GAY TIMES January 1990

The wind of change is blowing through the newspaper world — or so they would have us believe. The execrable Wendy Henry has been sacked as editor of the ghastly People and a “five-point code of conduct” has been agreed by the editor of every national newspaper (except The Financial Times). We are told that sceptics will be unconvinced by promises of good behaviour made by the likes of The Sun and The News of the World. Well, I count myself an unreserved sceptic on this one; I don’t believe a word of it. The code of conduct is itself nothing but a cynical front aiming to deflect legislation.

The sanctimonious cant with which the code was announced by some of Fleet Street’s worst offenders was simply nauseating. Brian Hitchen, sinister editor of The Star, declared (28 Nov): “It is a code of honesty and fair play that we have ALWAYS followed, long before its wording was agreed by other Fleet Street editors.” Yet one of the points in the code says: “Irrelevant references to race, colour and religion will be avoided.” Only last year The Press Council upheld a complaint I had made about The Star referring to someone as a “black bastard”. So please, Mr Hitchen, pull the other one.

The News of the World commissioned a MORI poll (3 Dec) to find out “what people think about Britain’s Press”. The questions were all loaded to give the answers that were required. For instance: “Would a newspaper be right or wrong, in the following cases, to breach people’s privacy during their inquiries or in the stories they print? To expose criminal conduct; to expose personal hypocrisy; to expose political extremism; to expose matters of public interest.” Why didn’t they add: “To titillate their readers” or “To persecute people we don’t approve of”?

The News of the World brags that: “This paper has a proud tradition of exposing corruption, humbug and perversion. Our scroll of honour (the five-point code) must not become a hiding place for those behaving illegally or immorally.” And that’s the giveaway. To the self-serving creeps who infest The News of the World the definition of “immoral” can be anything that suits them at the time. In effect they are saying, we’ve signed this code of conduct but we reserve the right to flout it whenever we want.

As far as gay-baiting is concerned, it will be business as usual. Susan Ardill wrote in The Independent (1 Dec): “It is dismaying to learn that the new code of practice … affords no protection to the two groups most routinely abused in their pages — gays and women. Will the misogynist and queer-bashing excesses of the British Press remain fair comment?”

Julie Burchill, however, doesn’t agree with the code at all (Mail on Sunday, 3 Dec): “The homosexual pop star who flaunts a new ‘girlfriend’ every month, or who gets married in a hurricane of publicity is offering his ‘private’ life for public consumption and approval —and then he expects to turn it off like TV when it doesn’t suit him .. In the long run, this code will make the world a safer place for camp crooners — and Members of Parliament, of course.”

What Ms Burchill, and many other apologists for Press gossip-mongering, fail to acknowledge is the sheer cruelty of it all. Not only “camp crooners” get the unwelcome spotlight but ordinary people who do not seek publicity or influence. “Everyone likes to gossip” say the tabloid pack, and that, as far as they are concerned, makes the filthy business of destroying lives OK. There really is no defence, and no amount of pious bleatings from embattled scum-sheets can justify their rottenness. General legislation to curb the evil antics of a small number of newspapers is dangerous, but if it does come the Press will have no-one but themselves to blame. It is no good maundering on about dangerous threats to press freedom now — the public know the difference between what is really in their interest and what is in the interests of newspaper proprietors’ balance-sheets.

I urge every reader of Gay Times to harass newspapers every time they breach this unconvincing Code of Practice.


The Star brought us a report (23 Nov) headed “Cops Quiz gays over death of schoolboy”. It began: “Gays and sex offenders were quizzed last night in the hunt for the brutal killer of a runaway schoolboy.”

At the end of the report we were informed that “a juvenile” had been charged with the crime — one of the murdered boy’s school friends, in fact. So, what was all this about inferring that the gay community were in some way implicated? I’ll let you draw your own conclusions on that one.


We are constantly warned that the Government will fight the next election on a “morality campaign” (the word ‘morality’ in this sense has been given the Tory treatment which makes it mean the precise opposite of what is in the dictionary). Gays will become Mrs Thatcher’s next Falklands factor, and it is over our lives that she will attempt to trample to victory.

In America a similar campaign is underway as right-wing politicians and fundamentalist churches spit venom at our brothers and sisters over the water. Of course, the American God-shouters are the real experts in persuading the gullible and ignorant that what was formerly considered undesirable is now virtuous. Persecution and scapegoating are, in the eyes of the holy-rollers, “good things” because by having an “enemy” to fight, the fundamentalists can feel righteous.

If gays didn’t exist, religionists would have to invent us. As it is, they’ve had to settle for reinventing us — as threatening monsters and exotic aliens. Look at this quote (The Sun, of course, 30 Nov), from “Baptist firebrand” Daniel Jackson, upon hearing about a proposed gay soap opera in California: “The Lord did not want these creatures and we don’t want them in our living rooms at prime viewing times.” ‘These creatures’, boys and girls, are you and me.

The London Evening Standard (29 Nov) told us of “The Preacher waging war on gays”. This story concerns “Louis Sheldon, the latest name to conjure with on the religious Right”. This Sheldon creature is apparently a Presbyterian Minister “a hell-fire and damnation voice who is also a subtle backstairs operator.”

The Standard told us: “His tactics are bold and ruthless. When the city of Santa Ana refused to ban a Gay Pride Festival in a public park, Sheldon published the names of the offending council members and started a campaign to remove them from office.” Apparently gay activists burn him in effigy, spit at him in the streets and picket his home. But, of course, Sheldon has gigantic financial backing from a “multi-millionaire California businessman” which makes him powerful and influential, however dangerous and fanatical he becomes. How come there are no “angels” willing to finance an effective opposition. Are there no gay millionaires?

Sheldon, of course, comes from a long line of religio-political opportunists who have tried to use gays as a rallying point for their mad ideas —beginning with Anita Bryant. “Sheldon’s campaign could grow,” says The Standard almost hopefully, “and if so: gays beware.”


On the day of reckoning Sun editor Kelvin McKenzie is going to have a lot of explaining to do. Not least will be his reckless reassurance to heterosexuals that they are immune to Aids. “Straight Sex Cannot Give You Aids — Official” was the incredible headline on November 17th. This was supported by an editorial reading: “The killer disease Aids can only be caught by homosexuals, bisexuals, junkies and anyone who has received a tainted blood transfusion … the risk of catching Aids if you are heterosexual is ‘statistically invisible’. In other words, impossible. So now we know — anything else is just homosexual propaganda.”

This, of course, was prompted by the ill-informed utterings of Lord Kilbracken (“Editors latch on to any crank who appears to discover discrepancies deep in official statistics” — Observer 10 Dec) who gave The Sun the ammunition it needed.

Lord Kilbracken was roundly condemned by people who knew better than he and, to its credit, The Daily Mirror accepted that straights are not immune (29 November, “Aids the REAL risk — straight sex is a threat.”)

Not so The Sun, which continued on its hare-brained way: “Aids — the hoax of the century” wrote Dr Vernon Coleman (Sun 18 Nov): “Why it paid prudes, gays and business to scare us all.” On December 4th Sun columnist Richard Littlejohn wrote: “After all, it is hardly a disease which threatens the vast majority of the population despite the misleading propaganda being peddled by the gay lobby. If you steer clear of sleeping with woofters and drug-users you should be safe … The Government seems more concerned with a handful of homosexuals than millions of women. Perhaps if more lesbians got cervical cancer, Ministers might consider doing something.”

We know The Sun has nothing but contempt for gays, but to write off the thousands of gay people affected by HIV as “a handful” is a disgusting trivialisation of an enormous tragedy affecting many lives. The Sun and other papers are engaged in wishful thinking if they are trying to turn Aids back into “the gay plague”. Equally irresponsible is the attempt to convince readers that gay lives are valueless. As leading Aids-expert Michael Adler wrote in The Observer (10 Dec): “If reinventing myths and delighting in fantasies is all that happens, then silence is better, so that we can get on, unimpeded with the battle.”

Everyone fervently hopes that there will never be a huge heterosexual incidence of Aids in this country, but no-one knows for sure what will happen — not even The Sun. To wilfully encourage complacency at this stage could well turn out to be monstrous and murderous error. What will Kelvin have to say then?


The Bedside Guardian is an annual anthology of items from that paper’s pages. The introduction to it this year was by Ian McKellen who wrote: “It’s time The Guardian had a regular gay page. And if you don’t know why, then it’s hightime.”

On 18thNovember, The Guardian invited the sadly bewildered Peregrine Worsthorne to review the book: “Ian McKellen urges you to start a regular gay page,” he said in his peculiarly pompous way. “That would be carrying liberal silliness a bridge too far. Gays, and other unpopular minorities, like feudal reactionaries – the one I belong to – don’t need special pages where we appear like protected species in a nature reserve.”

The difference, of course, is that feudal reactionaries occupy every other page of just about every newspaper in the land, and they write on topics of interest to other feudal reactionaries. If gays were given similar access, we wouldn’t complain.

GAY TIMES February 1990

Well, here’s another fine mess they’ve gotten themselves into —the British Establishment, that is. The furore (or “scandal” or “gay sex storm”) over the Scottish Judge, Lord Dervaird, has illustrated once again the ludicrous Catch-22 situation for homosexuals in high public office. This “vicious circle” was defined by The Independent (20 Jan): “Unless illegal activity is involved, homosexuality can be damaging to a career because it opens one to blackmail, and it only opens one to blackmail because it can be damaging to a career.”

One thing the affair has achieved is to get the British press all worked up about homosexuality once more, and a more dispiriting spectacle would be hard to imagine. When the broadsheets get on to gay topics, it reveals the profound ignorance of even the best-educated people on this particular subject.

As you’d expect, the reactionary tabloids responded in a reactionary manner. The Sun (19 Jan) gave space to the doddering Lord Denning (“England’s most senior retired judge and former Master of the Rolls”) to air his opinion: “Why we should ban gay judges”. None of this namby-pamby business about an individual’s talents, skills or suitability for the job. According to Denning: if he’s gay, he’s got to go. “Allegations of homosexuality have been known to ruin the careers of civil servants and of politicians. They could, and should, end the careers of judges unless they are quickly and effectively disproved.”

His Lordship is of the opinion that simply having a homosexual orientation makes it impossible for a man “to be of good character and to uphold the highest standards of conduct”. All this bigotry (for that is all it amounts to) was accompanied by some of the most pathetic and predictable cartoons I’ve seen for a long time (“The poof, the whole poof and nothing but the poof’ -The Sun 19 Jan).

The broadsheets took a more considered look at the issue. Only The Guardian consistently made the point that by discriminating against homosexuals, the Establishment encourages dishonesty in some of its most eminent members. The paper provided us (19 Jan) with a long catalogue of ruined lives because of “the Establishment’s hypocrisy” in clinging to the belief that “homosexuality is still unacceptable in public office”.

The article revealed how Lord Hailsham, when he was Lord Chancellor, only appointed married men as judges in the hope of avoiding this kind of incident. The naivety of such thinking is emphasised by the fact that Lord Dervaird is married with three children.

But where did the “scandal” originate? WF Deedes, writing in The Daily Telegraph (19 Jan) argued that it was all down to the vicious circulation war that is raging in Scotland between The Sun and Daily Record which has “produced a spate of grubby allegations about private misconduct by public figures”. He also had to admit that general prejudice against homosexuals is still rife: “It is partly because a considerable number of people in this country still reject the homosexuals’ claim for social equality that we have this division in our society today.”

He ends by chastising newspapers for taking over where (he thinks) blackmailers left off after the passing of the 1967 Sexual Offences Act: “Always assuming that no breach of the Act was committed in this instance, to whom does most guilt attach: to the judge whose alleged indiscretion led to his downfall, or to the newspaper which took unto itself in fresh guise the task of those who made money out of homosexuals before the Act was passed? I have no difficulty, in the absence of incriminating evidence, in returning my verdict against the newspapers.”

However, the following day the Telegraph was quoting “a friend” of Lord Dervaird speculating that “the police had leaked information about the judge”.

Whatever the source of the revelations, and whatever the truth of the matter, the judge has been hounded from office and homosexuals in general have been pilloried once more. The Guardian (19 Jan) made this plea for tolerance: “it is time we all got used to the boring, everyday fact that there are homosexuals in all walks of life; inevitably and rightly so. They are as good or as bad at their jobs as anybody else … The more they are allowed to live honest lives, the less temptation to clandestine sexual encounters and the less the threat from those who run greedily to the authorities or to the nearest prurient tabloid.”

It took gay people themselves, responding quickly through letters columns, to cut through the cloud of confusion and the unenlightenment of the bewildered Old Boys who run this country: “One judge apparently entered, albeit briefly, a gay disco (whatever next?); another ‘Entertained young homosexuals at a cottage’ — the kind of cottage, I presume, with roses round the door,” wrote Brian Simpson to The Independent (20 Jan). “Why this should upset anyone I cannot imagine. After the recent horrific judgements of Judge Pickles, surely any evidence that judges are human beings is to be welcomed.”

Allan Horsfall wrote (The Guardian 20 Jan): “The surest protection against blackmail that gay judges could adopt is to ‘come out’ … I am certain, however, that this is not what the legal authorities and the Government either want or expect or would accept.”

Finally, we can only look to Judge (“Hang ‘em High”) Pickles for the final word on his profession. He referred to the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Lane as “an ancient dinosaur who is living in the wrong age”. It seems even nutcases can have flashes of insight from time to time.

***

In the wake of their intrusive story that Cher’s daughter is a lesbian, The Sun invited parents of lesbians to tell them their Coming Out stories. They did the same thing with gay men a couple of years ago, and at that time I complained that the resultant stories were all of the I’d-rather-he-were-dead-than-gay variety. True to form the same thing happened with the lesbians: “I tried suicide when my girl said: I’m gay” was the main headline over the first mum’s story. The second mum “kicked her daughter Sarah out of the house” and said: “I could cope easier if she was dead”.

