There can be little doubt that The Sun now has a settled and co-ordinated anti-gay campaign under way. Their coverage of gay issues is so relentless, so grindingly negative that no-one can avoid the conclusion that at some stage the reporters must have been briefed to dig as much gay dirt as they can. And if they can’t find any dirt, then they should soil the truth. Let’s look at some of this month’s offerings from the pages of that ghastly rag. To start with, I have mixed feelings about the question-and-answer interview with Jimmy Somerville which appeared in THE SUN (22 Dec). One half of me says it’s good that Jimmy should be asked questions which some of his fans must long to know the answers to. (“How bothered are you about Aids”, “Have you ever made love to a woman?” “Have you ever dressed up in women’s clothes?”). But the other half of me wonders what the purpose of these prurient questions were. Do they raise consciousness or do they just reinforce misunderstandings and misconceptions? I don’t know, but I couldn’t help feeling uncomfortable about it. Especially given some of the other stories that the Sun has carried over the past month.
For instance, Rock Hudson’s house was the star of another of another of the Sun’s Aids misinformation pieces. Apparently the dead actor’s house is still up for sale and no-one will by it. Hudson’s butler is quoted as saying: “They seem petrified of touching any of Rock’s belongings. They won’t even have a glass of water or a cup of tea because they have to drink from Rock’s glasses or crockery…” The whole tone of the story gives credence to the superstition that Aids somehow something more than just a disease that it has supernatural powers that allow it to linger in wait for the unwary. Some hope for the Government’s weedy education campaign in the face of such powerful misinformation.
29 December and THE SUN treated us to quotes from “tough guy” rock singer Gary Moore. “I don’t know how people can like the Communards. That guy Somerville has done for gays what Sam Fox did for feminism. He’s not exactly the acceptable face of gayness, is he? If anyone was undecided in their attitude to homosexuals, Jimmy Somerville would make your mind up for you – against them. He’s an ugly, no-talent creep.”
On 30 December, Jimmy was in THE SUN again, this time chiding The Pet Shop Boys for not coming out of the closet. “They have to be more upfront. It’s their duty to other gays. I don’t associate myself with the Pet Shop Boys because they still won’t publicly admit they’re gay. It really annoys me that they call their album Disco but don’t admit its relationship to gayness.”
On 6 January The Sun treated us to “What Fowler will see in Gay City where one in 15 has Aids”. The story by classic scab journo Neil Wallis began: “Health Secretary Norman Fowler is going on an Aids fact-finding mission to San Francisco later this month.” What Mr Fowler will see is a Sun reader’s nightmare come true. “Gays wear one of 14 different coloured handkerchiefs in the back pocket of their Levis. That signals to the world the particular perversion they prefer… It’s claimed that promiscuity among gays has stopped, but it’s only a claim! ,,, In Frisco today freak means old-fashioned, long-haired hippies advocating love between the sexes. It doesn’t mean out-of-the-ordinary. Well, it couldn’t, could it?”
And so it goes on. I’d just like Mr Wallis to know that if he goes to San Franciso and the powerful gay community gets to hear about it, he’s likely to leave more than his heart there.
On 12 Jan we were regaled with a silly (even by The Sun’s standards) non-story about a group of very minor TV stars going out for a “night on the town” in Manchester and ending up in Napoleon’s gay club. “Burley telly Sergeant Major Windsor Davies didn’t care much for the company of “the lovely boys” and did “a quick about turn”. The Sun tells us that the rest of them “brazened it out for a while. If The Sun is trying to tell us that these showbiz innocent had “accidentally” went to Napoleon’s with no previous knowledge of its style, they can go and tell it to the Marines.
More worrying though is the nasty twisting of a story about a gay group in Cambridge (18 Jan.) advising its members not to be tested for HIV infection. Anyone who has heard the whole story will know that this is sound advice, but in the hands of The Sun leader writer gay groups become “an evil force in the land” and gay activists “deserve to be treated as pariahs. They deserve to be locked away where they can do no more harm.”
On another page in the same issue there was a story about a police swoop on a cottage in Victoria Station in which, according to THE SUN, “police have arrested 68 gays in a massive anti-vice swoop.” An un-named “commuter” was quoted as saying: “It was a degrading sight to see evil middle aged men preying on young boys.”
The Sun has also told us over the past month that nasty lesbians are tormenting poor, innocent drug-pusher Rosie Johnston in prison, they also called for the shooting of the Barlinnie jail protestors and asserted that the National Union of Journalists was trying to create a totalitarian state for daring to fine their wonderful reporters. Talk about seeing the world through a looking glass—it seems The Sun has this wonderful facility for turning everything inside out and making it into the opposite of what it really is.
