GAY TIMES January 1994

“Five years ago, one scientist began to question whether the causal link between HIV and Aids was proven,” said The Independent in an editorial (December 2nd). “The overwhelming majority of specialists now believe that it is; as our knowledge of medicine has grown, many of these doubts have been laid to rest. Valid though it is for a specialist to ask such a question, at least one newspaper has seized on it and turned it into a story suggesting that an overzealous Aids ‘establishment’ driven by a variety of crusading motives, has invented the ‘myth’ that HIV causes Aids. This reassuring message sells papers. Unfortunately, it may also cost lives.”

And yet still The Sunday Times peddles its line that HIV is not the cause of Aids – but that “lifestyle” factors, such as gay sex, are. Despite constant barracking from those who spend their lives studying this virus (and whom The Sunday Times dismisses as the “HIV bandwagon” or “the legions of the politically correct”), the paper continues to insist that it is right.

It is easy to be wise after the event, of course, and it is right that the voices of sincere “dissidents” should be heard. But I am suspicious of The Sunday Times’ motives. Its editor, Andrew Neil, is backing a long-shot with this. He hopes that one day, when everyone comes round to accepting his paper’s contention that there is no African Aids epidemic and that the “public misinformation campaign” was a big conspiracy, he will be lauded and acclaimed as a prophet among fools. He hopes that his paper will regain some of the glory and prestige that it had when it successfully campaigned against the drug Thalidomide. But Aids is a horse of a different colour, and there are grave dangers in the ST’s chosen course.

No one has all the answers about Aids, so it would be foolish to set any theory in stone. That goes double for The Sunday Times, which is pushing its own theory as though it were incontrovertible truth. In the process, it is managing to convince many people that they are in no danger from HIV.

Creating complacency in this epidemic is woeful and wilful. Until we know better, the most conservative like is the safest. Stick to condoms.

***

Outrage!’s attack on the anti-gay comments of Lord Jakobovits has served its purpose of getting the Jewish community to discuss its homophobia. The Jewish Chronicle (November 26th) carried a front- page lead on OutRage! and also a comment feature by Jack Gilbert of the Jewish Lesbian and Gay Helpline.

Mr Gilbert rejects the idea that there is a “hierarchy of oppression” within minority groups. He still thinks that OutRage!’s attack on Jakobovits was a display of “latent anti-Semitism” and is forcing Jewish gays into a crisis of loyalties. In an attack on Gay Times, Mr Gilbert says that my views on the topic, as expressed in MediaWatch, are “noxious” and that the whole Jewish community cannot be held responsible for the views of one man. He says that OutRage!’s demo and my opinions remind him of his experiences in American universities when he battled against “campus and Left anti-Semitism” which were characterised by claims of “disloyalty” and “collective responsibility” and the “demonisation of Jews with Holocaust imagery”.

I feel affronted that what was intended as a serious and sympathetic contribution to the debate should be presented by Mr Gilbert as anti-Semitic. It cannot bode well for the development of this debate if every time someone utters justified criticism of events in the Jewish community they are branded as racists. Mr Gilbert should beware of providing a handy escape route for those homophobic Jews who have a case to answer.

I accept that Jewish gay people need to reconcile their ethnic identity (as opposed to their religious beliefs) with their sexuality. But why should other homosexuals remain silent while prominent figures within the Jewish community – and not just Lord Jakobovits – feel free to issue the most abusive anti-gay tirades? OutRage! is an equal opportunities irritant – it chooses its targets on the basis of their homophobia, not their race. Anti-gay feeling is a problem for the Jewish community – just as it is for the population at large.

As gay playwright Tony Kushner – author of Angels in America – put it, in an article on the same page of The Jewish Chronicle: “I doubt if Jews are more homophobic than anyone else, but there is a particular quality to Jewish homophobia that is difficult for gay Jews to accept. One would think that the history of the Jewish people would teach one the tremendous evil of bigotry and prejudice. It’s very distressing when one comes across Jews who haven’t learned that lesson.”

The theme of a “hierarchy of oppression” was also the subject of a speech by Peter Tatchell at a human rights conference organised by Liberty. Mr Tatchell began by reminding his audience that oppressed groups seem to spend almost as much time hating each other as they do fighting the. common enemy. He cited the Buju Banton affair as an example of how homophobia was accepted as natural by many in the black communities.

Reporting reaction to the speech, The Voice, a newspaper for the black community, quoted Lee Jasper of the National Black Caucus as saying: “I think Peter Tatchell’s anti-Jamaican feelings need attention drawn to them. I have talked to a number of Black gays and he should also realise that racism is alive and well in the gay community as it is anywhere else.”

We know there are racists in the gay community – and it is an issue on which we cannot be complacent – but that still doesn’t justify homophobia. And that is the crux of the problem. When does the “I’m more oppressed than you are” rhetoric end and proper dialogue begin?

Tatchell proposed that there should be an Equal Rights Act to protect all minorities. “Instead of campaigning separately around narrow and specialist agendas, such as race and sexuality,” he said, “it makes more sense to forge alliances to unite everyone suffering injustice around a common campaign to challenge all forms of discrimination. An inclusive and broad-based agenda of ‘equal rights for all’ is more likely to maximise support and minimise opposition.”

But Anne Kane of the Anti-Racist Alliance responded in The Voice by saying it was “difficult enough to gather support around a single issue let alone forcing people to take on board a whole range of other views which they might not agree with as well.”

Other views they might not agree with? What does this mean – that it’s OK to be a black homophobe and that anyone who points it out is automatically a racist?

I still hold to the view that a pecking order of oppression exists, and that gays are at the bottom. But that does not mean that all hope is lost. If we can provoke discussion among other communities that suffer discrimination, then maybe one day they’ll get the message that Peter Tatchell put so succinctly: “Some people believe that there is a hierarchy of oppression – that some groups, are more deserving than others. That can’t be right. All victimisation should be opposed.”

***

Masochism must be more widespread in the gay community than I thought. What else could explain that the most popular newspaper among readers of Gay Times (according to our recent readership survey) is The Sun?

Thirty-six per cent of you read Mr Murdoch’s homophobic rag, whereas only nine per cent of you read The Independent, which has been consistently supportive of the gay struggle. (The Guardian, thankfully, is the most popular daily broadsheet – 30 per cent).

On Sunday, our favourite read is Murdoch’s other flagship, The Sunday Times, (the survey says 33 per cent of us have looked at it in the past four months) and The News of the World is the favourite Sunday tabloid with 22 per cent of us taking a peek.

I find it sad that so many gay people are prepared to put money into an empire which is waging a relentless war against them. Every pink pound in Murdoch’s pocket will help him continue his campaign of vilification.

Every time we buy one of his papers or subscribe to one of his TV channels we give him the resources to pursue gay people with an almost obsessive hate. Commenting on The Sun’s cruel persecution of stricken star Michael Jackson, Auberon Waugh in The Daily Telegraph (November 20th) said: “The manhunt for Jackson is conducted with a sadistic relish which only the born-again Murdoch could inspire… (The singer) is said to be suffering from total nervous collapse and breakdown, which is easy to imagine. Is there to be no pity for this poor hamburger victim?”

Pity? Such weakness is alien to Murdoch. And besides, it doesn’t make money.

***

To get to the heart of the Government’s somewhat unconvincing “back to basics” campaign, The Independent commissioned a poll to find out the nation’s real opinions on personal morality. It was surprised to find widespread support for single mothers, which was a gratifying poke in the eye for the creepy Peter Lilley.

Several questions about homosexuality were asked in the survey. The paper concluded that attitudes have “softened” (although not as much as we would have liked). Twenty-five per cent of the survey thinks sexual relations between two adults of the same sex are “not at all wrong” – in 1983 the figure was 17 per cent. Homosexuality is always wrong according to 35 per cent as opposed to 50 per cent in 1983. Disapproval is greatest among the over-55s, Conservative voters and those in lower income groups.

Most disappointing was the question about the age of consent. Only 12 per cent of the survey thought it should be 16. Fifty-six per cent thought it should remain at 21. But, as the paper pointed out, much depends on how the question is asked. Last year Stonewall also commissioned a poll on this, but their question was phrased more “positively” (“should the age of consent be the same for everyone” rather than “What do you think the age of consent for gays should be?”). On that occasion 74 per cent were in favour of equality.

The Independent editorialised that “People tend to react cussedly when politicians preach at them” and welcomed these signs of more tolerant and liberal values.

While we’re on the subject of surveys, The Daily Telegraph (December 2nd) reported the International Social Attitudes poll had found that “easier going sexual attitudes do not extend to homosexuals” with only 12 per cent of men and 14 per cent of women agreeing that homosexual couples should have the right to marry.

***

Stephen Fry repeated – in The Spectator – his oft-quoted assertion that the present Cabinet contains six adulterers and “at least two homosexuals” and so should be careful in pontificating at the rest of us about morality.

This outraged John Junor in The Mail on Sunday (November 21st). “Is he just making a wild, unfounded allegation?” grunted the curmudgeonly columnist. “I very much hope so. But if it is otherwise, and Mr Fry does have information denied to the rest of us, then why having quite gratuitously raised the matter, doesn’t he have the guts to name the two ministers? There are 20 men in Mr Major’s Cabinet. Each of them is married. Which two of them then, according to Mr Fry, are leading double lives? Isn’t it damnable that, thanks to Mr Fry, even the 18 innocent ones are from now on going to be under suspicion?”

“Innocent?” asked Allison Pearson, a new columnist in The London Evening Standard (November 23rd). “Of what are the other two supposed to be guilty?”

“Why can’t MPs be glad to be gay – if they are gay?” she goes on to lament. “One reason is that people like Sir John Junor find it repulsive… Making love isn’t a crime. But, as long as we are encouraged to think that homosexuality is base, those who practise it in high places will also be forced to practise hypocrisy – family values or no family values.”

Simon Hoggart in The Observer was ruminating on the use of sexual blackmail in Parliament as a weapon to bring recalcitrant MPs into line. “At the moment,” he says, in regard to newspaper exposés of private lives, “the unspoken rule seems to be that anything goes as long as it’s heterosexual…for now gays seem to be protected unless their behaviour is egregious.” He says that everyone at Westminster knows who Stephen Fry is talking about. “One is the victim of a smear campaign touted round the papers by a disturbed youngster he and his wife helped. He is trapped, unable to deny a rumour which has yet to become public.”

Labour will not use this information because, of course, they have secrets of their own. The whole thing rests on a “balance of terror”, where all parties agree not to start the “outing” process which might have a devastating snowball effect in Westminster.

Meanwhile, the whole “moral crusade” nonsense will, most commentators agree, be a flash in the pan. “Senior colleagues of the Prime Minister recognise that these are dangerous waters,” wrote Andrew Rawnsley in The Observer (November 14th). “Douglas Hurd and Kenneth Clarke, for whom liberalism is not a dirty word, are confident that they can dissuade Mr Major from wading in too deep. They are confident that Moral Majorism will not last long, perhaps only as long as it takes for one of the tabloids to debag another of his Ministers.”

***

When Channel Four announced its plans to make Christmas a little gayer this year, the reactionaries went into an apoplectic spasm. John Blackburn, MP was wheeled out by The Daily Mail to say that it unforgivably “tarnishes” Christmas, while the Bishop of Peterborough urged advertisers to boycott Channel Four. Most grotesque of all was the Archdeacon of Aston who claimed that the gay Xmas programmes were part of the story of a sick society. (“It is the story of the man in Cardiff who was killed for trying to stop youths stealing traffic cones.”) He even tried to make a connection between Camp Christmas and the murder of James Bulger.

The tasteless churchman and his revolting ranting did not impress Libby Purves who, in her column in The Times (November 29th) wrote: “I shall tune into Quentin Crisp, prefacing the broadcast with a short, emotional address from myself to the effect that what you are about to see is a man and a brother and that it behoves us today to love him, Martina Navratilova, Julian Clary and all gay celebrities, however annoying they may be. And to blame gay showbiz for the murder of a child by children is stupid and rather obscene; and there is no clear evidence that sexual deviation causes youths to steal traffic cones, either. So here’s to tolerance and yah boo to the bishop.”

Claudia Fitzherbert in The Daily Telegraph declared herself totally mystified by the reaction of the churchmen to the programmes. “Having sat down at my desk and pondered the puzzle for some hours.” she wrote, “I still find the observations utterly incomprehensible.”

Dillie Keane, in The Mail on Sunday (November 28th) didn’t think the gay Christmas was a good idea either. Not because it would cause civilisation to crumble, but because it marginalised gays instead of integrating them. “Surely Christmas is a time for unity, not division?” she wrote. “Gays, it seems, are being sidelined to a channel that nobody will be watching.”

Ms Keane wants to know why gay celebrities aren’t being invited on to “a cross section of festive programmes, which cater to all people, majority and minorities alike?”

This is an excellent question, but I wonder why she isn’t objecting to the fishing programme or the football match or the interminable church services – all of minority interest. I wonder why she imagines that gay people don’t need to have programmes about issues specific to their lives?

The gay programmes are on a public network available to everyone, so the real issue is not that gay people will be watching them, but that straight people won’t. Integration is, after all, a two-way traffic.

***

The British Medical Association’s News Review carried a “Head-to-Head” feature putting the case for and against gay law reform. Dinesh Bhugra a senior lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry in London put our argument in a mild and rational manner.

Speaking against was Gregory Gardner, a Birmingham locum GP and a member of the “interest group” Family and Youth Concern. “Why is the homosexual lobby seeking this change?” he asked, and answered with the standard Family and Youth Concern claptrap that because homosexuals “don’t reproduce” they must “recruit” new people into their lifestyle. “The second part of the homosexual philosophy,” wrote Gardner, “is the attempt to persuade society that homosexuality is neither perverted, nor dangerous. An example of this is the link between homosexuality and paedophilia… As with spoiled children, gay demands are insatiable. Victims to the core, the more they have the more they want. Homosexuals learn to enjoy activities that would have sickened them as children and then expect special protection and status… Allowed free rein, homosexual values will trash any society in which they are allowed to flourish… Under no circumstances ought homosexuality be regarded as anything other than a destructive habit system… homosexuality is a personal tragedy and a social calamity… etc. etc.”