Only two of the mothers seemed to have reacted with somewhat reluctant compassion. The message seems to be: if you’re thinking of coming out to your parents, check whether they read The Sun first. This will give you some idea of the reaction you can expect.

***

Since the introduction of the newspaper “code of practice”, there has been a distinct reduction in the amount of vilification being aimed at gay individuals by the press. Gay vicars have been able to sleep more easily in their lonely (or otherwise) beds. At the same time, however, the circulation figures of tabloid newspapers are plummeting, an event which caused The Sunday Times (14 Jan) to ask: “Have The Sun and The News of the World suffered because readers are punishing them for their alleged sins against decent conduct? Or are they suffering because they are now on their best behaviour and all the spicy scandal we so deplore — yet guiltily enjoy — has been banished?” On the other hand, the amount of nasty and ignorant comment directed at gay people in general seems, if anything, to be increasing.

The scandal-mongering may have been toned down, but the strident general gay-bashing continues without let-up. The death, from an Aids- related illness, of actor Ian Charleson gave the homophobic tabloid crew another opportunity to put the boot into the gay community. Tom Utley, a columnist on The Sunday Express asked (14 Jan): “Why is it that I could find only one newspaper which bothered even to hint at how he had contracted the disease —surely the most valuable lesson of his death? The answer, of course, is that we all know damn well how he caught it, without having to be told. Yet aren’t the Government always telling us that heterosexuals are almost as much at risk as the likes of Ian Charleson?”

There was no shortage of people willing to spit on Ian Charleson’s grave, and slander the gay community at the same time. The Sun’s resident imbecile, Fiona McDonald Hull, opted for the standard Murdoch line that Aids is the first condition in medical history to have a sexual orientation of its own. “If (Ian Charleson’s) death has done nothing else,” she bitched (12 Jan), “surely it must make our gay community face up to the fact that Aids IS a homosexual disease. It is not a heterosexual disease. It becomes a heterosexual disease ONLY when gays or drug addicts become either blood donors or switch sides. It is time the homosexuals and drug addicts cleaned up their act. They, and they alone, are responsible for people dying from Aids.”

Equally thoughtless has been the reaction to the planned showing of the schools’ TV film The Two of Us and the lesbian drama Oranges are Not the Only Fruit. However, one can’t help wondering whether the hysterical response to what are, in terms of explicitness, rather innocuous dramas, is more to do with tabloid hatred of the BBC than anything else. Whether it is Dave Allen swearing or Dennis Potter doing anything, the Beeb-bashing has been at its most strident this month. Let aunty tangle with homosexuality, and — oh, my goodness — the newspaper tyrants go into overdrive.

The fuss over The Two of Us was created by the opportunistic secretary of the Professional Association of Teachers, Peter (born-again) Dawson. The Daily Express rose to his bait and to hear them tell it (1 1 Jan) The Two of Us was little more than pornography. They quoted the obsessively homophobic Mr Dawson as saying: “I believe the BBC is behaving in a manner that is corrupt and dangerous.”

Editorialising about the play in the same issue, The Express wrote: “Isn’t it odd that those who think children should be exposed to homosexuality on screen never seem to think a play about promiscuous homosexuals, some developing Aids because of their chosen way of life, would be suitable?… The fact that the BBC could be party to such a deceit is further condemnation of the Corporation’s fall from the high standards and ideals it once embraced.”

The Daily Mail on the other hand, sent a critic, Geoffrey Levy, to actually preview the play (13 Jan). His reaction to it also followed the party line: “This is a film which says to an uncertain boy that it is not unreasonable for him to see what it is like being a homosexual. The strong message should have been to avoid experimentation, lest it overwhelms… A little more condemnation of the dangers of experimentation and a little more emphasis on the loneliness and torment of many homosexuals would have been welcome.”

Joining the attack on Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, The Sunday Mirror (14 Jan) said it had upset the Elim Pentecostal Church, who felt the BBC had produced “a distortion and obscenity” with this “shocking new TV series about lesbian love”. The Rev Eldin Corsie is quoted as saying: “My congregation were made to look like a gang of Bible-thumping morons.” Perhaps someone ought to tell him that it was an accurate portrayal.

Nigella Lawson, however, came to the defence of “Oranges” in The London Evening Standard (10 Jan): “What this is all about is the anti-gay backlash. If it were a question of comparable heterosexual love scenes, the series could be put out quite happily and no one would be batting an eyelid.”

***

Is homosexuality unnatural? A lot of people would like to think so —including Islamic fundamentalists who, according to an article in The Spectator, don’t eat pork because “it has been proven that the pig is the only homosexual animal.” This, according to David C Taylor, “a veterinary surgeon for over 33 years” is “nonsense”. In a letter published in the following (6 Jan) issue he assured us that “pigs behave in a consistently heterosexual manner. Cattle however, including those eaten by Muslims, exhibit distinct homosexual (lesbian) leanings when one of their number is in oestrus, and homosexuality is extremely common amongst dolphins and baboons. Even the occasional gay gorilla is not unknown.”

So, having failed with the ‘unnatural’ argument, our opponents turn to ‘abnormality’ as a means of insult. A letter in The Church Times (I Dec) from Elizabeth Moberly, who titles herself rather grandly, “Director of Psychosexual Education’ at something called “BCM International” in Pennsylvania writes: “In terms of psychological development, a male homosexual is like a boy still looking for his father’s love. The lesbian is like a girl looking for her mother’s love. This need for same-sex is good and valid, but it is not appropriate to fulfil it sexually.” She suggests that homosexuality can be cancelled out with appropriate counselling from a same-sex counsellor.

Fortunately, this familiar tune of received wisdom was not playing to a totally appreciative audience. Arthur Johnson shot back in the following week’s issue: “… here, yet again, we homosexuals are being patronised by someone with not only a clear view of what is ‘normal’, but also, as it appears to us, a mission to inflict this ‘normality’ on those who do not quite conform to it.”

The Rev Graham Blyth of Westcliff-on-Sea took Ms Moberly to task over her recommendation of counselling as a means of becoming ‘normal’: “Counselling is designed to equip people for challenges they will face in the real world, on a day-to-day basis. It does not provide a space to ‘hide’ in, so that both counsellor and client can avoid the uncomfortable issues on their agenda.”

Meanwhile, Rev Malcolm Johnson of St Botolph’s Church in London revealed that Ms Moberly “is not a trained psychiatrist, sociologist or geneticist, nor has she based her findings on any scientific research.” But surely that is the whole point — people who rely on the supernatural don’t need scientific proof of anything, they can claim whatever they like and say it’s The Word of God.

The theme was given a different variation in The Guardian’s ‘Notes and Queries’ section (28 Dec) in which readers ask perplexing questions that other readers endeavour to answer. In reply to “Why is sex rampant in the living world?” Dr Raymond Goodman of Hope Hospital, Manchester wrote (among other things): “There is increasing evidence that genetic and hormonal interactions in the developing foetus play some part in shaping sexual, cognitive and behavioural patterns in the future adult. Not only can many of the male and female differences in cognition and sexuality be explained by these processes, but aspects of variant sexuality, e.g. homosexuality, have been elucidated. Having individuals with such differences enables a much wider plasticity of thought and behaviour which in evolutionary terms cannot but be beneficial.”

Of course, Christian fundamentalists have an easy answer to this: they simply don’t believe in evolution. So, it’s all back to sin. Couldn’t you just shake them till their teeth drop out?

***

The Sunday Express (24 Dec) suggested that Norman Tebbit sees himself as a possible successor to Margaret Thatcher. “In Norman Tebbit’s book, there is only one man fit and ready to carry the blazing torch of true-blue Toryism into the 1990s and beyond. A man not afraid to voice the fears of the ordinary men and women — about violence, Reds under the bed, crusading homosexuals … and the threatened influx of immigrants from Hong Kong.”

A week earlier in the same paper, The Ghoul himself was writing: “It certainly sounds as though the loonies have taken over … in an era of unmatched sexual permissiveness with a spiralling total of children born out of wedlock, homosexual ‘weddings’, the Aids epidemic, the virtual end of any stigma being attached to almost any sexual behaviour however outlandish …”

Tebbit (or Mr Greedy as he’s known to his friends) says he doesn’t intend to stand for the premiership because he couldn’t manage on a Prime Minister’s £80,000 salary. But then, who would believe a word this fork-tongued reptile utters? He might one day make us believe the incredible —that maybe the Thatcher era wasn’t so bad after all.

***

Ian McKellen was writing about being gay for the London Evening Standard (4 Jan). It seems Ian is still feeling a little guilty about waiting until relatively late in life to abandon his personal closet. “Why did it take so long?” he asks. “Well, there were not many good examples to follow — at least not in my line of business. Even in the USA, where there are lesbian and gay organisations in every other profession, not a single famous actor is ‘out’ in Hollywood or on Broadway. It took Aids to tell us about Rock Hudson. The late Liberace still thinks we don’t know.”

We also have to assume that Ian does not move in Sun-reading circles because, he says: “It took me 50 years to pluck up the final bit of courage. I need not have worried. My family, friends and strangers have been totally supportive. I’m still employable, too.”

GAY TIMES March 1990

Gay rights activists have been trying for years to put homosexuality on the political and social agenda and now their efforts are coming to fruition.

More and more institutions are showing a willingness to confront the issues: The Church of England’s report is only the latest manifestation of religion’s long overdue re-examination of the subject; the Labour Party is facing up to its responsibilities (painful though it is for them) while the Tory Party has decided that it will go in the opposite direction to everyone else and try to put the clock back.

Reporting developments within the Labour party, The Sunday Times (11 Feb), revealed that Tory Party chairman Kenneth Baker, “would seek to exploit” Labour’s courageous moves. The familiar we-must-protect-our-children arguments were trotted out and we can expect them to become a familiar refrain over the next two years. Mrs T herself gave it an airing at Prime Minister’s Question Time (“she told MPs it would alarm parents and damage the Government’s bid to combat the killer virus” — The Sun 16 Feb).

Dutifully, The Sun editorialised: “Labour are in favour of reducing the age of consent for homosexuals to 16. Their leaders may see nothing wrong in gay sex for children in schools. Yet what makes them think that the nation’s parents might not object?” The Sun will make every effort in the coming weeks, no doubt, to feed “the nation’s parents” a lot of misinformation and lies in order to ensure those objections materialise.

The Times (13 Feb) trotted out the “homosexual phase” routine in an editorial: “The sexual development of male adolescents goes through several stages sometimes including, particularly in an all-male environment such as a boarding school, a homosexual stage. But few people would regard that as a satisfactory completion of the process.”

There is not one iota of evidence to support this “homosexual phase” theory, but never mind, if it’s in The Times then it must be true.

However, the Murdoch press was not uniformly condemnatory. Today (12 Feb) said: “It is an issue that deserves to be brought out of the closet and looked at by all political parties … It is argued that older, more experienced men may lure 16 to 21-year old youths into homosexual practices they might otherwise avoid. But it must be doubtful whether such youths are in any more need of protection from adults than girls.” Admitting that it is “an excruciating issue” the paper concludes that it cannot be avoided.

* * *

The leaked Church of England report gave “muscular” Christians another opportunity to spew their tiresome hatred on everyone who gets in their way. The Archbishop of Canterbury got a particularly bad hammering from rentagob MP Harry Greenway who called for the primate to “quit, and I bloody well mean it” (Sunday Times II Feb).

Mr Greenway is one of those foolish men who provide much hilarious material to Commons sketch writers with his frequently idiotic and bizarre pronouncements. However, Greenway is, at least, a Christian (convener of the Conservative Christians in Parliament group, no less) which gives him entitlement to speak on the topic. What qualifications The News of the Screws thinks it has to contribute is not so clear. That doesn’t stop it, though, and on 11 February the paper said that the reason its readers have no interest whatsoever in religion is because the Archbishop of Canterbury will not condemn gays out of hand. “No wonder a Church, which preaches the sanctity of family love, while espousing the spread of homosexuality, is in a mess.”

The Sun followed up (17 Feb) with an editorial saying just about the same thing (adding that choirboys would not be safe from “gay revs”). It, too, concluded that churches were deserted because Anglicans aren’t hard enough on homosexuals.

With such immaculate reasoning it follows that as soon as Dr Robert Runcie is replaced by, perhaps, Rev Tony Higton, Sun/NoW readers will be crowding the pews every Sunday, eager to find Jesus.

And cuckoos will call in the churchyard.

* * *

Quite often Labour local authorities are berated by their opponents for “wasting ratepayers’ money” in supporting gay initiatives. Now Newham Council in East London have rather splendidly demonstrated how supporting gay rights can save ratepayers tens of thousands of pounds.

First of all, the council withdrew £200,000 worth of advertising from the local paper The Newham Recorder after the editor wrote a front-page editorial (18 Jan) drawing attention to the “unfortunate” fact that the council had set up an advisory group to “protect the interests of homosexuals at the same time as they reveal the full horror of their budget for the next year”.

According to Newham council’s spokesman, Brian Harris (quoted in UK Press Gazette, 29 Jan) the gay group cost “next to nothing to set up” and so linking it with the Council’s budget deficit was unfair. The journalists on the Recorder are usually paid a bonus which is dependent on such factors as advertising revenue, so the whole staff are going to lose out because their editor thought that gay-bashing was an easy way to score political points.

And now the Council may withdraw a grant of £25,000 from The Mayflower Community Centre because the Bible-bashers who run it refuse to allow a lesbian group and a Muslim group to meet there; the Trust says that such groups contradict Christian principles. Fair enough, but the Mayflower trustees can’t have it all ways, and for some people Newham’s Equal Opportunities Policy is just as important as religion. If they won’t play by the rules, then they can expect to be disqualified from the game.

Let’s hope other much-abused local authorities will follow Newham’s brave lead.

