The trial of mass-murderer Michel Lupo gave the papers the opportunity to once more parade their ignorant fantasies about what gay life is about in London. The case itself was tailor-made for the tabloids – hey couldn’t have invented anything as satisfactory: Aids, murder and ‘the seedy underworld of homosexuals’ were all trotted out at length. There was even talk of the police getting their idea of what gay life is like from watching the Al Pacino film Cruising which is set in New York in the seventies. But best of all, from the media’s point of view, was the connection – however tenuous – with the rich and famous and even royalty.
As usual ‘the gay community’ (or at least their idea of it) was portrayed as ‘sinister’, ‘sleazy’, ‘kinky, a world occupied by perverts and inadequates, where the only pursuit is sexual gratification. Even Gay Switchboard was portrayed as irresponsible for allegedly advising one of the survivors of Lupo’s attacks not to go to the police. Exactly the same angle was adopted in the Dennis Nilsen case.
If you compare these two cases with that of the “Yorkshire Ripper”, you will see that although there was equal sensationalism involved, there was no question that the red light areas that Sutcliffe frequented, being presented as representative of heterosexual life. So, will the papers ever show the other side of gay life, the one that is stable, creative, vigorous and fun? Not on your nelly, they won’t.
It seems that straights are beginning to latch on to the idea that what governments are saying about Aids and what the statistics are showing aren’t necessarily the same thing. THE LONDON STANDARD’S Washington Correspondent, Jeremy Campbell, filed a report (1 July) which was headed: “Whatever happened to the Aids doomsday?” in which he reports that American heterosexuals are waking up to the fact that Aids does not seem to be spreading outside the ‘high risk’ groups in the way they were led to believe it would. For three years there have been predictions that Aids would spread into the general population through the medium of bisexuals and the partners of drug users.
“But the second wave has yet to break. And a handful of epidemiologists are starting to wonder if they might be misreading the story,” says Mr Campbell. “Conceivably, they surmise, there is something about American heterosexuals, or their way of life, that makes them seem less likely to become infected than high-risk people.”
Although this new interpretation might seem hopeful to the majority, Mr Campbell sees it as decidedly bad news for gays. “It cannot help but make it easier for the political right to portray Aids as a disease of an immoral, insatiably promiscuous, unnatural and disgraceful minority. Already conservatives are stressing the ‘difficulty’ of catching Aids if one’s lifestyle is reasonably normal … It is only one short step from there to the conclusion that monstrous practices bring their own punishment that the non-monstrous are largely spared, and governments can find more deserving causes on which to spend taxpayers’ billions.”
It seems certain that this type of argument will gather strength in the coming months—with worrying implications for the gay community. But it’s also worth noting that Aids organisations in Britain are already insisting that the new interpretations being placed on American figures are premature, foolish and misguided.
Nick Partridge of the Terrence Higgins Trust points out (in TODAY) that 50 per-cent of all people with Aids in New York are now heterosexual. And it has also been reported that Aids replaced cancer as the leading cause of death for women between 25 and 34 in New York City last year.
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a beached whale? No, it’s just Geoffrey (Moby) Dickens MP, shooting his overworked mouth off again. This time he turned up in THE SUNDAY TIMES MAGAZINE, which devoted the whole of its 21 June issue to the subject of Aids. Mr Dickens seemed to have changed his mind a mite: “The homosexual fraternity have sharpened up their act a bit,” he says, “and they’re either taking more precautions or they’re not exchanging partners so readily, and they’ve brought more discipline into their affairs, which is good and to their credit and may well take any pressure off for the repeal of the 1967 Act. Many people, including myself, have probably been a bit heavy-handed with the gay fraternity, but if one is fair-minded about it they have readjusted their lifestyles because they are terrified of Aids.”
Before you get the idea that Mr Dickhead—I mean Dickens—is laying off his hate campaign against us, we must turn to THE PEOPLE (June 28), to see him “storming” in yet another of that paper’s interminable gay non-scandals. Apparently, someone saw a British hotel advertising holidays in the American gay magazine The Advocate. “I think it highly irresponsible to aim to attract homosexuals to somewhere where they may swap partners over the course of a weekend,” said the representative for Littleborough and Saddleworth.
What The People and its permanently apoplectic rentagob MP seem to forget is that the people who read The Advocate are probably better informed about Aids than anyone else in the world. Or are they really saying that gays are so irresponsible that they shouldn’t be allowed to have holidays at all?