The BMA News Review received a large response to this feature, and so did I. They will carry a two-page special to air some of these views in the January issue.

This is one that will obviously run and run.

GAY TIMES February 1994

By the time you read this, the matter of the age of consent will probably have been decided. The huge amount of comment, conjecture, speculation and opinion which has appeared in print will, therefore, be irrelevant. But some things should not be forgotten.

In an argument as highly charged as this, people get desperate. Those with the biggest axe to grind are tempted, if they can’t win the argument fairly, to employ distortion, exaggeration and outright lies. This has been apparent in the press during the run up to the parliamentary debate.

Naturally the “we must protect the children” argument was trotted out repeatedly. This is a sensitive area, and consequently was played for all it was worth by “family” groups and other politically and religiously motivated opponents of change.

The News of the World carried an exposé (January 16th) of a kiddie porn ring which it promptly proceeded to link with the age of consent controversy. “Any MP tempted to lower the age of homosexual consent to include schoolboys will benefit from reading today’s News of the World,” it editorialised emotively. “What chance does a 16-year-old boy stand against a confident, adult paedophile set on corrupting him?… Nobody knows for certain what the causes of homosexuality are. But a physical introduction to homosexual behaviour must be among them.” It then goes on to say: “The lobby for reducing the age of consent to 16 argue that parity with girls is fair. They forget that women are protected by a law imposing possible life imprisonment for the dangerous practice of anal sex. No such law protects boys who are more likely to be a target for that particular perversion.”

The idea that girls are “emotionally mature” at 16, while boys are still “children” always strikes me as suspect. The “exploitation” of schoolgirls by adults is an everyday occurrence in this country (as the number of teenage pregnancies proves). The girls-are-fair-game argument is an insidious one that devalues women.

Being such an effective lie, Garry Bushell pushes it like crazy. Using his TV review of “Prime Suspect III” (the theme of which was the exploitation of rent boys), he asked: “Is this why slimeball MPs are keen to lower the age of gay consent?” (Sun, December 22nd).

The Daily Express, meanwhile, distorted the British Medical Association’s support for a lowering of the age of consent to 16 by headlining it: “Teenage Aids scourge” (January 14th). The paper rightly reported that the BMA had found that “those aged 15 to 24 account for nearly a fifth of HIV cases”. But the point of the BMA’s action in calling for reform in the law —that it would be easier to educate younger people about the dangers of Aids if they were not deemed criminals — was difficult to ascertain from The Express’s report. Amid the obfuscation, however, they managed to find room for Tory MP David Shaw to compound the confusion by saying “the move would only encourage homosexuals to approach children outside schools.”

The Sunday Telegraph — surely the last refuge in the British press of so many reactionary old fogies — published a piece by Lynette Burrows entitled “A licence to deprave” (January 2nd). The article was illustrated by a cartoon that Goebbels wouldn’t have been ashamed of. It showed lock gates imprinted with the word “consent” being opened ready to engulf the unsuspecting people below.

Ms Burrows, a woman of extraordinary fanaticism, alarmingly claims in her article that “a homosexual lifestyle reduces life expectancy from 75 to 42”. Where on earth does she get such a statistic? Why, from the Family Research Institute of Washington. And, of course, the Family Research Institute couldn’t under any circumstances be biased could it? After all, other groups with the word “family” prominent in their title are all models of moderation and reason. Take, for instance, Family and Youth Concern or The Conservative Family Campaign. You wouldn’t find them distorting or inventing statistics, would you?

This latest gem about the reduction of life expectancy has been repeated at least twice over the radio by members of these “family” groups, and in neither instance was it challenged. All that needs to be asked is: how on earth could such a statistic be arrived at? Think about it.

Back at The Sun (January 13th), Richard Littlejohn said that “the only argument for keeping it at 21 would be that it would upset professional sodomites such as the odious Peter Tatchell — who holds recruiting drives outside schools.”

This comment is arguably libellous, but I doubt whether Peter Tatchell has the tens — or even hundreds — of thousands of pounds necessary to mount an action against The Sun or Richard Littlejohn to find out. And The Sun knows it, which is why it can afford to be so bold in its insults and slanders.

Such is the hostility surrounding homosexuality that newspaper lying about our lives, is allowed to pass unchallenged. Some of the lies are difficult to pin down, some of them arise from simple ignorance. But some are carefully and deliberately constructed.

During the Back to Basics farrago, it was strongly insinuated that Tory MP David Ashby and his friend Dr Kilduff were lovers. It was discovered that they had shared a bed in a French hotel. On January 11th, most papers carried a photograph of the room in which the alleged congress had taken place. It was the same picture in every paper. Today ran it with the headline “Back to Basics in pink room with a bed called a queen”. And the picture seemed to confirm it. The room was definitely pink: pink walls, pink bedding, pink curtains and, looking through the window, a pink sky. A pink sky?

Let’s look at the same photograph in The Daily Mirror and The Sun. Lo and behold, in each of those papers it is a yellow room, with yellow bedding, yellow curtains and a blue sky.

The fact is, in order to support their headline, Today had doctored the photograph to give it a “gay” feel. In other words, it was an outright, carefully premeditated lie. Once again, it may be actionable, and as Mr Ashby is a millionaire (as well as being a buffoon), I hope he’ll pursue it.

Meanwhile, bouquets to The Guardian and The Independent both of which were deeply supportive of change. Their reports were fair, balanced and devoid of deliberate distortion (although, of course, mistakes were made). I know it is no less than we should expect, but in the light of the behaviour of the rest of the press, The Guardian and The Indy deserve an honourable mention.

***

“Sixty gay MPs face being ‘outed’ by militant homosexuals,” announced The People angrily on its front page (January 2nd). “Various gay groups are threatening MPs who they know are gay,” an unnamed, but “furious” backbencher is quoted as saying. But who exactly are these “militant groups” and individuals? It’s apparent from reading the story that The People doesn’t know and nor, it seems, does anyone else. Could it be that they are a figment of journalistic imagination, invented so that the rumours about gay MPs can be trotted out all over again?

Meanwhile, The Independent (January 15th) editorialised that “Outing is wrong… It would be a bad day for democracy if MPs’ voting decisions were affected by fear of unwarranted intrusion into their private lives.” (Noble words, but am I being naive in thinking that this is a technique frequently employed by Government whips to bring recalcitrant MPs into line?)

But back to “outing”, and who is responsible. Well, let’s take David Ashby, for instance, the MP whose bed-sharing activities with various other men were the subject of speculation during the Back to Basics row. Who outed him? Why, his wife, of course. “The Tories suffered a fresh blow this weekend when the wife of David Ashby… claimed that he had left her because of a friendship with another man.” reported The Sunday Times (January 9th). And when the ST returned to the attack with further evidence of Mr Ashby’s indiscretions (January 16th) it turned out to be his sister who had tipped them off. I don’t think either of these women would take kindly to being described as “militant homosexuals”.

There are rumours, as I write, that further revelations are on the way. I suspect that they will not, however, be emanating from gay magazines or groups, but from straight newspapers. Taking this into account, the newspapers’ moral indignation rings hollow when you realise that although they are always accusing us of being ‘outers’ it is, in fact, they who are guilty.

In the light of all this, the pathetic Press Complaints Commission is said to be on the verge of appointing “leading academic” Professor Robert Pinker, as a “Privacy Commissioner” in order to “bolster the effectiveness of newspaper self-regulation”. This is another attempt by the. PCC to stave off the statutory controls that the Government repeatedly threatens but never delivers.

According to The Guardian (January 10th), “the privacy commissioner will have powers to initiate inquiries into high profile cases… he will also be able to summon editors to explain their conduct and ensure a quick response from the watchdog body. His recommendations will have to be endorsed by the full 16-member commission.” (Many of whom, The Guardian omits to mention, are newspaper editors —their own among them.)

It soon becomes apparent that despite the hype, the so-called Commissioner will have no real powers. He can’t impose fines but can only “urge publishers” to take disciplinary action against erring editors (what kind of action hasn’t yet been specified; probably a smack on the wrist with a feather duster).

All it amounts to is another meaningless plastering over the cracks. The sooner the Press Complaints Commission is given the heave-ho the more confident the public can feel that the Government means business over intrusion into privacy.

And to anybody who says: “Yes, but look what’s happened in France — you can’t say anything about anybody there, there’s no freedom of speech because of their privacy laws,” I will reply: Nonsense.

It’s true that if Tim Yeo or David Norris or Paddy Ashdown had been French politicians they would not have had to endure the public dissection of their private lives. The rigidly enforced right to privacy would have seen to that. Passed in 1970, it bans the publication of words or images which violate the secrecy surrounding an individual’s private life or the life of a family and is especially hard on the use of hidden tape recorders or cameras. None of the exposés of the last few weeks could have happened in France.

According to a report by Patrick Marnham in The Independent on Sunday (January 16th): “The (French) privacy law is founded on the conviction that an equal importance should be given to the freedom of all personal life. As far as the newspapers are concerned, the hotel bedroom is as sacrosanct as the home, because freedom of personal life also requires respect for privacy… As long as there is no issue of legitimate public interest, prominent people in France know that the press will almost always respect their privacy. It is, of course, a different matter where public money is involved, since that can lead to a criminal investigation which will be widely reported and, in subsequent proceedings, the full truth about an individual’s private life may well emerge.”

As Patrick Marnham says: “The French attitude is based on a profound tolerance of human frailty, as well as a profound cynicism about human motives. Which is why the Suffolk woman who departs on a crusade with the ‘moral majority’ for high standards among leaders of the nation, will always seem so foreign to the man in the streets of Paris — who sees no more than voyeurism mixed with good, old-fashioned Anglo-Saxon hypocrisy.”

Like so much of French culture, this seems civilised and sane, but rather like the baguettes and croissants, it probably can’t be successfully exported.

***

Statistics Corner: This new feature will bring you the results of some of the many surveys and polls that are being conducted at the moment in relation to homosexuality.

The Sun conducted a “Back to Basics” MORI poll and asked under what circumstances a Government Minister should be required to resign as a Minister. 61 per cent thought that he should NOT resign if he was a “practising homosexual”, whereas 32 per cent thought he should. Similar figures applied to back bench MPs.

More importantly, under which astrological star sign are most gay people born? Well, according to The News of the World’s Mystic Meg, who received 25,000 replies to her recent “Astrosex Survey”, 5 per cent of Aries and Leo men said they liked to make love with both sexes, as did Leo women. Signs with the strongest preference for their own sex were Scorpio men (8 per cent), and Pisces men (7 per cent).

It’s all tripe, of course, and I don’t believe a word of it —even though I am a Scorpio.

***

Christmas seems a long time ago now, but do you recall the furore in the press over Channel Four’s modest gay programmes over the festive season? Strangely, despite predictions that this was the end of civilisation as we know it, the country seems to have survived the appearance on TV of Quentin Crisp, RuPaul and Julian Clary. Some of the critics actually liked it. Victor Lewis-Smith in the London Evening Standard (December 22nd) objected to the three programmes being presented as a “season”, given it only represented 150 minutes in total. He was also surprised at press reaction, saying: “It is tempting to dismiss all this as petit-bourgeois ranting of a fatuity too intense to bother with: to point out perhaps that whereas millions have been killed in the name of Saturday’s birthday boy (Jesus), few, if any, have been slaughtered in the name of Danny la Rue.”

And replying to John Junor’s opinion that “gays are taking over our culture”, Lynn Barber in The Sunday Times said: “… people who fulminate a great deal about the need to protect other people from awareness of homosexuality are at least halfway to conceding that the notion is so attractive that anyone who encountered it would be tempted to succumb… But anyway, I hope Sir John had a gay Christmas Day.”

A much more familiar account of Christmas for a gay person was written by John Lyttle for The Independent (December 27th). John described how he brought his new boyfriend home to meet his family on Christmas day: “‘And you must be Richard?’ my father says to my significant other. Planted in the doorway, Dad proffers a sweaty palm and flashes the fixed smile of a chat show host. How strange to witness my father attempting to act normal. That used to be my job.

“I don’t know why I say what I’m about to say, but I say it. I say: ‘He prefers Dick’, Freudian or what?”

There followed a catalogue of disaster as Mum tips the sprouts on Dick’s trousers and Dad spills beer on his new shirt. Little sister tries to seduce him and younger brother tells queer jokes. John begins to think about such classic psychological terms as “unconscious hostility”. John Lyttle makes the point that parents’ expectations of their gay children are different to those of their straight ones. “Parents of gay children often expect their homosexual progeny to return automatically to the nest for the Yuletide season, an obligation seldom visited upon their heterosexual siblings.” The reason? Well, the heterosexuals have real lives. “Responsibilities: babies, neighbours, and friends popping in, turkeys to stuff, in-laws to thaw. The unspoken assumption about the gay child is that you have nothing better to do, that you live a marginal existence, that otherwise you’ll be…lonely this Christmas. So you have a partner? So what? It’s not like having a husband or wife, someone you’d mind being separated from.”

The piece had such a familiar ring to it that I found myself not only amused but angry, too.

***

The fact that serial murderer Colin Ireland decided to plead guilty to all charges spared us a long trial with days and days of sleazy tabloid gloating. The families of the victims did not have to endure the final indignity of having their loved ones’ lives and deaths made into fodder for morbid Sun readers.

Brian Masters in The Mail on Sunday’s magazine (January 16th) refuted Ireland’s explanation that he murdered those five men in order to become famous. “Most people have been prepared to take him at his word,” he wrote, “which demonstrates an extraordinary abnegation of thought.”

In fact, Masters says, Ireland was a man who’s “soul was diseased” and who was “an incomplete human being”, a mad man who could not control his impulse to kill. The people he destroyed were not, in his own mind, real. They were objects. Any attempt to explain his behaviour as logical (“I wanted to be famous”) is nonsense. Other serial killers have had to release some of their intended victims because, once they had seen in them human qualities, they were unable to transform them into objects. Ireland killed all his victims within hours of meeting them, before he could get to like them.

Maybe there was another element in this particular serial killing. The gay element. Did Ireland simply choose gay men because he knew they were vulnerable and easy to pick off? Or did he choose them because they were easy to transform in his mind into the non-human objects that became so easy to kill. Was he, in fact, taking society’s profound homophobia to its logical conclusion?