* * *

On the day that “Two of Us” the BBC schools play about young gays was broadcast (2 Feb), The London Evening Standard carried an article about it by Myles Harris. It was one of the silliest things I’ve seen on the topic of homosexuality for a long time. Mr Harris believes that the BBC is playing fast and loose with young minds “Like Scott Fitzgerald’s rich, the media people can be careless with other people’s lives — and their children.”

Harris trots out the old stuff about children being easily influenced into homosexuality (which he is at pains to reassure us never “physically touched” him). He says that in his school days (and still today) children were anxious to conform and therefore “this terrifying sniffing out of ‘queers’ was a deep social reflex, a type of software package in the brain that switched itself on at puberty … Does nature leave this package in our brains or is it written by what ‘modern’ people consider the crude homophobic prejudices of parents and friends? The BBC thinks it is parents and friends. Tempted by the power of its huge TV transmitters it has decided to re-programme our young away from such uncaring and wicked attitudes.”

He gives a resume of the plot and, in the end, finds it “sinister”. “Homosexuality, I should imagine, must be a nightmare for its adherents. If it is a state of mind that can be unconsciously ‘learned’ then the power of this film is that it will set a large number of children on a road that will cause them much unhappiness.”

The article is overloaded with such daft ramblings. Even though the evidence of heterosexual maladjustment is all around him, the complacent Mr Harris still manages to cling to the myth that heterosexuality provides automatic happiness.

Not all hetties are so insecure, though. A few days later a straight Standard reader wrote: “One can’t help thinking it would have been better for (Myles Harris) if he had joined in with the boys who did things in the playground shed. I did, and most of my friends did. Most of us got married, had children and thought no more about it. … Mr Harris’s idea that young people can be led into homosexuality by a TV programme strikes me as completely ridiculous.”

“The young” themselves also reacted rather differently to Mr Harris. The Standard asked a “panel of fifth formers” at a London school to watch the film and give their verdict. “The pupils, boys and girls, said it was not pornographic, nor did it brainwash them, but they did admit that it possibly weighed the scales too heavily in favour of gays… although they recognised this was part of the drama’s attempt to evoke sympathy for the boys’ dilemma.”

***

The Sunday Telegraph (28 Jan) chided Ian McKellen for having been “hysterical” during the Section 28 campaign. None of the dreadful curbs on the arts that were predicted have come about, says “Mandrake” in his column. “Now that Clause 28 has long been law — with scarcely any ill effect which can be attributed to it — the agitation against it looks even more hysterical than it did at the time.”

This totally disregards the issue of self-censorship in the arts world and the consequent reluctance by local authorities to take risks. Clause 28 may not have been invoked in a court of law, but its effects have been nonetheless insidious; and I wonder how much more power it would have had if no one had drawn attention to its iniquity? How many would-be book burners and censors would have been emboldened had no one uttered a word of condemnation? These issues are too complex for The Sunday Telegraph — or perhaps they’re just too inconvenient.

* * *

Yet another right-wing propagandist, Digby Anderson, wrote (Sunday Times 28 Jan): “Let us start by not believing the homosexuals.” He was referring to the oft-repeated claim that one person in ten is homosexual. He says that “pressure groups and noisy individuals who pronounce about (homosexuals)” distort Kinsey’s findings in order to increase sympathy for themselves (“if lots of people do it, it can’t be abnormal and should be socially accepted.”)

No one knows what proportion of the population is gay, not even Digby Anderson; but whether it is ten per cent, four per cent or one per cent, the argument remains the same —there is no justification for persecution. Mr Anderson appeals to his readers to treat all information and statistics from pressure groups with scepticism.

On that point I wouldn’t disagree, I’m a firm believer that statistics are the lowest form of information. But we shouldn’t overlook the fact that Mr Anderson himself is a prominent spokesman for right-wing political and religious groups. In the circumstances, is there any reason why we should believe anything uttered by an axe grinding reactionary such as himself?

* * *

One of the saddest newspaper articles I’ve seen for a long time appeared in The Plymouth Evening Herald (7 Feb). It concerned court cases resulting from a police trawl of a local cottage.

Fines totalling £3,350 were imposed on 23 men variously charged with “indecency” offences. Their full names and addresses were published in the paper, which also devoted space to the consequences on the lives of some of the individuals concerned. One young man was arrested three months before he was due to marry, another resigned from his job because he couldn’t face the shame. Some of the men were in their seventies.

I hope the police, the court and the newspaper think they’ve done a good job.

***

Just when you thought John Junor had retired to the Maximum Security Rest Home for the Bewildered, up pops his nasty column once again, this time in The Mail on Sunday.

Whenever other journalists are writing about Junor they do so with a kind of deference that is totally undeserved. Why is his column so admired when it is so utterly predictable? He’s supposed to be the hack’s hack, god help them. The Independent on Sunday sent Lynn Barber to interview the old fool and she came up with a wonderfully telling profile of an unremitting bigot (4 Feb).

She asked, quite properly, why he hates homosexuals so much: “‘Filth, Miss Barber. I regard buggery’ — he paused to savour the word — ‘buggery as the putting of the penis into shit.’ “He claimed that “homosexualism” is “virtually unknown in Scotland.”

The revelation by Lynn Barber that she has gay friends whom she invites to her home for dinner apparently sent the old buffoon into a state of near apoplexy (“JJ goggled at me, completely purple, eyes popping”): “I find that idea most . . . unusual. It does not happen in Auchtermuchty.”

In the end, Junor comes over as one hell of a miserable old bastard. His wife has left him, his daughter slags him off publicly, he lives alone and apparently few people care much about him personally. And yet still Lynn Barber manages to say his column has “appalling fascination”. Rather, I suspect, like inspecting your hanky after you’ve blown your nose.

***

Two cheering pieces have appeared over the past month, the first in The Independent (24 Jan), by Janet Daley, who wrote passionately about her inability to “get inside the heads of people who detest homosexuals”. In a ringing riposte to her fellow hacks’ homophobia she says: “I have honestly tried to understand this aversion (and I mean aversion, since the true homophobe manifests not so much disapproval as revulsion) but have never succeeded in getting so much as a glimmering of comprehension.”

And then in The Daily Telegraph (yes, The Daily Telegraph), Brenda Maddox compared the approach to homosexuality on television and radio programmes to that in the press. She concludes that TV viewers seem far less given to censure than newspaper readers, although they are, in the main, the same people. “The love that once dared not speak its name now proclaims itself in soap operas, chat shows and news programmes … In broadcasting, with certain exceptions, the rage seems not to be there.”

After exploring the topic Ms Maddox ends by saying: “I like the new openness and look forward to the new Channel 4 series (Out on Tuesday). Homosexual behaviour, a phenomenon of uncertain cause and no known cure, is not against the law. Statistically speaking, it is about as common a variation of the human condition as red hair or left-handedness and, at its best, a good deal more entertaining.”

GAY TIMES April 1990

The Church of England’s present turmoil over homosexuality may seem irrelevant to most of us but, as someone commented on TV this month: “Until the Church accepts gays there’s little hope of progress in parliament.” Consequently, the Church’s own press is full of homosexuality at the moment.

After publishing its brave editorial in support of the Osborne report (“The next question is the unbanning of homosexuals” — 16 Feb), The Church Times received the predictable drubbing from the Rev Tony Higton: “I am sad to see that The Church Times has become a vehicle for homosexual propaganda,” he says, overlooking the fact that it is also a regular vehicle for his anti-gay diatribes. “I deeply deplore The Church Times’s call for acceptance of homosexual practice, and totally reject, on a factual basis, its arguments.”

Mr Higton claims that “scientific opinion” is on his side, and quotes a Professor Bouchard of Minnesota University as saying, “heredity is the major factor in determining much behaviour” but that “homosexuality was the exception and not genetically determined but a response to environmental pressure.” Mr Higton maintains that this means homosexuals can be educated or even prayed into being heterosexuals.

The Church Times, however, was unrepentant and continued to fall short of Mr Higton’s ideal. In the same issue it published an interview by Betty Saunders with a gay vicar and his boyfriend. It was remarkably sympathetic, and Ms Saunders obviously finds it hard to reconcile the inoffensive vicar (code-named “Martin”) and his lover (“Alan”) with the hell-fire ravings of Tony Higton. The article ends on this note: “Martin is sceptical about any possibility that in the foreseeable future the Church establishment might allow couples like himself and Alan to acknowledge each other openly. In the meanwhile: ‘Our relationship is the basic stability of my emotional life. If, God forbid, there should ever have to be a choice between him and my job, I know which would come first.’ The question hangs in the air. He glances across at this partner. ‘The answer is that he would, of course. Wouldn’t any husband or wife say the same?”

In the following issue the letters columns were once more awash with Higton-bashers: “His style of polemic is so ignorant and arrogant that serious discussion becomes impossible,” wrote the Rev Kenneth Leech, who continued: “Here we are confronted with the phenomenon of the closed mind. Of course, Mr Higton is pleased with the conclusions of Bouchard since they fit with the position he has already adopted. There is no place here for open and adult debate.”

The Rev Roy Akerman wrote: “My guess is that if we drop our defensiveness and prejudice and look at the matter in an open and non-judgmental way, then possibly well into the next century the Church may have an informed and definitive ruling to give.”

Other thoughtful letters also made the case against Higton in measured language, which might lead you to conclude that the debate within the Church was going our way. Not so, according to the other Anglican journal, The Church of England Newspaper, which questioned its readers on their attitudes to homosexuality. This “poll” was reported in The Daily Mail (7 Mar) “More than 19 out of 20 said Christians should not condone homosexuality,” we were told. “And the same number said the Church should not sanction ‘gay weddings’. Nine out of ten believed that practising homosexuals among the clergy should be sacked, according to the survey.”

But looking at the CEN itself (9 Mar) we find that the “poll” was actually an invitation to their readers to respond to a questionnaire. Five per cent of them did (624 people) — and of that number the majority were “drawn from the evangelical wing of the Church of England” and “the largest group of respondents were 60 plus”. So how representative was the “poll” and how much credence can we put on it? Does it give a clear picture of Anglican opinion or is it just another case of zealous fundamentalists tipping the scales in their favour by taking the trouble to respond en massewhilst others with more moderate opinions simply didn’t bother?

The comment most oft repeated by respondents to the survey was “Love the sinner but hate the sin”. But one gay man had come up with his own retort to that: “Love God … hate the Church.”

* * *

As Aids now begins to intrude into the lives of an increasing number of heterosexual women and children, the tabloids have a problem: how are they to elicit sympathy for these “innocent victims” while keeping the hatred of gays intact?

The answer is, of course, to invent two categories of Aids — the kind which affects “mums, dads and children who have contracted the virus through no fault of their own” (as The Sun so offensively put it on 22 Feb) and the other which infects those who have “brought it upon themselves” (homosexuals, drug abusers, prostitutes).

There has been a great flood of such stories recently (“My dark days of despair with Aids” — Daily Express 26 Feb; “Agony of innocent mum” — Sun, 22 Feb; “My husband died of Aids” — Guardian 19 Feb; “Aids babies die unloved, unwanted” — Sunday Times, 4 Mar; “A tormented wife speaks of her man’s gay betrayal” — Sun 2 Mar).

Thus, we now have a rise in the disgusting notion of a two-class system of sympathy which brings further shame on the monsters who encourage such dreadful inhumanity.

* * *

Much as I admire Jimmy Somerville I must take exception to a remark he is purported to have made in an interview with The Guardian (13 Mar): “I don’t see myself as a gay spokesperson, but nobody else seems to be challenging the discrimination against us and saying it is wrong.”

Er, um, I think all those gay men and lesbians working their butts off in the cause of gay rights might wonder what the hell they’ve been doing with their time.

***

In its doomed efforts to make the “community charge” palatable, The Sun invited its readers to ring in with horror stories of profligate local authorities “wasting ratepayers’ money” and so forcing up the poll tax.

There was, it seems, no shortage of “outraged callers” ready to blow the whistle on Southwark council in London who put on a disco for Cypriot lesbians and gays. “An outraged Southwark shopkeeper” is quoted as saying: “The streets are filthy, the drains stink and the gays dance the night away on us. It’s obscene.” There are also tales of Camden council’s “lesbian day centre”, and the Gay Bereavement Project took a nasty drubbing.

But meanwhile The Sunday Telegraph was quoting (4 Mar) Ian Willmore, chairman of Haringey’s finance sub-committee as being “quick to show that, however much Tory councillors may rile against activities, like last June’s lesbian swim-in, the council’s support for such events is primarily moral and only secondarily financial”.

This is a point often missed when charges of “waste” are levelled at spending on the needs of gay people — the actual amounts involved are comparatively tiny. As an angry woman wrote in The Sun’s letters column (5 Mar): “You seem to forget that these (gay) people are ratepayers, too. Why shouldn’t they get some benefit out of what they pay like everyone else?”

***

I like The Sunday Correspondent on several counts, not least because it does not worship at the temple of Maggie. It is also not afraid to include a few pleasingly contrary items. One such was a column by Brian Sewell who (25 Feb) revealed the damage that had been done to him as a child by ill-informed sex education. (“I bargained with God; I told him I would not masturbate after midnight if he would accept eight hours of hard-won purity as enough to pass a state of grace and let me take Communion without feeling sullied and sacrilegious.”)

After an entertaining and utterly sensible gallop through the bizarre British attitudes to sex he says: “Sex education may be much better now, but men of my generation are the men of influence on the Bench, in the Church and in the House of Commons, and their quirky judgments in which sex plays some part compel me to think that many are flawed to the point of hysteria and hypocrisy by sexual attitudes imposed on them when they were boys and never honestly reviewed in the light of adult experience. We adopt moral stances at variance with common sense, history and practice.”

