GAY TIMES January 1996

THE Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement has wasted no time in getting homosexuality back on to the agenda at the Church of England’s General Synod. After the election to the Synod of a couple of openly gay priests, and an increase in straight sympathisers of lesbian and gay rights, the topic of homosexual clergy was brought back in a motion tabled by the Venerable David Gerrard, who is married with four children and says he comes from the evangelical wing of the church. It was accepted for debate next year.

Richard Kirker, General Secretary of LGCM, knows that on this topic there is no chance of instant gratification. He told The Guardian (November 27th): “I’m not deluding myself about the time scale involved. It will not be until the year 2000 that we have 30-40 per cent support in Synod.”

There is certainly a great deal of persuasion to be done at the grass roots if a survey reported in The Times (November 14th) is anything to go by. It found that only 15 per cent of clergy thought homosexual sex was acceptable. Among their flocks this reduced to seven per cent.

One of the new members of Synod with more to offer this debate than most is the openly gay vicar, the Reverend Malcolm Johnson. He wrote an article in The Pink Paper saying: “I know what havoc the Church has caused by its insistence on celibacy. I have seen the devastation, guilt and frustration it causes. Add self-loathing and alienation, and the person is almost totally destroyed.”

The Independent on Sunday (November 19th) carried an interview with another straight supporter of the gay struggle, the Reverend Cristina Sumners. Ms Sumners is an American who decided to take up the battle for acceptance because she was moved by the suffering of gay men and women during her training for the priesthood. She says: “Their pain was great and memorable. One told me with tears in his eyes that all he really wanted was to get married and have children. They regarded homosexuality as a curse that had been visited on them.” However, she was not always “so generously disposed towards homosexuals”, and came originally from the far right Presbyterian tradition in Texas.

We are not told what she thinks of that tradition now, with its seething hatred, fanaticism and authoritarianism, but there is plenty of evidence that right-wing “Christian” groups in the US are continuing their crusade against homosexuals. The American Family Association, for instance, is making threatening noises towards the Walt Disney Corporation because the company has had the audacity to extend its health benefits to include the partners of gay employees (Guardian, November 30th).

A New Hampshire teacher has been sacked by her school board, according to the Times Educational Supplement, because she asked her pupils to read Maurice, a novel by gay author E M Forster. The teacher, Penny Culliton, said she wanted her students to see a positive image of homosexuals, but fell foul of the Christian Coalition, which has taken over the school board. The Coalition has decreed — Clause 28-style — that teachers “neither implement nor carry out any program or activity that has either the purpose or the effect of supporting homosexuality as a positive alternative lifestyle”.

But there are signs of a fight back in the US. P-flag, the support group for the parents of lesbians and gay men, has, according to The Times, made a 30-second commercial accusing the ranting evangelists of “fomenting abuse and violence against gay and lesbian people”.

The advertisements, incorporating shots of televangelist Jerry Falwell saying “God hates homosexuality” and Christian Coalition leader Pat Robertson calling homosexuality “a sickness” (and in the same breath mentioning Adolf Hitler and Satanism) have put the Jesus in Jackboots fraternity on the defensive.

Pat Robertson’s Christian (sic) Broadcasting Network says it will sue any TV company that carries P-flag’s commercial. He says that the ad wrongly suggests that he “advocates or promotes heinous crimes against gays or directly caused the suicide of one or more homosexual persons”.

P-flag claims that 30 per cent of teenage suicides in America are homosexuals. A representative for the group is quoted as saying: “Middle Americans are not an intolerant lot. They do not realise the level of abuse and violence against gay people.”

Meanwhile, over in the Jewish camp, Rabbi Julia Neuberger wrote in The Guardian (November 18th): “Non-orthodox Jews are beginning to say, in the modern world, that our ancestors were wrong in regarding male homosexuality as an abomination. If we are going to say that sex is not only for procreation of children, but is for peace in the household and love, and for strengthening bonds between a couple, then that can be applied to a couple of the same gender as to a couple who are heterosexual.”

Could it be that moderation in religion is coming back into fashion?

***

The hot topic this month: is dance still an art form dominated by gay men?

After Matthew Bourne’s revolutionary re-working of Swan Lake to include a corps of male swans (reviewed on page 69), The Observer reported on the disposal of 155 paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures of the male nude which once belonged to Rudolf Nureyev. The paper says the sale, “tells us much about the dancer that was never made public while he was alive.”

The collection shows, according to The Observer, that “far from being a masculine Prince, as he was on stage, Nureyev was a promiscuous homosexual who hardly missed an opportunity to invest any encounter with sex.”

This theme of homosexual men not being “masculine” (whatever that means) was carried on in an article in The Independent (November 29th) by Jeffrey Taylor. Mr Taylor was writing about a forthcoming Channel Four film called Indian Summer, written by Martin Sherman — author of Bent. It concerns a male gay ballet dancer who is dying of Aids and who falls in love with his therapist, played by Antony Sher. Mr Taylor says news of the film “is already causing barely stifled groans throughout Britain’s male dancing community.”

But why?

Adam Cooper — who danced the Swan Prince in the above-mentioned Swan Lake, and who is a self-confessed heterosexual —is quoted as saying: “I turned Indian Summer down when I read an early script. I wanted nothing to do with the typical gay campness of the dancers in the film. I find it tasteless and offensive.”

Mr Taylor says that it is not true anymore that most male ballet stars are gay. “Certainly, in the 1940s, when our own ballet tradition came of age, homosexual dancers were in the ascendant — all the straight ones were in the army.” Oh really? And were gay men excused from the army, then? Only if they were “open”, and not many were in the 1940s.

Mr Taylor seems to be trying to convince us in his article that gay input into ballet is negligible. He quotes Greg Horsman, of the English National Ballet (described as “a doting father”) as saying: “People who assume all dancers are gay would be shocked to learn the truth about the percentage of non-gay men in ballet.”

Martin Sherman counters this with: “There has recently been a great effort to ‘heterosexualise’ the public view of the male dancer”. And he cites the dance films of Baryshnikov for almost totally excluding gay men.

But Mr Taylor is unconvinced by this: “Whatever else Sherman’s film achieves,” he writes, “there’s no doubt that it can only shore up a moribund old cliche that little bit longer.”

Just a minute — who exactly is doing the stereotyping here? Mr Taylor talks about straight dancers having to prove that “they are red-blooded males” all the time — what is that supposed to say about gay dancers? That they aren’t strong? Can’t dance “virile” parts?

That’s a slap in the face for every gay dancer who’s ever busted a gut for his art. The defensiveness of straight male ballet dancers does them no credit, it merely insults their gay colleagues.