But who are the people behind The Sun? I ask this question because I am genuinely curious to know what sort of men they are. Are they really as nasty, greedy, violent, treacherous and downright rotten as their writings suggest?
Over the past few months The Sun has pursued the gay community and gay individuals with the ferocity of a shark in a feeding frenzy. Their editorial condemnations of us become more and more extreme—whether it be exhortations to James Anderton to “treat the perverts with the contempt they deserve” or calling for the locking up of gay rights activists because they are an “evil threat to society.” Some of their news items wouldn’t disgrace the pages of the National Front’s organ Bulldog.
They are very fond of calling anyone in public life who is vaguely ‘liberal’ “enemies of the nation” and “fifth columnists”. Indeed, anyone to the left of Mussolini is considered a communist infiltrator. And although The Sun has become something of a music hall joke, it is far from funny for those who are its victims. It won’t do any more to write it off as a silly comic not to be taken seriously. Four million people in this country take it seriously enough to shell out good money day after day to read the filth that mad Murdoch’s running dogs churn out. The Sun is a serious threat not only to the quality of our lives but now to our very existence, because the Sun’s baleful influence extends far beyond its own pages. Its complete lack of ethical standards has ensured that the other papers have had to follow it down into the gutter in order to survive the vicious circulation war.
I am not alone in my fear of the uncheckable abuses perpetrated by The Sun and its imitators. Jeremy Seabrook wrote in THE GUARDIAN (22 Dec) of the sinister purposes behind The Sun’s apparently cheerful populism. “What we are living through is a sustained attempt to resurrect the mob. The newspapers and the junk videos portray people, in the language of The Sun, as dirty rats and filthy swine, as animals and beasts; a vast human bestiary has been reinvented which systematically represents people as corrupt, treacherous and venal in contrast to whom, in this simple Manichean world, the good is represented by money.”
Seabrook tells us that papers like The Sun are creating an atmosphere that will pave the way, after Thatcherism has failed, for something far worse. He says that as the country disintegrates financially and socially the door will be open for the fascists to take over. This is where the frightening picture of life in this country presented by the popular press comes in. If Joe Public can be convinced that the country they love has become a “cesspit” of degradation then the new Fuhrer will have an easy cruise to power. Aids is providing the terrible tool for this end to be achieved. “Britain which is increasingly unrecognisable as the familiar and loved home place has become more and more like the future site of the second coming of those brutalities which we went to war to defeat less than half a century ago,” wrote Seabrook.
We have to recognise that the real enemy of the people is The Sun newspaper and all the others that aspire to be its clones. And yet we are powerless to stop this wilful distortion. The freedom of the press was once sacred, but Rupert Murdoch and his evil crew have made the concept of a free press into a sick joke. Press freedom in the hands of the seekers after wealth has become an insidious 1icence to distort, persecute, incite hatred and generally brutalise readers. If any attempt is made to stop this undemocratic abuse of their enormous power the papers instantly cry “censorship. The ruthless and unscrupulous men behind The Sun are the real fifth columnists in our country, undermining all traditions of tolerance and debate. They must be curbed—for all our sakes.
Newspaper correspondence columns are fairly predictable, each paper having its own style. THE MAIL and THE EXPRESS voice the opinion of middle-England, the retired middle-classes and the aspiring working classes. The letters pages in these papers have an unhealthy preoccupation with the death penalty, with ‘dole scroungers’ and ‘teenage layabouts’. They write in endlessly about how disastrous Labour is and how utterly heavenly they consider Maggie to be. They have simple and painless answers to all the world’s most complex problems—painless for themselves, that is. For other people it usually involves death or imprisonment.
It was not surprising, then, to find the correspondence columns filled, day after day, with letters supporting James Anderton, the only chief constable with a hotline to God. And this particular crop of letters was even more bloodthirsty than usual. So much hatred poured from them that I eventually became too depressed to read any more. It began to seem that if Margaret Thatcher were to legalise lynching for homosexuals tomorrow, her opinion poll rating would race ahead.
Then, suddenly, cracks began to appear in what had seemed almost unanimous support for the Mancunian Prophet. Even old John Junor in The SUNDAY EXPRESS (21 Dec) was moved to write, during one of his weekly diatribes against gays: “There is about him (Anderton) an unctuous self-righteousness which makes me wince. Nor do I warm to his pronouncement that he said what he did because he had received guidance from God …In view of everything that has happened, would not Manchester be a better place from a police point of view if Mr Anderton were to receive further guidance from God to hand in his resignation, too?”