He challenges members of the House of Commons to put their hand on their hearts and swear that they have never looked at pornography, never masturbated or had sexual fantasies that extend beyond the marriage bond. “These private matters they should bear in mind when they lay down the rules for the rest of us.”

Some hope.

***

A poll of students published in the Oxford University newspaper Cherwell (reproduced in The Sunday Correspondent, 4 Mar) revealed that “Only 3 per cent think that homosexuality should be illegal while 48 per cent think it is natural and harmless.” This is only one of many overwhelmingly liberal opinions expressed by the students. Does it give hope for a better society to come after the despatch of La Thatch.

* * *

The man who poses as The Sun’s TV critic, Mr Garry (reds-under-the-bed) Bushell, was boasting (2 Mar) that he had received the following letter from “an avid reader”: “I am a 6ft 4in, 15st labourer. I am also gay and object to reading your constant attacks on “poofs”, “woofters” and “shirtlifters”. I am coming up to London soon and when I get there I will sort you out —you big, beautiful, bearded b******!”

Bushell’s attempt to destroy the career of gay comedian Simon Fanshawe also brought some harsh words from Esther Rantzen (who employs Simon on ‘That’s Life’) She likened criticism of Fanshawe on the basis of his gayness rather than his comedic skills to that of racism. Bushell wrote a sarky riposte (7 Mar): “Esther, who admits she wouldn’t want her son to be queer but doesn’t mind encouraging yours to be, was debating whether TV shirtlifters get a fair showing. Fair? There’s no escaping them … I don’t mind if telly poofs are OUT ON TUESDAY — as long as they’re locked up for the rest of the week!”

Esther wasn’t having that and a couple of days later The Sun was carrying one of its pathetic “Sorry about that, Esther” headlines. “The Sun withdraws Garry’s allegation and is happy to put on record that we did not intend to cause offence to Esther, her family or the charitable work of Child-Line.” No apology was proffered for the offence caused to the millions of gay men and lesbians who are at the centre of Bushell’s abuse. However, our Gazza hasn’t yet reckoned with the wrath of the gay community.

Be warned, Mr Bushell. The poofters are angry.

***

In announcing a record number of complaints against newspapers, The Press Council revealed that of 1,871 complaints they had ‘handled’, only 142 ran through the whole complaints procedure. The rest were withdrawn or just faded away. And this reveals one of the Press Council’s weaknesses (or maybe one of its chief functions): the complaints procedure is so long, drawn-out and convoluted that very few people manage to see it through to the end. After the fifteenth exchange of letters most complainants just give up the ghost, having almost forgotten what they were complaining about in the first place.

The Press Council in this respect acts as a buffer for the newspapers, defusing people’s anger, absorbing their fury and simply wearing down those who have felt outraged enough to make a complaint. You need the stamina of a marathon runner and the writing capacity of Charles Dickens to get to an adjudication.

We should not lose sight of the fact that the Press Council is funded by the newspapers themselves, and like most self-regulating bodies it has to work hard to be credible. The Press Council does not work hard enough.

GAY TIMES May 1990

“It’s just outrageous to suggest this sort of thing,” said Prince Edward in The Daily Mirror (10 Apr). “It’s so unfair to me and my family … The scurrilous rumours are preposterous. They cause hurt not only to me but to my mother, father, brothers and sister.”

What? What? He’s a mass murderer, perhaps? Or he pushes heroin to kiddies? No — the rumours simply suggest he might be gay. “How would you feel if someone said you were gay?” he asks. Well, now you come to mention it, not bad at all. I certainly wouldn’t carry on as though I’d just been accused of torturing the Queen Mum with red hot pokers.

But such is the strange world of the tabloid journalist, who must first create rumours so that he can then report them being denied.

The challenge was — how to make a three-sentence denial into a front page lead and centre-page spread? Easy, pad it out with a lot of gratuitous gay-bashing. The Mirror provided us with an unedifying potted biography of Prince Edward who has, we’re assured, been plagued by rumours about his sexuality right from his early teenage years when he was known as a “Mummy’s boy”. Later in Buckingham Palace (“where homosexuality is a way of life among many royal servants”) it was suggested he was a “closet queen”. His closest friends apparently knew him as “AC/DC — a ditherer unable to make up his mind one way or the other”. At Cambridge he was known, according to The Mirror as “wimp”. At a charity show a journalist is supposed to have said “he behaved like a petulant ballerina with a ladder in her tights”.

Moving on to the Royal Marines (from which he made an ignominious exit) he was “dubbed The Apple Juice Kid” because he wasn’t a big drinker like the other rookies. He made an “even worse gaffe” by joining the “darlings and dear-boys of theatre-land”. He rapidly came to be known —according to the Mirror — as “Mavis”.

And there you have the complete picture of how tabloid journalists perceive gay men. Why bother with original thought when stereotypes are so easily at hand? Credit for the above romp through HRH’s history goes to drivelling ignoramus (or ‘Royal expert’) Harry Arnold. But even he couldn’t outdo John Junor (Mail on Sunday 15 Apr): “My own intense dislike of the grotesquely-named gay movement is not directed at homosexuals who suffer their infirmity in silence but at those who sleazily flaunt it almost as a badge of honour and seek to pervert the innocent young.”

The Sun, furious at being upstaged in its specialty of royalty-baiting, informed us (11 Apr) that Cathy McGowan was rushing to New York to be with her boyfriend Michael Ball, star of “Aspects of Love”. “She is deeply hurt and upset,’” we are told, “Cathy is totally devastated by the rumours. It was a great shock to her.” Ms McGowan’s trauma stems from another newspaper rumour (this time originated by Nigel Dempster) suggesting that Mr Ball and Eddie (as he is now rather familiarly known in headlines) are having a “touching” friendship.

The editor of Burke’s Peerage, Harold Brooks-Baker, says that such innuendo could “destroy the monarchy.” “How many thousands of people now really believe that there is something between Mr Ball and Prince Edward? Are they reading between the lines and saying there is something more than friendship between the two men?”

But the co-editor of Debretts, David Williamson, was much more laid-back about it: “If it was ever revealed that a member of the Royal Family was homosexual, I don’t think it would be a great blow to the monarchy. It is an entirely different age we live in now.”

According to Today (11 Apr) Prince Edward is being cynically used as a PR accessory by his employer, Andrew Lloyd-Webber: “The Prince, kept under the watchful eye of a pushy publicist, was dutifully wheeled around the room at appointed intervals to shake hands and make small-talk with the habitual first night hangers-on,” said the paper. “Edward is paid to assist on the production of the show, not to be paraded around as a rent-a-royal for King Lloyd Webber.”

Of course, something really useful could have come out of this farrago if the suggestions of a letter-writer to The London Evening Standard (1 Apr) had been followed up: “What a pity that Prince Edward is not gay. A Royal with an interest in homosexual causes — rather like Prince Charles campaigns for architecture or his wife for the fashion industry — could only have done some good at a time when there is so much anti-homosexual hysteria around. Practically every minority has a Royal backing it. Why shouldn’t the gays?”

Julie Burchill (Mail on Sunday 15 Apr) saw even more advantages to having a gay Prince: “No more boring Royal marriages,’” she wrote, “No more boring Royal pregnancies … No more boring English films, usually directed by Bryan Forbes, as the year’s Royal Premiere. But instead glorious, glamorous revivals of the bitchy, brilliant films of George Cukor and Bette Davis.”

And it isn’t as though there haven’t been precedents. The London Evening Standard (11 Apr) treated us to a list of historical royal personages who have been rather more upfront than present-day ones: “William Rufus was gay and French, which was worse, and everyone knew about Richard the Lionheart … he and Blondel were the talk of the Middle Ages.” Edward II and Piers Gaveston; James I “possibly our campest king’”. Apparently, there were rumours about William of William and Mary and “there seems little doubt about the Queen’s great uncle Albert, Duke of Clarence … There was a notorious male bordello in Cleveland Street in his day. The police raided it and there, it is said, he was.”

Describing the “Aspects of Love” party at which the whole thing started, Today said: “The problem for the Prince is that first nights are notorious for attracting homosexuals to the glitz and glamour. ‘I don’t think there is one straight man here,’ complained one glamorous New York socialite.” Oh really? What about Prince Edward and Michael Ball?

One thing this whole episode has shown is that the newspapers have not changed one bit. Their “codes of practice’” are nothing but hucksters’ window-dressing, and their behaviour positively screams for legislation.

***

The award for slimy hypocrisy goes, once again, to The People’s crappy columnist John Smith. Under the heading “Ghastly gay propaganda” he was commenting on “radical gays” in America who are threatening to expose famous homosexuals”. “What a thoroughly nasty idea,” he says. “Everyone is entitled to keep their sex life secret. And that secrecy shouldn’t be sacrificed so that gossipy gays can ruin people’s lives for the sake of poofter propaganda.”

I hate to intrude into Mr Smith’s fantasy, but I would rather like to remind him that the paper he works for has made the exposure of homosexuals into an art form. Wasn’t it The People (30 July, 1988) that “exposed’” the gay sex life of Sea Lord Admiral Sir David Empson? And wasn’t it only a year ago that the paper carried on its front page the revelation that Coronation Street actor Roy Barraclough was gay?

Is my memory playing tricks or was it The People who named several gay vicars on the weekend before the General Synod debate on homosexuality?

I expect Mr Smith will be resigning from his job when he finds out what sort of a filthy rag he works for. If it’s propaganda he wants, The People beats the poofters hands down.

***

“My attacks have not been on homosexuals … I make no apology for the language I use. It is the language of Sun readers, and indeed, the majority of British people.’” — Sun TV critic Gary Bushell in a letter to the Press Council, March 1990.

“It must be true what they say about nobody being all bad . . . even STALIN banned poofs’” — Gary Bushell, The Sun, 21 March.

***

“A Labour council and a charity have launched a social club for gay PENSIONERS. Camden Council and Age Concern set up the group for camp codgers at a day centre in North London.’” —Sun, 3 Mar.

“Loony Labour councillors have launched a drive to encourage gays and lesbians to foster and ADOPT children, it was revealed last night.’” — Sun, 28 Mar.

“Southwark Council is pioneering a scheme to make gays and lesbians foster parents . . . As a white hetero, I do rather feel, now, in the minority.’” — Sun, 30 Mar.

“Camden Council have no idea how to cut £4,400,000 from their budget as the Government demands. But Dr Skolar says: ‘For a start they could get rid of the gay and lesbian, ethnic minority and political protest groups’. — Sun, 10 Apr.

“Other donations include … Reading Matters — a group which specialises in providing books for GAYS.’” — Sun, 23 Mar.

Could it be that there is a local Government election in the offing? And could it be that The Sun is getting rather desperate to distract attention from the THATCHER-SMASHING poll tax?

***

The papers have been keen to announce the appointment of their “readers’ representatives’” or ombudsmen. These gents (yes, you’ll be surprised to hear that they’re all men) are supposed to facilitate complaints from readers about breaches of the recent self-imposed code of conduct.

Almost all of them come from within the management of the newspapers concerned. An Independent reader, Kate Tuck, asked (31 Mar): “What confidence can women, those from ethnic minorities, or young people have that this homogenous group of individuals, however eminent in their respective fields, can effectively represent the interests of anyone other than white, middle-aged men?’” She might also have asked what hope is there for gay men and lesbians who are vilified daily in newspapers. A complaint I made to Mr Kenneth Donlan, The Sun’s ombudsman, brought the response that the gay community brings hostility on itself because of the antics of a noisy minority.

The main characteristic of ombudsmen, of course, is their independence from the organisations they monitor and their freedom from any conflict of interest in arriving at decisions. By this definition newspaper ombudsmen are just tawdry frontmen whose purpose is to deflect criticism.

* * *

The Independent reported from America (7 Apr) about the case of Joe Steffan, who was hounded out of the United States Navy because he had confessed to being gay. There was no evidence that he had “committed homosexual acts’” and admitted only to a homosexual orientation. But, according to the official policy, as stated in 1982 by the then Defence Secretary Caspar Weinberger, “homosexuality is not compatible with military service’”.

Like most Americans, Mr Steffan is anxious to protect his rights, and is now about to launch litigation aimed at gaining readmission to the navy.

The Independent’s reporter, Keith Botsford, is generally sympathetic to Mr Steffan’s plight, and the article is very informative about American attitudes to homosexuality. But near the end he suddenly swerves towards the incoherent when describing arguments within the military against homosexuality. “There are two more arguments stated rarely in public but often enough in private,” he says. “The first holds that as homosexuals divide into active and passive (or male and female) roles, to allow them into an all-male society introduces three sexes into a group unswervingly by tradition devoted to one.”

We’ll leave the mind-boggling daftness of that statement and go on to the second which goes: “As any army contains a fair proportion of sadistic individuals, it would be unwise to offer them a supply of potential masochists: particularly in enclosed situations (Joe Steffan was to be a submariner).”

If these are the best “reasons” the navy can come up with it says something about the depth of their ignorance and their desperation to resist change.

But at least in America individuals have the right of appeal when they are treated unjustly by Courts Martial. In Britain, a case was reported (almost gleefully by the tabloids) of an Army Officer who was “dismissed from the service for the ‘sudden impulse’ which made him kiss Sapper Andrew Green on the lips in his car in a dark country lane”. (Daily Mail, 5 Apr). The officer, “a 42-year-old divorced father of two”, had 26 years exemplary service and had earned the Long Service Good Conduct Medal and General Service Medals for time in Northern Ireland and Saudi Arabia. He was “kicked out” of the service charged with “disgraceful conduct”. He stands to lose his £15,000 a year pension.

By anybody’s standards that is cruel and unusual punishment for snatching a kiss. Changes are long-overdue.

* * *

Long before the National Union of Teachers even had their conference there was “controversy” about a plan to debate whether “all pupils should be given sex education in homosexuality” (The Daily Mail, 6 Apr). Immediately the right-wingers are lining up to start the ritual chant: “I think parents would be horrified,” says Nick Seaton, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education. “It sounds more like promotion of homosexuality than acceptance of it.”

