Well, here’s another fine mess they’ve gotten themselves into —the British Establishment, that is. The furore (or “scandal” or “gay sex storm”) over the Scottish Judge, Lord Dervaird, has illustrated once again the ludicrous Catch-22 situation for homosexuals in high public office. This “vicious circle” was defined by The Independent (20 Jan): “Unless illegal activity is involved, homosexuality can be damaging to a career because it opens one to blackmail, and it only opens one to blackmail because it can be damaging to a career.”
One thing the affair has achieved is to get the British press all worked up about homosexuality once more, and a more dispiriting spectacle would be hard to imagine. When the broadsheets get on to gay topics, it reveals the profound ignorance of even the best-educated people on this particular subject.
As you’d expect, the reactionary tabloids responded in a reactionary manner. The Sun (19 Jan) gave space to the doddering Lord Denning (“England’s most senior retired judge and former Master of the Rolls”) to air his opinion: “Why we should ban gay judges”. None of this namby-pamby business about an individual’s talents, skills or suitability for the job. According to Denning: if he’s gay, he’s got to go. “Allegations of homosexuality have been known to ruin the careers of civil servants and of politicians. They could, and should, end the careers of judges unless they are quickly and effectively disproved.”
His Lordship is of the opinion that simply having a homosexual orientation makes it impossible for a man “to be of good character and to uphold the highest standards of conduct”. All this bigotry (for that is all it amounts to) was accompanied by some of the most pathetic and predictable cartoons I’ve seen for a long time (“The poof, the whole poof and nothing but the poof’ -The Sun 19 Jan).
The broadsheets took a more considered look at the issue. Only The Guardian consistently made the point that by discriminating against homosexuals, the Establishment encourages dishonesty in some of its most eminent members. The paper provided us (19 Jan) with a long catalogue of ruined lives because of “the Establishment’s hypocrisy” in clinging to the belief that “homosexuality is still unacceptable in public office”.
The article revealed how Lord Hailsham, when he was Lord Chancellor, only appointed married men as judges in the hope of avoiding this kind of incident. The naivety of such thinking is emphasised by the fact that Lord Dervaird is married with three children.
But where did the “scandal” originate? WF Deedes, writing in The Daily Telegraph (19 Jan) argued that it was all down to the vicious circulation war that is raging in Scotland between The Sun and Daily Record which has “produced a spate of grubby allegations about private misconduct by public figures”. He also had to admit that general prejudice against homosexuals is still rife: “It is partly because a considerable number of people in this country still reject the homosexuals’ claim for social equality that we have this division in our society today.”
He ends by chastising newspapers for taking over where (he thinks) blackmailers left off after the passing of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act: “Always assuming that no breach of the Act was committed in this instance, to whom does most guilt attach: to the judge whose alleged indiscretion led to his downfall, or to the newspaper which took unto itself in fresh guise the task of those who made money out of homosexuals before the Act was passed? I have no difficulty, in the absence of incriminating evidence, in returning my verdict against the newspapers.”
However, the following day the Telegraph was quoting “a friend” of Lord Dervaird speculating that “the police had leaked information about the judge”.
Whatever the source of the revelations, and whatever the truth of the matter, the judge has been hounded from office and homosexuals in general have been pilloried once more. The Guardian (19 Jan) made this plea for tolerance: “it is time we all got used to the boring, everyday fact that there are homosexuals in all walks of life; inevitably and rightly so. They are as good or as bad at their jobs as anybody else … The more they are allowed to live honest lives, the less temptation to clandestine sexual encounters and the less the threat from those who run greedily to the authorities or to the nearest prurient tabloid.”
It took gay people themselves, responding quickly through letters columns, to cut through the cloud of confusion and the unenlightenment of the bewildered Old Boys who run this country: “One judge apparently entered, albeit briefly, a gay disco (whatever next?); another ‘Entertained young homosexuals at a cottage’ — the kind of cottage, I presume, with roses round the door,” wrote Brian Simpson to The Independent (20 Jan). “Why this should upset anyone I cannot imagine. After the recent horrific judgements of Judge Pickles, surely any evidence that judges are human beings is to be welcomed.”
Allan Horsfall wrote (The Guardian 20 Jan): “The surest protection against blackmail that gay judges could adopt is to ‘come out’ … I am certain, however, that this is not what the legal authorities and the Government either want or expect or would accept.”
Finally, we can only look to Judge (“Hang ‘em High”) Pickles for the final word on his profession. He referred to the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lane as “an ancient dinosaur who is living in the wrong age”. It seems even nutcases can have flashes of insight from time to time.