***

Research by the BBC into “taste and decency” showed that viewers have become more “liberal and tolerant” in the past decade. Reporting the findings, The Daily Telegraph said: “Attitudes        to homosexuality on television had shown the greatest shift. In 1985, only 30 per cent claimed to know anyone homosexual while in 1995 that figure rose to 46 per cent. Even among older women, the least liberal group, the number prepared to accept homosexuality had risen to 40 per cent.”

The concepts of liberality and tolerance are, of course, anathema to The Daily Mail. Now that the paper could be mistaken for the official newsletter of Family and Youth Concern (aka The Festival of Light and The Responsible Society), it has a special interest in “taste and decency” on television.

“Leave aside the fact that a poll can produce any results desired,” editorialised the Mail, giving away one of its own tricks, “and consider this: if there is a greater acceptance of TV sex and bad language, is it not precisely because broadcasters have for decades been pushing at the barriers of what is acceptable? And a whole generation has grown up used to swearing and explicit sex on screen? The BBC claims greater public tolerance. The Mail would put it another way. Years of broadcasting crudity has produced a coarsening of attitudes.”

The interesting thing is not the predictability of this editorial, but the fact that The Daily Mail managed to get to the end without using the phrase “family values”. This is something of a record for the editor, Paul Dacre. All he needs now is the correct medication, and we might yet see him turn into a halfway rational human being.

***

Anecdote of the month comes from Sheridan Morley, who tells in The Independent on Sunday (November 12th) how he was once walking through Leicester Square with Noel Coward when they saw a film poster which declared “Michael Redgrave and Dirk Bogarde in The Sea Shall Not Have Them”. Noel murmured: “I don’t see why not: everyone else has.”

GAY TIMES February 1996

The extraordinary story of 84-year-old Lilly Wust, a German woman who has become a heroine for lesbians around the world, was told in The Sunday Times Magazine on December 10th.

During the war, Lilly was a good Nazi wife, doing her duty by producing sons for the Reich. Then, in 1942, while her husband was in the army, she fell in love with Felice Schrader, a Jewish lesbian. This was the beginning of a brief, but ecstatic affair which had all the elements of great melodrama: an intense but outlawed love destroyed by betrayal.

In order to survive the escalating persecution of Jews in Berlin, Felice had feigned suicide and become what was known as a “U-boat” — a Jew hiding from the authorities in a dangerous underworld. Tearing the yellow star that identified her as a Jew from her clothing, she tried to pass as “Aryan”.

Lilly took her into her home and they began an intensely sexual love affair — a relationship that was illegal on two counts, and fraught with danger.

It did not last long. Felice was tracked down, with the help of Jewish informers, and sent off by the Gestapo to a concentration camp. Lilly tried hard to find her and help her, but to no avail. Felice is thought to have perished in a Nazi labour camp.

Undaunted, Lilly took three other Jewish lesbian “U-boats” into her home and sheltered them until the war ended. She was subsequently awarded the Federal Service Cross by the German government and hailed as an unsung hero.

The Sunday Times says that Lilly has given German lesbians “a toe-hold in the history of their country”. I suspect that we’ll be hearing much more of Lilly Wust. Her story — to be published by Bloomsbury — is a natural for cinematic interpretation.

***

THE closet door has been revolving at top speed this month, with exposés, denials and regrets galore.

That doyenne of the sticky back plastic, Valerie Singleton, gave an interview to The Daily Mail (December 16th) in order to tell us that she is definitely not a lesbian. “I am honest and always honest,” she announced proudly. “This is why,” the paper says, “all the rumours which have long abounded about her being gay have upset her so. If she’d been gay, she’d have said so. But she isn’t. And she abhors the idea that she lives some kind of dark, secret life.”

So, it seems, as far as women are concerned, Valerie Singleton didn’t make one earlier.

Then, The News of the World outed “housewives favourite” Joe Longthorne (December 10th) after the paper claimed that he and Michael Barrymore had become “love rivals” for the affection of a guy called Norman. “Barrymore stole my gay lover” was the headline over the article, the juice of which was provided by “Joe’s former business partner Terry Lodge.”

Reluctantly out of the closet — courtesy of The People (December 10th) — comes Fred Talbot, the manic weather man on Richard and Judy’s morning TV show. Mr Talbot is described by the paper as “tortured” and “being of an age group which thinks that being gay is something to be ashamed of”. (He’s only 44 for God’s sake!) The People tells us that Talbot is “mortified at the prospect of coming out”. This did not, of course, restrain the paper from doing the deed for him.

Can this be the same newspaper which once, when commenting on OutRage!’s outing, wrote: “Who the hell do these gays think they are, acting like some liberation lynch mob?… Whether a person is gay isn’t the business of braying bully boys carrying the banner for gay rights.” It is though, it seems, the BIG business of bully boy journalists out to make money from misery.

Meanwhile, the newly-knighted theatrical impresario, Cameron Mackintosh apparently told The Daily Mail (December 16th) that he regrets ever publicly coming out. Five years ago, Mr Mackintosh signed a letter to The Guardian, along with 17 other theatrical luminaries, condemning Derek Jarman for arguing that Ian McKellen should have turned down his knighthood because it was proffered by a homophobic government. The letter began “As gay and lesbian artists…” Now he says he wishes he hadn’t done it.

“Why does one owe it to the gay population to come out?” he is quoted as saying. “It’s nobody’s business but mine. And I resent the suggestion that I am any kind of gay rights campaigner. I am the exact opposite, I just want to be as integrated as any human being.”

We have to take into account that this report appeared in the homo-hating Mail, but if this is what Sir Cameron really believes, then perhaps he needs his complacency shaking. If he doesn’t understand why high-profile role models are needed by young people, someone ought to explain it to him.

Dr David Starkey, on the other hand, does not regret being open. Also in The Daily Mail (January 1st), Dr Starkey — described as the rudest man in Britain — said: “I’ve never lost any sleep over it [being gay]. I’ve never felt guilty about it. I’ve never wished I wasn’t what I am.”

His only regret is that he came out to his elderly mother, Elsie, who took it very badly. “She was deeply puritanical about sex and I think it would have been kinder not to tell her.”

Always a tricky one, that.

***

The Guardian commissioned an interesting poll from ICM about attitudes to homosexuality, which it published on December 14th. The poll asked: “If a person is a declared homosexual living in a stable relationship with a partner, which of the following jobs should they be allowed to take?” — teaching, the church, the police, the armed services and members of Parliament. The results were reassuring: 72% said yes to gay teachers, 70% said yes to gay vicars, 73% were positive about gay policemen, 62% were OK with gay soldiers and 78% said it was fine with them if their MP was gay.