Westminster Council’s education “Chairman’”, Marie-Louise Rossi “pledged’”, according to The London Evening Standard (11 Apr), that “even if the conference passed the motion it would not be implemented”, while Mrs Katie Ivens, Governor of Westminster School, said: “It is outrageous that union activists think gay sex is more important than English.” Not to be outdone, a local teacher, Martin Spafford, got even more hot under the collar screeching: “Left-wing pressure groups are indoctrinating our children and hijacking their schooldays for gay sex propaganda.”

All this misrepresentation weeks before the conference even began. Why don’t these Neanderthals listen to what is being proposed before they start shooting their hateful mouths off?

GAY TIMES June 1990

The controversy over “outing” —dragging the rich and famous out of the closet against their will — shows no signs of abating, and it has led to some surprisingly well-informed features about gay politics.

Bryan Appleyard in The Sunday Times (6 May) turned to ex-Tory MP Matthew Parris for his opinion on the state of gay rights in Britain today. Mr Parris responded by repeating his familiar and fatuous arguments such as that Mrs Thatcher is not anti-gay (“She has the attitude of an enlightened, intelligent woman of the 1950s. She thinks it is an illness or misfortune requiring sympathy and help but not legislation.”) Mrs Thatcher has never contradicted a Sunday Times report that she personally was behind Section 28. If she isn’t anti-gay why does she allow her party to make such vicious homophobic propaganda? Is she a hypocrite by any chance?

Mr Parris also thinks that abusive press coverage of gay matters is “helpful”: “The homophobic kind of tabloid story has actually helped the gay cause more than any other phenomenon in the last 20 or 30 years. The worst thing for gays is the kind of courteous way in which the subject used to be treated in the press. There was always some sensitively designed euphemism. But what screaming words like ‘poof’ do is get people used to the idea that “homosexuality is around.”

It’s a disarming argument, but couldn’t the press have simply ditched the euphemisms and used less contemptuous words to describe us? Couldn’t they have allowed us to be real people instead of “poofters”, “woofters”, “lezzies” and “queers”? They had the option to cover gay issues —which seem to fascinate them so much — in a balanced and fair way. Instead they chose to vilify us. Homosexuals have nothing to thank Rupert Murdoch for — unlike Mr Parris, who writes a column for one of his papers.

Parris also repeats his other nonsense about gay rights being hijacked by the “far left”, and suggesting that only the Tories have the real answer. Doesn’t he realise that it is the aggressive loonies of his own party who have turned our lives into a political battleground? Only a minority of gays are seduced by the empty promises of the far left; readership surveys in both Capital Gay and Him have found that large numbers of their readers were enthusiastic Conservatives.

Mr Parris should think long and hard about what he is saying — he is no longer an MP, he can stop making excuses for the Tories.

The Sunday Correspondent (29 Apr) also covered “outing” and quoted this excerpt from a letter sent to Outweek magazine: “I for one am looking forward to the next gay craze: ‘innings’. This is when a famous person is known to be gay or lesbian, but the gay and lesbian community finds them so reprehensible, we deny that they are in any way part of us. These celebrities are such an embarrassment that we rise up as one and thrust them back into their closets.”

Nigella Lawson explored the issue sensibly, too, in the London Evening Standard (9 May). In order for her — and perhaps some of her readers —to understand better what “outing” is all about, she made the analogy of hiding her own Jewishness in times of anti-Semitic persecution. “This would be shameful behaviour, though perhaps there would be many who would understand what I was doing and why I was doing it, even while they condemned me for it. But what if I went further and actually took part in the persecution of the Jews?” This, she asserts, is the kind of thing that gay MPs who supported Section 28 did. All the same, in the end she comes out against “outing”.

But the sport is not only an American phenomenon. Those readers in the East Midlands with eagle eyes might have spotted a tiny item in Out Right, their local gay freesheet, revealing that a certain Tory MP (whose name was named) was “Seen recently in that well-known gay watering hole, Gatsbys … with a companion (get those fishnet tights) … and left clutching their copy of The Pink Paper. Well, there’s a thing: it’s nice to know the boys in blue are in the pink!”

***

Writing in The Spectator (21 Apr & 28 Apr), worn-out Thatcherite Paul Johnson said: “It is now becoming increasingly difficult, for example, to discuss homosexuality or the related problem of Aids, except in terms approved by the homosexual lobby … Although a good deal of pro-homosexual material appears on the duopoly (of television) it is now almost inconceivable that a programme critical of such activities could be broadcast. That is censorship, and all the more objectionable in that it is imposed by the controlling elements in the media, rather than by the law and Parliament.” “Liberal fascism” he calls it, propounded by “homo-yobs”.

I’m afraid the latest Press Council adjudication against the use of the words “poof” and “poofter” (see elsewhere for details) will add fuel to Mr Johnson’s already considerable hysteria. But what he omits to mention is that in the popular press the opposite argument applies — anti-homosexual propaganda is the norm, with balancing opinions few and far between.

It is one of Mr Johnson’s sillier contradictions: he denies that it is possible to criticise homosexuals in print whilst doing so vituperatively.

***

On the front pages of local newspapers in Ealing, West London last month were to be found reports of the brutal murder of gay actor Michael Boothe (“Killers who stalk gays” — Ealing Gazette 4 May). A spokesman for the local Gay Association, Mr Peter Knight, was quoted as being “shocked and angered” and laid part of the blame with the media, MPs and councillors “who don’t think of us as real people.” As if to underline his point, the letters column of the same issue contained a missive from someone called R G Saxena who proclaimed: “I am not afraid to say it: the practice of homosexual acts is filthy, unnatural, sinful and vile.”

The Ealing Guardian (4 May), in the meantime, also featured the murder on the front page. In its letters column local Tories were still screeching about “the promotion of homosexuality in our schools” — an issue which had been laid to rest by the local council a couple of years previously when they dropped their commitment to teaching that homosexuality was an “equally valid” lifestyle. Coincidentally, the Ealing Gay Association also had a letter included asking local Tories to “consider carefully the tenor of their election campaign, who they are fighting and who takes the brunt of their appeals to the public’s baser instincts.”

Through each letterbox in Ealing’s Springfield ward also came the local Conservative’s own newsletter In Touch. This reproduced “loony left” stories from national newspapers, some of them more than four years old, and most of them long-discredited as lies and invention. Naturally the majority of them concerned ratepayers’ money “wasted” on lesbian and gay issues.

The Tories will naturally deny that their hate-mongering contributed anything to the climate which led to the murder of Michael Boothe; the local Jesus-in-jackboots brigade will also say it has nothing to do with them; rentagob MP for Ealing North, Harry Greenway will pooh-pooh such a suggestion, even though his homophobic activities in Parliament are ceaseless.

Mr Knight has a point when he says (Ealing Recorder, 4 May) that such worthies should “hang their heads in shame”. The problem is that they appear to have no shame.

***

THE Calcutt Committee — set up by the Government to look into press abuses of privacy — has now finished its report and seems to have set its face against any new law to protect privacy. Instead the committee will recommend that the Press Council be restructured and reformed —short of giving it statutory powers — perhaps giving it greater independence from the newspaper industry which, at present, finances it. The committee believes that any legislation restraining the press would be seen as interfering with free speech.

It’s a difficult issue and there is no doubt that the press has tried to clean up its act. There is even a rumour circulating that The Daily Star has made a new editorial policy not to include any more anti-gay stories. I don’t know how true this is, but there certainly hasn’t been anything that gays could object to in that paper for a couple of months now.

The newspapers self-imposed “Code of Conduct” sometimes seems precarious, but generally the salaciousness and gay-baiting has calmed down considerably. Is this going to be a permanent development, or are they just waiting until the fuss dies down before they start their tricks again?

***

As an antidote to Garry Bushell’s offensive diatribes posing as TV criticism, his opposite number on The Daily Mirror, Hilary Kingsley, was writing recently about her own attitudes to gays on television.

First of all, establishing her own unblemished straight credentials (“Well, I haven’t started fancying the leaning lesbians on 4’s Out on Tuesday. Yet.”) she objected to the outmoded approach to homosexuals in TV sitcoms. Specifically, she weighed into Don’t Wait Up: “It’s the sort of sitcom that feels as though it was written in 1962 — full of frightful old snobs, young snobs and, last Sunday, two unmarried men at whom we were supposed to hoot because, you know, nudge, nudge, wink, wink. One of them liked knitting. Scream! And dear brain-dead old Angela made it even more side-splitting (I don’t think) wittering on about them ‘finding Miss Right’. They don’t say ‘gay’ on Don’t Wait Up. They just lap up the cheap laughs. Pathetic, in other words.”

She concludes: “Gayness can’t remain just a joke on TV. Arts shows and drama can’t be straight-only zones. I’m not saying Percy Sugden should suddenly Come Out. But in a careful, realistic way, things must change.”

It was Miss Kingsley, by the way, who helped Gorden Kaye to come out with dignity when The Sun was planning to do a number on him. She was also responsible for a charming interview with Michael Cashman. Let’s have more journalists of her calibre, please.

***

The Guardian carried a report by Judy Rumbold of what life is like for gays in South Africa (12 May). And pretty grim reading it made, too. It’s a primitive country torn apart by so much hatred that there seems no end to the injustices. Gays get stick from everyone.

Aids education is next to impossible because on the white side there is a strong Calvinist influence which makes even “heterosexual sex an undesirable notion outside of marriage” while on the black side Aids is regarded as “a white man’s disease” and “because it is invisible in its early stages (few blacks have contracted full-blown Aids yet), they won’t believe it will kill them”. One Aids educator says that in some sections of black South African society it is taboo to talk about sex. “There aren’t any words that are polite in the language for penis, vagina or sperm, so how do you get the message across?”

The famous gay activist Simon Nkoli says: “None will be free till all are free.” But I don’t think he’ll get many takers for that philosophy on either side of the racial divide.

***

I owe an apology to Martin Spafford for reproducing, in last month’s Mediawatch, anti-gay comments which were attributed to him by The London Standard. These comments were related to the NUT’s annual conference. In fact, Mr Spafford was seconder of a motion to the conference calling for the repeal of Section 28 and for better sex education in schools. In other words — he’s on the right side, not the Right side. I’m sorry to have reproduced such an error, and apologise most profusely.

GAY TIMES JULY 1990

The Press Council’s “poof” and “poofter adjudication has reverberated like a ricocheting bullet around the newspaper world. It has opened up a long overdue debate about press treatment of homosexuals and also about the role of the press council itself. [Note: In May 1990 the Press Council, under its new liberal chairman, Louis Blom-Cooper, issued the adjudication we had been pushing for. It said that it was “not within the discretion of an editor to include crude and abusive words to describe an identifiable group.”]

The reactions were predictable. Those who take every opportunity to slander and criticise gays were quick to take this new chance to lay in with the proverbial Doc Martens. “We can no longer describe queers as poofters,” wrote George Gale (Daily Mail, 18 May). “Come to that we probably can’t call them queers either… There is another world, no dissimilar to words like poofs and poofters which well describes members of the Press Council. It begins with a ‘w’ – but I fear to use it for the repercussions.”

Richard Ingrams in The Observer (3 June) had no doubt what was going on. “It is all part of the campaign by militant homosexuals to dictate the vocabulary. On the whole, their campaign has been very successful… It is noticeable how many reports nowadays use the expression homosexual community in the sense of a group of people sharing certain traditions or living in the same locality… But the expression ‘homosexual community’, suggesting a persecuted racial minority, helps lend respectability to the cause.”

This brought a stinging response the following week from Deirdre Blackmore of London SW1 who wrote: “Will I be accused of ‘heterophobia’ if I am disparaging (on moral grounds of Mr Ingrams’s much-advertised heterosexuality? This sort of arrogant, militant, intolerant and boorish behaviour is just what gives heterosexuals a bad name.” And so say all of us.

The papers examined whether or not these words are, as The Sun claims, the language of their readers. There was no doubt in the mind of John Junor, who wrote (Mail on Sunday, 27 May): “The utter idiocy of its solemn decision to ban newspapers from using words… when that is exactly what they are called by 90 per cent of the adult population.” But his view was not shared by Paul Johnson, writing in his usual hysterical fashion in The Spectator (26 May): “’Poof” and ‘poofter’ I have often seen written, but I have never heard them used in speech… My impression is that (manual workers) never refer to homosexuality at all if they can help it. They find it embarrassing, a middle and upper class thing which has nothing to do with them… What they find unacceptable is sheer guesswork. The only reliable judges are readers. If they object they will make their views plain. The rest should keep their middle-class traps shut.”

Mr Johnson, in another of his laughable contradictions, seems to suggest that middle-class opinion is worthless but at the same time promoted it with fanatical zeal.

His point, however,  is supported by Philip Howard in The Times (18 May)who said: “Street slang for homosexuals is no longer poof or poofter, if indeed it ever was… The world would be a better place, no doubt, if we were all more tolerant of those poor sods who are unfortunate enough not to be like us in every respect, from string vest to tattooed arms and shaven heads with six packs of strong Danish brew within easy reach. But since we live in a fallen world, the Press Council makes itself ridiculous by stooping to such matters, and the blessed Sun is seriously out of touch with its natural lingo.”

The Sunday Telegraph (20 May), as you’d expect, also raised the issue of class, only in a different way: “The root of the problem lies in the behaviour of some homosexuals who positively seek to give scandal. It has always been thus. Oscar Wilde would never have been persecuted had he not gone out of his way to goad respectable opinion into outrage. Today’s gay lobby is not content with the legalisation of their perversion. They now demand that heterosexuals accept it as natural and normal.”

So, while Paul Johnson thinks we are an outrage to the working class, The Sunday Telegraph imagines we are an affront to “respectable opinion”. It seems we have no friends at all.