In the wake of their intrusive story that Cher’s daughter is a lesbian, The Sun invited parents of lesbians to tell them their Coming Out stories. They did the same thing with gay men a couple of years ago, and at that time I complained that the resultant stories were all of the I’d-rather-he-were-dead-than-gay variety. True to form the same thing happened with the lesbians: “I tried suicide when my girl said: I’m gay” was the main headline over the first mum’s story. The second mum “kicked her daughter Sarah out of the house” and said: “I could cope easier if she was dead”.
Only two of the mothers seemed to have reacted with somewhat reluctant compassion. The message seems to be: if you’re thinking of coming out to your parents, check whether they read The Sun first. This will give you some idea of the reaction you can expect.
Since the introduction of the newspaper “code of practice”, there has been a distinct reduction in the amount of vilification being aimed at gay individuals by the press. Gay vicars have been able to sleep more easily in their lonely (or otherwise) beds. At the same time, however, the circulation figures of tabloid newspapers are plummeting, an event which caused The Sunday Times (14 Jan) to ask: “Have The Sun and The News of the World suffered because readers are punishing them for their alleged sins against decent conduct? Or are they suffering because they are now on their best behaviour and all the spicy scandal we so deplore — yet guiltily enjoy — has been banished?” On the other hand, the amount of nasty and ignorant comment directed at gay people in general seems, if anything, to be increasing.
The scandal-mongering may have been toned down, but the strident general gay-bashing continues without let-up. The death, from an Aids- related illness, of actor Ian Charleson gave the homophobic tabloid crew another opportunity to put the boot into the gay community. Tom Utley, a columnist on The Sunday Express asked (14 Jan): “Why is it that I could find only one newspaper which bothered even to hint at how he had contracted the disease —surely the most valuable lesson of his death? The answer, of course, is that we all know damn well how he caught it, without having to be told. Yet aren’t the Government always telling us that heterosexuals are almost as much at risk as the likes of Ian Charleson?”
There was no shortage of people willing to spit on Ian Charleson’s grave, and slander the gay community at the same time. The Sun’s resident imbecile, Fiona McDonald Hull, opted for the standard Murdoch line that Aids is the first condition in medical history to have a sexual orientation of its own. “If (Ian Charleson’s) death has done nothing else,” she bitched (12 Jan), “surely it must make our gay community face up to the fact that Aids IS a homosexual disease. It is not a heterosexual disease. It becomes a heterosexual disease ONLY when gays or drug addicts become either blood donors or switch sides. It is time the homosexuals and drug addicts cleaned up their act. They, and they alone, are responsible for people dying from Aids.”
Equally thoughtless has been the reaction to the planned showing of the schools’ TV film The Two of Us and the lesbian drama Oranges are Not the Only Fruit. However, one can’t help wondering whether the hysterical response to what are, in terms of explicitness, rather innocuous dramas, is more to do with tabloid hatred of the BBC than anything else. Whether it is Dave Allen swearing or Dennis Potter doing anything, the Beeb-bashing has been at its most strident this month. Let aunty tangle with homosexuality, and — oh, my goodness — the newspaper tyrants go into overdrive.
The fuss over The Two of Us was created by the opportunistic secretary of the Professional Association of Teachers, Peter (born-again) Dawson. The Daily Express rose to his bait and to hear them tell it (1 1 Jan) The Two of Us was little more than pornography. They quoted the obsessively homophobic Mr Dawson as saying: “I believe the BBC is behaving in a manner that is corrupt and dangerous.”
Editorialising about the play in the same issue, The Express wrote: “Isn’t it odd that those who think children should be exposed to homosexuality on screen never seem to think a play about promiscuous homosexuals, some developing Aids because of their chosen way of life, would be suitable?… The fact that the BBC could be party to such a deceit is further condemnation of the Corporation’s fall from the high standards and ideals it once embraced.”
The Daily Mail on the other hand, sent a critic, Geoffrey Levy, to actually preview the play (13 Jan). His reaction to it also followed the party line: “This is a film which says to an uncertain boy that it is not unreasonable for him to see what it is like being a homosexual. The strong message should have been to avoid experimentation, lest it overwhelms… A little more condemnation of the dangers of experimentation and a little more emphasis on the loneliness and torment of many homosexuals would have been welcome.”
Joining the attack on Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, The Sunday Mirror (14 Jan) said it had upset the Elim Pentecostal Church, who felt the BBC had produced “a distortion and obscenity” with this “shocking new TV series about lesbian love”. The Rev Eldin Corsie is quoted as saying: “My congregation were made to look like a gang of Bible-thumping morons.” Perhaps someone ought to tell him that it was an accurate portrayal.
Nigella Lawson, however, came to the defence of “Oranges” in The London Evening Standard (10 Jan): “What this is all about is the anti-gay backlash. If it were a question of comparable heterosexual love scenes, the series could be put out quite happily and no one would be batting an eyelid.”
