GAY TIMES March 1990

Gay rights activists have been trying for years to put homosexuality on the political and social agenda and now their efforts are coming to fruition.

More and more institutions are showing a willingness to confront the issues: The Church of England’s report is only the latest manifestation of religion’s long overdue re-examination of the subject; the Labour Party is facing up to its responsibilities (painful though it is for them) while the Tory Party has decided that it will go in the opposite direction to everyone else and try to put the clock back.

Reporting developments within the Labour party, The Sunday Times (11 Feb), revealed that Tory Party chairman Kenneth Baker, “would seek to exploit” Labour’s courageous moves. The familiar we-must-protect-our-children arguments were trotted out and we can expect them to become a familiar refrain over the next two years. Mrs T herself gave it an airing at Prime Minister’s Question Time (“she told MPs it would alarm parents and damage the Government’s bid to combat the killer virus” — The Sun 16 Feb).

Dutifully, The Sun editorialised: “Labour are in favour of reducing the age of consent for homosexuals to 16. Their leaders may see nothing wrong in gay sex for children in schools. Yet what makes them think that the nation’s parents might not object?” The Sun will make every effort in the coming weeks, no doubt, to feed “the nation’s parents” a lot of misinformation and lies in order to ensure those objections materialise.

The Times (13 Feb) trotted out the “homosexual phase” routine in an editorial: “The sexual development of male adolescents goes through several stages sometimes including, particularly in an all-male environment such as a boarding school, a homosexual stage. But few people would regard that as a satisfactory completion of the process.”

There is not one iota of evidence to support this “homosexual phase” theory, but never mind, if it’s in The Times then it must be true.

However, the Murdoch press was not uniformly condemnatory. Today (12 Feb) said: “It is an issue that deserves to be brought out of the closet and looked at by all political parties … It is argued that older, more experienced men may lure 16 to 21-year old youths into homosexual practices they might otherwise avoid. But it must be doubtful whether such youths are in any more need of protection from adults than girls.” Admitting that it is “an excruciating issue” the paper concludes that it cannot be avoided.

* * *

The leaked Church of England report gave “muscular” Christians another opportunity to spew their tiresome hatred on everyone who gets in their way. The Archbishop of Canterbury got a particularly bad hammering from rentagob MP Harry Greenway who called for the primate to “quit, and I bloody well mean it” (Sunday Times II Feb).

Mr Greenway is one of those foolish men who provide much hilarious material to Commons sketch writers with his frequently idiotic and bizarre pronouncements. However, Greenway is, at least, a Christian (convener of the Conservative Christians in Parliament group, no less) which gives him entitlement to speak on the topic. What qualifications The News of the Screws thinks it has to contribute is not so clear. That doesn’t stop it, though, and on 11 February the paper said that the reason its readers have no interest whatsoever in religion is because the Archbishop of Canterbury will not condemn gays out of hand. “No wonder a Church, which preaches the sanctity of family love, while espousing the spread of homosexuality, is in a mess.”

The Sun followed up (17 Feb) with an editorial saying just about the same thing (adding that choirboys would not be safe from “gay revs”). It, too, concluded that churches were deserted because Anglicans aren’t hard enough on homosexuals.

With such immaculate reasoning it follows that as soon as Dr Robert Runcie is replaced by, perhaps, Rev Tony Higton, Sun/NoW readers will be crowding the pews every Sunday, eager to find Jesus.

And cuckoos will call in the churchyard.

* * *

Quite often Labour local authorities are berated by their opponents for “wasting ratepayers’ money” in supporting gay initiatives. Now Newham Council in East London have rather splendidly demonstrated how supporting gay rights can save ratepayers tens of thousands of pounds.

First of all, the council withdrew £200,000 worth of advertising from the local paper The Newham Recorder after the editor wrote a front-page editorial (18 Jan) drawing attention to the “unfortunate” fact that the council had set up an advisory group to “protect the interests of homosexuals at the same time as they reveal the full horror of their budget for the next year”.