As for what words are “really” preferred, we have to look to the telephone poll conducted by The Sun’s sister paper, The News of the World (20 May). It invited its heterosexual readers and its homosexual readers to ring separate numbers in order to nominate their preferred term. Voters could choose from ‘poofter’, ‘pansy, ‘fairy, ‘queer’, ‘gay’ and ‘homosexual’. The result, published the following week, was that both homosexual and heterosexual readers (presumably the working class) had plumped for ‘gay’, which settles the argument as far as I’m concerned. So, shut your silly trap Paul Johnson.

In The Observer (20 May), Adam Raphael wrote: “The [Press] Council plunged into the morass of what is good taste… The Council’s excuse for overturning its rulings is that public opinion has changed. Sadly, the council is deceiving itself. What has changed is not public opinion, which remains hostile to homosexuality, but the fact that the council has a new distinguished ‘liberal’ lawyer as chairman… It undermines the council’s work in curbing reallyserious abuses.” (My emphasis).

Meanwhile, Private Eye reported that The Sun was considering “doorstepping” Mr Blom-Cooper in an effort to find out whether he himself is gay.

Feeling embattled, as I’m sure he did under the weight of all this criticism, Blom-Cooper wrote a piece in The Observer (27 May) about the future of the Press Council if its adjudications were not respected. “These commentators miss the point of the adjudication. The Press Council has said that a newspaper was fully entitled to express as much hostility as it liked towards homosexuals. It could do so even in intemperate language and with evident intolerance. What was journalistically unethical was deliberately to insult a definable class of people in society. Similarly, black people cannot be described as ‘niggers’, Jews as ‘yids’ or Arabs as ‘wogs’… The Royal Commission on the Press in 1977 said that acceptance and conformity to the rulings of the Press Council is the only alternative to the introduction of a statutory Press Council.”

The Sun’s reaction has predictably been petulant and nasty. It has carried a spate of anti-gay stories and comments that would offend anyone with an ounce of sensitivity, gay or straight. It does the press in general a disservice because a self-serving maverick like The Sun could cause legislation to be enacted that would affect every newspaper, even the responsible ones. So, it is up to other newspapers as well as readers to put pressure on The Sun to stop its disgraceful antics lest they all end up tarred with the same brush.

But has the adjudication been effective or, as Paul Johnson clamed, will The Sun take no notice?

The answer is s far that after an initial bout of vengeance-seeking The Sun has stopped using “poof” and “poofter” as terms of abuse for gays although it has tested one or two alternatives “dyke”, “bender”, “shirtlifter” – subject of another Press Council complaint – “fairy”, “iron hoof”). The ruling covered not only The Sun, of course, but all British newspapers. This message does not seem to have reached The People, whose columnist John Smith wrote (3 Jun) about The Gay Pride Carnival. “The highlight will be a procession. With all those poofs on parade, I’ll bet it’s going to be a real bitch choosing a Carnival Queen.”

By making a complaint about this, I have asked the Press Council to reinforce its adjudication.

***

The Independent has been taking very seriously the increasing violence being suffered by gay people in Britain. It devoted a half page on 14 May to presenting the subject to its readers. Reporter Heather Mills revealed that the police are not taking attacks on gay people seriously enough and that the catalogue of violence and murder is increasing alarmingly.

An editorial in the same issue said: “The persecution of homosexuals is spiritually akin to anti-Semitism. Hitler proved the point by despatching homosexuals as well as Jews and gypsies to his concentration camps. It is intolerable that people should be persecuted for not belonging to the same race as the majority. It is no less excusable that they should be vilified and assaulted because their sexual orientation differs from the norm. A report on our news pages, and a Press Council ruling which breaks new ground, come as a reminder today that in this particular form of aggressive intolerance the British are among the worst offenders.”

The leader then goes on to blame the problem on an inadequate education system which has created an underclass of “resentful youths whose lives seem to have no meaning. Left with only their maleness to believe in, their anger focuses on those who diverge from their own narrow view of the norm.”

This may be part of the problem but it isn’t the whole answer. What about those other gay-bashers, George Gale, Richard Ingrams, John Junor and Peregrine Worsthorne? Hardly the underclass.

Don Milligan agreed with the Independent’s theory in a letter to the editor (16 May) “In have been beaten up twice… The first attack carried out by a group of male university students… The second was the work of two middle-aged men – both of them overwhelmed by the free drink dished out at a gallery opening… the educated are just as likely to sanction discrimination in the workplace and social life as the uneducated.”

The class theory of homophobia doesn’t really hold water. Bigots come from all walks of life. Disaffected youth may actually do the beating up, but their elders are less likely to disapprove if they know their victim was gay.

This certainly seems true of The Sun’s vulgar columnist Richard Littlejohn who wrote in support of that other well-known (and far from under-privileged) group of gay-bashers (21 May): “I am glad police in many areas have decided to target public toilets used by homosexuals as singles bars, despite inevitable allegations of harassment.”

***

The Sunday Mirror seems to be trying to make up for its previous nasty ways. Over the past couple of months, it has carried a series of very pleasant articles about gay celebrities. Michael Cashman was given a double page spread to talk – on his own terms – about his relationship with his boyfriend; Julian Clary was affectionately interviewed during his recent tour and Chris Smith was politely profiled on 27 May. “The brave stand of Labour campaigner Chris Smith,” it is headed and is respectfully written by Peter MacMahon, the paper’s political editor.

I couldn’t say it is a deliberate policy on the part of The Sunday Mirror to try to put right some of the damage they have done in the past, but it’s very welcome and a welcome and refreshing change for a Sunday tabloid. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that it continues that way.

***

Religious news (1) “The Observer has obtained a copy of the secret and highly controversial English draft of the new Universal Catechism of the Catholic Church – understood to be intended as a checklist of what a true Catholic must believe… In particular, it condemns…homosexuality as ‘degrading if it expresses itself in sexual acts.” (Observer 27 May)

Religious news (2) “Homosexual practices were attacked as ‘flagrant sin and abomination’ at the General Assembly of the Free Church of Scotland in Edinburgh yesterday. The Church was called on to condemn rather than condone this ‘moral evil’”, Glasgow Herald.

Religious news (3) Oh forget it. Join the Lesbian and Gay Humanist Association.

***

“Potty gays reckon comic screen legends Laurel and Hardy were lovers – who enjoyed wearing women’s clothes” said The Sun (31 May), referring to an article about the adorable duo in last month’s Gay Times.

Meanwhile, The Daily Mail (1 June) said: “Steel yourself for the revised history scoop to beat them all – Laurel and Hardy, the screen’s epitome of childishly innocent clowning, were homosexuals, secret lovers.”

But now let’s return to the original article by Jonathan Sanders. It opens: “Privately, Stan Laurel was a man with a tenacious commitment to heterosexuality. He married five times, twice to the same woman.” So where did The Mail and The Sun get the idea that anyone was claiming they were gay?

The answer could be, of course, that Laurel and Hardy used their real names for their screen characters. It seems that the tabloids are incapable of making the distinction. The point that Jonathan Sanders was making concerned the regular bed-sharing and drag wearing that occurred in the Laurel and Hardy films. This seems like a perfectly legitimate area of exploration for a film historian – every film that has survived long eno ugh to be become a “classic” is analysed in this way.

The truth is that The Sun and The Mail deliberately distorted the article in the full knowledge that very few of their readers would see the original. In short, they lied.

So what’s new?

GAY TIMES August 1990

So now we have the full recommendations of the Calcutt Committee and, once more, the Press have been given a “final warning” (the third one in as many years), and told to put their house in order before the law does it for them.

There is good news for gays, though, in Calcutt’s tough, 18-point code of practice for the press, which includes “The press should avoid prejudicial or pejorative references, to a person’s race, colour, religion, sex or sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or handicap. It should not publish details of a person’s race, colour, religion, sex or sexual orientation, unless these are directly relevant to the story.”

Since Calcutt was published, the papers have whinged ceaselessly about the threats to free speech and the restrictions the recommendations will put on legitimate investigative journalism. And yes, it is a shame that every newspaper will feel the heavy hand of the proposed Press Complaints Commission, which would replace the existing Press Council. After all, it was basically the behaviour of The Sun and its imitators that brought this all about, so why — ask the broadsheets — do all the papers have to be punished?

In a letter to The Guardian (June 29th), Bob Jones wrote: “By choosing not to deprecate … the clear evidence of gradually declining standards in tabloids such as The Sun and later The Star and other imitations; and by refusing to offer genuine opposition to the gradual take-over of most of the press media by Murdoch and his ilk, you (the responsible papers) have allowed this situation to come to pass. It may be too late now; but this whole Calcutt nonsense could be laid to rest, and British journalism become the richer if all you ‘quality’ papers got together in a determined effort to oppose and get rid once and for all of the worm in the bud … of British journalism.”

The Guardian’s media editor, Georgina Henry, must have taken this on board, because on July 5th she roundly condemned The Sun for openly flouting the Calcutt recommendations: “Was it only two weeks today that the report on privacy and related matters was published to howls of anguish from the press? … Turn to yesterday’s front page of The Sun. A ‘picture exclusive’ of Mandy Smith … taken, the story said, when (Bill) Wyman visited her at … a convalescent home … where she has been recovering from a disease which has caused dramatic weight loss. And it was taken with a telephoto lens.”

This, Georgina Henry says, flies straight in the face of Calcutt who recommended that it should be a criminal offence to “take a photograph… of an individual who is on private property, without his consent, with a view to publication and with the intent that the individual shall be identifiable.” The Sun’s editor, Kelvin MacKenzie, in his typically arrogant manner, had nothing to say.

Calcutt also says that “Making enquiries about the personal lives of individuals without their consent is generally unacceptable. Publishing material about the personal lives of individuals without their consent is not acceptable. An individual’s personal life includes matters of health, home, personal relationships …”

So, how does The News of the World convince anyone that it is taking Calcutt seriously when it publishes a story (June 17th) about comedian Joe Longthorne revealing “Mimic’s astonishing life with his boyfriend”? Where is respect for privacy when the paper talks about “TV star dusts as ‘hubby’ goes to the pub”?

And how does The People square its story (June 24th): “The gay ex-lover of dead MP Allan Roberts has been struck down with Aids” with Calcutt’s recommendation “Newspapers should apply the same principles of accuracy, respect for privacy and non-discrimination to stories about the recently-dead as to stories about the living”?

The tabloids are incapable of self-regulation, and no amount of final warnings is going to change them. So why doesn’t the Government just go ahead and implement Ca1cutt? Richard Toye answered that one in The Guardian (June 24th) when he said: “because it would take away one of the most important weapons in the Tory armoury: a slavish and compliant press willing, and able, to perform dirty tricks and disinform the public.”

* * *

The Plymouth Evening Herald is no friend of gays and has joined with local police to persecute men who have been convicted of “indecency” offences in public places (almost every issue seems to have reports of cottaging convictions, complete with names and addresses).

On July 2nd it reported that a “police spy mission” was on the cards for Clicker Tor toilets on the A38 near Liskeard. This “spy mission” turns out to be another of the police’s sordid operations peeping at people using the toilets through holes in the ceiling. After a crackdown on the same toilets in January, fines totalling £6.050 were imposed on 20 men. The Evening Herald ruined the lives of many of the victims by choosing to print their names and addresses and personal circumstances. A few days later the paper listed the locations of all the toilets that are alleged to be “worst” for indecency. Local queer-bashers now no doubt know exactly where to look for their victims.

But you don’t have to have been cottaging to find the all-seeing eye of the Evening Herald making your life a misery. On July 7th it reported a shoplifting case, in which the judge ordered that the charges be dropped. The man accused of the crime was said to be “an Aids victim”, and, even though he was not convicted, his full name and address were included in the item. I am told by someone who knows him that the man involved in this case lives on a particularly rough housing estate and it is unlikely that the news of his HIV status will be received sympathetically by his neighbours. Why did the paper feel it necessary to identify him? Was it spite or simple thoughtlessness?

The police activities do not find universal approval, though. In The Independent (June 20th), Janet Daley was commenting on the dreadful waste of police resources these cottage trawls involve. Where are the police when women are being raped or harassed, she wanted to know? The answer, she found, was that they were in the toilets at Baker Street tube station, peering under the cubicle doors, trying to apprehend men engaged in “acts of gross indecency”.

“The women of London may rest easier for knowing that while they may risk their lives travelling on the Tube even in broad daylight, the sad men who seek their sexual satisfaction in the Baker Street toilets will not go undetected,” she wrote, and went on: “It is an unchecked epidemic of petty house-breaking and assault that demoralises private individuals, making urban life a miserable and fearful business for the most defenceless sections of the community. Which is why one uniformed constable on a train platform is worth three in plain clothes lying on a lavatory floor.”

***

The social work magazine Community Care carried a couple of articles about rent boys in Glasgow, and their relationship to the spread of Aids in the city (June 28th/July 5th). One of the most fascinating findings of the first report by Terry Philpot concerned the ambiguous nature of the male prostitutes’ customers. “Gay men don’t seek out female prostitutes, but the clients of rent boys aren’t necessarily gay. Jim Black cites the case of a man known to him who is happily and securely married with children, who has no desire for an emotional relationship with another man, but every desire for gay sex. Netta McIver said: ‘If a man wants sex with a woman, he comes to the city centre. If a man wants sex with another man what is that about? Is he bisexual? Married? Is he gay, but not part of the gay scene, so it’s much more covert, undercover and ambivalent?’”

The second report showed that hardly any of the rent boys used condoms for anal sex. And changing their attitudes seems like a mammoth task. As Jim Black, senior social worker at Ruchill Hospital, the west of Scotland’s main Aids centre, puts it, “the whole subject of rent boys is a real ‘hot tattie’ in terms of legal complications, police attitudes and even the boys’ own sexuality.”