The Guardian said: “Homosexual MPs, who have been so reluctant to ‘come out’ for fear of alienating their voters, would face less hostility than members of any other profession.” And it quotes Michael Brown — the out MP for Brigg and Cleethorpes — as saying: “The press is far more worked up about this than the voters. It is still a novelty for the press to describe Chris Smith and me as ‘out’ MPs. But it passes the voters by.”

But let’s go back to The Guardian’s question. Why only those “living in a stable relationship with a partner”? What about the unattached? Are they to be considered inferior as employees? And why “allowed to take” — who is supposed to be doing the permitting?

Coincidentally, on the day the poll was published, I was talking to a man who sets the questions for a rival polling organisation, and I asked him why he thought The Guardian had framed its question in that manner. “Because The Guardian has an agenda like every other newspaper,” he said. “It wanted to prove that attitudes are liberalising, so it framed its questions to evoke such responses. If The Daily Mail had commissioned the poll, you can rest assured the questions would have been very different.”

The Guardian’s headline over the results of the survey said: “Tories most liberal-minded about gay MPs”. If you look at the results you will see that 81% of Tory voters approved of gay MPs, while 80% of Labour voters did. This is insignificant in statistical terms and hardly justifies the headline.

Much as I’d like to think these results are meaningful, I’m afraid I’m as suspicious of them as I would be of a poll in The Daily Express. Statistics, as they say, are the lowest form of information.

***

The liberal journalist Polly Toynbee has been in trouble with the gay community on several occasions in the past. In articles in The Guardian and The Radio Times she has written that gay activism is counter-productive and simply an annoyance to people who would otherwise be sympathetic. She has claimed that anti-gay discrimination is a figment of our imagination. In short, our troubles don’t exist and our protests are little more than a sop to political correctness.

Now she appears to have changed her tune. In her column in The Independent (January 3rd) she writes that in relation to homosexuality “the law causes a surprising amount of real suffering to those who fall foul of it.” Ms Toynbee’ s conversion came about through contact with Stonewall, which she describes as “a moderate lobbying group”.

She rails in particular against the Ministry of Defence proposal to introduce a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for gays in the military. “It has led to no diminution of the number of people turned out of the US forces for being gay,” she says. “It amounts to a conspiracy of silence that still proclaims homosexuality officially unacceptable.”

And the pension situation is another injustice she perceives as genuine: “In about three-quarters of pension schemes, there is no way for unmarried partners to pass on their hard-earned entitlements.” At last the truth has dawned on Ms Toynbee — gays have genuine grievances which cannot be written off as “relatively piffling… vestigial discrimination”. But she is not optimistic about our chances of making much progress while this government remains in power simply because if gays were given equal rights, then unmarried heterosexual couples would demand the same.

“In the current political climate it is impossible to imagine giving more rights to cohabitees, since family values lobbies are clamouring for marriage to be strengthened through extra tax and benefit incentives — and even fidelity bonuses for those who remain married.”

Ms Toynbee thinks that “the gay world may seem like a small outpost of society” but the way society treats it reflects “a huge and growing area where the law is badly out of kilter with the way we actually live”.

GAY TIMES March 1996

The Journal of Engineering Geology recently reported that scientists think they have found the location of the original city of Sodom on the edge of the Dead Sea. They say that the city was the subject of a geological shift that caused it to fall into a huge hole, and they now hope they’ll be able to excavate the remains.

This set Daily Telegraph columnist Frank Johnson thinking about what they might find. First, he says, they will come across a copy of Straight Times which will prove that not all the inhabitants of Sodom were gay. They might also find the Sodom equivalent of Time Out, which lists the best straight bars in town. “A few geological layers down might reveal copies of the Wolfenden Report with its controversial recommendation that heterosexuality between consenting adults should be legalised.” Even further down would be copies of The Sodom Telegraph complete with readers’ letters lamenting that they can no longer use the delightful word “straight” without being misunderstood.

Yes, indeed, Sodom has been the bane of gay people’s lives for four thousand years, but, if the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement have their way, all that might be about to change.

It seems that the sodomites at LGCM have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams in getting the debate on the ordination of gay priests back onto the Anglican agenda. Richard Kirker, secretary of the LGCM has certainly outfoxed (and outraged) the ghastly church “traditionalists” who — despite what they say —hate homosexuals.

LGCM’s latest ploy, an advertisement in the religious press, marking the twentieth anniversary of the group, has been signed by over 300 senior Anglicans worldwide — including Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The ad will, according to The Sunday Telegraph (February 4th) “plunge the Church of England into a fresh crisis”.

Of course, it’s always a pleasure to see the “evangelicals” spluttering and spitting as they lose the advantage to LGCM. Almost inevitably, the Archdeacon of York, the Venerable (sic) George Austin, is quoted as saying: “If successful, this campaign will split the church finally and completely. It is much more divisive than the issue of women priests, and will alienate decent Christian people who don’t want to see buggery blessed.”

Always good for a sound bite is the Ven George, but if it’s alliteration he wants, then try this: what self-respecting Christian wants to be blessed by a blithering bigot such as he?

This latest contretemps was preceded by news (Sunday Telegraph, January 28th) that “the Rev Dr Jeffrey John, a former Dean of Magdalen College, Oxford, has been elected to the General Synod’s Standing Committee, the church’s equivalent of a cabinet.” According to the paper, Dr John “advocates the rights of priests to live in homosexual marriages— and “the unusual speed of his elevation is certain to fuel speculation about the growing influence of the pro-homosexual lobby”.

Then came news that LGCM’s birthday party (or “service of thanksgiving”) will be held in Southwark Cathedral on November 16th. This once again got the “traditionalists” hopping up and down in fury.

The Guardian (January 25th) meanwhile reported on the “installation” of the new Bishop of London, the Rt Rev Richard Chartres. Don’t they just love giving themselves these inflated titles? “His hard line on sexual morality may set him on a collision course with the strong homosexual lobby in London,” the paper said, “where up to 25 per cent of the clergy are thought to be gay.”

The Guardian quotes Bishop Chartres as saying: “The Christian tradition is clear: either celibacy or life-long relationships, which are interpreted as between man and woman. We are not empowered — now, suddenly because the issue has come up very recently — to change that. These are the rules.”

The Rev David Holloway of the “traditionalist” Reform Group (strange title, given that they want everything to stay the same) agreed about the immutability of biblical teaching: “Homosexual acts are wrong and always will be. On this issue there are no grounds for disagreement, if you are going to remain biblical.”

So there we have it. If it says it in the Bible, that’s the end of the matter. But hang on — hasn’t the Christian Church been telling us for 19 centuries that if we aren’t “good” (i.e. if we don’t do what they tell us), then we’re going to roast in Hell?