GAY TIMES March 1994

Rumours have been circulating for months that two Government Ministers have been involved in “sordid gay goings-on”. There has been talk of “gagging writs” to stop newspapers naming them. Everyone was fascinated, but there was no evidence.

Then, for a moment, it seemed that gay (or bisexual) ex-soccer star Justin Fashanu was about to put flesh on the bones of those rumours. The People (February 6th) reported that he was trying to sell them his story of “three-in-a-bed sex romps” with high-ranking Tories for £300,000. The newspaper did not name names (“for legal reasons”) and did not pay the fee requested (although a smaller amount did change hands).

Then came the “scandalous” death of Tory MP Stephen Milligan from a solo “sex romp” that went wrong and suddenly Justin was there again, this time in The Sun. “Kinky MP: Cops Quiz Gay Fashanu” screamed the front page on February 9th. Fashanu claimed to Sun reporters that he knew the dead MP, and described him as a “weak man”. In The Daily Express he was quoted as saying: “I knew him and I knew that he was homosexual.”

However, the following day — after a visit from the police — Fashanu was backtracking and saying he didn’t know Milligan and that his tales of sex with Tory MPs were a total fabrication. “Fash the Trash” said The Daily Mirror (February 10th). “For years he touted to the highest bidder the tale of his claimed affair with a Government Minister. He has demanded money — usually £5,000 — to name the senior Tory who gave him a tour of the Commons, during which he jumped on the Speaker’s Chair. He also said he shared a bed with a married Minister.”

It seems Justin Fashanu has made a real mess of his life. His greed has ruined his football career, he has sacrificed his claim to be a hero for the black community and he has done nothing to endear himself to the gay community either. With the age of consent debate pending, we needed this kind of undignified sensationalism like we need a hole in the head. In his attempts to screw money out of the scummy papers he has played right into their hands. And if there is any truth in the stories of ministerial hypocrisy over gay sex, then it has surely been buried under this torrent of lying and money-grubbing.

In The Guardian, Martin Woollacott wondered why there is such an appetite in our press for these sordid and cruel tales of sexual misdemeanour or difference. “Why is it that at a time when tolerance or understanding of different sexual preferences is supposedly greater than ever before,” he asks, “should there be such a fearsome taste for stories of sexual irregularity in the Western world?” He says that the nature of coverage of these matters has changed from “prurience posing as Puritanism” into “sadism masquerading as entertainment”. He says: “At the centre of the sort of popular exposure which is becoming a regular feature in Anglo-Saxon countries is an element of cruelty, delight at seeing a person twist in the wind.”

The Government is once again muttering about a privacy law. But the press feels reasonably safe that it will never happen. After all, they have the power to stop it.

***

In Statistics Corner this month we have the ultimate gay number: 1.1 per cent! “The Gay Myth and the Truth” crowed the front page headline of The Daily Mail (January 21st). “The most exhaustive survey ever conducted into British sexual habits has buried the claim that one man in ten is gay… the key finding is that only 1.1 per cent of men had a homosexual partner in the year prior to the interview,” said the paper, and you could almost hear the champagne corks popping. It revelled in what it regarded as a “setback” for the age of consent campaign. The other papers were quick to take up the clarion call. “We’ve been conned by the gay lobby,” said The Sun, “For years they’ve told us that one man in ten is homosexual. Governments pump millions into AIDS propaganda as gay actors mince into Number Ten. Teachers tell children homosexuality is normal. A campaign grows to make gay sex legal at 16. But now the truth is out: a survey shows that barely one man in 90 is gay. The loud-mouthed luvvies should belt up.” While The Star said it was “Glum for Gays” because “there aren’t many of them.”

As the week progressed, more consideration was given to how the figures had been arrived at. What The Daily Mail and its even more dishonest rivals had failed to tell readers was that even the authors of the survey had said that the figures should be regarded with caution and be seen as only very conservative estimates. It took Peter Kellner in The Sunday Times (January 23rd) to point out the significance of the numbers who had refused to take part in the survey. Sixty per cent of those men approached had agreed, while an incredible 40 per cent had refused. “Imagine you are a gay teacher, army officer, Tory MP or a married man with a gay lover. Would you be part of the 60 per cent or the other 40 per cent? And if you join the 60 per cent would you tell the truth? All of it?”

Perhaps the most telling comment on the whole affair was by AN Wilson in The London Evening Standard (January 28th). “What are we to make of the idea that less than one per cent of the population are practising homosexuals?” he asks. “If this is true, I think I know all of them, plus a handful of ‘straights’ masquerading, for their own perverse reasons, as gay.”

Lady Olga Maitland who, among stiff competition, is probably the most absurd parliamentarian — went even further in the numbers game (Independent January 20th) by saying that she had seen a survey done at the Radcliffe Infirmary, Oxford which showed that only 0.2 per cent of the population is homosexual. Keith Refson of the Oxford Lesbian and Gay Centre was quick to retort (Independent January 24th): “1 find it hard to believe than an organisation such as ours would attract more than a fraction of lesbians and gay men actually to join. And yet our current membership stands at approximately 0.4 per cent of Oxford’s population. Can any of your readers suggest how I might identify the 50 per cent of our members who are heterosexual?”

***

Most newspapers let us know their editorial stance on the age of consent, and for the most part it was entirely predictable. (Independent and Guardian supportive, Daily Telegraph and tabloids against). However, a mini-shock wave greeted the London Evening Standard’s decision to come out in favour. “Sexuality is private,” said the paper (January 24th). “It is our own business — not that of the Crown Prosecution Service. And as long as it remains consenting, and does not cause offence to anyone else, it should remain our business. But the current differential between ages of consent is a legal inconsistency which criminalises perfectly honest members of the community — while leaving others free to lead their private lives with impunity.”

The paper recognises that “some readers will disagree” (something of an understatement if the ensuing garbage in the correspondence column is anything to go by), but the fact that The Standard has taken this progressive stance is quite astonishing. After all, the Evening Standard is consistently homophobic in all other respects, often originating anti-gay stories that reverberate mightily through the rest of the press (witness its part in the Jane Brown saga).

Meanwhile, the commentators continue to explore every highway and by-way of logic and illogic to find ways to slander gay people. Mary Kenny in The Sunday Telegraph (January 23rd) tried to play the “unnatural” card. She says that although there is evidence of homosexuality in the animal world (“pygmy chimpanzees have a lot of same-sex orgasms”) there is no evidence of exclusive homosexuality in any other species except man (“the chimpanzees… don’t stop being heterosexual at the same time”). She says that biologists are always “drawn back to the evidence of Natural law” to conclude that exclusive homosexuality is not “natural”. She then scuppers her argument (which, as usual, is written from her Catholic perspective) by admitting that the Pope says: “the proper study of mankind is man”. (Actually, that’s Alexander Pope).

What animals do should ‘not be used as evidence of what is “natural” for people to do. There is, after all, much in human life that has no equivalent in the animal world, so why is she making an exception for homosexuality?

Meanwhile, Janet Daley in The Times (January 27th) gives the “children must be protected” line a new spin. She says that young men are at “psychological risk” from “the more strident activist voices” who are “turning homosexuality into a commitment which locks people into what might have been a transitory stage of their emotional development. A commitment which, as it happens, cuts them off from parenthood —one of the major satisfactions of adult life.”

She says that to be gay now is to be part of a “movement” and that gay activism takes away the freedom to move away from “the gay community” if that is what your feelings dictate.

She says that “gay activists” want young people to believe that “what you do in bed is what you are: that your sex life is not an incidental fact about you but your essence.”

What this argument fails to accept is that a homosexual sex life cannot just be “incidental” — heterosexual society will not let it be. If it were to be taken for granted, as is heterosexual orientation, then there would be no need for the fuss, no need for the shouting and agitating for equality. People would express their sexuality as it took them at the time. Gay people would then be able to parent more easily, if that’s what they wanted. It is not “gay activists” who kick up all the fuss about adoption and fostering or artificial insemination for lesbians. When an uptight heterosexual like Janet Daley can regard her much bragged-about gay friends as just other human beings, then there might be progress.

Sorry, Janet, the ball is in your completely heterosexual court.

***

When Jane Brown refused those tickets for the Royal Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet, she could not have realised that she was soon to become the latest victim of tabloid witch hunting. Her action in branding the story “too heterosexual” gave the right-wing press all the ammunition they needed to launch their attack. Here was a heady brew to sustain the fantasy world they have created: political correctness gone mad; a loony left-wing council and — the icing on the cake — a lesbian in charge of “our” children.

The political correctness ticket was played for all it was worth. “Romeo, Romeo, where art thou Homo?” was The Sun’s front-page announcement of the story.

“Don’t laugh at political correctness. It could seriously damage your freedom,” wrote Brian Hitchen, pig-like editor of The Daily Star. “There is always somebody eager to explain to (our kids) why the act of buggery is romantic and acceptable in a society gone mad. Cherished books of childhood are scorned as racist or sexist. Black dolls are outlawed by muddle heads who see nothing wrong in smoking dope but go batcrap over golliwogs. Potty politically correct teachers have even changed the words of the nursery rhyme to ‘Baa Baa, white sheep’.”

They haven’t actually. That little tale was a newspaper fabrication, as are so many of these ‘amusing’ loony left/politically correct tit bits. Richard Littlejohn, The Sun’s self-pro-claimed “irritant of the year” (wouldn’t His Master’s Voice be more appropriate?), was quick to take up the cudgels. “She is almost certainly anti-American, considers African wood carving a higher art form than anything Michelangelo ever turned out and believes disabled lesbian mud wrestling more ‘relevant’ than Beethoven. Otherwise she would never have been appointed. Jane Brown is what you get from job adverts in The Guardian — where strict adherence to the doctrines of political correctness is more important than an ability to actually do the job.”

Mr Littlejohn is unimpressed by Ms Brown’s record of improvements at the school in the face of overwhelming disadvantage, and seems unaware of the esteem in which she is held by the people who really know whether she is doing a good job or not — the parents. For it was they who threw this poisonous slander back in the face of the press. Instead of forming a lynch mob, as the sick tabloids were encouraging them to do, they stood shoulder to shoulder with the embattled headmistress and told the Fleet Street muck merchants to eff off. “She must be sacked immediately,” said Littlejohn. “She should be kicked out of her present job on her non-heterosexual ear and never allowed to teach again,” said John Junor in The Mail on Sunday.

“Get lost,” said the parents and school governors by way of response.

Just as it had broken the original story, The London Evening Standard (January 27th) was the first paper to confirm that Jane Brown was, indeed, a lesbian. (“a hatchet-faced dyke” as Littlejohn put it) and then the hunt was on for the dirt about her private life.

Jane Brown was besieged. The street where she lives was so cluttered with reporters and photographers that no traffic could move on it. Her neighbours were harassed and abused when they refused to supply the titillating details. The children at the Kingsmead School, where Jane Brown works, were “wound up” by all the attention. Years of valuable work on tolerance and understanding were blown out of the window.

Then the hate mail began. From all over the country — indeed, all over the world, for this had become an international controversy — the anonymous, green-ink brigade began bombarding Jane with threats to her life. It became so bad that at one point she needed police protection.

Meantime, the Education Secretary, John Patten, was in something of a cleft stick. A rumour was circulating that the story had been planted in The London Evening Standard in order to distract attention from the fact that, in the same week, he had had to “stand down on just about every recommendation he has made”. Government embarrassment over the failure of Patten’s half-baked schools’ policies needed to be minimised.

The story’s “political plant” theory was given further credence when it was revealed that the original remarks had been made last September. Where had the story been since then?

Now Patten’s much-vaunted legislation to put power into the hands of parent-governors has also backfired on him, because the very people he has empowered are refusing to suspend a woman whose “politically correct” philosophy he detests. (“We should be in no doubt about either the scale or danger of the PC advance, It is dangerous and if allowed to spread without challenge it could alter the nature of British life,” Patten wrote in The Daily Mail (February 11th).

The Times Educational Supplement took a calmer look at the issue (January 8th) and said: “The affair has highlighted the dilemma common for any teacher working in a multicultural, cosmopolitan borough, over where to draw the line between sound equal opportunities policies and political correctness.”

Ah yes, political correctness. Suzanne Moore in The Guardian (January 28th) was calling the bluff of the rampaging right-wingers: “Change is what it is all about. And that’s why I ask what the opposite of political correctness is… it is not tolerance. Instead, PC is being used to lunge at the heart of anyone who suggests that there is something wrong with the status quo. There are many things wrong with the notion of political correctness, chief of which is that it mirrors so precisely the faults of its opposition. Both understand that language is a vehicle for ideology. Both camps seem to think that language, literature, indeed culture is a fixed rather than a fluid entity, that the substitution of one word, one text, one sentiment for another somehow changes everything. Both are appallingly literal, concentrating on text at the expense of context. Why else, for instance, have we had to endure another spirited defence of Shakespeare, one of the ‘dead white males’ least in need of resuscitation?”

Over the next few weeks, in the run up to the local government elections, we can expect a glut of loony left/PC stories. Like this one from The Sun (February 11th): “Now you can’t even ask for a black coffee!” Apparently, “loony” Nottingham City Council has banned the use of the term “black coffee” and “black eye” because they are racist. Careful examination of the story reveals it to be a complete fabrication. It is based entirely on the testimony of an unnamed social worker. A council official says it is not the council’s policy. But by now the whole thing has passed into the mythology.

Or, as Suzanne Moore puts it, it appears that those so vehemently opposed to the concept [of PC] are doing very nicely thank you; the world may be full of kikes and dykes and whingers of all descriptions who want a piece of the action, but that’s tough. The fact, though, that some of them may even be getting it means something has to be done.”

That “something” often leaves a trail of broken lives: Jane Brown being just one.

