GAY TIMES November 1994

Terry Sanderson’s autobiography “The Reluctant Gay Activist” is now available on Amazon

The papers just can’t get enough of gay parenting. After last month’s court decision to award the custody of two children to their lesbian mother and her partner, the focus this month has been on writer and comedian Sandi Toskvig.

While promoting her latest Channel Four show, Ms Toskvig told The Sunday Times (September 18th) that she and her female partner, Peta, had three children, all of which were conceived with the help of a man friend and a syringe from Boots. The Daily Mail enthusiastically reproduced this story on September 21st.

Sandi and Peta, it seems, have generated an admirable amount of love and happiness within their little pretend family. Journalist Chrissy Hey, who conducted the interview, describes the set-up thus: “Jessie is six — she has just learned to ride her two-wheeler. And Megan, who is four, can sing — word-perfect — every song in the musical, Annie. Both parents delight in the baby, Theodore — they want to send telegrams around the world because, just yesterday, he learned to roll over. At the end of the day, when Jessie is kissed goodnight, she says to her parents: ‘Leave the door open so I can hear you laughing.’ The atmosphere is cosseting, calm. No arguments. Their lovely house, in a corner of the home counties, is always full of people.”

Who wouldn’t be pleased to see children in such a sensitive and caring — not to say privileged — household? Well, The Daily Mail wouldn’t, to start with. It tacked on to the original interview some comments by Diana Verity, the mother-in-law of the man who donated his sperm to the women. “God didn’t intend two women to be parents,” she is alleged to have said, providing the requisite downbeat headline over the otherwise optimistic story.

Mrs Verity unquestioningly trotted out all the usual drivel about lesbian mums: “I think it is wrong for children to be brought up in such an environment. You just wonder what sort of life, what sort of persuasions they are inflicting on the kids… It does not seem natural to me. I feel for childless couples and I think that artificial insemination is great. But this is not what we had in mind by scientific progress.”

Then The Independent carried interviews with three children who had been raised in lesbian households, to find out how they felt about it. All of them were positive about their situation and expressed nothing but unconditional love for their “two mums”. None of them suffered the deleterious consequences which our detractors keep droning on about. The Daily Mail decided to reproduce these stories, too (September 22nd) and once again decorated them with headlines that totally undermined what was said: “At first I cried when I learned that my mother was a lesbian” and “I wouldn’t want to be gay myself”. Once more the positive had been rendered negative to the casual reader.

This all came on the heels of the tabloid campaign against the two women who had been awarded custody in a Manchester appeals court (see last month’s Mediawatch). The Sun carried an interview with the father who had lost the appeal. He was presented throughout the article as the victim of a wicked gay conspiracy to rob him of his children. The two women were slandered and misrepresented throughout. After reading this inflammatory presentation, readers were asked to ring one of The Sun’s notorious “You the Jury” phone lines. “Was the judge right to take away Tom’s girls?” was the loaded question. The “jury” had only heard the prosecution, of course. The defence had not been allowed to say a word.

By Monday (September 12th) — suitably charged up by this emotionally slanted and utterly one-sided piece — 34,000 readers had responded. 26,303 of them said “the judge was wrong to force a dad to hand over his daughters to a lesbian mum and her lover”.

Just another piece of lucrative tabloid gay-bashing you may think (I work out that Mr Murdoch made at least £2,000 from the premium-rate telephone calls). But The Sun’s phone-in actually encouraged 26,303 people to be actively anti-gay. Homosexuality was probably a matter of indifference to these people, until The Sun encouraged them to take a stand, to make a decision. Now 26,303 positively believe that lesbian mothers are not a good idea and, as we all know, once minds are made up, it is difficult to change them. If they had been given the whole story, heard all the evidence, it might have been a different matter. That is why The Sun and its insidious and continuous gay-bashing are so dangerous.

This inflaming of anti-gay feeling and the encouragement to act on those feelings is very dangerous. Far from being harmless irritants, the tabloids are cleverly undoing much of the bridge-building work that gay people have done with their straight friends and families.


The pretty hacks have been at it again. This time The Sun’s hunky tempters teamed up with a scuzzy male prostitute calling himself Jason. Jason has convictions for theft and grievous bodily harm, but — thank the Lord — he says he is not homosexual. Acting on a tip-off from Jason, handsome reporters Guy Patrick and Alistair Taylor, homed in on a circuit judge in a Durham hotel room.