Hell is described in The New English Bible as “where the devouring worm never dies and the fire is not quenched” (page 72) and in the book of Peter (2-4:2) as “punishment with everlasting destruction”. In the past, people who contradicted this dogma have been burned at the stake.

Enter the Church of England’s Doctrine Commission which told us in a report last month that Hell is “not eternal torment… but total non-being”.

Ah! So it turns out they can change their minds about what the Bible says, after all. Or to put it in the eloquent words of the Pink Paper correspondent Mike Parker: “The new Synod members have something of an uphill struggle on their hands, for the Church they hope to alter is based fundamentally on utter bollocks!”

***

Well, is he or isn’t he? And does it matter? I’m talking about Michael Barrymore who, to great applause from the tabloids, has gone back to his wife Cheryl. Mr Barrymore, you will remember, kept the papers busy last summer with one of the best coming out dramas of recent times. Now The Daily Record (January 26th) reports: “Michael gives up his gay ways to win back his wife.” Is that so?

What the papers don’t understand, and never will, is that there is no return ticket to the closet once you’re out. You might lead a straight lifestyle, have straight affairs, but you can’t unsay what has been said. As far as the papers are concerned, Michael’s name will for ever more be preceded by the sobriquet “the gay comic”.

So what’s really going on? Clinical Psychologist Oliver James tried to work it out in The Sunday Express (January 28th) when he put Cheryl Barrymore “On the Couch”.

Dr James says that the couple’s motivations for getting together again are “complex”. Mrs Barrymore is her husband’s manager and mentor. Rather like Gypsy Rose Lee’s mother, she thinks it should have been her up there getting the applause. She lives a life of showbiz success vicariously through Michael. Losing him was more like losing an alter ego than a husband.

Lowri Turner in The Sunday Mirror put it another way, describing Cheryl as “more a mother/manager than a lover/wife”.

But what about Michael’s motivation? If you are as dim-witted as John Junor, it’s very simple. He says, in The Mail on Sunday, that Barrymore “needs the respectability of a wife to restore his tarnished image and plunging popularity”.

I think the reason is more to do with fear. Gay life is not easy for a newcomer — particularly when that newcomer is 43 years old. Michael has made little commitment to a gay lifestyle and has found that life outside the closet can be harsh, unremitting and sometimes painfully cruel.

The recent break-up of his relationship with Paul Wincott (graphically described in The News of the World) was obviously shattering. No wonder Mike’s gone rushing back to his previous life, where at least things are familiar and he can relax.

Human relationships are infinitely adaptable and human beings often surprisingly accepting. A lot of “out” gay men have made successful marriages with straight women. Despite their unusual marriage being under constant surveillance by scabrous tabloids, perhaps Cheryl and Michael can renegotiate its terms and go forward to happier times. It doesn’t always have to be one thing or the other, sometimes it can be a bit of both.

***

During a gloriously bitchy interview by Lynne Barber in The Daily Telegraph, Edwina Currie admitted that MPs are, without exception, “very weird people”. Fortunately a lot of them will be leaving us at the next general election (either voluntarily or with a push).

Regrettably, there is an equally weird batch waiting in the wings to take their place. Perhaps the weirdest of the lot is Dr Adrian Rogers, who has been chosen as the prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate for Exeter.

I was going to say that Dr Rogers is “right-wing”, but it hardly seems sufficient. His is not so much a political philosophy as a neurosis. He is founder of the “Conservative Family Campaign” — a tiny bunch of fanatics who appear to have a direct line to the columns of The Daily Mail.

Dr Rogers has been in the news this month because it was discovered that he spent his school days as the only boy among 900 girls at Sutton High School. The Daily Express wondered if this experience could explain his “virulently anti-feminist views”. The Guardian found an old school snap which it reprinted, just for the record, of course.

Then his local paper discovered that Dr Rogers — who, naturally, is also “virulently anti-porn” — once showed blue movies to friends at his home. He claims he didn’t watch them himself, but “only worked the lights”. This did not prevent him describing the film as “gynaecological” in character.

Before they nominated him as their prospective parliamentary candidate, the local Conservative Association were warned by Central Office that he was a liability, but they went ahead anyway.

The Monster Raving Loonies are going to have to come up with something pretty good at the election if they’re going to upstage Dr Rogers.

***

It started with the commercial for Peugeot cars that, the papers informed us, would feature the first man-to-man kiss in British TV advertising history. Shock, horror and lots of lovely headlines.

The trouble was, it wasn’t a kiss at all — the men’s lips met only so that one could give artificial resuscitation to the other. “The papers must have pretty strange imaginations,” a spokesman for Peugeot’s advertising agency told The Observer. “I don’t think it’s normal for one person to hold another’s nose when they are kissing them.”

Nevertheless, Peugeot had tons of extra advertising absolutely gratis. Just like Guinness did with a similar ploy last year.

Then The Daily Express (February 1st) told us that there was to be yet another advertising “gay kiss shock” and it’s “all to sell Virgin Vodka”. Having seen the ad I would have been hard pressed to identify the gay kiss without having it pointed out. It lasts about half a second and it’s far from clear what gender the kissers are. It’s also unclear whether it’s supposed to be advertising a night-club or a vodka. In fact, it was made by The Edge bar in Soho and not Virgin.

The This Morning TV programme asked its viewers to vote on whether the ad should be banned. From a record response — over 60,000 calls — 60 per cent said it should be. It’s all academic in the end. The ad now won’t be shown because it is seen as promoting alcohol to young people.

And now The Daily Mail (February 8th) informs us that a “lesbian kiss” is being used to sell Boisvert lingerie in an advert being shown in cinemas. Of course, the kiss is ambiguous — it could just be two straight friends greeting each other — it’s only the Mail’s spin that renders it “lesbian”.

It seems that if you want free advertising these days it couldn’t be easier: just put out a press release saying it will feature a “gay kiss”. That will guarantee you the kind of press coverage money can’t buy.

Ever felt exploited?

GAY TIMES, April 1996

Getting married or joining the army — these, we are told, are the most important issues of the moment for the gay community. It seems to me, though, that we have much more pressing priorities. The rights and needs of young gay people, for instance, are constantly denied, and the resultant pain and suffering is intense.

Last month the media launched a ferocious attack on the only organisation in the country which provides shelter specifically for homeless young gays. There was also further resistance to the idea of positive images of homosexuals in schools.

The Sunday Telegraph started the assault on the Albert Kennedy Trust (February 18th) in a grotesquely distorted front-page story declaring: “As many as 100 ‘gay’ children have been placed in homosexuals’ care in London and Manchester by the government-approved charity. The practice has horrified psychologists and MPs who fear that children will be ‘ensnared in a deviant way of life’.”