According to Newham council’s spokesman, Brian Harris (quoted in UK Press Gazette, 29 Jan) the gay group cost “next to nothing to set up” and so linking it with the Council’s budget deficit was unfair. The journalists on the Recorder are usually paid a bonus which is dependent on such factors as advertising revenue, so the whole staff are going to lose out because their editor thought that gay-bashing was an easy way to score political points.

And now the Council may withdraw a grant of £25,000 from The Mayflower Community Centre because the Bible-bashers who run it refuse to allow a lesbian group and a Muslim group to meet there; the Trust says that such groups contradict Christian principles. Fair enough, but the Mayflower trustees can’t have it all ways, and for some people Newham’s Equal Opportunities Policy is just as important as religion. If they won’t play by the rules, then they can expect to be disqualified from the game.

Let’s hope other much-abused local authorities will follow Newham’s brave lead.

* * *

On the day that “Two of Us” the BBC schools play about young gays was broadcast (2 Feb), The London Evening Standard carried an article about it by Myles Harris. It was one of the silliest things I’ve seen on the topic of homosexuality for a long time. Mr Harris believes that the BBC is playing fast and loose with young minds “Like Scott Fitzgerald’s rich, the media people can be careless with other people’s lives — and their children.”

Harris trots out the old stuff about children being easily influenced into homosexuality (which he is at pains to reassure us never “physically touched” him). He says that in his school days (and still today) children were anxious to conform and therefore “this terrifying sniffing out of ‘queers’ was a deep social reflex, a type of software package in the brain that switched itself on at puberty … Does nature leave this package in our brains or is it written by what ‘modern’ people consider the crude homophobic prejudices of parents and friends? The BBC thinks it is parents and friends. Tempted by the power of its huge TV transmitters it has decided to re-programme our young away from such uncaring and wicked attitudes.”

He gives a resume of the plot and, in the end, finds it “sinister”. “Homosexuality, I should imagine, must be a nightmare for its adherents. If it is a state of mind that can be unconsciously ‘learned’ then the power of this film is that it will set a large number of children on a road that will cause them much unhappiness.”

The article is overloaded with such daft ramblings. Even though the evidence of heterosexual maladjustment is all around him, the complacent Mr Harris still manages to cling to the myth that heterosexuality provides automatic happiness.

Not all hetties are so insecure, though. A few days later a straight Standard reader wrote: “One can’t help thinking it would have been better for (Myles Harris) if he had joined in with the boys who did things in the playground shed. I did, and most of my friends did. Most of us got married, had children and thought no more about it. … Mr Harris’s idea that young people can be led into homosexuality by a TV programme strikes me as completely ridiculous.”

“The young” themselves also reacted rather differently to Mr Harris. The Standard asked a “panel of fifth formers” at a London school to watch the film and give their verdict. “The pupils, boys and girls, said it was not pornographic, nor did it brainwash them, but they did admit that it possibly weighed the scales too heavily in favour of gays… although they recognised this was part of the drama’s attempt to evoke sympathy for the boys’ dilemma.”

***

The Sunday Telegraph (28 Jan) chided Ian McKellen for having been “hysterical” during the Section 28 campaign. None of the dreadful curbs on the arts that were predicted have come about, says “Mandrake” in his column. “Now that Clause 28 has long been law — with scarcely any ill effect which can be attributed to it — the agitation against it looks even more hysterical than it did at the time.”

This totally disregards the issue of self-censorship in the arts world and the consequent reluctance by local authorities to take risks. Clause 28 may not have been invoked in a court of law, but its effects have been nonetheless insidious; and I wonder how much more power it would have had if no one had drawn attention to its iniquity? How many would-be book burners and censors would have been emboldened had no one uttered a word of condemnation? These issues are too complex for The Sunday Telegraph — or perhaps they’re just too inconvenient.