Jason introduced Guy Patrick to the judge as another rent boy, and then the two of them commenced provoking His Honour into being indiscreet (as you would be when dealing with a possible sexual partner). The judge’s comments were recorded with the help of hidden tape recorders and then faithfully and humiliatingly reproduced on the front page of The Sun (September 24th).

Jason, Guy and Alistair — what a crew! — walked away with a handsome pay-off from Mr Murdoch and the judge found his job on the line after the Lord Chancellor ordered an enquiry into the matter.

Following this up, The Sunday Telegraph (September 25th) quoted one of the judge’s colleagues, who said of him: “He is one of the kindest, most generous, nicest people I have ever met. As a barrister he is efficient and good at his job. I can’t speak too highly of him. Everyone knows about his sexuality, but he never allows it to interfere with his judgement, his professional life or his relationship with his friends. Knowing him, he will take this publicity very badly.”

As an example of his generosity, the Judge had lent Jason £500 to pay compensation to a man he had beaten up. The way a sneaking rat like Jason repays such kindness is to sell his benefactor down the river. And yet even Jason must feel he’s in bad company when mixing with Scum journalists like Guy Patrick and Alistair Taylor.

That didn’t stop The Sun editorialising: “A man who pays for homosexual sex, consorts with criminals and revels in hard-porn videos lays himself open to blackmail. (He) is unfit to sit in judgement of others. Not to put too fine a point on it: he’s a bloody disgrace.”

What we have to hope is that the Lord Chancellor will make good his promise that homosexuality in itself is no bar to being appointed a judge. It should be a signal to the Murdoch press that the real disgrace in this episode lies with their disgusting policy of paying criminals to help them ruin the lives of useful citizens.


The following day The News of the World made the earth-shattering revelation that 26 years ago the new Bishop of Durham, Michael Turnbull, had “committed an act of gross indecency” in a public lavatory.

This piece of edifying information had been unearthed by a reporter by the name of Chris Blythe. Mr Blythe has a long pedigree of “outing” clergymen. In fact he’s persecuted more Christians than a Roman emperor. As long ago as 1989 he was posing as “a friend and admirer” of some aged clergyman, getting him to fantasise about naked boys at the beach while secretly taping the conversation. (“Evil fantasies of the Kinky Canon” — NoW, June 4th 1989). Chris Blythe’s by-line has appeared under several similar headlines since then.

But the Turnbull case raises some interesting issues. Given that he has spoken out against homosexuality among the clergy (following the party line) are we really sorry that he was “outed” by the press? After all, even those who oppose outing as a general rule say they will make exceptions in the case of hypocrites who condemn gays with one hand and shove their todgers through glory holes with the other.

“The Murdoch press voice an undiscriminating contempt for homosexuality that is still widespread,” said The Church Times (September 30th) on page 10, while on page 18 it averred that Murdoch’s rags “felt easier condemning hypocrisy than homosexuality”. Confusion obviously reigns at The Church Times as it does throughout the rest of the C of E.

Then there’s the issue of his sexuality. Turnbull swears on a stack of Bibles that he isn’t homosexual. But, as The Guardian (September 28th) asked, “What is a homosexual? Who decides?” As the paper says, the whole issue is “bedevilled by confusion, sexual politics, bigotry, fear and outright fibbing.”

But Guardian reporter Tim Radford himself seems confused by “self-declared celibates who rather bafflingly also describe themselves as homosexuals”. I don’t think he would be similarly puzzled by heterosexual celibates such as Cliff Richard (now that really has clouded the issue).

As double-talk collides with hypocrisy, it will be interesting to see how this affair affects the debate on gay clergymen within the Church of England. It seems that the Bishop of Durham can frequent a cottage, then repent and be forgiven (and subsequently be elevated to the fourth most senior position in the Church), while other clergymen don’t fare so well. One such wrote to The Guardian (September 30th) telling that “after a similar incident, I was forced to resign my living, lost my home, and was told ‘really there is no place in the church for someone who has done what you have done.” He says that he has lived with the shame and hurt for many years, but now feels nothing but contempt for a church that can apparently pick and choose who it forgives.