Tory MP Sir Ivan Lawrence is quoted as saying: “This is ghastly. I would take a lot of persuading that children who have homosexual tendencies are not redeemable. Giving them homosexual foster parents will merely set them in that way for life.”

The story was predictably taken up the next day by The Daily Mail and The Daily Express, who gave it the full ranting treatment. “Gay foster homes scandal” screeched the Express, and editorialised: “The sexual turbulence of adolescence is well attested. Putting youngsters who might be temporarily confused about their sexual feelings into the hands of homosexuals risks turning that confusion into a permanent way of life. It is difficult not to suspect that this is what the [Albert Kennedy] Trust intends… Do Ministers know what is being accepted in their name? They do now in this case. So let us see some action.”

The controversy even provoked Mary Whitehouse to emerge from her dotage to repeat her over-familiar whinges in The Sunday Telegraph’s letters column (February 25th): “I speak from years of experience of responsibility for sex education of adolescent children…” Mary Whitehouse was in charge of sex education? No wonder the nation is so maladjusted!

Meanwhile The Sun’s “Watchdog”, Leo McKinstry, put all those sad, homophobic fears in a nutshell (February 24th): “Gay rights groupies persist in trying to influence children… Under-14s cannot possibly be sure of their sexuality.” This was reiterated by consultant psychiatrist Dr Raj Persaud in The Daily Mail: “There are lots of children who go through a gay phase in adolescence and if they are in a phase, how do you know they won’t come out of it?”

This “homosexual phase” theory is really the core of the argument— and also at the root of a great deal of misery for young gay people. But is it real or the figment of disordered imaginations? The one calm voice of reason came in The Times (February 21st). One of their writers (a self-confessed heterosexual) criticised the “we-know-best” brigade in these terms: “They swear that all these young boys will get seduced, ‘condemned’ even, into a life of homosexuality. Now I know 13 sounds young, but those of us who aren’t gay can’t possibly know how it feels if you are. Every one of my gay friends says he knew he was gay from the age of 5. And if being fostered by a straight couple won’t make a gay boy straight, I can’t see a gay couple turning a straight boy gay.” Such logic evades homophobes.

So, what are young gay people — the vast majority of whom aren’t in the least confused or ambiguous about their feelings — supposed to do? They can suffer in silence or risk being told by Mary Whitehouse that she knows better than they do what’s going on inside their heads.

Or alternatively they could write to an agony aunt. This seems like a very good course of action because in the main they’ll get a respectful and positive response, even in the tabloids. “My parents found out I was gay — though I’ve known about it for years — and they won’t talk to me,” wrote a desperate 16-year-old to Deirdre Sanders in The Sun. She tells him to keep trying to build bridges with his parents, and gives the address of the Lesbian and Gay Youth Movement.

A much less straightforward case turned up for Zelda West-Meades, The Mail on Sunday’s advice columnist: “My younger brother is 15, but from the age of ten he has believed he is gay. He says he hates gays and that he has never fancied another boy and will never do so. He feels his mind is to blame because it is telling him he is gay. If a man so much as touches his clothes, he has to wash them and have a bath. Recently it has got worse and he is hitting his head violently. I am worried that he will have a breakdown or cause brain damage.” Zelda suggests the writer tries to persuade her brother to see his GP so he can be referred to a psychologist, or alternatively to ring Childline on 0800-800 500.

The only way to stop torturing gay children is to give them the information they need at an early age. But any attempt to do this immediately brings down the ire of the smug, the complacent and the plain evil.

“Outcry at gay school book for children of 5” announced The Daily Express (March 2nd), but the “outcry” came from all the usual sources.

“5-year olds to get gay lessons” was The Daily Mail’s version of the story about a modest little school book called “Colours of the Rainbow” produced by Camden and Islington Health Trust. The Mail told us that: “The book provides lesson ideas for pupils aged five to 16. It tells teachers how to create ‘positive images’ of homosexual men and women, and persuade children that it is an acceptable lifestyle.”

Given what has gone before one would imagine it to be an excellent idea, but The Mail solicited the half-baked opinions of the lamentable Lady Olga Maitland: “The people who are putting this kind of thing forward as a model for children are frankly rather sick. We ought to be doing more to encourage normal family life.”

Then the Mail had the cheek to say in its editorial “Discrimination against gays is patently unacceptable.” (I’ll let you chew on that one for a while). “But to teach children about homosexuality and bisexuality at an age when they can surely have little understanding of heterosexual conduct is political correctness gone mad.” It then goes on to insist that the Education Secretary ensures “that the book be banned from all schools.”

A few days later The Mail was taken to task for its hate-mongering by Darrell Gale, a 25-year-old gay man, who wrote in the letters column about “the horror of growing up gay while at school”. He said: “At secondary school the bullying started, name-calling intensified and, when adolescence arrived, I became an irate, unbalanced youth. My energies went into thinking up different ways of killing myself, harming myself or willing my body and soul to change.”

With testimony like that I don’t know how Lady Olga Hateland and The Daily Mail can live with themselves.

But sometimes newspapers can provide a platform for young gays who want to tell others about their experiences. Gordon Menzies grew up gay in a small community in North Ayrshire. He says he knew that he was gay from the age of twelve, but was worried about the reaction he would get if he came out.

When he took the first tentative steps from the closet, the trouble really started. Gordon took the first opportunity to escape from Scotland and made a bee line for Manchester, but he decided that he would let the residents of West Kilbride know just what they had done to him. In a letter to the local newspaper, The Largs and Milport Weekly News, he wrote: “At the age of 20, I decided to tell my mother. It was one of the hardest things a son could tell his mother, but I broke it gently and she took it better than I expected. However, I felt like an outcast from the family and soon it spread around the village and I was given a lot of abuse by local residents and shop owners, and was even sacked from my hotel job in Glasgow just for being different. It is something I would not wish to happen to my worst enemy, as by the time small-minded people have finished with you, all your confidence can be destroyed.”

It was only by running away that Gordon could get any peace. He’s now happier than he has ever been. Others are not so fortunate and that’s where the Albert Kennedy Trust’s real value comes into play.

It’s up to all of us to help our gay children survive in a world full of Olga Maitlands, Ivan Lawrences and disgusting Daily Mail readers.

***

Peter Mandelson is a Labour MP who almost everyone believes to be gay, but who refuses to talk about it. The launch of his book, The Blair Revolution: Can New Labour Deliver? has brought him much personal publicity, much of which made oblique reference to his sexuality.

