Our magnificent defiance over the past month has been described as the British gay movement’s coming of age. Heartening as our protest has been it has, of course, given the Tory propagandists a gold-edged opportunity to display their considerable skills in making hay out of other people’s misery. Paul Johnson, the Dr. Goebbels of his day, labelled those brave MPs who spoke out in the Commons against the clause [Clause 28] as “Labour’s fascist Left” and the gay protesters became, in his terms, “squealing sodomites in the Gallery” (DAILY MAIL 21 Dec). THE SUN (16 Dec) labelled to “a screaming mob”. Mrs Thatcher was even using the protest as an argument for keeping TV cameras out of the Commons, describing the incident (SUNDAY EXPRESS 27 Dec) as “probably the worst she could recall in Parliament in the past 20 years”.
The big march through London managed to get more media coverage than all the Gay Pride parades put together. Ray Mills in THE STAR (12 Jan) said that we “minced on Downing Street” (a remark which made my chest swell with pride) to what THE NEWS OF THE WORLD (10 Jan) described as a “brawl”. THE SUNDAY TIMES (10 Jan) said that protesters had tried to “storm into Downing Street”. There was a large picture on the front page of the SUNDAY TELEGRAPH and coverage on ITN.
But the main inroads we made were in getting our case on to television. Only here were we given an equal chance to express the arguments against clause 28 without the benefit of unsympathetic tabloid journalists changing them to fit their idea of what the story should be.
People like David Wilshire appeared fatuous on the screen when matched against well-informed and eloquent opponents. Bigots who sound reasonable in the press looked on TV every bit as nasty as they are.
We have won the argument hands down, but it is clear that we are not being given points for being in the right.
Their Lordships now hold the key, but I have no intention of holding my breath for their verdict.
“One of the stranger creatures in this place,” wrote Mark Lawson in his ‘Commons Sketch’ (INDEPENDENT 12 Jan), “is Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster). A member for 18 years, she has been denied high office by the drawback of sounding like Minnie Mouse with laryngitis — the Labour juniors and jokers delightedly squeak impersonations when she rises. In an image culture, there is also the question of her passion for raucous floral patterns. On the worst days the overall effect is of a budgie trapped in curtains … There are broadly four categories of MP — the invisible, the listened-to, the hissed and the risible. Whatever she did and, in particular, whatever she said, Mrs Kellett-Bowman was elected by her fellows to that unfortunate fourth rank.”
Mrs Kellett-Bowman, who told the Commons that the arson attack on Capital Gay was “quite right”, was given a DBE for “services to politics”, which says something about the quality of Tory politicians.
Cant, humbug and hypocrisy have been thick in the air this month. Like just about every other gay person I know, I’ve been longing to confront the people who are trying to ruin our lives and scream at them LIARS, LIARS, LIARS, Recent days have illustrated more have demonstrated more clearly than ever just who controls the newspapers and how tightly they are kept closed to outsiders (honourable exceptions being The Guardian, Independent and Observer). As smug right-wingers write page after page about us we are denied any adequate right of reply. Bishops, rabbis, politicians, commentators – all with exactly the same anti-gay views – pop up day after day in the press interminably peddling the same lies and distortions while our side is relegated to the occasional couple of paragraphs in the correspondence columns or a brief and doctored quote tacked on to the end of a news story. The press, in the main, is controlled by those who mean us harm and they are not about to give us access.
The Church has been drawn into a gay bashing spree that I’m sure it never wanted. As THE INDEPENDENT (31 Dec) said: “The current debate, if that is the word for the succession of statements extracted by the press rather than offered to the nation, does not seem to be about human beings at all. Yet outside the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement the voices of homosexual ordinands are unheard.”
Indeed, the Bishop of Chichester has felt moved to speak out in his diocesan newsletter (INDEPENDENT 15 Jan) about the way the press reduced complex topics into headlines like “Pulpit poofs can stay”. He said that such stuff had come to represent “the brutish and malevolent ignorance of the press.”
While still on the subject of malevolent ignorance, we have A.N. Wilson writing in THE DAILY MAIL (31 Dec): “Nobody pretends to be perfect. But to begin a Christian ministry by saying that you intend to practice homosexuality and that you see nothing wrong with it seems to me totally extraordinary.” Mr Wilson takes no account of the context of the “practices” he so abhors; every expression of homosexual love, as far as he is concerned is “promiscuous”. He goes on to say: “No-one wants to see any sort of witch hunt or persecution of those whose sexual preferences do not conform to the norm.” A few sentences later he says: “We do not want such people teaching in our schools. We do not want them as ministers in our churches.” The man is either a muddle-headed idiot or, more likely, a rather crude right-wing propagandist. And if I hear another Holy Joe bleating that they “don’t want a witch hunt” while in the process of conducting one, I’ll scream.