The tabloids have turned their penchant for dragging celebrities out of the closet into something of a blood sport. As you’d guess, the hounds at THE NEWS OF THE WORLD are particularly good at it. In their 12 July issue they carried an account of how they had pursued some minor TV luminary over a period of weeks to try to get his account of being gay. The poor man, like some persecuted fox, had employed all kinds of tactics to avoid the snooping reporters. That did not deter them, however, and the ‘story’ was still carried over two pages—it consisted of nothing much more than a simple statement that he is gay. There were no rent boys, no juicy details of illegal activities: the mere fact of his gayness seemed sufficient to constitute a ‘scandal’. Such persecution of individuals by the press makes badger-baiting look almost humane in comparison.
On the 21st June the same paper carried a similar non-story (“Was Cary Grant a secret gay?”). The whole thing served no purpose but to upset the late star’s family and friends—and, of course, to make more money for Mr Murdoch. THE SUN (14 July) managed to get the word ‘gay’ onto the front page in three-inch letters yet again when it reported that Sylvester Stallone was divorcing his wife because she was discovered in bed with another woman.
Meanwhile, the annual Martina Navratilova season came and went. As far as the tabloids are concerned, Ms Navratilova is far more famous for being a lesbian than for being the best woman tennis player in the world. THE PEOPLE (21 June) carried a highly dubious account of how Martina planned to ‘marry’ her girlfriend, Judy Nelson, at the post-Wimbledon Ball. Leaving aside the fantasy element, the article itself was almost affectionate in its approach to the two women, leaving out entirely all the nasty weasel-words we are so used to seeing in such coverage (kinky, bizarre, sordid etc). Strange isn’t it, how they can tolerate, or even cheer, Martina, but they bully, malign and vilify any male gay they can unearth. A definite illustration of the journalists’ innate sexism, I would say.
Like most straight men, the macho males of Wapping find it impossible to believe that any lesbian relationship could be ‘real’. It would be too much of a blow to their fragile facade to admit that women might be able to get through life without them.
Am I imagining it or are there more nutcases around than there used to be? Or is it just that the papers are more willing to give them space these days? Two absolute head-bangers got local coverage over the past couple of months.
The first provided THE CHESTER MAIL (4 June) with what must rank as probably the year’s most restrained and moderate headline. “EXECUTE GAYS—PASTOR” it screamed. The paper reported (for some reason) the rantings of one Pastor David Carson, who represents something called The
Protestant Reformation Party. I won’t detail the bilge which emanates from Pastor Carson’s disturbed mind—you’ve heard it all before. But just for the record this would-be fuhrer contested the seat
for Ellesmere Port and Neston in the General Election on the death-penalty-for-gays ticket and scored 185 votes.
The second worried voice was that of a Mrs Dianne Partridge of Ferndown, Dorset. She was worried about the ‘immorality’ on television and her views were reported at length in THE WESTERN GAZETTE. She was concerned about EastEnders, of course, but reserved her harshest words for The Paul Daniels Magic Show. “They had an act of levitation which we were very concerned about,” flapped Mrs Partridge. “It seemed that the Lord was speaking directly to me, that the levitation was not good, clever or magic. That there is an evil force that makes the body float.”
If Mrs Partridge is thinking of starting a campaign to have Paul Daniels burned at the stake then I won’t stand in her way. But I think it was wrong of the Western Gazette to exploit this poor woman’s suffering for cheap laughs. Don’t they know it’s wrong to mock the afflicted?
Having secured a victory in the General Election for the Tories, the tabloids (and particularly the Murdoch ones) are now gunning for the left-wing local authorities. Their campaign—as before—rests heavily on the exploitation of homophobia. To keep the pot boiling until the next round of local elections, the papers harp on endlessly about “ratepayers’ money” being squandered on gays.
Look at a few of the headlines over the past month (and they really are only the tip of the iceberg): “A gay a day (or two) away … on the rates” (LONDON STANDARD 25 June); “Rates pay for gays to combat ‘sexism’” TODAY (26 June); “Fury over Lesbian lessons at school” (STAR 1 July); “Gay group’s sick letter shocks Town Hall girls” (SUN 18 June); “Cash crisis council backs gay festival” (LONDON STANDARD 11 June); “Lesbian Teacher resigns” (SUN 3 July); “School governor’s gay pride protest” (LONDON STANDARD 25 June); “Parents tear down school’s gay posters” (LONDON STANDARD 23 June).