* * *

Yet another right-wing propagandist, Digby Anderson, wrote (Sunday Times 28 Jan): “Let us start by not believing the homosexuals.” He was referring to the oft-repeated claim that one person in ten is homosexual. He says that “pressure groups and noisy individuals who pronounce about (homosexuals)” distort Kinsey’s findings in order to increase sympathy for themselves (“if lots of people do it, it can’t be abnormal and should be socially accepted.”)

No one knows what proportion of the population is gay, not even Digby Anderson; but whether it is ten per cent, four per cent or one per cent, the argument remains the same —there is no justification for persecution. Mr Anderson appeals to his readers to treat all information and statistics from pressure groups with scepticism.

On that point I wouldn’t disagree, I’m a firm believer that statistics are the lowest form of information. But we shouldn’t overlook the fact that Mr Anderson himself is a prominent spokesman for right-wing political and religious groups. In the circumstances, is there any reason why we should believe anything uttered by an axe grinding reactionary such as himself?

* * *

One of the saddest newspaper articles I’ve seen for a long time appeared in The Plymouth Evening Herald (7 Feb). It concerned court cases resulting from a police trawl of a local cottage.

Fines totalling £3,350 were imposed on 23 men variously charged with “indecency” offences. Their full names and addresses were published in the paper, which also devoted space to the consequences on the lives of some of the individuals concerned. One young man was arrested three months before he was due to marry, another resigned from his job because he couldn’t face the shame. Some of the men were in their seventies.

I hope the police, the court and the newspaper think they’ve done a good job.

***

Just when you thought John Junor had retired to the Maximum Security Rest Home for the Bewildered, up pops his nasty column once again, this time in The Mail on Sunday.

Whenever other journalists are writing about Junor they do so with a kind of deference that is totally undeserved. Why is his column so admired when it is so utterly predictable? He’s supposed to be the hack’s hack, god help them. The Independent on Sunday sent Lynn Barber to interview the old fool and she came up with a wonderfully telling profile of an unremitting bigot (4 Feb).

She asked, quite properly, why he hates homosexuals so much: “‘Filth, Miss Barber. I regard buggery’ — he paused to savour the word — ‘buggery as the putting of the penis into shit.’ “He claimed that “homosexualism” is “virtually unknown in Scotland.”

The revelation by Lynn Barber that she has gay friends whom she invites to her home for dinner apparently sent the old buffoon into a state of near apoplexy (“JJ goggled at me, completely purple, eyes popping”): “I find that idea most . . . unusual. It does not happen in Auchtermuchty.”

In the end, Junor comes over as one hell of a miserable old bastard. His wife has left him, his daughter slags him off publicly, he lives alone and apparently few people care much about him personally. And yet still Lynn Barber manages to say his column has “appalling fascination”. Rather, I suspect, like inspecting your hanky after you’ve blown your nose.

***

Two cheering pieces have appeared over the past month, the first in The Independent (24 Jan), by Janet Daley, who wrote passionately about her inability to “get inside the heads of people who detest homosexuals”. In a ringing riposte to her fellow hacks’ homophobia she says: “I have honestly tried to understand this aversion (and I mean aversion, since the true homophobe manifests not so much disapproval as revulsion) but have never succeeded in getting so much as a glimmering of comprehension.”

And then in The Daily Telegraph (yes, The Daily Telegraph), Brenda Maddox compared the approach to homosexuality on television and radio programmes to that in the press. She concludes that TV viewers seem far less given to censure than newspaper readers, although they are, in the main, the same people. “The love that once dared not speak its name now proclaims itself in soap operas, chat shows and news programmes … In broadcasting, with certain exceptions, the rage seems not to be there.”

After exploring the topic Ms Maddox ends by saying: “I like the new openness and look forward to the new Channel 4 series (Out on Tuesday). Homosexual behaviour, a phenomenon of uncertain cause and no known cure, is not against the law. Statistically speaking, it is about as common a variation of the human condition as red hair or left-handedness and, at its best, a good deal more entertaining.”

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