In the Daily Telegraph’s profile, Fiammetta Rocco wrote: “One of Mandelson’s assistants twice called to ask what I would write about his private life. ‘He is paranoid about his sexuality and doesn’t know how to deal with it’ a close friend told me. ‘I think it makes him a very lonely man.’ He is clearly very sensitive about it, and as Tony Blair gets closer to the very heart of the political establishment he can become only more so.”

For someone who is supposed to be an ace media manipulator and string-puller, Mandelson seems strangely blind to what can happen to those who are economical with the truth in politics. If Labour does come anywhere near to attaining power, does Mandelson think that the Tory papers will spare him? His reluctance to be open and dignified about his sexuality puts a mighty powerful weapon into the hands of his enemies,

Meanwhile, David Ashby, the Tory MP who recently lost a libel action against The Sunday Times after it alleged he was gay, showed there were no hard feelings. He bravely voted against the Government by supporting a Housing Bill amendment that would give homosexual people living in a council or housing association property the right to inherit the tenancy if their partner died. “Why should we not allow succession?” he reasonably asked. “What is fundamentally wrong?”

Might I suggest Mr Ashby discusses the issue with Mandy Mandelson?

Gay Times, May 1996

THE QUESTION of Michael Barrymore’s coming out has once more been exercising the tiny minds of our media. What they want to know now is whether “revelations” about his sexuality have destroyed his career. 

The moralising end of the media, the Dally Mail and Express are in no doubt – if he’d stayed in the closet none of this would have happened. And their conclusion from this? Let it be a warning to the rest of you “militant homosexuals” who insist on telling the truth.

The speculation was prompted by news that Barrymore’s Saturday night TV show had lost two million viewers, and had, as a consequence, been downgraded by “TV bosses” to a less desirable teatime slot at 6.15. “A year ago Barrymore regularly attracted 11.5 million viewers,” reported the Daily Mail (March 18th). “But figures have plummeted by 18 per cent – more than any other show in TVs Top 50 – since the star came out of the closet.” 

The conclusion to be drawn from this, as far as the Mail was concerned, seemed obvious. “Has the moral backlash finally sunk Barrymore?” it asked in a feature on March 25th. It quoted Bill Cotton, former controller of Light Entertainment at the BBC, as saying “I’ve been through all of this before with Frankie Howerd and Kenneth Williams. For a lot of the time that those two were performing, homosexuality was actually illegal and a constant nightmare of mine that either of them might be found out at any moment. 

“I never lost sight of the fact that even if, in the world of television, most people accepted homosexuality, for the bulk of the viewers the idea was not a particularly nice one. I think it’s just the same now and that’s why I think it would have been better if Michael had kept his counsel. I believe he has been under pressure for some time from people in the gay community to come out into the open, but they had a lot less to lose than he did – as all of this shows.” 

Not to be outdone in the moralising stakes, the Dally Express came up with its own version “Barrymore and a question of modern morality” (April 1st) – subtitled “Why flaunting his sexuality has cost TV star dear”. The article, by David Thomas, said: “To many people, the decline in his popularity will be a simple proof that the British are prejudiced against gays”. After this bit of earth- shattering insight, Mr Thomas makes the case for hypocrisy: “Many gay people will say that it is unfair that they still have to live by rules imposed by straights. But hypocrisy – or, to put it another way, espousing standards that one doesn’t always live up to – has its role to play in a civilised society.”

Read that sentence again. David Thomas seems to be saying that it’s OK for heterosexuals to condemn their homosexual fellow citizens for behaving “immorally’, while indulging in very similar behaviours themselves. If that’s the way the Dally Express defines civilisation, then gawd help us.

A more thoughtful exploration of Barrymore’s apparent plummeting popularity, written by Paul Vallely, appeared in the Independent (March 21st). Vallely challenged the tabloids’ gloating interpretation of the ratings figures: “It is true that his audience is now averaging around 9.3 million, but his share is only down to an average 41 per cent compared with the 42 per cent for BBC1 which screens the very similar Noel Edmunds House Party at the same time. ‘It is not regarded as much of a drop,” said one industry observer, “especially as Barrymore has a very poor lead-in from the previous programme The Shane Ritchie Experience, which is the real dud of the evening, pulling an audience of only 7.5 million. Barrymore boosts that by 1 5m. Yet for some reason people talk about Ritchie as the blue-eyed boy and Barrymore as being on his last legs,” Indeed, since that piece was written, The Shane Ritchie Experience has been “axed.” Mr Ritchie has not come out of the closet and appears, in fact, to be heterosexual. Was his heterosexuality anything to do with his show being dropped? Would the Daily Mail please commission an article from Paul Johnson to explain this to us? 

But beyond the ratings, other commentators have different explanations for Barrymore’s fading light. They think he has had a personality change. Marcus Berkmann in the Sunday Express (March 24th) thinks Michael has “exhausted his charm reserve” and is being nasty to his guests. “This was a brand new Barrymore we were seeing, an aggressive, prickly Barrymore, and we have seen a lot more of him since the series has progressed – the balance of the show has altered.”

                  Mr Berkmann thinks that viewers are turned off less by news of Barrymore’s sexuality, more by his “irritability”. “He doesn’t seem to enjoy what he Is doing any more. Viewers are not fooled. They turn over and watch something else.” 

Mark Lawson in the Guardian agreed. “Viewers on Saturday night have concluded that the show’s real problem is that the star has gone in on himself. Long before he was gay in the new sense, he was gay in the old way, but now he seems burned and nervy on screen. These days Barrymore’s manner is less camp than prisoner-of-war camp.” 

John Smith in the People thought it was the show’s format that was wrong. “The harsh truth is that Barrymore’s producers believed that ordinary people can be hugely entertaining if you stick them in a studio. A dreary procession of geriatric singers, ‘cuts’ youngsters and unfunny interviews proved them disastrously wrong.” 

But surely every entertainer needs to ring the changes from time to time. Nobody on television, however talented, can do the same thing over and over again without eventually boring his audience. Barrymore needs to abandon this stale format and return with something new and fresh, something that will take into account his new approach. 

Like so many gay men, he has tried desperately to be loved by everyone. Like the rest of us. he was afraid that if people knew the truth. they would reject him totally, and so he over-compensated in the niceness department. 

                  Now that he’s out of the closet, there’s less need for that cloying eagerness to please. Now that his audience knows who he really is. he doesn’t have to beg quite so manically for their approval. And despite the tabloids wishful thinking that Michael Barrymore has “turned straight again” by apparently returning to his wife, the man himself has assured Jeremy Joseph, the gay disc jockey, that he isn’t going back into the closet. In the gay paper QX, Joseph says that Barrymore told him: “I have no regrets about coming out. As I said at the beginning, if that means losing it all. then so be it.” Barrymore should be given a medal for courage in the face of the perverted “moralising” that is rapidly becoming the staple fare of our tabloid press. 