Best of luck to the social workers, but when they’re working with a group of people who are often on the run from the law and from deprived, poverty-stricken backgrounds you’d think the police would be able to at least compromise a little bit, taking a back seat for as long as educating these lads takes. But no, it seems, the police have now assumed the mantle of Thatcher’s moral enforcers, so it’s unlikely that they’d let up on their “vigilance” long enough to allow any education project to succeed.

***

The excellent and effective demo by Brighton Action Against Section 28 at Brighton’s very own Nuremburg Rally (otherwise known as the International Congress for the Family) was covered by most of the papers; but was presented as “a security lapse” rather than an attack on the deadbeats who organised this dangerous right-wing rant.

The Observer (July 15th) reported that “Many of the speeches were dire” and that must have included the one by American psychiatrist Professor Melvin Anchell who said (according to The Sunday. Express, July 15th) that school sex education had led to “a national sexual calamity … He said homosexuality was glorified. Pupils were led to believe it was normal practice and teachers frequently brought homosexuals into the classroom to give first-hand experience of gay life …’ Such horrendous teachings not only create perverts out of some students but an over-tolerance of perverts is instilled in their minds. It teaches children the characteristics of pimps and prostitutes.’”

The sheer craziness of these people would be pitiful if they didn’t wield such influence — indeed, many of them occupy positions of high office. We need to watch them very carefully. Our very safety is at risk from these perverters of compassion and humanity.

* * *

Even as hundreds of gays marched through the streets of Ealing, west London, to protest at the murder of gay men in that recently-gone-Conservative borough, local MP and champion parliamentary attention-seeker, Harry Greenway was working assiduously to make life ever more difficult for gays. As well as voting for a ban on artificial insemination for lesbians, he wrote in The Ealing Gazette (June 29th): “Could I remind members of the (recently-dismissed Labour) council that one of their first actions was to demand that all schools —including schools for children as young as five years of age — should teach that homosexuality is as valid a lifestyle as marriage.”

Shocking. Except, of course, they didn’t say that at all. A school governor in the borough, Neal Underwood, took the trouble to look up the policy referred to by Mr Greenway and found that what it actually said was: “In the case of high schools and colleges, developing respect for individuals and their caring relationships (including homosexual relationships) and increasing understanding of sexuality in the context of love, personal relationships and home life with a view of encouraging individual self-respect. This will not apply to first and middle schools.”

So, Mr Greenway’s poor, at-risk five-year olds were, in fact, exempt from the council’s policy. Which leaves us wondering whether the MP is deliberately distorting the facts or whether he is simply ignorant on the issue.

Harry was also there to provide The Star (July 14th) with a quote about Waltham Forest Council’s decision to allow gay men and lesbians to become foster parents. “It’s outrageous,” he blasted, “Children are entitled to be brought up by sexually normal parents. Putting them into homes where they are lesbian or homosexual can lead to undue influence on the child’s sexuality.”

Yet again, Harry the ignoramus flies in the face of the facts —there have been properly controlled studies showing that children brought up in gay households are no more prone to become homosexuals than anyone else.

Councillor Christine Smith, Waltham Forest’s Conservative social services spokesman (sic), was quoted in the London Evening Standard (July 13th) saying: “The committee’s decision is horrifying and disgusting … (it) means that homosexuals will be welcomed when foster parents are selected. Yet the Local Government Act lays down that local authorities must not promote homosexuality.”

A Government circular regarding Section 28 of the Local Government Act actually says: “Local authorities will not be prevented by this section from offering the full range of their services to homosexuals on the same basis as to all their inhabitants.”

Does Mrs Smith know what she’s talking about or is she simply, like Greenway, pig-ignorant?

***

Most of the Sunday papers carried the picture of Martina embracing Judy after the champ’s record-breaking Wimbledon victory.

Naturally the creeps and weirdos who produce The Sun couldn’t abide it and it only took them a few days to uncover the “knocking copy” they were looking for. It seems Margaret Court, an ex-Wimbledon champion and now a bizarre, Bible-bashing born-again “mum-of-four”, made some off-the-cuff comments on a tiny radio station in Perth, Australia. These became a gigantic front-page headline for The Sun (July 12th): “Martina ‘Turns Girls into Gays’” it screamed. Mrs Court is reported as saying: “Martina’s a great player, but I’d like somebody at the top who the younger players could look up to. It’s very sad for children to be exposed to homosexuality.”

So how does Martina perform this alchemy of turning “girls into gays”? Who exactly did she seduce? You have to turn inside the paper to find that “Mrs Court did not suggest that Martina had ever acted improperly towards young tennis girls.” So, what about this headline, then? “Mrs Court … admitted that she ADMIRED Martina for being so open about her sexual preferences. She said she believed the player had no alternative because ‘it would have been impossible for her to cover it up.’”

It seems that the promised “huge scandal” was nothing more than the meanderings of a has-been who has now retired into the deluded world of fundaMENTAList religion. When will The Sun carry the headline: “Evangelism turns ordinary people into morons”? Or “The Sun turns fact into fiction”? Not in the super, soaraway future, one suspects.

GAY TIMES September 1990

The police interviewed a man in prison who had been convicted of sexually abusing children. He told them that the bodies of several murdered boys had been buried in a car park. The police immediately dug the car park up, but found only a few animal bones. The same man then told the police that there were in circulation “snuff’ videos, showing children being sexually molested and then murdered on camera. The police issued this story to the press, who gobbled it up and spewed it out as the great paedophile scandal (“Snuff Video Fear for 20 Kids” — Star, 28 Jul).

It allowed the nation’s collective guilt about its generally appalling record of child abuse to be focused on a small number of pathetic inadequates who cannot make relationships with adults and so turn to children for gratification.

Hysteria mounted as “satanic sacrifices” and “black magic rituals” were paraded for the edification of a prurient public (“Sara’s Rape Hell in Satan’s Coven” — News of the World, 5 Aug). The outrage was genuine, but there was also a disturbing emphasis on the details of the supposed crimes. The paedophiles’ fantasies were being elaborated and almost drooled over by the tabloids.

Who were these stories supposed to be for? And what was their purpose? After all, there was not one iota of evidence that any of it was true. Nobody who could be trusted had ever seen any of these supposed “snuff’ videos, no bodies of children had been found, no corroborated evidence of “black magic” or “satanistic” rituals could be produced. And yet day after day the frenzy continued. A correspondent to The Independent (10 Aug) said: “Well publicised allegations… can easily lead to copycat fantasies by severely disturbed people. In the US there was a spate of similar allegations after the publication of the book Michelle Remembers where there had been none before.”

This was supported by an investigation in The Independent on Sunday (12 Aug) which concluded “There have been police investigations across the United States, in Canada, the Netherlands and now in Britain. They have produced no evidence. No bodies, no bones, no covens, no underground tunnels, no animal carcasses, no blood stains. Nothing.”

It seems that mass hysteria was at work and the papers were happy to fuel it. But how many “carbon copy” crimes will follow? Must newspapers themselves shoulder some of the blame if crazy people try to copy the obscene fantasies in real life?

If you are fond of conspiracy theories, there were plenty about. Simon Harris in The Pink Paper (11 Aug) thought the increasingly wild “paedophile” stories might be a plot by the police to distract attention from and discredit successful campaigns being waged against them by OutRage and other gay groups. If that doesn’t grab your fancy, what about this from Frederic Lamond in The Independent (10 Aug): “There is considerable evidence of an orchestrated and well-funded campaign to use these allegations of Satanic child abuse to create a climate of prejudice against anyone interested in any branch of the occult or alternative religion.”

Then, inevitably, comes the blurring of the lines between paedophilia and homosexuality. (“Gay sex pervert gets school job” — Sunday Mirror, 5 Aug). There has always been a suspicion in the popular mind that gay men can’t be trusted with youngsters. It could not have been more clearly stated than in this letter to the editor of The Ealing Gazette (21 July): “A recent radio chat-show brought in an expert who succinctly defined paedophilia as ‘an inborn sexual orientation’. This seems to class homosexuals and paedophiles together.”

Whenever there is a sexual motive for the murder of a boy by a man, reference is almost always made to his sexuality (remember The Sun’s disgusting editorial trying to blame the whole gay community for the murder of 14-year-old Stuart Gough?) But if a man murders a young girl (a very much more frequent occurrence) the sexuality of the offender is never mentioned.

Why is the reaction so much more hysterical when the victim is a boy? Indeed, The Star included pictures of eight murdered or missing children in its 28 July issue — all of them boys. What about the hundreds of missing girls? Is it because — as feminists would say —girls are seen as dispensable in our society? Or is it because straight men know that they have it within them to abuse — a fact that they are unwilling to face? Let’s not forget that the sexy schoolgirl is still a popular image in straight soft porn.

The Star’s insistence that boys were murdered in “homosexual orgies” is, I suppose, technically correct. But what about the case of lorry driver Reginald Harris (Guardian, 9 Aug) who seduced two young sisters aged 14 and 15? Did anybody refer to him as a “straight child abuser”?

The News of the World went too far in suggesting that Gay Times is “the paedophiles Bible” (5 Aug), because an innocently worded advertisement in the classifieds had led them to a man dealing in pornographic videos. Gay Times makes it clear in each edition that it does not carry advertising for unclassified videos, and nor did it on that occasion.

On page 39 of the same issue of The News of the World appeared an advertisement reading: “28 Adult Sex Video Films only 42p Each — these titles are for uninhibited broad-minded adults only — guaranteed to wet (sic) the strongest palate.”

We must be careful that the great paedophile outrage does not land on our doorstep. There are far more straight molesters than gay, yet the mud is sticking to you and me.

And even lesbians are child abusers. Or so you’d imagine if you read a headline in The Sun (11 Aug): “Boys Lose Home As Mum Runs Away with Lesbian”. These innocent, helpless little kiddies are aged — wait for it — 18 and 16 (a fact you don’t discover until halfway through the article). “Poor little Gary” is old enough to marry, vote, go to war, get a mortgage, stand for Parliament. How old do you have to be before you’re regarded as an adult? That seems to be at the discretion — and convenience — of those masters of twisted fact, Sun sub-editors.

***

I didn’t think the editor of The Star, Brian Hitchen, could still shock me. After all, he has, in his time, been responsible for printing some of the most disgusting copy ever to appear in Britain’s national press. But he really scraped the bottom of the barrel on 31 July, when writing about Princess Diana’s concern for those people living with Aids. “Whoever plans her schedules should cut out the endless handshaking with unstable dope addicts and the time spent listening to tales of woe from homosexuals whose promiscuity has made them HIV positive. There is nothing exotic about sticking hypodermic needles in yourself, and there’s no romance in buggery.”

He then re-stated the abhorrent two-tier system of sympathy: “I feel, desperately, achingly, angrily sorry for haemophiliacs — many of them children who have contracted Aids through transfusions of infected blood. Of course Princess Diana should continue to visit and comfort them. But as to the rest of them — forget it!”

He tells us that homosexuals need not complain that he is heartless. He assures us he isn’t.

Like so many others floating about in the cesspit of journalism, Brian Hitchen is not only heartless, he is a true misanthrope —incapable of sympathy or compassion for anyone or anything outside his own narrow experience. His opinions are an affront to civilised thought.

If you are a Star reader, just remember what your daily 22p goes to support.

***

Roger Screwball (sorry, that should be Roger Scruton) is another homophobic nuisance who recently got as good as he gives. In a review of Professor Scrotum’s latest book of essays “The Philosopher on Dover Beach” (Independent, 4 Aug), Tom Honderich called the bluff of Mrs Thatcher’s favourite philosopher. “It would be agreeable to be light-hearted about this wretched stuff,” writes Mr Honderich, “… The dark fact of the matter, however, is that the new doctrine of Dover Beach is akin to the old ideology of the authoritarian right, which thing in turn is neither to be confused with Fascism nor disconnected from it.”

Scruton’s well-known detestation of homosexuals gets an airing in the book, and a drubbing from the reviewer: “Consider a smaller matter, homosexuality, which is said to be an issue of the first importance at the present time. It is one thing to oppose proselytising homosexuals in the schools. It is another thing to speak of love-making between members of the same sex as an animal performance which somehow degrades the sacrament of heterosexual sex, and is such that we must instil in our children a revulsion for homosexuals.”

I wonder if the publishers of Scruton’s rantings are going to include quotes from this review on the cover of any paperback edition they are silly enough to contemplate. I hope so, for it might read: “The general level of argument is dragged low by passion and the desire for attention”; “a shuffle of tedious literary metaphors”; “inane”; “this brazen piece of self-advertising nonsense”. Well, Carcanet Publishers, what do you think?

***

The right-wing propaganda sheets which pose as newspapers were quick to claim the Rt Rev George Carey, next Archbishop of Cant, as one of their own. Attempting to set the agenda for him, The Sunday Express (29 Jul) wrote: “he promises to act against vicars who practise homosexuality. He condemns sex outside marriage. And he spells out precisely where he stands on abortion.”

The Sun (30 Jul) said: “For a start, he has ranged himself against the ordination of practising homosexuals. This is entirely in line with the needs and wishes of the people. If gay men and women want to take orders, they should start their own church.”

Meanwhile George Gale (Daily Mail, 27 Jul), conveniently forgetting his own self-confessed atheism, wrote: “It is going to take a bit of getting used to having an archbishop who actually believes in traditional Christianity, its faith and its morals.” This is more than can be said for Mr Gale himself!

As if to confirm all this apparent hostility The Independent (28 Jul) headlined: “Carey sets out tough line on homosexuality”.

However, The Guardian (30 Jul) told us that Dr Carey denied that he “intended to ban practising homosexuals” and quoted him as saying: “You can’t give blanket judgements. The proper way for an archbishop or bishop is not to pontificate from on high, but to get close to people and talk about it.”