Come on Archbishop of Cant. Get this sorted out.


The Sunday Telegraph (September 25th) carried a letter from Stephen Misander which sought to “correct the impression often given of The Sunday Telegraph as unsympathetic to the concerns of gay men”. Mr Misander said that “the photographs of sportsmen in your pages are by far the most erotic published, and give great comfort, especially to elderly gay men — retired officers and the like — who are unable to ‘come out’ in the way of their younger brethren and must therefore rely on ordinary family newspapers like your own for a little light entertainment of that kind.”

Quickly turning to the sports section, which I generally cast aside without a glance, I saw what Mr Misander meant. There were certainly plenty of photographs of footballers in “action”, leaping in the air, rolling together on the ground and generally contorting themselves so as to cause distress to their shorts at both front and back. Intimate fondling and kissing, as well as legs being wrapped around each other were also evident.

The following week, the fogeys responded, as I suspect they were meant to. PHW Rayner of Birmingham wrote: “If I seriously thought that the editor of The Sunday Telegraph chose sports illustrations on the basis of the `gay thrill factor’, I would immediately tell my newsagent that I had decided to ‘come out’ and into another Sunday newspaper.”

We should not forget, of course, that The Sunday Telegraph’s correspondence column was once the medium of expression chosen by that other great letter writer, Mrs Edna Welthorpe —endlessly outraged alter ego of Joe Orton.


Theatre critics on the national press are at each other’s throats about the number of gay plays presently adorning the London stage. The Daily Telegraph’s Charles Spencer complained of a “flood” of homosexually-themed plays which he said were deliberately written to make heterosexuals feel “uncomfortable, if not downright unwelcome”. Milton Schulman supported this stand in the London Evening Standard. The headline over his piece (“Stop the plague of pink plays”) said it all.

The only known gay critic in captivity, Nicholas de Jongh, also of The London Evening Standard, was quick to contradict the idea that the West End had been “taken over” by queer carryings on. The vast majority of plays explored heterosexual relationships, he said, and anyway, “the theatre works best and most powerfully as a mirror to the entire spectrum of humanity, not as an old-fashioned suburban net curtain.”

Of course, it’s sheer coincidence that so many gay-themed shows have arrived at once. No conspiracy is involved. My only complaint is that so many of them are crap. It’s a long time since I cringed with embarrassment in a theatre, but I certainly did at a performance of Jonathan Harvey’s Babies at the Royal Court.

I may be siding with the gay playwrights, but please — give us quality not quantity.

GAY TIMES December 1994

Terry Sanderson’s autobiography “The Reluctant Gay Activist” is now available on Amazon

Piers Morgan, the 29-year old editor of The News of the World, was asked in an interview (The Spectator, October 15th) how he justified running sex-scandal stories that ruined people’s lives. He replied: “My ultimate defence of these stories is that they are one hundred per cent true. I don’t make moral judgements.”

Is that so? Well, let’s have a look at one of Mr Morgan’s “100 per cent true” stories. It concerns three ageing vicars who were heartlessly set up by a couple of supposed rent boys at the behest of The News of the World. This, the paper rather disingenuously described as “investigative journalism”, although the only investigation required seems to have been to find the appropriate cheque book.

“We snare vicars in gay vice ring” screeched the headline (October 30th) over the story which had been brought to The NoW by two pathetic young men of dubious morals — Simon Vallard and his lover Kingsley Graves. Fancifully described as “£500-a-night rent boys”, the two men “opened their address book to News of the World reporters” — for a fee so far undisclosed. The whole piece is based on the uncorroborated evidence of this treacherous pair, who took kindness and friendship from the clergymen and then used it as a money-making scam.

The first question left hanging by The NoW is how vicars, on £12,000 a year, are supposed to be able to afford the services of £500-a-night rentboys.

Simon Vallard claims in The NoW that one of the vicars named in the piece, Canon David Haslam, “liked me so much that I ended up staying at the vicarage for a week.” But Mr Mark Porterfield, a friend of Canon Haslam, told Gay Times that Vallard and his boyfriend Graves had been friendly with the vicar for some considerable time and had been accommodated at the vicarage by Canon Haslam for over a year until they became “a damned nuisance and wouldn’t move out”.

