AIDS is once more big news and we are subjected to the sad spectacle of the newspapers trying to convince us that at last they are taking the matter seriously. Their new-found ‘responsibility’ is quite pathetic to behold. The tabloids put on their poker faces-and then sum up an immensely complex subject in three paragraphs. The problem is that the so-called serious treatment is almost as bad as their previous disgraceful behaviour when Aids was just ‘the gay plague’.
Ben Elton, who has a column in The Daily Mirror had the courage to criticise his own paper (10 Nov) for trying to encapsulate such a complicated thing into a brief question-and-answer format. “I thought it unwise to publish such vague ‘symptoms’” wrote Mr Elton. “Apparently, Aids symptoms include dry throat, diarrhoea and fatigue. I get the same effect from six pints of lager and a few fags. Last week surgeries everywhere must have been crammed with hungover people holding The Mirror and thinking they were going to die. I’m not being flippant. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”
And a little knowledge is still what the papers are giving their readers. And for all their alleged concern The Daily Mail still managed to carry a critical front page lead (Oct 30) about Manchester City Council’s planned response to Aids. The Council had said that they intended to support and help victims of the disease in their employ and do their best to try and stop ill-informed colleagues making life even more miserable for them. The Tory leader of the council Joyce Hill was given the lion’s share of space to say: “It is not fair to ask a family man to work alongside an Aids carrier without even letting him know he could be at risk. The council should get its priorities right, this is not the kind of thing it should be wasting money on.”
Can you believe what you are reading? Are the people who produce The Daily Mail really so heartless, so ignorant and such downright bastards that they think efforts to help sick people are wrong? Yes, I’m afraid they are. For was it not the DAILY MAIL that gave arch-Tory propagandist Paul Johnson a full page (Nov 4) to return to his favourite subject? “Aids: The danger Labour ignores at Britain’s peril” was the headline over an article which was, as you’d expect from Mr Johnson, full of distortions, unconvincing overstatements and back-to-front conclusions. According to Mr Johnson, you can forget about the conspiracy theory that Aids was created in an American laboratory —no, it is the Labour Party who are to blame for the whole Aids situation because they have supported gay people. “During the past five years, while the evidence of the Aids peril has grown, the Labour Party has step-by-step committed itself to policies which place homosexuality on a moral par with normal sex and encourage its expression.” Mr Johnson rants on and on about “homosexual militants”, “pro-homosexual propaganda” and so on. He concludes: “On the issues of Aids and the homosexual connection, Labour is playing politics with human lives. As the public grasps this fact, there could be an awesome political retribution.”
Mr Johnson might well be right. No doubt he will work day and night to make sure his prediction comes true. What he forgets is that he, too, is playing with human lives, but they are only homosexual lives so they can, in his reckoning, be discounted. Paul Johnson is a sad and cynical man. His shocking use of a terrible tragedy to score cheap and easy political points makes me feel sick.
But at least Johnson’s thinking is his own. For now we have that other right-wing columnist Woodrow Wyatt in The NEWS OF THE WORLD saying precisely the same thing. “Some Labour councils encourage Aids with grants to homosexual centres. So do Labour education authorities telling children that homosexuals living together are as stable as married couples. They also encourage children to experiment with sex. This is murder.”
It would be too much for Woodrow Wyatt and Paul Johnson to understand that unless gay people are encouraged to feel secure as members of society and able to get together occasionally for mutual support then they will become unreachable with the vital information about Aids. The reason so many gay relationships are unstable is precisely because of the bigoted attitudes of people like this. Important points such as these cannot be considered by Johnson, Wyatt et al because they are not really engaged in any kind of constructive discussion, they are engaged in propaganda. But by far the biggest tragedy—and there is overwhelming evidence of it happening already — is that Aids will become a party-political issue. Right wing puritans are already jumping on the bandwagon with their irrelevant moralising, carelessly ignoring the enormous human suffering involved. Foremost amongst these is the staggeringly obsessed Dr Adrian Rodgers of Exeter, who pops up with depressing frequency on TV and in the papers with his strident calls for the re-criminalisation of homosexuality and imprisoning of people with Aids.
If the issue is used to score cheap political points I fear that what is now a huge medical problem could turn into a social catastrophe. This is a problem for the whole human race and not one to be used by politicians as a tool to retain power. And not only are our local minor politicians using Aids like this, it is also emerging as an ideological battleground for East and West. The SUNDAY TELEGRAPH (Nov 9) said: “Whilst the rest of the world frantically endeavours to find a cure for the plague of Aids, the KGB is using the disease as a cynical campaign of disinformation against the West”.
My advice to all the Fleet Street “thinkers”, the destructive so-called moralisers and the super power plotters, is to put aside dogmatic stances and face up to Aids as a tragedy for the whole of mankind. This disease doesn’t care whether your politics are red, blue or candy-striped.
Remember Mills, The Star’s so-called “angry voice”? He’s the man who has, since his column started some months ago, managed to contravene every single article of the National Union of Journalists code of ethics. He is racist, homophobic, anti-women—in fact, if you aren’t a white, heterosexual male you are fair game for Mills’ fascist rantings. And he doesn’t hold back. Indeed, the columns are almost unbelievably crude. The fact that a national newspaper sees fit to print such stuff speaks volumes for the rapidly declining state of the British Press.
Now we discover, courtesy of the London listings magazine City Limits (Oct 30), that Mills is, in fact, Ray Mills, the deputy editor of The Star. He is known to his colleagues as “Biffo”. Mr Mills thinks this is an affectionate soubriquet after the cartoon bear but, in fact, it stands for Big Ignorant Fat Fucker from Oldham, according to an ex-member of the Star’s staff quoted in City Limits.
I suggest that Gay Times readers could make life a little more difficult for the obnoxious Mills. I already have a complaint lodged against him with the ethics council of the NUJ and I suggest others make similar complaints, either to the NUJ or the Commission for Racial Equality when appropriate.
And finally, a world to Mills’ colleagues at The Star: your silence in the face of this journalistic abomination is almost as bad as Ray Mills’ own stirring up of racial and sexual hatred. His violent words will soon incite violent action. Are you going to sit by and let innocent people take the brunt of Ray Mills’ abuse of his access to the press?
The plot of Channel Four’s gay film Consenting Adult (Oct 28) was a familiar one. Young son comes out to comfortable middle-class parents and the family goes into crisis. This was a better than average rendition of the theme, given that it was an American TV movie. Tear-jerking performances from Martin Sheen and Marlo Thomas, playing doting parents who can’t accept that their son has apparently changed overnight from the American dream to the American nightmare. There is much soul-searching before mom and pop really believe their son’s assertion that his homosexuality is “true and getting truer all the time”. Indeed, by the end of the story pop has to send the mandatory “I love you son” from beyond the grave in the form of a letter which he couldn’t bring himself to post while he was alive. Mom agonises a bit more before she decides that she might as well get on with it and invites son and lover home to dinner.
Although it was played as a weepy, the film managed to make a very important point which we’ve failed to get over in political debate. It demonstrated that there are two distinct kinds of homosexual: the gay bogeyman created by the newspapers (who appears to spend his wholetime preying on children, spreading diseases and eating up the entire rate precept) and the real flesh and blood person who has all kinds of hopes, and fears and dreams just like everyone.