Dennis Hackett, the new editor of TODAY wrote (23 Dec): “I have now begun to wonder whether it could be that Mr Anderton is not, after all, on a direct line to the Supreme Being, but is in fact talking to himself and mistaking his alter ego for the Almighty?”
Even THE NEWS OF THE WORLD (21 Dec) managed a critical editorial (although it was in unusually small print, and looked strangely out of place, as though it had wandered into the wrong paper). “The Aids and gays debate is a POLITICAL issue, not a CRIMINAL issue, except where the law of the land is broken,” said the NoW. “Parliament, in its wisdom, decides what those laws should be. If Anderton wants to talk about what offends the LAW, that is one thing. What offends HIM should be kept to himself. It is right to wonder whether the people of Greater Manchester … are best served by a chief whose behaviour is not so much eccentric as plain daft, Stalker is going, Anderton is staying. Perhaps it would be better if BOTH went.”
The Archbishop of York criticised Anderton for his unhelpfulness in the face of the crisis and even the right-wing Police Federation rebuked him for “pontificating on moral issues”. According to THE GUARDIAN (15 Jan), Tony Judge, editor of the federation’s magazine, accused Anderton of “dragging the police into a moral debate that should not concern them.”
And so, perhaps, the most cheering headline of the month was in THE INDEPENDENT (13 Jan) “Police Feeling Mounts that Anderton Must Go”.
The Bible tells us that God reserves his greatest wrath for false prophets, so if I were James Anderton, I’d be seriously thinking of fixing a lightning conductor to the roof of Greater Manchester police Headquarters.
Until now, most straight people have avoided thinking very much about gay lifestyles, preferring to consider them rather exotic and not really to do with the real world. Aids has changed all that and gays have taken centre stage. There is no way that the Government, the press or the public can remain indifferent to our presence any more.
Naturally the long-held and deep-rooted prejudices needed to be expressed – and they have been, mostly in intemperate, vulgar and abusive terms. The bigots were first on the scene with “didn’t we tell you this would happen?” Our old enemies in the press have had a field day too. But now more reasoned debate is beginning. Religious leaders and politicians have realised that the screaming hysteria doesn’t very far towards solving problems.
It was good, therefore, to see an opinion piece in THE INDEPENDENT (9 Jan) written by Christina Baron, president of the Liberal Women’s Federation. She made the point that criticising gay men for being ‘promiscuous’ was unfair given society’s disapproval of gay relationships. “It is often not easy for heterosexual couples, even when married to society’s approval, to stay together. How much harder, then, for a homosexual couple? Is a colleague’s gay or lesbian partner as welcome as a spouse at the firm’s Christmas dance, the office party or the staff room? The heterosexual community wants it both ways – promiscuity is not acceptable, stable partnerships are not acceptable. If much of our society still cannot accept a homosexual couple then we shouldn’t be surprised if it is harder for them to stay together.”
One male gay couple who managed to stay together for 27 years are Saxon Lucas and Rodney Madden. Their relationship was examined in NEW SOCIETY (2 Jan). These two men are Christians, they consider their partnership to be, to all intents and purposes, a “marriage”. What they had promised each other – total sexual fidelity – would have seemed ridiculous and unrealistic to most gay people a few short years ago. Now it seems to be something that a lot of gay couples are striving for.
The structure of their relationship (“Rod is the boss-man, what Rod says goes. And when he says ‘no’, no it is,” says Saxon) may seem questionable to many. Surely marriages – or any other ostensibly exclusive relationship – can work without these dubious power-structures. Indeed, much of what these two men espouse as essential components of a successful long-term relationship would be anathema to the majority of people, gay or straight. The two of them have, apparently, embraced all the worst aspects of “marriage” along with the good bits. Women in particular have been trying to shrug off these negative elements for years.
If gays are going to go in for marriage (and it seems like a good idea at the moment), surely we can start at an advantage by learning from the mistakes of all those thousands of straight couples who’ve failed in the past.
By the way, the Marriage Guidance Council welcomes gay people to its counselling sessions – and has done for years.
Prime hate figure Jean Rook turned up on the Terry Wogan Show (BBC1) and showed herself to be a prize arsehole. Not only did she talk a lot of snobbish, sexist twaddle, she looked like Tutankhamen’s mother with the bandages off. And this is the woman who has the cheek to criticise other people for being ‘ugly’ and gays for being ‘fanatical’.
Seeing Mrs Rook in the (rather shrivelled) flesh robs her of some of her power to annoy. I’ll never be able to take her Daily Express jibes seriously gain. Yuch! She’s enough to put you off your cocoa.