***

ANOTHER show biz personality, Michael French, who plays David Wicks in EastEnders, was recently outed by the Sunday Mirror. The story was sold to the paper by Michael’s ex-lover Bryan Lawrence, who was sympathetically presented throughout. 

For a newspaper that condemned Outrage’s outing activities so vehemently – “bitchy and scabrous” they called them – the Sunday Mirror s prurient and titillating story had no purpose other than to out the star. Not satisfied with that, the Sunday Mirror then began to suggest that Mr French could no longer keep his job as the “Albert Square Romeo”. They quoted an unnamed BBC “insider” as saying: “He has no option but to leave because his credibility as the show’s heart throb has been destroyed.” 

No doubt, as with Barrymore, they were hoping that the more they repeated the idea that an openly gay person is unemployable on mainstream television, the more likely it would be accepted as “fact”. 

A dissenting voice in the witch hunt was Carol Sarler in the People (March 31st). She says she can’t understand why French’s gayness should damage his career. “He’s an actor,” she says. “Acting is all about pretending to be something you are not. And the more convincingly you do that, the more you deserve the top roles and the top money that goes with them. If French can continue to make us believe that he fancies Michelle Collins – most especially if he really doesn’t – then I don’t care if the man snogs goats.” 

Despite tabloid efforts to create the impression that here was another gay man being brought low by his sexuality, the BBC stuck by Mr French and he will continue to appear in the programme. Meanwhile, Pam St Clements – who plays French’s mum in the serial – should be able to give him all the advice he needs on dealing with a press that apparently can’t tell fiction from reality. After all, she’s already been through this and survived. 

***

A GENERAL ELECTION creeps ever closer, and despite Tory boasts that they are going to see their term in office through to the bitter (and twisted) end, there are signs that they won’t make the finishing post. One such sign is the fact that after a brief period of criticising the government, the loyal Tory newspapers have returned to the fold. The Mail, Express, Torygraph and the rest are now resuming their usual uncritical pro-Tory stances. 

What this means for gay people is that there will soon be a large increase in antigay reporting. The papers will use any means at their disposal to link homosexuality negatively with Labour or the Liberal Democrats. Labour local authorities will come once more under scrutiny (we’ve had one loony left story already this month about a London authority apparently proposing a housing estate exclusively for lesbians. Ha!), and any suggestion of pro-gay policy from any opposition party will be presented as the end of civilisation as we know it. And all of those closets on the Labour benches had better man the barricades. 

Stand by your bunkers chaps, it’s going to be a dirty fight.

Gay Times, June 1996

RECENT EVENTS seem to have convinced The Times and The Daily Telegraph that the gay army is advancing a little too boldly, and so they have been wheeling out their own big guns to fire back. 

Both papers have a veritable army of commentators – many of them obsessive on the subject of homosexuality – who regularly wield their favourite antigay cliches like cudgels, repeating them endlessly, on the assumption, I suppose, that if people hear them often enough, they will eventually come to believe them. 

 Here are some of the more common examples seen in the past month. Cliche No 1: “Homosexual ‘rights’ are a threat to family life and the traditional moral order.” Digby Anderson was peddling this one in The Daily Telegraph (April 19th) in an article entitled: “Sad road to ‘gay weddings’.” He says that if gay marriage is sanctified, then all that “we” hold dear will be destroyed. Mr Anderson used to favour that other well-known myth, the one that says that if it hadn’t been tor the liberal reforms of the sixties, we wouldn’t have this “increasingly aggressive demand for homosexual ‘rights””. Now he’s changed tack. These days he believes that those who originally reformed the divorce and homosexual laws, had never intended their liberalism to lead to the present “grab for rights”. “It [sixties law reform] was a settlement that retained the old notions of normality and perversity; the normality of heterosexual faithful marriage as an ideal, while exercising tolerance and compassion for those who could not attain it.” 

  Now look what has happened! “Rationality, compassion and tolerance are drowning in a sea of minority rights, demands for ever more handouts, denials of the very notion of normality and perversity… Current society is morally adrift, moral considerations and responsibilities have been replaced by warring rights and competitive grabs at the cake.” 

(Cliche No 2, which Mr Anderson also deploys in this piece, is that “traditional morality” is being turned on its head. (“The sin of the Nineties is not sodomy but homophobia,” he says disconsolately.) In the Jewish Chronicle (April 19th) Chaim Bermant, flogged Cliche No 3: “Gay relationships are meaningless 

His rant was prompted by a decision by the Central Conference of American Rabbis to gjve its blessing to gay marriage. “We are not a particularly united people.“ he says, “but if there is one thing which the various Jewish denominations had in common, it was a commitment to family fife. Let us, for the moment, forget the many and emphatic imprecations on sodomy to be found in Scripture. Let us evert forget the dangers inherent in such practices. Yet even Reform rabbis of the most reformist tendency cannot deny that homosexual unions are inherently sterile.” He goes on to say that even though one in three heterosexual marriages end in divorce, those unions at least have “the potential for bliss… which gay marriages do not.” (Mr Bermant also manages to work into his piece Clich6 No 4: “The very fact that homosexuals have appropriated and perverted a word like ‘gay’ as peculiarly their own is a confession of the inherent bleakness and emptiness of their way of life.”) 

 Back to The Daily Telegraph (May 1st) for Cliche No 5: “If homosexuals didn’t flaunt their sexuality, people wouldn’t discriminate against them.” This one was peddled by Angela Jones, a new name to add to the roster of unbalanced press homophobes. “Over the past couple of decades there has grown up an increasingly strident homosexual lobby. Not content that their private behaviour should no longer be punished by the criminal law, they have been lobbying for their lifestyle to be fully accepted by mainstream society…There are still many people who feel uneasy about these trends. They do not wish to be constantly reminded of perversion… But what of the right to free association, the right of an employer and fellow workers to work with those of their kind. At present, if a homosexual alienates employer and colleagues by flaunting his sexuality an industrial tribunal will uphold the fairness of his dismissal.” Ms Jones seems, therefore, to think that it is good to deprive people of their livelihoods simply because they make her feel uncomfortable. Surely the very definition of bigotry! 

Cliche No 6: “Homosexuals who fail to integrate will suffer a backlash.” This was given an airing by Magnus Linklater in The Times (April 18th). He was talking about the departure of Andrew Sullivan as editor of The New Republic in America. Linklater thinks that Sullivan is a “sexual fundamentalist” and says that his opinions are “erecting barriers rather than demolishing them, encouraging prejudice against the gay community rather than reducing it.”

