Terry Sanderson’s autobiography The Reluctant Gay Activist is now available from Amazon
Last month I wrote about my suspicions that The News of the World had used deceit and a hidden tape recorder to trick a gay clergyman into incriminating himself. I tried, through the Press Council, to persuade The NoW to admit that they had used trickery in their entrapment of Canon Brian Brindley, but they repeatedly refused to come clean.
Now Canon Brindley has resigned from his post as business manager of the Church of England General Synod and the whole murky incident has been exposed. As suspected, News of the World reporter Chris Blythe had insinuated himself into Canon Brindley’s confidence, posing as “a friend and an admirer” and encouraging the Canon to speak of his secret sexual fantasies in an indiscreet manner. All this time the treacherous liar, Chris Blythe, had a tape recorder secreted about him and was recording the Canon’s musings; these later appeared in The News of the World under the heading “Evil Fantasies of the Kinky Canon”. Accepting the Canon’s resignation from the General Synod, the Archbishop of Canterbury said: “I believe the manner in which the journalist obtained and used the material gained from Canon Brindley was deplorable.”
Meanwhile Canon Brindley’s Bishop, the Right Rev Richard Harries said: “That a journalist should go into the Canon’s home with a concealed tape recorder, cajoling him into fantasising about his private life is deplorable. More deplorable is the fact that a national newspaper should print a story based on material obtained in such a deceitfu1 manner.”
But you do not criticise The News of the World (or any other tabloid) and walk away unscathed. On 9 July the filthy rag “confessed” to using these despicable tactics in order to ruin Mr Bridley and then went on to repeat, with lurid embellishments, all the original alleged comments. The victim was referred to as “vile Brindley”, “the camp Canon”, “the Kinky clergyman” etc. There was talk of “sorting out a powerful ‘Gay Mafia’ within the Church”, and then came the sanctimonious plea of public duty: “From time to time newspapers feel justified in using clandestine methods in reporting matters which are in the public interest. We believe that the conduct of Canon Brian Brindley was such a case.” As The News of the World rightly points out: “The Press Council which, as a broad rule, frowns upon subterfuge and deceit, has many times recognised the legitimacy of such techniques.”
My complaint with the Council will progress, and we’ll see whether they consider that the repeated humiliation and destruction of Canon Brindley served any discernible public interest.
The supposed rent-boys-in-the-White-House scandal has brought some strange reactions from our own press. Most of them carried the story of senior US Government officials using credit-cards for “call boys”, but only The Guardian (1 Jul) questioned the veracity of what was going on. Its suspicions were aroused by the source of the story — The Washington Times. Now this rag — so far to the Right it almost falls off the dial — is owned and run by The Moonies, a sinister pseudo-religious cult with more arms than a shoal of octupuses.
I am not saying that there has been no rent-boy activity in US Government circles (or in Westminster come to that), but some of the Washington Times’ allegations about “homosexuals who held senior posts during the Reagan administration” being “compromised by KGB agents” are simply risible.
One politician is quoted as saying he suspects there was a “nest of homosexuals” close to Ronald Reagan when he was president. This kind of language (“A nest of homosexuals” is presumably one step down from a “nest of vipers”) suggests that gay people are automatically untrustworthy, disloyal and easily corrupted.
But a different angle was taken by The Sunday Telegraph (2nd Jul). “Conservative gays tumble out of the closet,” it said, reporting the bewilderment of the staunchly right-wing Republican Party at the news that some of its most active members are gay. “What fascinates the gossips is the notion of a conservative homosexual; not some mincing Left-wing queen, but a sober-suited chap with a firm handshake who presumably spends most of his time in the closet.” We can put the crudity of such comments down to the journalist’s ignorance but there is no doubt that, at last, they’ve discovered the phenomenon of the self-hating homosexual. This type has already been identified by Laud Humphrys in his study “Tearoom Trade”. He described “the breast plate of righteousness” effect which causes some gays to assume exaggerated homophobic views and inflated conservatism in order to hide their own homosexuality.
The Sunday Telegraph (very fond of homosexual conspiracy theories, as you will remember) goes on to reveal: “The National Endowment for the Preservation of Liberty, a pro-Contra group, was headed during the Reagan years by Mr Carl Channell, a homosexual. Mr Channell’s mentor, Mr Terry Dolan, brother of the Reagan speech writer Mr Anthony Dolan, was another influential homosexual. He was instrumental in founding the National Conservative Political Action Committee and died of Aids. Mr Dolan once mailed a NCPAC fund-raising letter that said: “Our nation’s moral fibre is being weakened by the growing homosexual movement”. Another homosexual who was a favourite of the emerging New Right, and chairman of Young Americans for Freedom, was Congressman Robert Bauman of Maryland. His political career ended abruptly when he was arrested for soliciting male prostitutes in a Washington bar.” Gay people know from long and bitter experience that our worst enemies often come from within our own ranks, but The Sunday Telegraph seems to find the idea novel. Still, if you insist on thinking and writing in worn out stereotypes, you’re bound to miss the point.
I don’t know what the Moonies’ reason is for creating this furore, but there is almost certainly some ulterior motive behind it. Meanwhile, ordinary gay people have to take the flak of being made to sound like some kind of dreadful fifth column, infiltrating American life like aliens from another planet. The truth is that the hypocrites who have created this right-wing backlash against gays (and many, as we have seen, are gays themselves) are now reaping the whirl-wind along with the rest of us.