“Ultimately lesbians and gay men possess a secret weapon which can outmanoeuvre both Government and press propaganda, if we choose to use it,” wrote Brian. Kennedy in the London listing magazine CITY LIMITS (31 Dec). Anxious to know what it is? “If every lesbian or gay man was open about their lives with a dozen or so heterosexuals we know, we could transform public debate on this issue. All the indications are that the public are widely ignorant rather than fundamentally bigoted, and an encounter with an openly gay person can change perspectives … There are far more gay people in this country than Sun readers. Unfortunately, the flip side to this tactic is that our closetry, the times we cover or hide our lifestyles, is probably the greatest asset available to our enemies. The personal choice we make now between openness and the closet may well determine the shape of gay life into the next century.”
Brian Kennedy is absolutely right, of course. The present challenge shouldn’t drive us back into the closet, it should bring us out in our millions.
Under the heading “The oppressive face of modern liberalism”, the editor of THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH, Peregrine Worsthorne, was spouting (3 Jan) about The Guardian being “predictably concerned by rumblings recently heard, notably in The Sun, of anti-homosexual sentiment … The Guardian’s fear is that the latest statement of the Bishop of Ripon will add further fuel to the gay-bashing fire which is already in danger of getting out of control.” He admits that the Guardian “may well be right.” But he goes on to blame that same paper and The Observer for being the cause of the backlash “by trampling rudely, contemptuously and persistently on the popular sense of what is right and wrong.” He asserts that the two papers’ “liberalism” is the root of the current state of affairs. In a deeply unconvincing argument he makes the case for mob rule. He extolls the virtue of populism — totally forgetting that it is the same philosophy which keeps the Ku Klux Klan going and the National Front and the British Movement and all the other lynch-mob organisations.
He forgets to tell us, in trying to blame The Guardian and The Observer for the ills of society, that against these two small voices are ranged sixteen other national newspapers, mostly right-wing —sometimes alarmingly so. Is he really trying to tell us that the enormous power of the Murdoch and Maxwell empires, both of which espouse anti-gay propaganda, have played no part in creating the present climate of hate and fear?
If we are really to construct a society based on ignorance and misunderstanding or, as Mr Worsthorne would have put it, “popular opinion”, then we are sowing the seeds of destruction of that same society.
Polly Toynbee ruminated (GUARDIAN 14 Jan) on the direction in which gay politics are headed in the light of recent events. “Gay rights as a cause was dead once it had been purloined by the left from the liberal establishment,” she wrote. She then warned that OLGA (the Organisation for Lesbian and Gay Action) “seems to have learned little from what is happening out in the real world”. She considers its present campaign to get members to buy gay books for schools and libraries to be suicidal. “There can scarcely be anything better calculated to stir up the rage and hatred of parents, local councillors and the moral right …While activists may enjoy a good fight, it will rebound in the most dangerous way on the hundreds of thousands of homosexuals who are now facing very real threats.”
She suggests a solution: “moderate, non-political people need to get back into these (gay) organisations and seize them from the extremists, remove them from the grip of the left wing authorities and start to campaign effectively. There is still a large and powerful well of liberal tolerance, a natural majority in the land who is not hell-bent on persecution. But it will stay a silent majority in a clash between the moral right and the extreme left-wing gay militancy.”
Ms Toynbee’s arguments may not be popular with our most vociferous supporters, but I suspect that a vast number of gay men and lesbians who don’t want to be part of the Socialist Workers Party revolution will be applauding. We’ve all been to gay conferences which have been dominated by dogmatic revolutionary communists who are completely sincere in their beliefs but who alienate many with their fanaticism. And we’ve all seen interminable letters in the gay press saying that the gay community ought to “do something”; that there should be a national organisation which could represent all our interests and into which our combined efforts could be channelled. There is every indication that is what we want to harness our full clout we have to stop letting political factions hijack our campaigns for their own use.
OLGA needs to think carefully about this issue or it could well be defeated before it gets off the ground.
According to THE DAILY MIRROR (23 Dec), Barry, one half of the EastEnders gay couple, is to turn into a heterosexual. Informed sources tell me that in later episodes Carmel the black social worker discovers that she is really white and that Angie recovers from her illness to discover that she is in love with fat Pat. I always said EastEnders was the most realistic soap of them all.
Last year Mrs Thatcher was trying to do away with the Citizens Advice Bureaux. However, there was such resistance to the idea that she backed off. Now the CAB has passed a resolution saying that they’ll make their services more relevant to gay men and lesbians. This is what La Thatch has been waiting for. According to the SUNDAY TIMES (17 Jan): “The move will prompt Tory local government leaders to urge the trade and industry secretary to abolish the association.”
Seems you only have to show even the slightest sympathy for gays and lesbians and the Government steps in to squash you. Who needs clause 28 when you already have a dictator who can do as she pleases anyway?