Is homosexuality unnatural? A lot of people would like to think so —including Islamic fundamentalists who, according to an article in The Spectator, don’t eat pork because “it has been proven that the pig is the only homosexual animal.” This, according to David C Taylor, “a veterinary surgeon for over 33 years” is “nonsense”. In a letter published in the following (6 Jan) issue he assured us that “pigs behave in a consistently heterosexual manner. Cattle however, including those eaten by Muslims, exhibit distinct homosexual (lesbian) leanings when one of their number is in oestrus, and homosexuality is extremely common amongst dolphins and baboons. Even the occasional gay gorilla is not unknown.”
So, having failed with the ‘unnatural’ argument, our opponents turn to ‘abnormality’ as a means of insult. A letter in The Church Times (I Dec) from Elizabeth Moberly, who titles herself rather grandly, “Director of Psychosexual Education’ at something called “BCM International” in Pennsylvania writes: “In terms of psychological development, a male homosexual is like a boy still looking for his father’s love. The lesbian is like a girl looking for her mother’s love. This need for same-sex is good and valid, but it is not appropriate to fulfil it sexually.” She suggests that homosexuality can be cancelled out with appropriate counselling from a same-sex counsellor.
Fortunately, this familiar tune of received wisdom was not playing to a totally appreciative audience. Arthur Johnson shot back in the following week’s issue: “… here, yet again, we homosexuals are being patronised by someone with not only a clear view of what is ‘normal’, but also, as it appears to us, a mission to inflict this ‘normality’ on those who do not quite conform to it.”
The Rev Graham Blyth of Westcliff-on-Sea took Ms Moberly to task over her recommendation of counselling as a means of becoming ‘normal’: “Counselling is designed to equip people for challenges they will face in the real world, on a day-to-day basis. It does not provide a space to ‘hide’ in, so that both counsellor and client can avoid the uncomfortable issues on their agenda.”
Meanwhile, Rev Malcolm Johnson of St Botolph’s Church in London revealed that Ms Moberly “is not a trained psychiatrist, sociologist or geneticist, nor has she based her findings on any scientific research.” But surely that is the whole point — people who rely on the supernatural don’t need scientific proof of anything, they can claim whatever they like and say it’s The Word of God.
The theme was given a different variation in The Guardian’s ‘Notes and Queries’ section (28 Dec) in which readers ask perplexing questions that other readers endeavour to answer. In reply to “Why is sex rampant in the living world?” Dr Raymond Goodman of Hope Hospital, Manchester wrote (among other things): “There is increasing evidence that genetic and hormonal interactions in the developing foetus play some part in shaping sexual, cognitive and behavioural patterns in the future adult. Not only can many of the male and female differences in cognition and sexuality be explained by these processes, but aspects of variant sexuality, e.g. homosexuality, have been elucidated. Having individuals with such differences enables a much wider plasticity of thought and behaviour which in evolutionary terms cannot but be beneficial.”
Of course, Christian fundamentalists have an easy answer to this: they simply don’t believe in evolution. So, it’s all back to sin. Couldn’t you just shake them till their teeth drop out?
The Sunday Express (24 Dec) suggested that Norman Tebbit sees himself as a possible successor to Margaret Thatcher. “In Norman Tebbit’s book, there is only one man fit and ready to carry the blazing torch of true-blue Toryism into the 1990s and beyond. A man not afraid to voice the fears of the ordinary men and women — about violence, Reds under the bed, crusading homosexuals … and the threatened influx of immigrants from Hong Kong.”
A week earlier in the same paper, The Ghoul himself was writing: “It certainly sounds as though the loonies have taken over … in an era of unmatched sexual permissiveness with a spiralling total of children born out of wedlock, homosexual ‘weddings’, the Aids epidemic, the virtual end of any stigma being attached to almost any sexual behaviour however outlandish …”
Tebbit (or Mr Greedy as he’s known to his friends) says he doesn’t intend to stand for the premiership because he couldn’t manage on a Prime Minister’s £80,000 salary. But then, who would believe a word this fork-tongued reptile utters? He might one day make us believe the incredible —that maybe the Thatcher era wasn’t so bad after all.
Ian McKellen was writing about being gay for the London Evening Standard (4 Jan). It seems Ian is still feeling a little guilty about waiting until relatively late in life to abandon his personal closet. “Why did it take so long?” he asks. “Well, there were not many good examples to follow — at least not in my line of business. Even in the USA, where there are lesbian and gay organisations in every other profession, not a single famous actor is ‘out’ in Hollywood or on Broadway. It took Aids to tell us about Rock Hudson. The late Liberace still thinks we don’t know.”
We also have to assume that Ian does not move in Sun-reading circles because, he says: “It took me 50 years to pluck up the final bit of courage. I need not have worried. My family, friends and strangers have been totally supportive. I’m still employable, too.”