The nomination for the most inhuman, callous and detestable comment on Aids must go to Abdullah al-Mashad “leader of a body which rules on Islamic issues in Egypt” who was quoted in The Independent (4 Jul) as saying: “We should kill Aids victims to stop them harming society … Aids victims could be denied food, water and medical treatment.”
But before the pronouncement could be exploited, Rushdie-style, by Muslim fundamentalists, Dr Hesham al-Essaway, chairman of the Islamic Society for Religious Tolerance, pointed out that the views of al-Mashad had no basis in Islamic law.
However, the whole episode once again served to open up the debate about Aids and morality. As Rabbi Julia Neuberger wrote (Sunday Times 9 Jul): “The fact that many victims are homosexuals strengthens the vitriolic response of the self-appointed moralists, who argue that they deserve segregation at best and death otherwise, but certainly not our sympathy and love. The immorality of this argument is breath taking. It comes from religious leaders of all faiths. Yet it is beyond me why where you put your penis and into whom should be a moral question, rather than whom you betray, whether you are faithful, and whom you are exploiting sexually.”
Wimbledon inevitably means it’s time to wheel out the tired old Martina-is-a-lesbian features. Surely everyone who could possibly be interested knows by now that Ms Navratilova is not only one of the greatest woman tennis players the world has ever known but also the lover of Judy Nelson. But just in case anyone had missed it, The Sun gave it another airing (28 Jun) under the heading “Martina’s Courtiers”.
Apparently: “Martina has never made a secret of her homosexuality but the revelation of her affair with wife and mother Judy whipped up a storm of controversy.” Or put another way, The Sun whipped up a storm of controversy and the rest of us have to endure it. The Daily Mail (1 Jul) rated Wimbledon’s romantic partnerings and gave Martina and Judy 9 out of 10 (as opposed to Boris Becker and companion’s 5/10).
The following day, The Sun’s Dear Deirdre (“The world’s top agony aunt” it says here) was regaling us with “My Mum’s Lesbian” and “Can children come to terms with having gay parents? Or should gay parents keep their sexuality secret and sacrifice their dreams of sharing life with the partner of their choice?”
Well, that’s interesting enough, and the letters that followed were a reasonable exploration of the subject (given The Sun’s propensity for scaling everything down to three sentences so as not to over-tax their readers). Deirdre’s advice was understanding, reasoned and she gave some contacts for further counselling.
Last time I gave Deirdre a pasting for being so negative on gay topics, I was told she goes on working for The Sun because her column is the only one in that paper which could possibly get any sympathetic coverage for gays and anyway her copy is often distorted by The Sun’s notorious subs.
We’ll give her the benefit of the doubt.
National press coverage of Pride this year amounted to a couple of worthy articles by Nicholas de Jongh in The Guardian, a tiny paragraph in The Sunday Times and an even tinier one in The Observer (25 Jun). But as their contribution to the celebration, The Sun and The Star were cheering on the thugs who destroyed a flower bed in Manchester which had been planted to celebrate Lesbian and Gay Pride. “Anti-gay gang wipe out pansies! (We’ll get to the bottom of it say lefties)” was The Sun’s predictably jeering reaction (1 Jun). And this anti-gay gang — could they mean the notorious Wapping Wankers, bussed up to Manchester especially for the occasion?
The British press seems far more enthusiastic about reporting American Pride marches; perhaps the poor dears feel less threatened if it’s all at a safe distance. Anyway, while totally ignoring the British march, The London Evening Standard carried a report (“Sad to be Gay” 3 Jul) of the New York celebrations. Author of the piece, Clive Barnes, starts off by telling us how glum gays are, quoting the gay-bashers favourite line from Boys in the Band “You show me a happy homosexual and I’ll show you a gay corpse”.
It seems that Mr Barnes has come not to praise the gay movement but to bury it. However, even he has to admit that the annual Lesbian and Gay Pride March is important enough to receive “growing political support —many of the current mayoral candidates including the incumbent, Mayor Koch, marched in this year’s parade”.
But Mr Barnes is anxious that no-one should get the idea that gays in New York are making progress: “The backlash has been spurred by the Aids epidemic, which is popularly seen as the gay scourge and in some sections of the community has made the homosexual actually feared. As gay concern rises over the money allocated to Aids care and research a certain restlessness seems to be building in the straight community … In New York City, a significant increase in ‘gay-bashing’ has been reported. As well, hopes have dimmed in the city of getting either homosexual marriages legalised, or at least a ‘domestic partners’ law similar to that recently passed in San Francisco.” He grudgingly admits, though, that: “Gays are no longer in any New York closet at least not as a community- and in general terms their situation regarding discrimination and acceptance has clearly improved. But it has certainly not improved as much as its militant advocates would wish.”
But even before New York gays had time to ponder the futility of it all, there was incredibly good news for them. “Gay couple are family, court rules” was the headline in The Guardian (8 Jul) over a story which said: “In an historic ruling, New York’s Court of Appeals, the State’s highest court, has broadened the legal definition of a family to include a gay couple.”
Seems the epitaph was a little premature.
Good news department: “The founder of the Moral Majority, Mr Jerry Falwell … announced that he would be dissolving the Moral Majority this August …” — Guardian 14 Jun.
History-of-homophobia department: “One of his executioners later boasted in town that when Lorca was already dead he fired ‘two more bullets into his arse for being queer’. Envy of his fame and hatred of homosexuals were at the rotten core of Lorca’s hideous death”. — Guardian (30 June).