GAY TIMES April 1994

The Sun used the fire at the Dream City “gay porn cinema” as an excuse to run several extremely unpleasant headlines. ‘Gay Porn Club Victims Died in Dresses” was one of them (February 28th). The whole sorry catastrophe, in which eight men died, was transformed into just another titillatory thrill for barbarous tabloid readers. The message was clear: these weren’t real people only poofters. (Garry Bushell even managed to make a “joke” out of it when he wrote “Actress Teri Hatcher is hotter than a cinema full of Kentucky Fried transvestites.” — Sun, March 2nd)

“Less than a week after the… debate in the Commons we have a graphic response to the fact that gay men remain second class citizens,” wrote Gareth Clumo in a letter to The Guardian (March 1st). “I predict that over the next few days there will be more outrage expressed over the possibility that men can actually stoop so low as to have sex with one another in a public place, than the fact that these men were murdered.”

And right on cue comes John Junor (Mail on Sunday, March 6th): “One would have thought there would have been a national wave of sympathy for the dreadfully burned survivors and the relatives of the dead. Isn’t it extraordinary that there has been none. One would have thought there would have been a wave of revulsion against whoever set the place on fire. There hasn’t even been that… Coming just a few days after the unsuccessful attempt to lower the legal age for buggery to 16, the news of this fire in this sleazy cinema did not do the homosexual cause much good. How could it after the disclosure that a fire exit had been boarded up to stop homosexual patrons from using the unoccupied area for casual sex with complete strangers?… Are these really the sort of people whom Sir Ian McKellen and Mrs Edwina Currie want to hold up as men to respect?”

Reeling from the almost unbelievable callousness of those remarks, I returned to Gareth Clumo’s letter: “Society should ask why gay men have to recourse to finding sexual pleasure with strangers in less than appropriate places. Could it be that the reasons lie in the inability of the law to equalise the age of consent, and more importantly that gay sex is intricately tied up with such laws as the Public Order Act 1986 and Sexual Offences Act 1956? While these laws remain on the statute book, gay men will be sexual outlaws and victims of murderous campaigns of which the Holborn case is only the most extreme.”

***

[Note: Legislation to lower the age of consent for gay men to 16 – equal with heterosexuals – was amended in the House of Commons to 18 as part ofthe Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. When the result was announced a mini-riot ensued outside Parliament].

Paul Johnson, the prominent right-wing “historian” and Catholic apologist was thumping his familiar tub in The Spectator (February 12th) about what he considers to be the gay stranglehold on the media. During the age of consent debate, he asserted, the opposition never got a look in. Every time an editor speaks out, he says, he is inundated with angry letters and his offices are invaded.

“As a result of this campaign of intimidation, this putsch to reduce the age of consent for male homosexuality to 16 has met virtually no resistance from the media. I have counted a dozen articles in the national papers written by members of the homosexual lobby, putting their case. I have not seen a single forthright statement of the case against, though some editorials have made caveats and one or two readers have managed to get letters of protest published. There is no question, of course, of broadcasting anything critical of homosexuality on radio or television. Quite the reverse.”

Ten minutes after reading this, I switched on the television to hear an elderly woman on the BBC news screaming that homosexuals “ought to be sent out of the country and shot”. I wonder if this was “forthright” enough for Mr Johnson? Or does he want more.

“The homosexual lifestyle is inherently sterile and the very promiscuity which goes with homosexuality is an attempt to stifle the void at the core of the homosexual’s existence,” wrote Chaim Bermant (Jewish Chronicle, February 18th). “Momentary gratification, frequently repeated can, in its crude way, add up to a form of satisfaction, but the constant search for physical gratification is in itself a proof of unhappiness.”

If that isn’t strong enough for Johnson, what about The Daily Star (February 21st), which thought it was wrong that MPs were even considering the issue. It said that a survey showed the majority of Britons would be “outraged” at a reduction in the age of consent. “If they win it will be a disgrace… They should stick to matters that affect us all, like jobs and wages. Not pander to a bunch of pansies and perverts.”

Under the heading “Don’t let gays make us lower our standards”, Philippa Kennedy in the Daily Express said: “What I hate to see, and what reinforces prejudice against gays, is the kind of performance we witnessed outside the House of Commons on Monday night, of painted transvestites, weeping men of all ages, strident intolerance and surging anger bordering on violence. At a time when reasonably-minded people are genuinely willing at least to be persuaded to drop the age of consent to 16, they behaved like a bunch of stereotyped screaming queens which only served to underline that MPs made the right decision.”

Over to Simon Heller in The Daily Mail “If liberal opinion — and this government—worried a bit more about the freedoms of families to get on with their lives… and a bit less about legalising sodomy with schoolboys, it might achieve something useful.”

Melanie Phillips, in The Observer (February 27th) was commenting on criticism which had been directed at Labour front benchers David Blunkett and Ann Taylor, who had voted against 16. She said they were entitled to their opinion, and should not be vilified or punished for them. She thinks that gays should be free from “prejudice or discrimination” but then confusingly goes on to say that the age of consent should not be equal. “The agenda underlying the consent at 16 controversy,” she wrote, “is to equalise not just treatment of individuals, but homosexuality and heterosexuality themselves. To gain acceptance by the majority, the beleaguered minority claims it is not deviant, that gay sex is as natural as heterosexuality. Those who tell the truth, that this is a lie, then have to be suppressed by social or political ostracism. The very word normal has to be air brushed out of existence, along with David Blunkett.”

Ronald Spark (ex-leader writer on The Sun) penned an article for The Mail on Sunday in which he claimed that prejudice was a good thing. He said political correctness had now put a stop to the free expression of good old English hatred. His piece was a straightforward defence of racism, sexism and homophobia.

Over in The Sun, Richard Littlejohn began his diatribe by reassuring us (February 24th) that “My view of homosexuality has always been that I couldn’t care less, provided that I don’t have to watch, participate or pay for it through my taxes.” Fair enough, you might think, but the easy-going tolerance is rather superficial, for within another couple of paragraphs he is writing: “Homosexual activists say [the vote] was a cop out and there should be equality… That depends on whether you believe normal sex is the same as your 16-year-old son being buggered by a wheezing moustachioed leather boy two or three times his age.”

He says a sizeable number of those supporting equality were actually “interested solely in increasing the supply of fresh ‘chickens’ on the sordid gay meat rack”.

From his indifference, Mr Littlejohn rapidly descends into schoolboy fantasy, probably acquired behind the bicycle shed, of what homosexuality is about (“And another one bites the pillow”). He says that Edwina Currie has been “the most vociferous MP in favour of… schoolboys barely past puberty legally to have anal sex — even though it is the surest and quickest way of spreading AIDS.”

He concludes by saying that “I think my views on this issue are a fair representation of what most reasonable people in Britain think.”

He might be right. They might all be as frightened, thoughtless and ill-informed as he is.

So, Mr Paul Johnson, despite your protestations that adverse comment on homosexuality is verboten in the media, I think you will find that the few examples I have cited here (and there are many more) prove what a wilful idiot you are.

Johnson’s real point, though, seems to be not that there is no criticism, but that the criticism is not vituperative enough. There isn’t enough loathing for his liking. So who better to turn to for more of that than Johnson’s all-time hero (as quoted in Today, February 21st): “The Pope denounced homosexuals as ‘deviants’ yesterday as MPs prepare to vote on setting the age of consent for gay sex. Homosexual relationships were a ‘moral disorder’ and must never be made legal, he said.”

Paul and John-Paul — what a shame they can’t marry. They’d make such a perfect couple, richly deserving each other.

Not that the naziness stops there. We haven’t even started yet on the personal abuse that was heaped on those at the forefront of the campaign.

On Edwina Currie: “She is such a dreadfully vulgar woman. I would have been against reducing the age of consent for homosexuals anyhow. But with her brazen hussy hectoring added to their camp and insensitive clamour, the cause, as far as I was concerned, never had a chance.”—Peregrine Worsthorne (Sunday Telegraph February 27th).

“Now that she is associated with the screaming deviants who besieged the Commons on Monday night, Edwina Currie is in trouble. Her chances of winning the Bedfordshire Euro-seat were never strong. Now she is regarded mainly as a fag-hag, they are receding. So what do you think she should do next? Learn to write? Become an Anglican woman priest? Edit a new edition of Baden Powell’s Scouting for Boys? Run ChildLine?”—Simon Helfer (Daily Mail, February 24th).

“There’s something about the tone of Edwina Currie’s voice that gets right up my nose. It’s a prim smugness, a Miss Clever-Clogs attitude that brooks no argument” — Philippa Kennedy (Daily Express February 20th).

On Ian McKellen: “Chris Serle included excerpts from a programme about lowering the age of consent on Radio 4. We heard an unnamed man say he found homosexuals an abomination. Sir Ian McKellen, the age-of-consent activist, told the caller he was little better than a Nazi. Serle said it showed the extraordinary prejudice that still existed. Perhaps so. The caller was indeed an unenlightened man. But what he said didn’t seem quite so repellent as the smart, right-on assumptions of Ian McKellen…” — Peter McKay (Sunday Times February 20th).

“Just how the hell did he ever come to get a knighthood?” wondered ‘Sir’ John Junor (Mail on Sunday, February 27th) “The answer, of course, is because he is a Shakespearean actor. Isn’t it odd how as a society we give high honours to what are termed ‘serious’ actors, no matter what their personal lives are like, when so many talented performers, like Norman Wisdom, end up without even an OBE?” (Junor, incidentally, got his knighthood for services to Thatcherite arse-licking.)

Enter the demon king himself: “Peter Tatchell and his disgusting allies in Outrage! peddle gay propaganda to confuse vulnerable youngsters outside school gates,” said Richard Littlejohn (Sun February 24th). Poor old Pete, he (by virtue of his high-profile association with OutRage!) was made the whipping boy for the riot-ette which occurred outside the House of Commons after the vote was announced. Talk about “anything you say will be taken down and used against you” — Peter Tatchell’s words were twisted at every opportunity. Several papers had asked him whether OutRage! intended to “out” slimy gay MPs who voted against 16. Peter measured his words saying that no decision about future tactics had been decided. Nevertheless, The Daily Star managed to make a front-page story out of it (February 23rd). “We’ll ‘out’ top MP storm gays” it said, claiming that “a top politician is to be named as a homosexual by gay activists.” All the same, it’s four weeks later, and we’re still waiting.

The paper produced no evidence that anyone had ever made the “outing” threat, but that didn’t stop it demanding that the police “take action”. “They should hunt down the leaders,” thundered an editorial, “which should not be too difficult considering how strident they are — and prosecute them. Blackmail is a serious crime, punishable by imprisonment.”

That’s true. False accusation and distortion by newspapers, on the other hand, seems to be perfectly acceptable.

Peter tried to defend himself in a letter to The Independent on Sunday (March 6th) which had, the previous week, carried a somewhat unflattering profile of him. “I have never threatened to ‘out’ MPs,” he said. “It seems that whatever my style of campaigning, I cannot win. While pursuing conventional lobbying tactics I am described as sour and dull. When prompting humorous and imaginative forms of protest, such as the OutRage! ‘Kiss-In’, I get accused of trivialisation. It all goes to show that anyone who rocks the boat for queer freedom will always be wrong and will be branded an extremist.”

He’s right, of course, and the papers had a field day with the disturbance outside Parliament. The Daily Express (February 23rd) had no doubt who was responsible. “A militant gay group called Outrage! was behind Monday night’s siege of the Commons,” it announced. MP Peter Bottomley even claimed that the commotion — or “rampage” — (which he said was caused by “a bunch of screamers”) had swung the vote against us. He said that he would think twice about supporting us again after being “pelted” outside the Commons.

He’s what I think they call a non-conviction politician.

Did the demonstration have any effect upon the outcome? Would it all have been different if we’d stayed at home?

Before the vote was announced, it was a peaceful, good-natured affair, although The Daily Express objected to the demonstrators “outrageous behaviour” — holding hands, dragging up, booing — that sort of thing. There were a lot of people, but they were calm. It was hardly surprising that they became angry on hearing the news that smug MPs had decided to continue denying them equal rights of citizenship in their own country.

GAY TIMES May 1994

The “Pink Pound” continues to fascinate pundits in our press. In the USA, the IKEA furniture store has now launched a TV advertising campaign featuring a gay couple. Commenting on this, Kate Muir in The Times (April 6th) noted that “American advertisers scent rich pickings in the gay market.” She says: “Directing advertising at gay men on the East Coast cities of America makes firm commercial sense. They are generally affluent and tend to have more disposable income than families with children… The power of the ‘pink pound’ is well-known in Britain, and Overlooked Opinions, a research company, claims there are 18 million gay Americans, who spend up to $500 billion (£338 billion) a year.”

She goes on to say that IKEA have chosen a gay couple because “there is a certain assumption that gay men will have good taste in design” and their presence in the ad is intended to give the shop “the Gay Housekeeping Seal of Approval”.

Meanwhile, Palm Springs, a traditional California tourist destination, is trying to revive its flagging economy by courting the gay traveller. In a report in The Daily Telegraph (March 12th) we are told that the local tourist office sends out a gay guide with its literature. “Statistics show that the gay traveller has money to spend and has been virtually untouched by the recession”, says Palm Springs’ head of tourism. “In the current economy we’re are all scraping for every piece of business we can get and we are delighted that gays and lesbians are coming here.”

Mmm. I’m a little suspicious of this sudden enthusiasm for gay money. When there’s no recession we can be excluded from the good things in life (forgotten all those “bannings” that CHE conference organisers had to put up with in the seventies?), but when business has to be “scraped for” we’re the bee’s knees.

***

Tom Hanks’ acceptance speech at the Oscar ceremony might well have been embarrassingly overblown and over-rehearsed, but I suppose it was made with the best of intentions. I don’t suppose the star of Philadelphia could have known that any sympathetic mention of homosexuality on television brings a compensating torrent of hate in the British press.

Leading the charge of the Right brigade was John Junor (Mail on Sunday, March 27th): “Should Hanks be congratulated for his acceptance speech in which he sought to glorify men who died from Aids?” he wrote. “I know many actors don’t have too much behind their ears and that Mr Hanks was in a state of euphoria. Even so I could hardly believe my ears when he described them as ‘angels walking in the streets of heaven’… Isn’t it a bit hot? I would agree with Mr Hanks if he were talking of innocent victims, haemophiliacs who had died because of being transfused with blood, but homosexuals who contracted the disease through their own promiscuity? If they’re in heaven just who the hell is in the other place?”

