. “I deeply deplore The Church Times’s call for acceptance of homosexual practice, and totally reject, on a factual basis, its arguments.”

Mr Higton claims that “scientific opinion” is on his side, and quotes a Professor Bouchard of Minnesota University as saying, “heredity is the major factor in determining much behaviour” but that “homosexuality was the exception and not genetically determined but a response to environmental pressure.” Mr Higton maintains that this means homosexuals can be educated or even prayed into being heterosexuals.

The Church Times, however, was unrepentant and continued to fall short of Mr Higton’s ideal. In the same issue it published an interview by Betty Saunders with a gay vicar and his boyfriend. It was remarkably sympathetic, and Ms Saunders obviously finds it hard to reconcile the inoffensive vicar (code-named “Martin”) and his lover (“Alan”) with the hell-fire ravings of Tony Higton. The article ends on this note: “Martin is sceptical about any possibility that in the foreseeable future the Church establishment might allow couples like himself and Alan to acknowledge each other openly. In the meanwhile: ‘Our relationship is the basic stability of my emotional life. If, God forbid, there should ever have to be a choice between him and my job, I know which would come first.’ The question hangs in the air. He glances across at this partner. ‘The answer is that he would, of course. Wouldn’t any husband or wife say the same?”

In the following issue the letters columns were once more awash with Higton-bashers: “His style of polemic is so ignorant and arrogant that serious discussion becomes impossible,” wrote the Rev Kenneth Leech, who continued: “Here we are confronted with the phenomenon of the closed mind. Of course, Mr Higton is pleased with the conclusions of Bouchard since they fit with the position he has already adopted. There is no place here for open and adult debate.”

The Rev Roy Akerman wrote: “My guess is that if we drop our defensiveness and prejudice and look at the matter in an open and non-judgmental way, then possibly well into the next century the Church may have an informed and definitive ruling to give.”

Other thoughtful letters also made the case against Higton in measured language, which might lead you to conclude that the debate within the Church was going our way. Not so, according to the other Anglican journal, The Church of England Newspaper, which questioned its readers on their attitudes to homosexuality. This “poll” was reported in The Daily Mail (7 Mar) “More than 19 out of 20 said Christians should not condone homosexuality,” we were told. “And the same number said the Church should not sanction ‘gay weddings’. Nine out of ten believed that practising homosexuals among the clergy should be sacked, according to the survey.”

But looking at the CEN itself (9 Mar) we find that the “poll” was actually an invitation to their readers to respond to a questionnaire. Five per cent of them did (624 people) — and of that number the majority were “drawn from the evangelical wing of the Church of England” and “the largest group of respondents were 60 plus”. So how representative was the “poll” and how much credence can we put on it? Does it give a clear picture of Anglican opinion or is it just another case of zealous fundamentalists tipping the scales in their favour by taking the trouble to respond en massewhilst others with more moderate opinions simply didn’t bother?

The comment most oft repeated by respondents to the survey was “Love the sinner but hate the sin”. But one gay man had come up with his own retort to that: “Love God … hate the Church.”

* * *

As Aids now begins to intrude into the lives of an increasing number of heterosexual women and children, the tabloids have a problem: how are they to elicit sympathy for these “innocent victims” while keeping the hatred of gays intact?

The answer is, of course, to invent two categories of Aids — the kind which affects “mums, dads and children who have contracted the virus through no fault of their own” (as The Sun so offensively put it on 22 Feb) and the other which infects those who have “brought it upon themselves” (homosexuals, drug abusers, prostitutes).

There has been a great flood of such stories recently (“My dark days of despair with Aids” — Daily Express 26 Feb; “Agony of innocent mum” — Sun, 22 Feb; “My husband died of Aids” — Guardian 19 Feb; “Aids babies die unloved, unwanted” — Sunday Times, 4 Mar; “A tormented wife speaks of her man’s gay betrayal” — Sun 2 Mar).

Thus, we now have a rise in the disgusting notion of a two-class system of sympathy which brings further shame on the monsters who encourage such dreadful inhumanity.

* * *

Much as I admire Jimmy Somerville I must take exception to a remark he is purported to have made in an interview with The Guardian (13 Mar): “I don’t see myself as a gay spokesperson, but nobody else seems to be challenging the discrimination against us and saying it is wrong.”

Er, um, I think all those gay men and lesbians working their butts off in the cause of gay rights might wonder what the hell they’ve been doing with their time.

***

In its doomed efforts to make the “community charge” palatable, The Sun invited its readers to ring in with horror stories of profligate local authorities “wasting ratepayers’ money” and so forcing up the poll tax.