In The Church Times (3 Aug), Rev Philip Crowe, Principal of Salisbury and Wells Theological College and “a friend of long-standing” was quoted as saying: “There is no question of witch hunts. I know for a fact that he isn’t against homosexuals, and much of the information being circulated is inaccurate.”

In a letter to The Independent (30 Jul), Richard Kirker of the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement said: “Dr Carey has a lot of damage to undo already. I wish he had started off on a more conciliatory note. He could start by apologising and looking at the facts.”

Don’t be too hard on the Archbishop-to-be. I’m sure he’s learned a salutary lesson from his first brush with the press — if he doesn’t watch it, they’ll be running the whole shebang for him. Nice and gently — something on the lines of Saddam’s Iraq.

***

According to The Plymouth Evening Herald (27 Jul) a “West Country clergyman” by the name of Father Bryan Storey, said that the gay community was a “Mafia-style bullying fraternity” and that “There will be blood on the streets of the South West eventually as people are fed up with the pernicious and nauseating nonsense that the gay community shove down our throats daily.”

Fr Storey is Catholic leader of the Tintagel-based “International Crusade for Moral Reform” (Jesus-in-Jackboots Division, presumably).

Like so many of these ultra-right groups that pervert the true meaning of religion for political ends, their organisation loves to rant and rave hysterically. Far from trying to silence them, however, we should encourage them to continue with their public utterances. Any reasonable person listening to the crazy comments of the likes of Storey would soon realise that it isn’t gays who will cause the blood to flow in the streets, but the Church of Our Father the Loony of Tintagel.

***

Last February, Sir John Junor unwisely gave an interview to The Independent on Sunday, which was headlined “There are no gays in Auchtermuchty.” He must rue the day he ever agreed to it, because it has haunted him ever since. Latest appearance of the spectre is in Punch (10 Aug). Writer Mike Conway (“a wee man from Kirkcudbrightshire”) made the pilgrimage to Auchtermuchty to find out — among other things — whether Junor’s contention that there are no gays there is true.

“‘Of course there are’, said the librarian (Caroline John), ‘I wrote to The Independent on Sunday complaining about that headline’ said the incomer (Caroline Fladmark), ‘I’ve just been speaking to a gay man. He lives down the road with his boyfriend,’ said the 67-year-old housewife. ‘Oh, he’s popular. He sometimes jokingly shouts Hello gorgeous on the street’, said the policeman. I was forced down the road to meet him. And very charming he was too.”

So, we know Sir John’s opinion of Auchtermuchty as some idealised, racially pure, homo-free Thatcherite paradise, but what do the residents think of Sir John? “Well, he can be funny and he gives the town some publicity,” said the librarian, “but… well… he’s a ghastly old bigot and I think he’s getting worse.”

GAY TIMES October 1990

Given the hysteria that Aids continues to engender in our society, I’m surprised that it has taken so long for the papers to get around to the Terrence Higgins Trust. There have been hostile noises in the past, of course, but these have come mainly from predictable sources such as The Sun, and could be dismissed on that basis. However, when The Independent decides to do a job on the THT, we have to take it a little more seriously.

The paper gave a whole page over to Oliver Gillie (31 Aug) to write about the “Aids trust undermined by internal strife”. The gist of the piece was that THT is basically a gay organisation which does not give adequate attention to non-gays affected by HIV. It suggested that inefficient financial control and poor management led to a “haemorrhage of staff’. Allegations were also made that fundraising has been cocked up to the extent that some of the events actually left the organising bodies insolvent.

I don’t want to suggest that just because the Terrence Higgins Trust is possibly the most effective Aids organisation in the country that it is beyond criticism; it has certainly had a turbulent history. But The Independent report did seem to depend almost entirely on the testimony of disaffected ex-staff members. And again, no-one doubts that mistakes have been made: how could they be avoided in an organisation challenging a disease that has been stigmatised in a way that no other has since leprosy blighted the Middle Ages?

There is no model for the THT, it is the first in its field and nobody really knows how it is supposed to develop. Unlike other charities, it elicits hostility rather than goodwill from Joe Public. With the crisis still developing, we can only guess about what lies ahead. Nobody knows for sure whether society’s attitudes to Aids will improve or deteriorate. And how much death and prejudice can workers take before they burn out?

The one-sided nature of the article can be illustrated by the case of the fund-raising effort for “Romanian Aids babies”. Apparently, the appeal was wound up while it was still pulling in money, the accusation being that it was “distracting attention from gay men with Aids” — which critics say is the Trust’s only real concern.

But as a subsequent correspondent, who had worked on the THT switchboard, pointed out (3 Sep): “In my view the (babies) appeal was too hastily launched: bearing ln mind the trust’s existing workload, the Romanian crisis should have been handled by a separate agency specifically devoted to the task. One abiding memory is that of the offensive way in which many telephone callers demanded assurance that their donations would not, in any circumstances, go to benefit ‘homosexuals and drug users’, who, as I was told, were wholly undeserving of sympathy, having brought their misfortune upon themselves.”

The Independent has gained a reputation for taking gay issues seriously and of covering Aids responsibly. But there seems to be a contradiction — the intention may be worthy but the result is often ill-informed and shallow. The half-baked attack on The Terrence Higgins Trust (which will provide ammunition for those who want to make life even more difficult for those working in the Aids arena) was only one example.

When OutRage organised its “kiss-in”, The Independent sent a reporter and a photographer to cover it. Nothing wrong with the news story or photo but on the same day the paper carried an editorial which began “Attempts by homosexuals to raise public awareness of the various forms of discrimination from which they believe they suffer tend to be counter-productive. Activism in any field is often one step from militancy and militant homosexuals are not generally a good advertisement for their Cause. Last night’s gay ‘kiss-in’ … is unlikely to increase public support.”

The editorial then said that “homosexuals have a good cause” and that the law, the police and other gay-bashers are behaving in a manner more befitting “Nazi Germany and Stalinist Eastern Europe”.

So, given that we’re being persecuted, isn’t protest justified? Don’t we, in such circumstances, have a right — or even a duty — to draw society’s attention to these flagrant breaches of human rights? “Unless homosexuals wish to alienate the public”, says The Independent, “they should conduct themselves with restraint.”

For all its sympathetic tone, this editorial isn’t a million miles away from John Junor’s accusation that ‘out’ gay people are “flaunting” their sexuality. The old we’ve-got-nothing-against-you-but-we-wish-you’d-keep-quiet argument sits uneasily with The Independent’s liberal pretensions.

On the subject of the “kiss-in”, The Guardian’s photo of the event was used in connection with an article about Aids and insurance. Under the photograph of the two men kissing was the crassly insensitive and offensive caption “The Kiss of Death?” Somebody at The Guardian wants their arse kicking for that one.

Deliberate offence was attempted by George Gale who wrote (Daily Mail 7 Sep): “Men kissed the men, women kissed women. Had it been the other way round the scene would have been gruesome.”

Unfortunately, the intended insult got lost as no-one seems to know what the silly old fart is banging on about. He’s advertised as “The man who cuts right through the nonsense”, but on this showing he should be renamed “The man who writes gibberish”.

***

There is a ‘minority group’ whose opinions are little heard in Britain’s media. I refer to the yobbos (aka hooligans, thugs, lager louts, and skinheads).

But now, at last, these pathetic amateur fascists have a voice in the press. The one among them who can write in joined up letters has got a job on the boot boys’ favourite paper — yes, The Sun. His name, as you know, is Garry Bushell.

I once swore that this sad little man would never sully this column again, but Our Gazza (as he prefers to be known to his ‘mates’ down the Dog and Bigot) is having his shortcomings paraded even more frequently by The Sun, who have now given him a weekly “soapbox” column.

Whereas in his “TV column” he repeatedly propounds the notion that foreigners are disgusting, homos are disgusting, sex is disgusting and the whole bleeding world beyond Wapping is disgusting (except for Sky television which, apparently, is wonderful). In his Saturday column he says exactly the same things. As Gazza himself might say: he repeats himself more often than a BBC programme planner eating chicken biryani.

To be blunt, Gazza has gone off. He’s told his one joke (see previous sentence) so many times that it is now stale beyond belief. He doesn’t infuriate or amuse any more, he just induces yawns. On 8 September, though, gobshite Garry betrayed his mates by suggesting — amongst the usual racism and homophobia — that Britain should tell the United Nations (a bunch of loony lefties, of course) where to get off and bomb Iraq off the face of the earth. He hoped, as he sat behind his comfortable desk at Fortress Wapping, that not many of “our boys” would be killed.

I suggest “our boys” invite their hero out to the front and let him see how it feels to have nerve gas dropped on him. Then instead of Bushell On The Box we’d have Bushell In The Box — truly a cause for flag-waving.

***

The Independent (4 Sep) brought us news of the kind of equal opportunities we can well live without. Just when you thought McCarthyism was a thing of the past, the Commander of the United States Atlantic fleet, Vice-Admiral Joseph Donnell, announces that he wants to “counteract the impression that officers were more scrupulous in enforcing the exclusion of gay men than gay women.” And so he has ordered that his enforcers root out lesbians from the service. He admits that lesbian sailors are “hard working, career-oriented, willing to put in long hours on the job, and among the command’s top performers”. But they still have to go.

Is this man sane? Or is he a fifth columnist whose so to rob the US Navy of its best personnel? Maybe the wrong people are being rooted out in this instance.

***

In The Sunday Times of 2 September, Digby Anderson was propounding the idea that people who “inflict ill-health on themselves” should receive “lower priority” for health care. They should “go to the back of the queue or perhaps pay extra contributions”.

As well as people who give themselves heart attacks through ‘overindulgence’, and those who pursue risky sporting activities, the main burden falls — you’ve guessed it — on those who have Aids, because they “elected to be promiscuous”.

Anderson says that “the moral dimension added by patients with behaviour-related conditions who are to take up beds needed by the more conventionally sick can only make the frustration (of those awaiting treatment) more acrimonious”.

Digby Anderson likes to present himself as a moralist. However, his ethical code would be more suited to a snake pit than a country that claims to be compassionate. (With apologies to snakes of all persuasions).

***

The Daily Telegraph (4 Sep) told us of the quandary facing members of the Manx Parliament who have been ordered to fall in line with a ruling of the European Court of Human Rights, which outlaws the outlawing of consensual homosexual acts. The Isle of Man is now one of the few places in Europe where homosexuality is completely illegal.

The dilemma arises from the fact that members of the House of Keys (as the Manx parliament is called) don’t want to repeal the cruel law. But if they don’t, Westminster will do it for them, thereby causing the forfeiture of “the right of the island’s 1,000-year-old parliament to govern its internal affairs.”

A five-man select committee investigating the matter has been gathering evidence. They went, for some reason, to Exeter and then to Jersey and Guernsey where the law was recently changed. They also went to Soho and interviewed Metropolitan police vice squad officers.

Is consultation with bigots and ignoramuses really the way to get a balanced picture of what gay life is like in our semi-civilised country? Why didn’t they consult the people the law actually affects? I suppose they thought gay opinions would be ‘unbalanced’ whilst, of course, the vice squad would be totally unbiased.

I have to ask: what is it that attracts nincompoops to politics? It takes a special kind of insensitivity to overlook the victims of a crime (and gay people in the IoM are, according to the European Court, the victims of an illegal act). Nevertheless, in its smugness, the House of Keys wants to keep its wretched, persecutory law. It may turn out to be its undoing. And not a minute too soon.

***

The front page of the Torquay Herald Express (14 Aug) had two major stories. The top one concerned 7-year-old Gemma Lawrence, who was kidnapped from a caravan park in Dorset. Underneath that, in even larger headlines, was “Child sex pest purge”, over a story concerning the police targeting of cottages in Torbay. “Police today launched a major crackdown on perverts preying on children in South Devon’s public toilets”, the story began. “For the first time warning signs have been erected outside toilets after a flood of complaints from parents and other members of the public.” No positive instances of child abuse around the cottages were cited as proof of this alleged “preying on children”.

That didn’t matter, the connection had been made in the reader’s mind between homosexuals and child molesters. According, to this nasty little rag homosexuals are invariably paedophiles. Whatever you might think of trolling in toilets, these are pretty slanderous conclusions to jump to. The supposed connection between men cruising cottages and child abuse is made repeatedly in the article, but without supporting evidence: “South Devon police commander Chief Supt Colin Moore admitted the increasing number of sex assaults on children is worrying him. And the crackdown comes as South Devon holiday camps review security after Gemma Lawrence was snatched from a caravan.”

Mr Moore is quoted as saying he cannot understand why homosexuals used public places for their “sickening habits” when private clubs and bars were available. He emphasised: “Expect no sympathy! You have been warned.”

Oh, don’t worry Chief Inspector, we know we can expect no sympathy from you or any of your hypocritical, flatfooted colleagues.

***

The Pope continues on his murderous way, this time on a tour of four African countries which are being inexorably destroyed by Aids. While in the Tanzanian capital of Dar-es-Salaam he said (Daily Telegraph 4 Sep) that the best way to defeat the disease was “marital fidelity and a resurgence of family values”. Condoms, he claimed, would “only encourage the very patterns of behaviour which have greatly contributed to the expansion of the disease.”

Western Tanzania, says Catherine Bond, the Telegraph’s East Africa Correspondent, “has an Aids epidemic to the extent that some rural areas have become depopulated and doctors in the tiny ex-Belgian colonies of Rwanda and Burundi say the adult HIV infection rate is about 30 per cent”

But still the Pope sticks to the unforgivable line, and some are suggesting that his inflexibility indicates that he is trying to elevate his teachings to the realms of the infallible.

This is all despite the fact the “love faithfully” idea is “totally impractical for the vast numbers of unmarried men and women in societies where polygamy is traditionally acceptable and men take mistresses after marriage as a matter of course.”

As the young people of Africa drop like flies, the Pope will fly back to his palace in Rome and remain unmoved. He should burn in the hell he is creating for so many others.