He also believes that The News of the World provided the two men with an expensive camera in order to get “incriminating” photographs of the clergymen. Certainly the article was decorated with pictures of a high quality and low cunning — they certainly weren’t taken with an Instamatic.

At present Canon Haslam is suspended, awaiting an investigation by Church authorities. He has received death threats and his car has been decorated with such messages as “Fuck off, you faggot bastard.” All the same, he says he forgives Vallard and Graves for what they have done.

It’s a sorry tale of lonely men being exploited, first by mercenary little rats who I’m ashamed to share a sexuality with, and then by a ruthless money-grabbing scandal-sheet that justifies its exploitation with the dubious claims of “truth”.

This story — like so many in the past — has been brought to you by Mazher Mahmood, the so-called “chief investigative reporter” of The News of the World. Regular readers will recognise Mr Mahmood’s name. This is the man who takes the easy option, outing defenceless clergymen (most of them on the verge of retirement after decades of selfless service) on the say-so of greedy youths, and then justifying his copy with sickeningly self-righteous phrases like “In secret these ‘men of God’ are perverts who lust after young boys.” Vallard, by the way, is 29, Graves is 22 and so is another man emotively described by the paper as “a college lad”. No one involved in the story could be described as “a boy” or even a “youth”. Everyone involved is over the age of consent. [Note: Mazher Mahmood was jailed for 15 months in 2016 for perverting the course of justice while carrying out one of his so-called “exposés”.]

The Church of England is, of course, also in the dock over this. Its ridiculous policy towards its gay clergy actively promotes the isolation of these men and makes them vulnerable to this kind of nasty abuse.

Attitudes are changing, but the Church is not keeping pace. Andrew Brown, writing in The Times about the Bishop of Durham, said: “Before the storm, the lives of gay clergy were to a surprising extent shrouded by camp and ambiguity (within which) they were able to lead useful and productive lives, with their natures quietly acknowledged by their bishops.” In other words, it was OK to be a gay vicar so long as you were dishonest about it. This is no good. If they were allowed to live openly and with dignity there would be less scope for The News of the World to inflict such cruelty on the Church’s “good and faithful servants”.

But then, perhaps Piers Morgan has secretly set himself the Higtonian task of ridding the Church of all “unrepentant” homosexuals. Or perhaps he just sees these vulnerable old men as an easy way to line his pockets.

As Jacqueline Tratt wrote in The Guardian’s Face to Faith feature (October 29th): “The Church’s preoccupation with sexual matters at the expense of more important issues is a historical perversity. Self-appointed sexual arbiters have too easily hijacked the term ‘morality’ that should encompass the whole range of people’s relationships one with another — political, economic and social as well as emotional, personal and sexual… The Church needs to point out that morality is not synonymous with sexual conformity. Then it should get out of people’s bedrooms and into the market place where the real corruption of souls takes place.”

Before leaving the hypocritical environs of the Church of England, it should be recorded that Sebastian Sandys, an ex-Franciscan friar and now a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence, managed to effect the first successful gay-inspired “outing” in Britain. On the day before the Bishop of Durham was enthroned (and wasn’t the frock lovely?), Mr Sandys named three clergymen at a debate at Durham University union. Reports of this “outing” were carried in several papers, but only The Guardian and The News of the World printed the names. Given the amount of hysteria which is usually generated at the prospect of gay people doing the “outing” (“a cruel witch hunt”, “dreadful invasion of privacy” etc.) this first successful one passed unremarked by the commentators who are usually so anxious to make a fuss. Perhaps they’ve realised: outing can’t work without the collusion of the media which purports to condemn it. Whether Mr Sandys’ outings were any more justifiable than those of The News of the World is a matter for debate.

What does the British public really think about gay people? Has our agitation and demand for justice over the past few years made any dent in their celebrated homophobia? Perhaps for the answer we should steer clear of opinion polls and start looking instead at Fleet Street. After all, if Francis Williams, a Fleet Street tycoon of old, was correct when he said that “newspapers indicate more plainly than anything else the climates of the societies to which they belong” then our daily papers should act as a barometer of public opinion.

So, let’s see the kind of story that newspapers have been carrying about us and the kind of comment they’ve been making.