Barbara Amiel in The Sunday Times (March 27th) made the same point while talking about Hollywood’s desire to follow the “politically correct” trends of the day. “My understanding of Heaven is that admittance and celestial status are conditional on leading a good life or on God’s forgiveness. I do not think God is going to exalt the lifestyle of promiscuous homosexuals any more than I think he is keen on my serial monogamy.”

At least she had the guts to admit that she is hell-bound, too. Junor, on the other hand, must believe that Heaven is populated by poisonous worms such as himself. If he’s the best that Heaven allows, I’d be happier with the “other place”.

Phil Reeves saw the Oscar back-slapping on TV in a bar in Independence, Missouri and reported the reactions of the good Christian people at the “heart of America” as they watched Hollywood’s festival of self-congratulation (Independent on Sunday, March 27th).

 

“To be fair,” he wrote, “Aids and homosexuality are not subjects which many mid-Westerners find it easy to broach. When the Kansas City Star, Independence’s local paper, took the bold decision to run a three-part series on the metropolis’s gay community, there were 800 calls to its readers’ comment phone line, the bulk of which were critical, if not explicitly homophobic.”

The bar chosen by Mr Reeves is as far from “political correctness” (or “simple humanity” as those of us who haven’t fallen for the trick prefer to call it) as it can get. The bar’s proprietor, John Norton, gives his “analysis of the ethical question of homosexuality” by saying: “Ever seen a hippopotamus screw a giraffe? No, you haven’t. Why? Because it ain’t what God intended.”

Another man — a lawyer— explained to the reporter that homosexuals would not be welcome. In fact they would be beaten senseless. But then, that’s non-political correctness for you. In the same issue of the Independent on Sunday there was a photograph of a 1930s lynching. Two black men are swinging from a tree, hanged by a braying, laughing mob of “politically incorrect” whites. I expect some of these “decent folk” might have originated in Independence, Missouri.

Hanks had the good grace (London Evening Standard, March 29th) to admit that he “felt like a fraud” for winning an Oscar for Philadelphia. Indeed, he looked like a fraud with those actor’s tears and that over-the-top actor’s speech (why didn’t he get a decent script-writer to help him out if he wanted give a ‘performance’?). But he says mysteriously that “it’s pretty much guaranteed if you play a homosexual they start to give you trophies.”

The Standard comes to the conclusion that Hanks won the award on grounds of “political correctness” alone. I have to agree that the film was crap in its own right — dishonest, evasive and money-grubbing. Its inability to get to grips with the real issues was illustrated in an interview (Daily Star, March 25th) with “Spanish heart throb” Antonio Banderas, who also starred in the film as Hanks’s lover. He said: “The love scenes are done in just the right way. The romance between Tom and myself is very innocent. For instance, in the hospital scene, I kiss him when I come into the room, but it’s no big deal….” (In other words: “don’t worry folks, the queers won’t actually behave as though they love each other, so there’s no danger of you regurgitating your popcorn”.)

Political correctness was also invoked to describe the fundraising concert for Hackney headmistress Jane Brown.

Ms Brown, you will recall, refused tickets for the ballet Romeo and Juliet on the grounds of its heterosexism. Her support group organised an event at the Hackney Empire which was attended by the Independent’s Sandra Barwick. “In the world of PC — or equal opportunities, as Ms Brown’s supporters prefer to call it — skirt wearers are a minority group, and lipstick is a label,” she wrote.

Well, poor old dykes don’t seem to be able to do anything right as far as journalists are concerned. It seems no event can possibly be genuine and free from the taint of PC unless it has been organised by white, heterosexual men (preferably a brain-dead Education Minister). To qualify as “real” it must, presumably, exclude all mention of minorities who consider they have a grievance.

Having said that, Ms Brown received some support from a most surprising quarter when The Sunday Express (April 3rd) sent an undercover reporter to the Kingsmead Estate, where her school is situated, to find out why the parents were supporting her so determinedly. They discovered that, in fact, Kingsmead School is “a beacon of hope for the rest of the estate”. Ms Brown is making a difference to the lives of the children who live in circumstances that would have shocked Charles Dickens. Victorian values certainly rule in Hackney.

The Sunday Express was big enough to admit that Jane Brown’s decision about the ballet was “far from being about petty political correctness” and much more concerned with the play’s portrayal of violence and gang warfare, which is rife on the Kingsmead.

Mike Hornby, writing in The Independent on Sunday (March 13th) has seen through the manipulative harping on “political correctness” by bigots who want an excuse for their bigotry. “I don’t want to be accused of political correctness myself,” he says, “but.. No, sod it. Actually I don’t give two hoots. We have reached the stage where one only has to say, politely, that one disapproves of, for example, the charming contemporary custom of pushing excreta through the letterboxes of Asian families, and otherwise humane people start to sneer about social workers and Guardian readers.”

He recalls his childhood in the late sixties and early seventies when Asians were “pakis”; Afro-Caribbeans “coons”; girls “scrubbers” and we told “Irish jokes and Biafran jokes and queer jokes”. He thinks things have improved since then. “Love Thy Neighbour and The Black and White Minstrel Show are hardly likely to be revived, and Bernard Manning is now confined to the Northern club circuit; but I cannot… find it in my heart to grieve for their absence, and if that makes me sound like a bleeding heart, drippy, pinko pansy, well, I’m sorry.”

He continues, “Elsewhere it looks like business as usual. Local councillors with Nazi sympathies, drunken Tory MPs interrupting important debates with moronic homophobic abuse, terrifying assaults on Asians in the East End of London.”

We’ve reached a pretty pass in Tory Britain when common human sympathy and concern for the suffering of others have become the objects of scorn. The fake moralising of the Government (“a gang of narrow-minded fanatics” as Neil Ascherson called them in The Observer) has reached sickening proportions. Hopefully when the furniture van arrives to collect Mr Major from Number Ten, he’ll pack his cretinous Cabinet in the back.

***

The Daily Star, under the noxious editorship of Brian (Bonehead) Hitchen has been responsible for some of the most filthy and unfair attacks on gay people we’ve ever seen. That policy continues unabated.

“Radio Five is devoting a weekly programme to homosexuals and lesbians,” said an editorial on March 15th. “Why should this minority get so much special attention? What about programmes for other interest groups such as anglers, pigeon-fanciers, bird watchers, or even ferret-down-the-trouser enthusiasts. But, of course they aren’t as vocal and politically fashionable as the gay lobby.”

In the same issue, in his own column, Bonehead wrote: “Florida’s homosexuals are jumping for joy over a Supreme Court ‘decision to block a move to strip them of their special rights. The American Family Association had been running a state-wide drive to collect 429,000 signatures needed to put the amendment on the Florida ballot in the autumn. Fed up with homosexuals and lesbians demanding special treatment for everything from employment to medical benefits, the American Family Association, which has recruited massive membership, said it was time to fight back for normality.”

I’m not surprised that the AFA has managed to recruit such numbers if they’ve told as many lies about gays as the foul-mouthed Hitchen and his mendacious crew. He says gays are demanding “special rights” and “special treatment”. The truth is that we are asking for NO special treatment (Special treatment in this instance means not being sacked or kicked out of your flat just because of your sexual orientation) The rights that gays want are the same rights that heterosexuals take for granted. And as for Radio Five — Mr Hitchen obviously doesn’t listen to radio or he would hear every one of the minorities he has mentioned having programmes devoted to them.

The Daily Star, along with the rest of the tabloid trash, may be straight as a die as far as their sexuality is concerned, but they’re as bent as corkscrews when it comes to honesty and fair play.

***

Alison Pearson, a columnist in The London Evening Standard, was writing of her concern about the rise of militant Moslems (April 5th). She cites several cases of Moslem women being “spat on and called slags” in East End schools because they refused to adhere to the strict dress code demanded by Islam. “Lurking behind the extremism,” she says, “is the increasingly influential Moslem Society, which organises lectures for young people. At one of these uplifting events, it was apparently suggested that homosexuals should be put to death.”

I have some experience of this myself. I was recently invited to talk about gay rights to students at Brunel University, and during the question and answer session which followed I received a stream of questions from a group of youths who were obviously coming from some extremist religious position. Fortunately, I had the microphone and they were unable to shout me down. Later I was told that they were members of the campus’s Moslem Society and that they regularly disrupted meetings on progressive topics with displays of intolerance.

Allison Pearson says that they are attracting supporters because of the rise of fanatics in our own political system. “After fascists won the Tower Hamlets bye-election in September, Bangladeshis and Bengalis said they were afraid to walk down their own street. Losing faith in the British system they were more vulnerable to the mirthless hardmen of their own faith.”

This is a situation that it will pay us to monitor carefully.

GAY TIMES June 1994

Things are changing fast in the media and the development of the “information highway” is proceeding apace. Satellite and cable television promise an almost unlimited choice of viewing, and computer and telecommunications technology will give access to an almost endless stream of news, information and entertainment. Soon the number of options will be so enormous that it will be difficult for the government — or any other body — to effectively regulate them.

In theory this is a good thing. Traditionally the means of mass communication have been tightly controlled by a small number of people, and access to the public prints and airwaves has been off-limits to some minority voices. Certainly, gays have frequently complained that our voices have been kept off TV and radio as well as being distorted in newspapers. As far as broadcasting is concerned, we cannot make that claim any more. The airwaves are thick with gay voices, whether in mainstream schedules or in “ghetto” programming— such as Radio Five’s news programme, GLR’s Gay & Lesbian London or Channel Four’s Out series.

In the past month we’ve seen programmes about gays in the military, a chat show about coming out and a critique of lesbian lifestyles. A French friend of mine, over here on a visit, was astonished by the amount of national broadcast time given over to gay issues. In France, she said, the subject is hardly ever mentioned.

While the tabloids continue to provide the usual diet of distortion, spite and lies, the quality press take gay life altogether more seriously — although not always uncritically. Hardly a day passes without The Guardian or The Independent carrying a piece that would not look out of place in Gay Times. The Times and The Daily Telegraph, too, will occasionally include features that are surprisingly sympathetic and well-informed.

Samples from last month: The Independent and The Guardian reported on Home Office bias against gay couples — April 27th; Mark Simpson explored the developing influence of gay culture on straight men — The Guardian, April 28th; The Independent did Greta Garbo’s lesbianism — April 23rd, while The Guardian started a new series by a gay man — Oscar Moore — living with Aids, April 16th. The gays-in-the-military issue got a full-page airing in Scotland on Sunday, April 17th; while on the same day, The Sunday Times praised the blossoming of gay theatre. Both The Guardian and The Evening Standard have featured developments in the gay press.

But there are clouds on the horizon. What we are experiencing now may turn out to be a “golden age” of gay representation, which we will look back on with wonder. The traditional liberalism that has dictated much of television’s approach to homosexuality will soon be challenged.

Commentators like Garry Bushell and Paul Johnson complain constantly that critical presentation of homosexuality is never seen on British TV. Bushell calls it “poofter propaganda” and Johnson blames it on the influences of what he sees as the “liberal fascists” who control broadcasting. There is evidence that their views are shared by many other people — one opinion poll after another shows that the appearance of lesbians and gay men on television is not popular. As William Rees-Mogg, the first chairman of the Broadcasting Standards Council, said when he was conducting research into the values held by viewers: “One hears much more antipathy to homosexuals than might be expected in a tolerant society. Scenes of men kissing do not seem to promote tolerance; they were invariably commented on unfavourably, sometimes with sharp hostility.”

To its credit, the BSC has rejected just about all anti-gay complaints from the religious Right and other bigots trying to push gay images off the screen.

Now that the right to broadcast is being carved up and shared out, and as the tradition of “public service” broadcasting gives way to unfettered commercialism, we may see more pandering to what the public “really wants.” As TV and radio are deregulated, we are likely to witness a mad scramble for the finite number of listeners and viewers. Just as the tabloids’ race for readers dragged standards of journalism to the sewers, so competition in broadcasting may lead the same way. And just as homophobia became a staple diet of popular newspapers, so it may become in the rapidly growing world of tabloid television.

It is already happening in America, where half a dozen nightly programmes compete for the “tabloid TV” market — perhaps the most successful being Hard Copy and A Current Affair which concentrate on intrusion into private lives, sensational “human interest stories” and disasters. Ironically, just about all the reporters working on these shows are imported from Britain. The Americans needed the ruthless, amoral skills of Fleet Street’s tabloids in order to make these shows work.

Wendy Henry, who began her tabloid training on The Sun and went on to become the first woman editor of a national paper (The News of the World) is prominent in this new arena of trash television.

US commercial radio stations also employ “shock jocks” to boost their ratings. These men — like Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh — are invariably ultra right-wing, pushing out a constant stream of reactionary opinion, much of it based on racism, sexism and homophobia. The formula is successful, because it is something quite new for radio, and if you aren’t on the receiving end of the hate, I suppose it is quite entertaining. No one knows what a constant diet of this kind of broadcasting might do to public perceptions of gays.

Because such provocative presenters get huge audiences, all the stations have to have one. As the competition hots up, they each must try to outdo each other in outrageous opinions, pushing the limits of decency ever downwards.

It was only a matter of time before the idea was imported into this country.

The Sunday Express (May 1st) carried a profile of “Caesar the Geezer” who broadcasts every weekday on Kiss FM. Described as “the most aggressive person on radio”, Caesar is a bit of a pussy cat when compared with his American counterparts. He doesn’t like racists and homophobes (although he does think it’s a disgrace for gay people to be allowed to adopt). His speciality appears to be personal abuse and rudeness. He is bringing in audiences, and soon others, slicker and less restrained, will follow.

In January, Kelvin MacKenzie, long-time editor of The Sun, was elevated by Murdoch to managing director of Sky Television, and soon after that, Richard Littlejohn — the paper’s resident columnist and homophobe — was given his own five nights a week show on Sky, and was also signed up for a weekly programme on London Weekend Television. This may be the first step in the serious “tabloidisation” of Sky. And if it is, can it be long before the other channels are forced to follow suit?