THE SUN also carried a wickedly offensive cartoon (19 June) by Franklin, probably the most reactionary cartoonist in the country. Ray Mills, THE STAR’s so-called “Angry Voice” commented (30 June) on Camden Council’s Lesbian and Gay Unit (“They employ four full-time woofter apologists”): “Mills has a positive view to offer: These filthy degenerates should be kicked up their much-abused backsides and locked up in their closets.”
I (along with many other people) made a complaint about Ray Mills and his trashy opinions to the National Union of Journalists ‘Ethics Council’, but in the end nothing came of it: the machinations of the Union allowed the complaint to run out of time. However, Mills has been censured on grounds
of racialism. His reply was to compose an abusive tirade against the NUJ which was published on June 30th. His contemptuous attitude towards the Union makes it obvious that they have no power to stop his disgraceful and dangerous antics. And the STAR will continue to collude with this crypto-fascist attempt to stir up racial and sexual discord around the country.
Bad news for democracy, but especially bad news for gays, was the purchase of TODAY by Rupert Murdoch. Such an obvious piece of political patronage would be difficult to imagine. And for all the new editor’s assertion that Today would remain impartial, it wasn’t long before the baleful Murdoch influence began to push through. Within days of the takeover Today had launched an attack on the BBC (6 July). Now this just happens to be one of Murdoch’s long-term projects—to get TV deregulated so that he can step in and start a new and even more powerful media empire. His other British newspapers, The Times, Sunday Times, Sun and News of the World, wage a constant war upon the BBC. The Times has run an inordinate number of anti-BBC editorials over the past two years, more than on any other single subject.
One good thing to have come out of the whole affair is that the other papers have openly set their face against Murdoch, recognising him a not just a competitor but as ruthless enemy out for their blood. Indeed, John Junor it THE SUNDAY EXPRESS (l July) was moved to ask: “Is Mr Murdoch being given Today as his reward for having supported Mrs Thatcher during the election?” (This is rich coming from Junor whose own knighthood was a personal thank you from Maggie for propaganda services rendered.)
The following day Today shouted back: “Sir John Junor is famous for taking a once great newspaper, The Sunday Express, and single-handedly turning it into the boring, trivial paper it is today … When the owners of The Express finally manage to get rid of him as editor … they made the mistake of letting him keep his column. No other regular feature it British journalism is so full of inaccuracy and ignorance.”
It is a shame to see serious and thoughtful newspaper like Today transformed overnight into being just another Murdoch mouthpiece. However, one can take some pleasure in watching these paper tiger tearing at each other’s throats. Hopefully there will be some fatalities in the forthcoming circulation war.
THE SUN, as we all know, is very fond of gay stories. It just loves to let its readers know just how dreadful we “poofters” are and what a wicked threat we are to family life etc. etc. You’d think a gathering of 15,000 of us in the centre of London would have their headline writers going wild, but for some reason they seemed to overlook the Pride Festival again. And so did every other newspaper in the land except the communist MORNING STAR (29 June) which gave its usual thoughtful coverage.
Could this sudden indifference to our existence have anything to do with the fact that the Pride Carnival is probably one of the most joyous, exuberant, colourful and positive festivals in the London calendar? We wouldn’t want the great British public to know that lesbians and gay men are still capable of having a ripping good time despite you-know-what. If they did know they might begin to suspect that all the other stuff they read about us in the tabloids is perhaps a teensy-weensy bit exaggerated. They might even suspect that these morally superior beings we call journalists might just be naughty old fibbers on the quiet.
The British Medical Association’s decision to “secretly test patients for Aids” prompted Robert Maxwell to tell an Aids seminar in Canada (LONDON DAILY NEWS 8 July): “Aids hysteria, added to public ignorance, self-serving politicians and tunnel-visioned guardians of law and order will affect not only those likely to be infected with the virus but its erosion of civil liberties will touch us all.”
Noble word, but they wouldn’t carry such heavy irony if Mr Maxwell’s papers (in particular THE PEOPLE) hadn’t done their fair share of creating panic and ignorance. However, if he is sincere in what he says there is a simple answer: he should employ someone who knows what they are talking about to check all Aids stories in his papers for factual accuracy and foolish panic-mongering.
What about it, Cap’n Bob?