A survey by the Health Education Authority (reported in The Times, November 1st) showed that “Schools should teach children about sex but should be wary of tackling homosexuality too early.” The report revealed that a quarter of parents believed that “lessons on homosexuality” should only be given to pupils aged 16 and over. “Seven in ten said they would not withdraw children from sex education classes but one in eight said they might if they included ‘sexual preferences’ or matters they considered Inappropriate’.”

On that front, it seems that those of a Section 28 frame of mind still hold sway.

The other great wall of bigotry surrounds the issue of adoption and fostering. The Guardian reported (October 28th) that The Children’s Society is operating a policy “which prohibits homosexuals from acting as foster carers”. The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement condemned the Children’s Society, but Teletext asked its viewers to ring in to say yes or no to the question “Was the Children’s Society right to ban gay foster carers?” It received 2,047 calls of which 73 per cent said yes, the ban was right.

Oh dear — a lot (and I mean a very great deal) of work is still needed in that field.

As we’ve already seen, the Bishop of Durham’s sexual activity, if not his sexuality, provoked a great deal of comment last month. Pundits had a field day with it. Philip Crowe of The Times (October 22nd) made the point that if Michael Turnbull had divorced and married again, he could not have become a Bishop, but the fact that he was once “grossly indecent” in a public lavatory meant that he could be completely forgiven and rehabilitated.

Peter Tatchell will be gratified to learn that Fiona Webster, a columnist on The Daily Star (October 27th) nominated him her “man of the week” for his now famous sprint across the cathedral grounds. “The reason young people are turning away from the Church,” she says, “is not because there might be gays in its ranks. It’s because the Church’s hierarchy preaches one thing and practises another. And to anyone not too blinded by their own self-importance, that’s hypocrisy.” I think we can say that satisfactory progress is being made on that front.

Nevertheless, we’re making progress with the Labour Party, aren’t we? That nice Mr Blair even went so far as to take his clingy little wife, Cherie, to the Stonewall Equality Show at the Albert Hall. Not that he escaped without criticism. Bernard Ingham, Mrs Thatcher’s ex- propagandist and now an even more miserable old bastard, wrote in The Daily Mail (October 27th): “If Mr Blair is seeking to establish a new image for the Labour Party he would do better than to associate with perverted exhibitionists who have nothing in common with its solid, decent bed-rock.”

More intelligent journalists, however, are struggling to overcome their own personal homophobic demons, a task in which they should be encouraged. The help of those in the media — both print and broadcast — is, unfortunately, essential in our push for justice. But for many of them, as for the country at large, it is a long, hard struggle.

For instance, interviewing Holly Johnson for The Daily Telegraph (October 31st), Martyn Harris was trying hard to shake off the standard journalistic approach that it is wrong to feel sympathy for people with HIV and Aids. Despite himself, he still harbours the “they’ve brought it on themselves” kind of attitude which makes Holly Johnson “in many respects, a nightmare figure to the respectable, middle-class reader of this paper.” Before he even arrived at the interview he was coaching himself “to be casual about the handshake, the shared bottle of wine, even the air-kiss. You know perfectly well there is no way you’ll get Aids from a speck of spit, but it’s never absolutely 100 per cent certain, is it? I mean, these doctors can be wrong…” Finally, Mr Harris ends up liking Holly Johnson and feeling mean about his prejudice.

Meanwhile, over in The Observer (October 30th), another heterosexual, Column McCann, was recalling rather sweetly “the first time he saw two men kiss”. It happened in New Orleans where he was befriended by a gay couple who gave him a job and a home. Mr McCann now feels vaguely ashamed of the lurid fantasies he conjured up about the two men’s life together. He had convinced himself that they led an alien existence, completely removed from his own. Despite their kindness to him — and all the evidence to the contrary — he still suspected that out of sight they were living a life of unspeakable sexual depravity. Only after he came to know them well did he realise that “in truth [theirs] was a very prosaic and loving and uneventful world… no different from mine” and that he had created “a stereotype of them from my own fear”. He has since returned to New Orleans to try to locate his two friends and share his new understanding, but sadly they are no longer to be found. Mr McCann, though, is grateful for the profound favour they did him. They ridded him of his homophobia.

If only more heterosexual men — journalists and non-journalists —could make that leap from fantasy to reality, the world would be a happier place for us all.