Littlejohn was recently censured by the Radio Authority for comments he made on his LBC morning show. The first complaint referred to his suggestion that the women’s movement had been “hijacked by hatchet-faced, shaven-headed dykes in boiler suits, who despise men.” The second concerned comments he made the morning after the age of consent debate. He said on air: “Curious woman, Edwina Currie. A couple of years ago she wanted to ban all eggs on the grounds that they’re a threat to health. Now she demands legalised teenage anal sex — the surest and quickest way of transmitting Aids… I couldn’t care less about (the age of consent) but I think the decision to peg it at 18 was about right. However, after seeing the plankton bouncing up and down outside the Commons last night, if I were an MP I’d probably have voted to raise the age to 65 and banned moustaches and earrings as a basis for negotiation. Anything which that lot outside the Commons are in favour of, I’m against on principle. The police should have turned the dogs on ’em — and if that failed, brought out the flame-throwers.”

The Radio Authority decided that he had incited violence, in contravention of the Broadcasting Act, and that LBC should pay a substantial financial penalty. Unfortunately, LBC is in receivership, so no fine was extracted. Littlejohn walks away from the whole thing laughing, and picking up contracts that will bring his filthy and dangerous opinions to a much wider audience.

In an article in The Sun (May 2nd), Littlejohn moaned that his “bollockings” were nothing more than censorship. “There are already adequate laws to prevent incitement to violence,” he says. Oh really? I’d like to know which ones could have been invoked by the homosexuals for whom he was recommending the flame-throwers.

This, of course, is just the start. Littlejohn is well aware that his anti-gay ranting can bring in viewers and he will use it ruthlessly. The Radio Authority and the TV regulatory bodies will be helpless when faced with a torrent of yobbo programming — what are a few piddling fines when you are coining millions from flouting the law? It’s the same principle as the libel laws — the fines extracted for slanderous newspaper attacks are as nothing when placed against tabloid profits. Murdoch will laugh all the way to the bank as he leads the way in degrading broadcasting in the same way that he has degraded print journalism.

When the telly ratings war starts in earnest, we can expect gay lives to be used and abused in the same ruthless way that they are in the tabloid circulation battles.

***

The Sunday Express and The Daily Star quite gratuitously “outed” the solicitor who is defending Frederick West, the man at the centre of the Gloucester “House of Horror” case.

As this contravenes section 15 of the Press Complaints Commission’s code of conduct (“The press should avoid publishing details of a person’s sexual orientation unless it is directly relevant to the story”), I made a complaint. The Commission decided that there was no case to answer. “As someone who is involved in a highly publicised case which is in the public eye, the Commission considered that the reporting of the man’s personal life did not raise a breach of Clause 15 of the Code.”

Can someone — especially someone at the Press Complaints Commission —please tell me where this all ends? Are gay people (even those in the public eye) entitled to no privacy at all? This man’s sexuality has no bearing whatever on his job as a solicitor, it is totally irrelevant to his involvement in this case. He has broken no laws and he made it plain that he wanted the matter kept out of the public eye. So what possible justification can there be for “outing” him — or even more so, his partner, who was also named in the article?

The plain truth is that, as far as ordinary people are concerned, the Press Complaints Commission’s code of practice isn’t worth the paper it is printed on. It seems it can be successfully invoked only by members of the royal family.

GAY TIMES July 1994

The rumblings began as long ago as May 1st, when The News of the World ran the headline: “Beeb pays for gays to do kung-fu”. The paper said: “BBC gays are being invited to join a kung-fu course —paid for out of TV licence funds — in case they’re attacked while shopping” — a story which had appeared in The Sunday Mirror a year ago.

It was a warning that the papers were gunning for the BBC and its equal opportunities policy, which had the temerity to include gays. But we had to wait until May 22nd before the papers really hit the jackpot. The Mail on Sunday blared: “Fury at BBC move to send gays on paid ‘honeymoon’ — bosses throw in a £75 gift voucher.”

“Love-struck gay men and lesbians who tie the knot in unofficial ceremonies are to be recognised and given the same rights as straight workers,” reported The Sunday Mirror (omitting to mention that gays have no alternative but to use “unofficial ceremonies” given there are no “official” ones).

The following day the papers again positively fizzed with homo-hatred: “What a disgraceful waste of public money. Why should anyone at the BBC, gay or not, get extra holidays or wedding gifts?” thundered The Sun. “We pay our TV licences for them to make programmes. Not pink frilled curtains.”

The Daily Star editorialised: “The BBC has found a new way of squandering licence payers’ money. It seems TV bosses introduced the ruling after facing demands from gay pressure groups. How pathetic can you get? They should have told them to sod off.”

Sod off, that’s a good one. So good, in fact, The Daily Star decided to break the news the following day that the BBC had backed down on its “crackpot scheme” by leading its front page with a huge reversed-out headline: “SOD OFF!”

“BBC bosses have been shamed into scrapping ‘wedding’ perks for gay staff,” said the story, and just like the clockwork rentagob he is, up pops Harry Greenway, Tory MP for Ealing North. “It outrages me to think of the struggle which many people have to raise the £84.50 licence fee when they hear it is being misused in this appalling way.” (Is this the same Harry Greenway who, in 1990, was charged with corruption and “violating his public duty as a Member of Parliament” — a case that was never concluded because the judge considered too much time had elapsed between the charges being brought and the trial?)

Anyway, the editor of The Daily Star, Brian Hitchen, easily topped Greenway’s celebrated homophobia with a column which began: “Working at the BBC must be a poofter’s paradise. It’s so wonderful queer couples who ‘marry’ could, before yesterday, qualify for a £75 ‘wedding gift’ voucher and a week’s honeymoon. And all this coming out of revenue the BBC wrung out of us for ludicrous licence fees. Doesn’t it make you want to vomit?… It’s a good thing the pansies can’t get pregnant. They’d be asking for maternity leave. Or would it be paternity leave? I’m never quite sure.”

More “liberal” papers were quick to comment that it was a good thing the £75 wedding gift had been scrapped — for everybody, not just gay couples. Jill Parkin in — wait for it — The Daily Express thought the whole thing “Dickensian”. She said the gay angle had “spawned a backlash from the Terry and June faction which lives in newspaper columns all over the place”. She said that “They have raged at the BBC for attacking ‘family values’, for encouraging departures from their norm: married mother and father, two children and a double garage. Today the family is a lot wider than that. Perhaps it really always was.” So, it seems even Daily Express people can occasionally see life as it is, rather than as the Tory back bench would like it to be (for the rest of us, that is, not for themselves).

Which is not to say that The Daily Express has changed its spots. Goodness me no. By May 25th one of its intrepid investigative reporters (Ian Cobain) had discovered that “Gays get cut-price travel”.

“Gay bus conductors and Tube drivers are being given travel passes for their lovers,” Mr Cobain told us. “Their partners can use them to claim 75 per cent discount whenever they travel on London’s public transport.” According to Mr Cobain — obviously a Duncan Campbell wannabe — the passes are known as “pink permits” and “awaygays”. MP Geoffrey Dickens “stormed”: “We seem to have gone mad. It’s ridiculous.”

Unlike the “gutless” BBC, London Transport stuck by its equal opportunities policy. “We are sympathetic to people in homosexual relationships, provided it is a stable one,” a spokesman said from his bunker.

The persistent and highly-skilled Ian Cobain then also “uncovered” the remarkable fact that “LT is not alone in extending perks to gay partners.” He “revealed” (although no one knew it was a secret) that British Telecom’s pension scheme will pay out to long-term lovers of gay staff when they die. And the Metropolitan Police say gay officers can apply for ‘married quarters’ to share with their partner.”

Recognising he was on to a good thing, Ian Cobain then scrounged through a few more Equal Ops policies and on May 27th The Daily Express announced on its front page that: “Gay civil servants are being paid thousands of pounds of tax payers’ money to help them set up new homes with their lovers. They are being offered grants of up to £2,275 when they move to a different part of the country.”

Wheeled in to comment on this latest scandal was “Tory MP Nigel West” — who doesn’t actually exist — “This is an insult to tax payers who are being asked to fork out more this year. I will be taking it up with the Minister for the Civil Service, William Waldegrave. It is simply baffling how this can be allowed.” (The guilty party for this little diatribe was actually Nigel Evans).

The following day the Express was pleased to announce that “a top-level Whitehall inquiry was launched last night into the gay civil servants’ cash scandal.”

But how had a fair and just equal opportunities policy suddenly turned into a “cash scandal”? Only the tabloids can manage it. And here come Ann and Nick to pour scorn on gay relationships (that’s Ann and Nick Winterton, MPs, not the charming, but unmarried, talk show hosts). “This is a disgraceful abuse of public funds… One hopes it will be stopped immediately,” fulminated Mrs Winterton, while her husband said: “There is supposed to be a shortage of money, yet we are paying out to people who have an unnatural lifestyle. It is a disgrace.”

God, if marriage means you end up like this pair of old miseries, count me out.

Then came the columnists. “The frenzied homophobia with which some Tory MPs responded to the news [of BBC equal ops. extending to gays] had, I thought, an unusually maniacal edge,” wrote Claudia Fitzherbert in The Daily Telegraph (May 27th). “… Is it not curious that it is the very same people who revile homosexuals on the grounds that they are degenerate, promiscuous and out of sync with the monogamous mores which make for a stable society who are most vociferous in their indignation when these same monsters of depravity make a public show of long-term monogamous commitment?”

Francis Wheen in his Guardian column was furious over the fact that “a perfectly decent and unexceptionable policy should be ditched overnight merely because a couple of oafish backbenchers and homophobic leader-writers make a fuss… The cancellation of the wedding presents… represents gutlessness of a rare order.”

In an open letter to John Birt, Director-General of the BBC, published in The Independent (May 24th), David B. Peschek “a former press officer for Gay Pride” said: “The scheme had benefited straight couples for some time — and gone unquestioned… I would have hoped for a less spineless response to such a rabid protest, John. This only goes to prove that homophobia reaps benefits for no one; we are all demeaned by prejudice. You should take a lesson form any lesbian or gay man — don’t let the bigots grind you down.”

Matthew Parris in The Times thought that “in purely book-keeping terms, homosexual employees are a good buy. They are less distracted by family, more amenable to working late, flexible, mobile, and unlikely to become pregnant and demand special payments and months off work — or, worse, resign, wasting all their training. Perhaps employees should be encouraged to form same-sex relationships, with special bonus payments for this type of honeymoon.”

But not everyone thought the whole thing a ridiculous tabloid storm in a tea cup. William Oddie in The Sunday Times (May 29th) was of the opinion that gays are encouraging a backlash against themselves by asking for equality. “What worries [a lot of heterosexuals] is the demands of the militant gay lobby that society should not merely accord them toleration, but that it should unreservedly accept that homoerotic activity is as natural as heterosexuality, and that two gay cohabiting people should therefore be seen as constituting simply an alternative type of married couple. Public opinion is not yet (and may never be) prepared to go that far.”

He feels it is time for “the gay lobby to consolidate: it is certainly not time to get clever with nonsense about gay honeymoons.” Nonsense is it, Mr Oddie? I fear that your advice is not offered with our welfare in mind, more as a sop to your own uncomfortable feelings about homosexuality.

Maureen Howell of Willesden wrote to The Daily Express (May 26th) to tell them that she thought “the BBC should not be criticised for having offered the same considerations to gay and lesbians as it had done in the past to newly-wed heterosexuals. It is about time people came to realise that gay people are working and paying taxes, sometimes for things they can never hope to qualify for themselves. They pay for other people’s children and lifestyles, whether single or married and for couples to qualify for council homes at low cost plus a whole host of other concessions.” She thought the Beeb “in line with European thinking” and congratulated it for its fair treatment of everyone.

However, Leslie Pike of Colchester, wrote to The Daily Mail (June 2nd) with an answer to this new right-wing dilemma — how to have equal ops for everyone — except homosexuals. “If the BBC is still having problems with its conscience over equality, it should stop giving wedding presents to staff and instead make a generous gift on the birth of the first child of the marriage.”

Meanwhile, The London Evening Standard (May 27th) cast an altogether more sinister shadow over the concept of including gay men in equal opportunities policies. In a pre-broadcast account of the odious Inside Stoll, programme on BBC1, it ran the story of Peter Righton who, along with “a group of gay social work academics” were able to “abuse boys with terrifying ease”. The story has originated from a lesbian colleague of Righton’s who had heard him confess at a dinner party in the Seventies that he liked to have sex with boys. “The [people at the dinner party] felt safe with each other. Most were either homosexual or lesbian. It was the mid-seventies and there was solidarity among this group who, in liberal social work departments, had felt able to ‘come out’. They saw themselves as being in the forefront of social change, challenging sexual repression and homophobia.”

The tale of abuse that followed was horrific, but the article seemed to be suggesting that it is equal opportunities and “gay solidarity” that are to blame for the tragedy. “In a profession where ‘anti-discriminatory practice’ now consumes a large part of [social workers’] training, they were vulnerable to Righton’s persuasion that those hostile to gay men’s relationships with boys were homophobes.”

The hundreds of blameless gay social workers who have devoted their lives to the welfare of others will be horrified at the implication which pervaded both the Standard’s story and the TV documentary that they ought not to be trusted with children. No one would dare make the same generalisation about heterosexual social workers based on those who have abused the trust implicit in their job.

 

The old collective responsibility argument must not hold sway because trust has been breached by some individuals.

In the light of cases such as this, equal opportunities policies become more important, not less.

GAY TIMES August 1994

It’s taken 25 years, but at last the newspapers seem to have conceded that the gay movement is here to stay. Some of them even admitted that we have made progress and that we might be worth taking seriously. Not seriously enough to cover Pride properly, of course, but we can’t complain that Stonewall 25 was totally ignored — and we didn’t even need a serial killer to get their attention this time round.

The Independent (June 23rd) gave some background to the riot that started it all in New York back in 1969. We’ve heard it all before — although, like most historical events no one can be really sure which parts of the present-day versions are true and which have changed over the years for the sake of political expedience. The Indy notes that the June issue of the US gay mag The Advocate has been trying to get to the bottom of what really happened that sultry night. Did a drag queen called Sylvia Riviera “really throw the bottle that triggered the riot? And was the riot planned, or a spontaneous reaction to the death of Judy Garland, a gay icon because of her own homosexual experiences?”

