GAY TIMES May 1989

Terry Sanderson’s autobiography “The Reluctant Gay Activist” is now available on Amazon

Tabloid tittle-tattle reached a new high of stupidity on 2 April in The People (Wendy Henry’s ugly pup). The front page announced, “Bet Lynch’s Hubby is Gay”.

Now then, who are they talking about? Alec Gilroy the landlord of the Rovers Return? Surely he is Bet Lynch’s hubby. But then again, they might be referring to the husband of Julie Goodyear the actress who plays Bet Lynch. She recently married an American called Richard Skrob. Do they mean him?

No, indeed, they mean Roy Barraclough, the man who plays Alec Gilroy, the husband of the fictional character Bet Lynch. Are you still with me? I hope so because we haven’t got round to Bet Lynch yet, who is also gay – that is to say, Julie Goodyear who plays the part who is, in fact, now Bet Gilroy because she married Alec Gilroy who is played by Roy Barraclough who is gay.

Mr Barraclough was cornered by The People while on holiday in Greece. Was he suitably ashamed? “I am gay and proud of it,” said the actor. “I am discreet and what I do behind my own front door is up to me. Still, I’m honest and as you’ve asked me, I can’t deny it.”

That didn’t stop The People which maundered on about “the gay shock” and “Roy’s amazing double life.”

But I fear they’ve pulled this trick a little too often. Nobody cares any more. Roy Barraclough and Julie Goodyear play two of the best-loved characters on British television and the public do not wish to see them crucified. Whether it is her intention or not, the editor of The People is actually turning the tide in our favour.

Ms Henry might be losing her touch. Her marbles went some time ago.

Mrs Thatcher seems to be having a bit of a problem at the moment. Her popularity (inexplicable as it is) at last seems to be showing signs of diminishing. The Labour Party was actually ahead in one opinion poll.

It’s at times like these that Maggie’s press acolytes go into action, trying to reverse the trend. If Mrs Thatcher’s policies are a load of dangerous rubbish, then the only way to keep her in power is to make those of the opposition sound even worse.

One proven way to frighten those delicate voters is, of course, to drag the gay bogey out of the closet. “Labour Plan New Laws to Protect Gays” screeched one headline in The Sun (20 Mar). “Labour will make discrimination against gays or lesbians a criminal offence” reported the most loyal mouthpiece of our unspeakable Prime Minister. In the light of Section 28, Labour’s small movement towards protecting our rights might seem overdue. But as far as The Sun is concerned these are “shock measures”.

The Left’s support is fine on paper, but how real is the support within the party for gay rights? What happens when it comes to the crunch? How many Patricia (“We’re losing pensioners’ votes because of the gay thing”) Hewitts are there under the red flag?

Well, as far as reactions to inflated press stories go, we have a mixed bag — some Labour councils are defiant, some defensive. Let’s look at a few of the ‘loony left’ stories from this month and examine the reactions.

First we have Patrick Moore, the telly astronomer. Most people consider him a harmless eccentric, but a report in the London Evening Standard (30 Mar) reveals him to be a venomous homophobe. Joining forces with barmy Baroness Cox he denounced “the innocently titled (book) The Milkman’s on His Way at a recent committee meeting in the Lords”.

According to The Standard, the David Rees bestseller has been “placed on the ILEA positive images list sent out to school libraries, and Moore claimed at the meeting: ‘Our children are being corrupted and depraved by it’.” (Just for the record, Mr Moore is unmarried and, as far as I know, childless).

The star gazer then begins to sound rather like one of the slobbering hypocrites who feature so prominently in Gay Times’ own wonderful cartoon Fermenting Fruits: “Pure sexual perversion …children will read it and try it out and get Aids. It is an obscene publication and the ILEA are as guilty as drug peddlers for recommending it.”

The most revealing part of the report (because nobody is going to be influenced by the hysteria of a crank like Moore) is the defensive reaction of an ILEA spokesman: “We don’t actually recommend books as such,” he is quoted as saying, “The book was marred by voyeurism and overtly explicit accounts of sexual activities.”

For our next example we move to Ealing in West London, where a “hard Left” council is supposed to have an equal employment policy covering lesbians and gay men. To be fair, they’ve taken more than their share of stick about it, but now the Ealing Gazette (17 Mar) says: “Catholic … parents were told the phrase ‘Ealing Council welcomes applications from lesbians and gay men’ would be dropped in an advert for a head teacher at Our Lady of the Visitation Roman Catholic School in Greenford. But the line cropped up in a national newspaper — and angry Catholics thought the council had included it deliberately.” But, of course, they hadn’t.

Ealing’s equal opportunity policy is as strong as a rock —until the first set of bigots comes along and demands its removal. The Council then accedes without a murmur.