There was, it seems, no shortage of “outraged callers” ready to blow the whistle on Southwark council in London who put on a disco for Cypriot lesbians and gays. “An outraged Southwark shopkeeper” is quoted as saying: “The streets are filthy, the drains stink and the gays dance the night away on us. It’s obscene.” There are also tales of Camden council’s “lesbian day centre”, and the Gay Bereavement Project took a nasty drubbing.

But meanwhile The Sunday Telegraph was quoting (4 Mar) Ian Willmore, chairman of Haringey’s finance sub-committee as being “quick to show that, however much Tory councillors may rile against activities, like last June’s lesbian swim-in, the council’s support for such events is primarily moral and only secondarily financial”.

This is a point often missed when charges of “waste” are levelled at spending on the needs of gay people — the actual amounts involved are comparatively tiny. As an angry woman wrote in The Sun’s letters column (5 Mar): “You seem to forget that these (gay) people are ratepayers, too. Why shouldn’t they get some benefit out of what they pay like everyone else?”

***

I like The Sunday Correspondent on several counts, not least because it does not worship at the temple of Maggie. It is also not afraid to include a few pleasingly contrary items. One such was a column by Brian Sewell who (25 Feb) revealed the damage that had been done to him as a child by ill-informed sex education. (“I bargained with God; I told him I would not masturbate after midnight if he would accept eight hours of hard-won purity as enough to pass a state of grace and let me take Communion without feeling sullied and sacrilegious.”)

After an entertaining and utterly sensible gallop through the bizarre British attitudes to sex he says: “Sex education may be much better now, but men of my generation are the men of influence on the Bench, in the Church and in the House of Commons, and their quirky judgments in which sex plays some part compel me to think that many are flawed to the point of hysteria and hypocrisy by sexual attitudes imposed on them when they were boys and never honestly reviewed in the light of adult experience. We adopt moral stances at variance with common sense, history and practice.”

He challenges members of the House of Commons to put their hand on their hearts and swear that they have never looked at pornography, never masturbated or had sexual fantasies that extend beyond the marriage bond. “These private matters they should bear in mind when they lay down the rules for the rest of us.”

Some hope.

***

A poll of students published in the Oxford University newspaper Cherwell (reproduced in The Sunday Correspondent, 4 Mar) revealed that “Only 3 per cent think that homosexuality should be illegal while 48 per cent think it is natural and harmless.” This is only one of many overwhelmingly liberal opinions expressed by the students. Does it give hope for a better society to come after the despatch of La Thatch.

* * *

The man who poses as The Sun’s TV critic, Mr Garry (reds-under-the-bed) Bushell, was boasting (2 Mar) that he had received the following letter from “an avid reader”: “I am a 6ft 4in, 15st labourer. I am also gay and object to reading your constant attacks on “poofs”, “woofters” and “shirtlifters”. I am coming up to London soon and when I get there I will sort you out —you big, beautiful, bearded b******!”

Bushell’s attempt to destroy the career of gay comedian Simon Fanshawe also brought some harsh words from Esther Rantzen (who employs Simon on ‘That’s Life’) She likened criticism of Fanshawe on the basis of his gayness rather than his comedic skills to that of racism. Bushell wrote a sarky riposte (7 Mar): “Esther, who admits she wouldn’t want her son to be queer but doesn’t mind encouraging yours to be, was debating whether TV shirtlifters get a fair showing. Fair? There’s no escaping them … I don’t mind if telly poofs are OUT ON TUESDAY — as long as they’re locked up for the rest of the week!”

Esther wasn’t having that and a couple of days later The Sun was carrying one of its pathetic “Sorry about that, Esther” headlines. “The Sun withdraws Garry’s allegation and is happy to put on record that we did not intend to cause offence to Esther, her family or the charitable work of Child-Line.” No apology was proffered for the offence caused to the millions of gay men and lesbians who are at the centre of Bushell’s abuse. However, our Gazza hasn’t yet reckoned with the wrath of the gay community.

Be warned, Mr Bushell. The poofters are angry.

***

In announcing a record number of complaints against newspapers, The Press Council revealed that of 1,871 complaints they had ‘handled’, only 142 ran through the whole complaints procedure. The rest were withdrawn or just faded away. And this reveals one of the Press Council’s weaknesses (or maybe one of its chief functions): the complaints procedure is so long, drawn-out and convoluted that very few people manage to see it through to the end. After the fifteenth exchange of letters most complainants just give up the ghost, having almost forgotten what they were complaining about in the first place.

The Press Council in this respect acts as a buffer for the newspapers, defusing people’s anger, absorbing their fury and simply wearing down those who have felt outraged enough to make a complaint. You need the stamina of a marathon runner and the writing capacity of Charles Dickens to get to an adjudication.

We should not lose sight of the fact that the Press Council is funded by the newspapers themselves, and like most self-regulating bodies it has to work hard to be credible. The Press Council does not work hard enough.

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