No one seems to know for certain. But what we do know is that we haven’t looked back since. The Sunday Times (June 26th) headlined its own summary of the state of gay rights in America today as: “The rise and rise of the gay global village” and sub-headed it “In 25 years, homosexuals have transformed themselves into a powerful political and financial lobby.” The two-page feature by a resentfully admiring Brian Deer concentrated on the experiences of the gay community in Oak Lawn, a suburb of Dallas (variously described as the “Buckle on the Bible Belt” and “murder capital of the world”). Gay Oak Lawners want their share of the Jesus action and have built themselves a $3.5million church with bullet proof windows from which they call on God to equip them for “any challenge”. You’ve got to admire the gay community’s guts in setting up home in the most fundamentalist city in America.

Deer says, “Urban areas that, for as long as they have existed, witnessed division by class and race are now splitting along the lines of what people do in bed. In a development that is pushing the so-called ‘gay issue’ up the public agenda almost everywhere, and gathering pace at an exponential rate, we are seeing the emergence of a global homosexual tribe.”

Now in Dallas there are “70 homosexual organisations ranging from the Federal Club, a high-profile political fund-raising group for which membership costs up to $10,000 a year, to the Turtle Creek Chorale, a nationally renowned gay men’s choir. There are 25 gay and lesbian bars, the most popular of which turned over $2.5 million in sales. Two of the 15-member Dallas city council are open about being gay.”

Not that everything is hunky dory. Deer reports acts of violence and injustice against gay people all over the world, from “horrific stonings in Iran to sporadic and sometimes serious physical assaults virtually everywhere.”

Time magazine (June 27th) did its own survey of the state of play and found that a poll it conducted showed that 65 per cent of Americans thought homosexual rights were being “paid too much attention”. The magazine says: “Strikingly, those who described homosexuality as morally wrong made up the same proportion — 53 per cent — as in a poll in 1978.”

Other findings in the survey were that “Americans are willing to accept that gays have equal rights under the law — 53 per cent favoured allowing them to serve in the military, and a plurality of 47 per cent to 45 per cent supports giving them the same civil rights protection as racial and religious minorities — but are distinctly less comfortable when asked about gays close at hand. By 57 per cent to 36 per cent, poll respondents say that gays cannot be good role models for children; 21 per cent say they would not even buy from a homosexual salesman or woman.”

Time comes to the conclusion that “If the view over the past quarter century suggests that gay progress is inevitable, the picture today suggests that gays may instead be, as their opponents argue, a unique case rather than just another minority group. Far from continuing towards inclusion, gays may already be bumping up against the limits of tolerance.”

Certainly we have bumped up against the limits of William Oddie’s tolerance. Writing in The Sunday Times (May 29th), he warned us that “The present assumption of the gay lobby appears to be that all it has to do is to continue agitating in order to make further advances. But I suspect we have reached the point at which, as Quentin Crisp said, ‘the more gay people now insist on their rights, the greater the distance becomes between the gay world and the straight world, and that is a pity.’ It is more than just a pity: it is potentially a tragedy, and one that will make our society nastier and less tolerant than it was before.” He says that people should keep their noses out of what does not concern them “and treat each other as decently as possible”. Surely, on that basis, he should be lecturing heterosexuals, not gays.

Peter Tatchell certainly doesn’t seem to mind the idea of distance between the straight and gay world. In an opinion piece in The Observer (June 19th) he “took issue with homosexuals who argue for greater assimilation into ‘straight’ society” and argued “for gay self-help through an organised ‘queer’ counter culture.”

“While we do not intend to give up the fight for law reform,” wrote Peter, “many of us now feel that the key to queer advancement is self-help and community empowerment. That way we are less at the mercy of institutions dominated by heterosexuals and more in control of our own destiny. With self-reliance, we can create our own homo-affirming community and safe queer space where we do not have to justify ourselves or plead with heterosexuals for acceptance. We can give each other the support that straight society denies us.”

Even the reactionary old Sunday Telegraph joined in (June 26th), was carrying a piece about the emergence of the Rainbow Flag as a gay symbol. It helpfully revealed, just as we did in the June issue of Gay Times, that the six colours the flag contains represent: “red for life, orange for healing, yellow for sun, green for nature, blue for art and violet for spirit.” The original idea was to have eight colours, the two lost ones — which, the paper says, were originally thought of as “vital” — were pink for sexuality and indigo for harmony.

The Sunday Telegraph says that “the gay community hopes (the flag) will become an accepted symbol of shops and business that are either run by or cater predominantly for homosexuals.”

Who decided this on behalf of all of us? The only time the rainbow flag ever comes my way is when someone is trying to sell something — a tea towel, a bedspread, a mug (as in coffee, not you’ve been taken for a…). I’ll stick with the pink triangle, thanks. At least it has an important and meaningful symbolism for homosexuals.

***

Usually, when I’m gathering material for Mediawatch there is very little — often nothing — directly relevant to lesbians. Gay girls have been invisible in the straight media for most of the 25 years of gay liberation. All that changed in the last couple of months. My clippings pile is bulging with features, news stories and commentary on all things lesbian — from Martina’s proposed baby to The Sun’s familiar assertion that all this attention will only result in young girls having their heads turned and opting for abnormality.

Linda Grant wrote in the Independent on Sunday about the confusion of heterosexual men when faced with lesbianism — and their desperate efforts to explain it away. She quotes Harry Carpenter writing in The Sun about being appalled when he discovered a favourite tennis star — the legendary Maria Bueno —was lesbian. “I couldn’t help thinking it was such a waste. She had stunning natural black hair and a beautiful face with a flawless complexion.”

Ms Grant commented: “When confronted with the rumour that a beautiful woman is gay the male brain finds the information does not compute. It’s not as if she can’t get a man, it puzzles, though no one has ever suggested that it was impossible for Rock Hudson to be homosexual because he was a hunk.”

Linda Grant also wonders whether the lesbian media image will ever be more than a “silly season filler”. I think it will because there have been much more significant events than porny pictures in Harper’s and Queens.

The decision by a Manchester court to award a lesbian couple joint legal rights over the upbringing of their 22-month-old son really set the cat among the pigeons. The Daily Mail fulminated that it demonstrated that Britain is existing in a “moral vacuum”. The back-bench bilge-merchants were also provoked into waving their pathetic prejudices once more.

But leaving the Neanderthals in Jurassic Park (SW1A OAA), the papers have not, as they usually do, risen with one voice in condemnation of the women. Indeed, supportive comment far outweighs the disapproval.

Carol Sarler in The People (June 3rd) said that there were no “qualifications” for parenthood other than a desire to love your children. She cited the case of two little girls aged two and six in Newcastle upon Tyne who, a court was told, “had to eat out of dogs’ bowls; who growled in place of speech; whose flesh was ingrained with dirt and whose bodies were riddled with worms”. Ms Sarler pointed out (and this is the first time I’ve ever seen this in a tabloid newspaper) that their mother was not lesbian. “She is married — and the children do have a father.”

Suzanne Moore in The Guardian (July 1st) said that “Lesbian friends of mine who were having difficulty with a teacher who had never before encountered a gay couple with a child finally went into school to explain why their daughter had two people she called mum. The teacher’s hostility soon vanished. ‘Oh, so she’s got two parents, then? Well, that puts her one up on most kids in the class.”

MP Emma Nicholson’s remark that she is “immensely unhappy when adult sexual behaviour inflicts a distorted lifestyle on children” brought this retort from Libby Purves in The Times (July 1st): “If you are looking for distortion caused by adult sexual behaviour, however, we live in a positive Hall of Mirrors. The children of MPs, royalty, journalists and other moral prodnoses do not need to read underclass horror stories to find out about the lifestyle problems which adult sexuality inflicts on children. They are familiar with it all: access arrangements, vendettas, embarrassment, law-suits, confusion, hypocrisy…As for the… ‘perversion’ of the women’s lives, if normal parental sex-life is anything to go by, it will probably be pretty underwhelming. Most children grow up with a heterosexual relationship in the background and barely notice. Frankly, the incidence of sizzling sexual energy in the average family household is depressingly low.”

Meanwhile in The Mail on Sunday (July 3rd), Dillie Keane also came to the women’s defence: “Children need to see true loving kindness demonstrated day after mundane day. Security gives kids a fighting chance of survival as adults. And if those two parents are women, so be it.”

However, she finishes by saying: “Moral battles aren’t won by High Court rulings. They are won by sheer hard slog. The battle that homosexuals and lesbians are fighting won’t be won for 20, 30, 40 years when and if the children they rear turn out to be happy, balanced adults who tell us that having two parents of the same sex is just fine. Until then I reserve my judgement.”

Well, Dillie, scrap the forty-year wait, lovey, because although you might not have heard of them before, lesbian couples aren’t actually a new phenomenon. Indeed, The Guardian (July 2nd) revealed that there have been “four big controlled studies — one in the UK and three in America — comparing children being brought up in lesbian homes with the children of heterosexual mothers.”

The results showed that the lesbian-reared children didn’t suffer from any of the problems which are being anticipated by the “family values” brigade. “The studies have found no difference in the children’s social functioning, self-esteem or ability to express themselves. The psychologists said they appeared able to put their parents’ lifestyle ‘in a broader cultural context.’ The last study, not yet published, followed the children they interviewed in the seventies through their adolescence in the eighties, to adulthood. They found that it is a myth to believe that children brought up in lesbian homes will automatically be homosexual.”

GAY TIMES September 1994

The newspaper circulation war which is currently being waged in Fleet Street (or, these days, the less dramatic-sounding Canary Wharf) is threatening two of the gay community’s most consistent allies. The Independent and The Guardian are both feeling the pressure, but it seems that The Independent is on the point of buckling. As its circulation plummets towards the crucial quarter-million mark, the alarm bells must be ringing. There is no information at the time of writing as to whether its price cut (to 30p) will stem this haemorrhage of readership, or for how long the paper will be able to sustain the inevitable huge losses.

The Guardian, on the other hand, claims not to be losing readers at quite such a rate and has stated that it has no need to cut its price. It alone among the broadsheets sails serenely on, apparently indifferent to the blood-letting. But then again, at the beginning, so did The Independent.

Architect of this rather sinister power play is, of course, Rupert Murdoch, using the profits from his TV interests to support his now loss-making newspapers as they seek to drive the competition out of business. Murdoch has said that he envisages a future in which Britain has only three national daily newspapers: The Times, The Sun and the Daily Mail. Not only would that development be a disservice to democracy, it would be horrendous news for gay rights. None of the titles mentioned in Mr Murdoch’s scenario can be said to be enamoured of our community — all have been actively hostile towards us. (Although The Times has made some concessions with the employment of Matthew Parris as a columnist and the inclusion of the occasional “other point of view” feature.) But when it came to the crunch — with the age of consent debate — of the national press, only The Independent and The Guardian gave unequivocal support for equality.

Writing about the price war in The Guardian (July 7th), Anthony Lewis foresees Murdoch’s papers becoming “increasingly irresponsible and nasty”. He gave as an example of the downward trend of journalistic values in the Murdoch press, The Sunday Times’ recent campaign questioning the connection between HIV and Aids, and denying that there is an Aids epidemic in Africa. “Until recently, I doubt that even a circulation-hungry tabloid would have run such cruelly irresponsible anti-science.” (In contrast, The Independent marked the tenth anniversary on August 4th of the identification of HIV with a whole-page update of the Aids situation. It also carried an editorial headed: “Aids is not an issue for moralisers”.)

The Government seems unwilling to act to stop this wholesale wrecking of diversity in the newspaper industry, even though it has the power to do so. Many would say its inaction stems from fear of the propaganda power that Murdoch wields.

The loss of The Independent, a friend and ally to the gay community, would represent a major set-back. It has set the pace in its coverage of the gay rights struggle and has carried supportive editorials on most our issues: it called for an end to discrimination against gays in the military, it favoured gay adoption and fostering, an equal age of consent, and more police action to combat queer-bashing. It has been sensible and responsible in its reporting of Aids. It has had the attention of those in power and has taken over in many instances from The Times as the platform for official views on matters of the day.

If the price-cutting continues over any length of time — and there is every indication that it has become a war of attrition — The Guardian, too, will fall under the shadow of Murdoch’s superior cash reserves. What many gay people regard as “our paper” may also eventually disappear. (It editorialised on August 5ththat “dismissing gay service staff is denying them their civil right to fight for their country.”)

We can only do our bit by ensuring we support papers that support us, and encourage our friends and family to do likewise.

But it isn’t all going Murdoch’s way. Sky television has taken a step back from tabloidisation — at least for the moment — with the ungainly departure of oik-in-chief, Kelvin MacKenzie. The ex-editor of The Sun (whom Murdoch once described as “my little Hitler”) failed in his attempts to do for television what he has done for tabloids — take it into the gutter.

MacKenzie just did not understand the difference between the printed word and the televisual image. In the newspapers, you can create demons to attack — as MacKenzie successfully did with gays as well as left-wingers — but it ain’t so simple on television, where people can speak for themselves.

All this upheaval in Murdoch’s empire was music to the ears of his foes in the newspaper industry who were all anxious to report that BSkyB, Murdoch’s great white hope in the heavens, is beginning to show a dramatic slow-down in growth. “Hard though it is to get clear facts and figures on the satellite market — or on News International’s finances — it is clear that the year so far has not been wholly good for the organisation,” wrote Georgina Henry in The Guardian (August 4th) while The Independent (August 3rd) told us that “BSkyB suffered a drop of 18 per cent in average viewing per customer between 1993 and 1994” and that it costs seven or eight times as much to watch a film on satellite as it does on the BBC (45p an hour as opposed to 6p). It then went on to say: “Not long ago publishers thought newspapers were an incurable addiction. Now they slash their cover prices and cut each other’s throats. Mr Murdoch is said to have started the press’s price war believing that only four dailies have the strength and diversity of appeal to flourish in the next century. And perhaps only four big, universally appealing television channels?”

The Sun, in the meantime, hit back at The Independent, saying: “At 30p it is a high price to pay for paper to hang in the smallest room:” Don’t people say the same about The Sun?

Meanwhile, Mr Richard Littlejohn — The Sun’s favourite columnist — assures us that rumours of the cancellation of his proposed nightly show on Sky are greatly exaggerated. In a letter to the London Evening Standard (August 5th), the would-be TV shock-horror merchant says that his satellite programme will be a mix of “hard news, intelligent debate, comment, politics, the arts and sport” and will begin on September 19th. However, if his new London Weekend TV programme (“Littlejohn Live and Uncut”), which aims for the same formula, is anything to go by, it will he just as crappy as everything else on BSkyB.