Meanwhile in another London borough — Haringey —home of the first local authority Lesbian and Gay Unit, there is more controversy over the ‘positive images’ policy. But this time criticism comes not from some Holy Joe ‘parents group’ but a teacher in a local school. HW Medwell wrote to City Limits, the London listings magazine (6 Apr) following an article about the aftermath of Clause 28 by Melissa Benn and Rose Collis. “Haringey Council has been surprisingly quiet on the issue,” he says, “In the secondary schools where I have I taught, the Positive Images policy has been something you read about in the Tory press. No informational literature on Positive Images has been distributed to teachers or other staff during the period of controversy; nor has there been any verbal guidance from the ILEA. We’ve had to think of our own answers to the oft-repeated question ‘When do we start having gay lessons?’ and our own ways of coping with the marked increase of the traditionally high quota of heterosexist filth we meet in the classrooms. Benn and Collis could fruitfully have explored the reasons why a ‘radical’ council should behave in this way.”

A little better is the reaction of Brent Council which was reported in The Evening Standard (3 Apr) as “planning sex advice sessions where people are encouraged to ‘talk dirty’. The proposal is part of the borough’s Aids awareness campaign, designed to break down sexual barriers.”

As usual the first whinger on the scene is Tory group spokesman Leslie Winter who is quoted as saying: “It is absolute nonsense when you consider all the other problems we have.”

Apparently, the council which is “on the brink of a financial crisis” is to ask the Government for £300,000 to pay for the Creative Sex Workshop scheme. “It is based on an American project called Hot, Horny and Healthy, which uses blue movies to encourage people to attend. Brent’s Aids adviser, Vernal Scott said: ‘They put on porno films with people wearing condoms and it’s very popular’.”

Deputy council leader Pam Jordan said: “Anything that makes people aware of the Aids peril has got to be a good thing.”

Anybody with the brass neck to ask Mrs Thatcher for three hundred grand for a Hot, Horny and Healthy project gets full marks from me.

The Leicester Mercury (9 Mar) gleefully reported the banning of ten national newspapers from a students’ union because they were deemed to be “anti-gay”. The ban was presented as ludicrous and good only for mockery, especially since one of the banned titles was The Guardian, seen by many as the only pro-gay paper in the country.

But how consistent is The Guardian in its approach to gay matters? There can be little doubt that it has carried many excellent, thoughtful features that wouldn’t have looked out of place in this magazine. It doesn’t neglect major news stories of interest to gay people, either. But occasionally something slips through the net. One such piece was “Case of the limp-wristed stud” which appeared on 23rd March. It was supposed to be a funny account, by Shelley Bovey, of a cat which had been purchased for “80 quid” for stud purposes. The cat, Claude, showed no interest in the females presented to him which made Shelley Bovey immediately assume that he is gay: “At rest he turns his head affectedly to one side. One paw is tucked under his chest. The other droops languidly. Our stud cat is undeniably limp-wristed.” Then Claude starts a relationship with the tom cat from next door. “One bound through the cat flap and he and Black Tom are greeting each other affectionately, nose to nose. That casual first kiss is just part of a new familiar ritual. Claude then gets down and rolls enticingly in front of Black Tom. Then they disappear, but I don’t wish to go into that. Afterwards . . . they sit on the table outside the kitchen window, close together, exuding contentment, wrists dangling limply over the edge of the table.” Shelley Bovey says, “Not that I am any kind of homophobe”. I’ll believe her, thousands wouldn’t.

I know it’s supposed to be a bit of fun, but there was something unpleasant about the imagery and the cheap cracks which left me feeling uncomfortable. All the same, I wouldn’t ban The Guardian on the strength of it.

Considering the apparent distaste with which the tabloids view gay sex, they don’t half seem fascinated by it. Take this example from The Sunday Mirror (26 Mar), under the headline “Three-men-in-a-bed gay sex romps”: “We chatted and had a few drinks and Hugh and the other man started kissing each other … They became quite intimate. I was sitting in another chair in the lounge, watching them. The other guy went out of the room and Hugh encouraged me over to him and we started kissing and fondling. Soon afterwards we all went upstairs to Hugh’s bedroom and it all got rather involved after that. We were naked and it was a tangle of arms and legs. We all had sex with each other.” Then there follows an explanation about who dominated whom.

When you recall the hoo-ha over Colin’s kiss in EastEnders, I wonder if that righteous, campaigning newspaper The Sun will now organise a telephone poll asking whether The Sunday Mirror ought to be banned because it brings explicit gay sex into the front rooms of “real” families?

Gratuitous Insults Department: “Eartha Kitt is a founder member of the Showbiz Greats Club … despite her ghastly camp followers.” —John Knight, Sunday Mirror (19 Mar)

“I was going to get engaged but I have just discovered the awful truth about my future mum-in-law. She is gay. Now all my friends have found out and say I should finish with him, pointing out that our children could be at risk if they had a gay grandmother.” — Letter to Sun’s Agony column (20 Mar).

Jesus-in-Jackboots department: “Is it not true that for long enough now the Anglican Church in general has soft-pedalled about the sins of the flesh? I find it particularly distressing when a flabby attitude towards this issue goes hand in hand with a sentimental solicitude for Aids victims. It smacks of hypocrisy for a Church to lay claim to sympathy for a group of sufferers, and yet to withhold the full power of its collective voice against one method by which they may have become infected.” — letter in The Church Times (31 Mar).

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