Given that a couple of days before the first show (July 8th) he had been writing in The Sun about “designer dykes” and the fact that “the NHS has no business wasting time and money impregnating self-centred sexual deviants”, it was almost inevitable that he would open his TV series with the same topic.

Reading the autocue like some sort of zombie, Littlejohn tried pathetically to make jokes about a yoghurt pot, but his uncomprehending audience weren’t quite sure what he was on about. He sniped at the women he’d invited and made the sort of remarks that would have been regarded as crude even in Kelvin MacKenzie’s living room. It rapidly became apparent that saying things like “I couldn’t care less what lesbians get up to just so long as I am not forced to pay for it… the antics of some of them leave a particularly nasty taste in the mouth” might be all right in The Sun, but it’s not quite the same on the telly.

The women he was attacking remained calm and dignified, refusing to rise to his bait. His tactics were transparent: he was being nasty to real, likeable people, and that isn’t quite the same as slagging off the “shaven-headed dykes” he’d demonised in print. He too discovered the hard way that The Sun does not shine in television.

When film director Michael Winner, another guest on the show, was asked what he thought, he opined that Littlejohn was an arsehole. (Round of applause from audience.)

The Evening Standard’s TV reviewer Matthew Norman shared Winner’s opinion, preparing one of the most damning critiques I’ve ever read in a newspaper: “A 90-minute cold collation of simplistic current affairs debate, showbiz chat and nutter-baiting romp, its aim was undisguised — to get maximum ratings for minimum expense by trying to shock. And shock it certainly did — though for no other reason than the paucity of its ambition and the crassness of the execution.”

As for Johnny Littledick, Mr Norman thought that “in the farmyard of humanity” he would “surely occupy a sty”.

The following week, the attention-seeking Littlejohn somehow managed to allow ten seconds of “lesbian porn” to be broadcast —a “mistake” by his technicians, apparently. The week after that, one of his guests, David Icke, could stand the pillorying no longer and walked out of the studio. All grist to the mill for someone who thinks people are interesting so long as they are “barmy” and don’t answer back, and whose humiliation can make money for him. LWT should be ashamed of being responsible for such amateurish, self-seeking bilge and for going along with Littlejohn’s pathetic attempts to build some kind of dubious reputation for himself.

***

David Nicholson-Ward wrote revealingly in The Independent on Sunday (July 10th) about “factoids”, that apparently “undisputed” data which comes out of research commissioned by vested interests. Often such spurious statistics and “findings” are then obligingly presented in the media as “the truth”. For instance, the Washington Family Institute last year issued a “survey” which “revealed” that “a gay lifestyle reduces life expectancy from 75 to 42”.

This “factoid” was much touted by Christian activists during the age of consent debate — even in the House of Lords. The people who were using the figures were never asked to reveal how they had been arrived at or who exactly the Washington Family Institute is (it is, in fact, a right-wing Christian pressure group).

“Tactical research”, as it is called, is often used to justify the unjustifiable and create confusion in the minds of consumers. For example, is butter any worse for your health than margarine? It depends whose factoids you’ve been reading.

Or, as Mr Nicholson-Ward wrote: “In the new and prosperous world of tactical research, constructed around commercial horizons and compliant media, truth has become a commodity, and one with a limited shelf life. Much more important than truth is what people believe — or what you can get them to believe.”

Another recent use of the “factoid” concerned insurance. The Association of British Insurers announced last month that “insurance companies are to the drop a controversial question about Aids on life assurance proposal forms” (Daily Telegraph, June 27th). Most of the papers reported this piece of blatant public relations guff unquestioningly, failing to mention that “lifestyle” questionnaires will probably still be sent to those suspected of being gay.

Only the Financial Times (July 30th/31st) bothered to find out that: “Even when insurers produce new forms which drop the question about Aids-testing, they will still be able to find out whether you have had an Aids-test from your GP’s medical records.” And you cannot refuse permission for them to contact your GP — if you do they will simply turn down your application.

The hidden influence of the advertising and public relations industry cannot be underestimated, and it is more important than ever that we read our newspapers with a sharp and cynical eye.

And anecdotal evidence was supplied by The Sunday Times (July 3rd) when a 34 year old man told of his own experience in being raised by two women in a lesbian relationship. “Don’t knock lesbian mothers… Any court that obstructs access to a child, or refuses a residence order because a parent is gay is wrong. As a teenager I looked among the parents of friends and could not see one happy marriage. I was raised in a house of love.”

GAY TIMES October 1994

And so, Brian (Bonehead) Hitchen has been promoted from the editorship of The Daily Star to that of the equally grotty and declining Sunday Express. As a leaving present, the Press Complaints Commission wagged a finger severely at Bonehead (who probably wagged two fingers back). Fleet Street’s leading homophobe was censured for making “prejudicial and pejorative references to homosexuals in breach of Clause 15(i) of the Code of Practice” in an article about the BBC’s equal opportunities policy. “Working at the BBC must be a poofter’s idea of paradise,” wrote the editor who describes himself as being to the right of Atilla the Hun. “It’s so wonderful that queer couples who ‘marry’ could, before yesterday, qualify for a £75 ‘wedding gift voucher’ and a week’s honeymoon… doesn’t it make you want to vomit?… it’s a good thing the pansies can’t get pregnant.”

Interestingly, the Press Complaints Commission said in its adjudication of this case that it is “unwilling to compile a list of proscribed words or phrases” and upholds the “traditional right of columnists to express personal views and even to use language which some may find offensive.” That should be good news for Bushell, Littlejohn, Junor et al — it seems to be giving them the green light to start the unrestrained slagging once more. Bring on the poofters, woofters, lezzies and queers.

The Press Complaints Commission might well have found against Hitchen on this occasion, but what in the end does the adjudication mean? I haven’t seen it reproduced in The Daily Star (unless I missed it, which is quite likely — the tabloids have made an art form of burying and concealing rights of reply, PCC adjudications and apologies).

But there is a clue to show that Hitchen was irritated by the complaint. By way of a farewell in The Daily Star (August 30th), he returned to that topic much favoured by right-wing pundits — political correctness. Commenting on discord among deaf people at the suggestion that they should modify their sign language so as to make it less offensive to minorities, he said: “The sign for a Japanese person is a twist of the little finger at the corner of one eye to denote a slanted eye. To indicate a black person the deaf normally flatten their nose. And to indicate a homosexual — you’ve guessed it — a limp wrist! There is no record of the Japanese complaining or of black people objecting to their sign-language description. But the homosexuals are outraged. It must be very tiresome to be continually outraged about things.”

There has been a flurry of excitement among other right-wing columnists about Hitchen’s elevation. Frank Johnson, writing in The Daily Telegraph (September 8th) seems to be something of an admirer of Hitchen’s extremism: “As a long-standing member of the Association of Traders in Right Wing Opinions, I ask: how can the rest of us match such competition? In particular, this new Hitchen column is a threat to one of our oldest members, Sir John Junor in the rival Mail on Sunday.” Mr Johnson says that if any of the other raving right-wingers wrote in such disgusting terms, the editor would probably ask for some kind of moderation. Hitchen, though, is the editor and has no such restraining influence. Stand by for blasting.

The other part of Clause 15 of the PCC’s Code of Practice says that there should be no reference to a person’s sexuality in a newspaper unless it is “relevant to the story”. And yet when the solicitor who was working on a high-profile murder case was sacked by his client, he was gratuitously described by The Daily Mail (August 13th) as “a self-confessed homosexual”. The Mail quoted him as saying “I didn’t particularly want (my homosexuality) to be public knowledge” but that didn’t stop them printing a photo of him and his lover — whom they also named. The London Evening Standard (August 12th) also referred to the solicitor as “a self-confessed homosexual” while boasting on the facing page that the paper would not be publishing a snatched photograph of Princess Diana because it breached the PCC’s Code of Practice. One has to ask if this comes into the “one law for the rich” category.

Anyway, Gay Times reader Mike Allaway also noticed this seemingly straightforward breach of Clause 15 (ii) and put in a complaint to the PCC about it. A letter duly arrived informing him that the Commission had previously received “a complaint along similar lines against an article in The Daily Star”. The Commissioners noted in that case that the solicitor “had been quoted as saying that his homosexuality was ‘an open secret’ and the Commission did not consider that his privacy had been invaded.” After being “outed” by the lousy Daily Star it certainly was an open secret — a very open secret!

The message to Mr Allaway was clear — don’t bother proceeding with the complaint because we’ll only throw it out. What price gay privacy?

***

Reporting the 10th Annual International Conference on Aids in Yokohama, The Independent (August 10th) said that prejudice and ignorance about HIV in Japan is alarmingly high. “Aids has been portrayed by many in Japan as a foreigners’ disease,” says the paper. “Attitudes change very slowly in Japan and the stigma attached to the disease is still very high.” Indeed, the Ministry of Health had to send out circulars to hotels and restaurants around the conference venue asking them not to refuse to serve people with HIV — who represented 10 per cent of the 12,000 delegates. The traders needed to be reminded that they cannot contract the virus “from casual contact with luggage, sheets or tableware used by an infected person.”

Perhaps our own Department of Health should put out similar information to British tabloid journalists who still seem in dire need of educating about HIV and Aids. The Sunday Mirror (August 28th) originated a story about a block of flats in Birmingham, which was enthusiastically taken up by The Daily Star (August 29th), with a front page report about a “council skyscraper branded Britain’s first ‘Aids Ghetto’”.

According to the paper “scared families are flocking to leave” the flats. It tells how the relatives of one “gran” are too frightened to visit her because “many of her neighbours — half are gay —are dying from the HIV virus”. The report also says that other residents are “scared of touching lift buttons” unless they are wearing protective gloves and there is much more of the kind of ignorant panic-mongering little seen in newspapers since the mid-eighties. Nowhere in the article is there any contradiction of the superstitious clap-trap about lift buttons, but there is plenty of inference that homosexuality and Aids are synonymous (“This is a ghetto for gays. My wife Vinetta is terrified. We don’t want to be in contact with people suffering from Aids” says one man).

The Pink Paper (September 9th) told of the effects these largely untrue reports had on the residents of the flats: gay-bashing, graffiti, bitterness and an increase in misunderstandings between neighbours.

Brian Hitchen was still the editor of The Daily Star when this drivel was published. In the Sunday Express he will have three times as many readers to assail with his psychotic gay-bashing.

***

You’ve heard of the Pretty Police, well here come the Pretty Hacks. In a throw-back to the old days, The News of the World (September 4th) carried an article headed “Vicar dumps wife for rolls with sandwich boy…” The article concerned a gay clergyman who had been set up by so-called “undercover reporters” who had discovered that he was having an affair with a 17-year-old youth.

Posing as a gay man, The News of the World journo appears to have charmed his way into the confidence of the younger man and persuaded him to talk extensively about the affair. Having thus got his “exclusive”, the reporter sent in his colleague to pose “as a new gay pal” in order to get them both talking together. The vicar’s estranged wife was extensively quoted, but the article does not make clear her role in all of this.

The men responsible for this cruel and ruinous bit of gay-baiting (the vicar is now “suspended pending a Church investigation” into the NoW story) are Phil Taylor and Mazher Mahmood.

Hang on — Mazher Mahmood — doesn’t that name ring a bell? Is this the same Mazher Mahmood who outed Michael Brown, MP for Brigg and Cleethorpes in the May 8th edition of The News of the World, using the same underhand tactics? On that occasion, being tipped off by a member of the Conservative Party (who was paid £10,000 for his trouble), Mahmood posed as a diplomat and inveigled himself into the confidence of one of Mr Brown’s friends. Using hidden tape recorders, he provoked the men into indiscreet conversations which he subsequently splashed all over the paper.

The justification for this intrusion into private lives was that Mr Brown had broken the law by having an affair with a 20-year-old man (after Parliament voted for 18 but before the Royal Assent).

Following this exposé, Mr Brown was forced to resign his Government position.

Easy money, of course. The tragedy is that gay people are so vulnerable to this kind of subterfuge.

Perhaps if OutRage! is looking for a new campaign, it should consider tracking down this Mazher Mahmood chappy and photographing him. Then we can all see what this sneaking back-stabber looks like — and prevent him further lining his pockets by ruining gay lives.

[Note: Mazher Mahmood continued using subterfuge to create stories but eventually went too far and was convicted in October 2016 of conspiring to pervert the course of justice and was given 15-month jail sentence.]

***

Tabloid sub-editors are really alchemists: they can turn good news into bad and make a positive story negative without your even noticing. Subs are the people who write the headlines and who make sure that stories fit the paper’s political line.

An example of sub-editors at work came in the case of the Appeals Court decision to reject a father’s challenge and allow a lesbian mother to keep custody of her children. The judges upheld a previous decision which said that the mother could give her two daughters “a more normal family life than the father”. Judges do not take these decisions lightly. They have all the facts before them as well as the opinions of experts in the field.

However, by the time the subs on The Daily Mail and The Daily Express (September 3rd) had finished with it, triumph had become tragedy. “Lesbians Preferred” was the headline over The Mail’s report, which was written entirely from the father’s perspective. “A devoted father has lost the legal battle to stop his two daughters moving in with his ex-wife and lesbian lover” it began. Notice the old tabloid trick — if gays gain anything it is invariably at the expense of straights. In the world of the middle-market tabloids “they” (gays) are always taking things away from “us” (straights). At one time we were gobbling up “ratepayers’ money”, now we’re taking away the children. The Express’s headline made this even more explicit: “Father loses daughters to ex-wife and lesbian lover”.

The Sun (September 9th) went one better and carried a lengthy interview with the father in which he naturally expressed his disappointment, but also took the opportunity to repeatedly slander his wife’s relationship. The mother’s side of the story, however, remains untold. Commenting on the matter The Sun said in an editorial: “The judges ruled that the girls will have a more normal life with their mother and her LESBIAN lover. How can two women sleeping together be normal in the eyes of two little girls? Every parent will be scared by the implications of this disturbing case.”

And every lesbian mum will be angry at The Sun’s continual wilful distortion of their lives.