When the National Union of Teachers passed a motion at its conference asserting that “The presence of openly gay and lesbian teachers has a positive impact on schools”, it prompted Ray Honeyford, a former head teacher, to repeat Cliche No 7 (Daily Telegraph, April 17th): “If children are told about homosexuality, they will be lured into a homosexual lifestyle.” Mr Honeyford said: “The ultimate sexual destiny of children is an open question, though we know the vast majority will turn out to be heterosexual. Children and young people are not sexually being so much as sexually Incoming. Moreover, many boys go through a period of sexual confusion at puberty The presence of an obvious homosexual on the school staff, can easily lead an adolescent to mistake a transitory crush for a permanent sexual commitment.”

Cliché No 8: Being gay is the same as being a paedophile. This one was brutally promulgated Daily Express headline (May 8th): “Gay attackers snatched bike boy, 9, off Street” over the hideous story of a young boy raped and killed by two monsters who made a career out of child abuse. 

***

IN EDINBURGH, two gay men applied to adopt a 5-year-old boy whom they had been fostering for 18 months. The boy, who is severely disabled, had been in care from an early age, and his unmarried natural mother did not want him. The heroic gay couple decided to take him into their home and by all accounts have made a wonderful job of caring for him. The judge, Lord Gill, refused to allow adoption, not because he doubted the truth of court reports saying that the child was benefiting from being raised in a house of love and commitment, but because he felt the whole issue of adoption by gay couples needed a thorough airing. 

As The Scotsman said in an editorial: “A fuller legal, moral and social debate can only benefit future similar cases.” This is a view shared by veteran gay campaigner Ian Dunn who told the paper he was confident that such a public discussion would eventually result in gay people being allowed to adopt. Meanwhile, the child happily remains with the gay couple. 

Of course, adoption is not the only way for gay people to make child-raising part of their lives. The Daily Express reported on its front page (May 7th): “A boy of two conceived by artificial insemination is being brought up by a lesbian couple and two homosexual men.” The two couples in question have done nothing illegal. One of the female partners inseminated herself with the sperm of one of the gay men, and the resulting child is being raised with the participation of all four. “Outcry at the toddler shared by four gays. It’s totally unnatural” screeched the Daily Express, which is hardly a good start to a balanced debate, The Express asked local MP Phil Gallie to comment. He said: “This is totally against all the teachings of the Church and traditions of the family. I feel sorry for the child involved.” 

Then came the Conservative Family Campaign: “That a child should start his life shared between two homosexual couples is absolutely horrendous. If this is legal, it shouldn’t be. Children are not the playthings or property of adults. They have rights and needs of their own.” (Oh really? Ask the CFC about the rights and needs of gay children and see what the response is.) 

To be fair, The Express did tack on to the end of its story a comment from The British Medical Association saying that “there is no evidence that gay couples make worse parents” and one from a child psychologist saying: “If a child is genetically programmed to be heterosexual, it is unlikely that his sexuality will be adversely affected by this sort of situation.” 

In the arena of gay rights, parenting is likely to become the crucial issue. As the notion of what constitutes a “real” family is gradually redefined there will be vehement resistance from “traditionalists” who will employ every weapon in their armoury to thwart our efforts. Jeanette Kupfermann in The Daily Mail (May 8th) was first to the barricade making the point that the fundamentals of our culture are changed at our peril: “The family’s function is not merely to provide a home for children; it serves as a prime transmitter of our cultural values, it’s the crucible where all our attitudes and values are manufactured, despite increasing intervention by the state. We recognise at some profound level that at the basis of all our values lies the notion of heterosexuality.”

This debate is only just beginning, but I have a feeling that the newspapers will ensure that it is nasty, mendacious and cruel. 

***

QUOTE… UNQUOTE

 “We seem to be entering into an era of liturgies for anything under the sun. Will there be one for homicidal maniacs next?’ asked an outraged Revd Tony Higton, a leading Church of England evangelical, when informed of a new collection of Christian liturgies for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transsexuals. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, of Cape Town, has given the book We Were Baptised Toohis full backing and caused further controversy by stating that the homophobia inflicted on gay people was “nearly the ultimate blasphemy”.

It’s not about the right to be different. The services don’t have a right to be different to the rest of lite, but they have a need to be different. Anything that breaks the trust between man and man in combat, is not something we can have,” Armed Forces Minister Nicholas Soames commented recently about the ban on gay service personnel. However, when asked if the armed services allowed females, “Allowed,” he boomed, “they’re positively welcomed… “ – until he realised the Sunday Telegraph interviewer was in fact inquiring about lesbians.

“Twenty or thirty years ago to be homosexual was, for a large majority of people, and certainly in terms of the mass media and political establishment, immoral. Now, to be homophobic is immoral,” Andrew Marr, the new political editor of The Independent recently told journalists on Out this Week, the lesbian and gay news programme on Radio 5

GAY TIMES July 1996

Reading The Daily Mail is rather like being hypnotised by a snake — you know it is going to poison you, but it’s difficult to take your eyes off it.

One person who has had closer dealings with the reptile than most is Polly Toynbee, The Independent’s excellent standard-bearer for liberal values. She writes the sort of stuff that makes Paul Dacre, the spiteful, malevolent, yet unimpeachably moral editor of The Daily Mail, go blue around the poison gland. Toynbee espouses sympathy for single mothers, tolerance for divorcees and, recently, support for gay rights. She also hates religious fanaticism.

Ms Toynbee recently became aware that The Daily Mail was out to get her. The paper’s journalists were snooping around her neighbourhood, questioning neighbours and friends, generally trying to dig the dirt. Ms Toynbee’s house was broken into, although she ascribes this to coincidence. When she became aware that the Mail’s dirty tricks department was closing in on her, she took pre-emptive action. “The Mail stands for everything that stinks about moralising hypocrisy,” she blasted from the front page of The Independent.

This started a rash of navel-gazing in the press. The Guardian detected a conspiracy at the Mail – a conspiracy to denounce powerful women on the Left of politics. Andrew Marr, the Independent’s editor, wrote that his paper would take on The Mail if, as it threatened, there was an “exposé” of Polly Toynbee.

It’s good that the liberal press is at last standing up to the boorishness and downright evil of the tabloids. It’s a resistance that is long overdue.

Needless to say, The Daily Mail also has a case to answer in its treatment of gay issues. Anybody who exposes themselves to The Mail’s daily dirge of misanthropy will know that it is to the nineties what The Sun was to the eighties: The Gaybasher’s Gazette.

For instance, the predicted upsurge in pre-election homophobia in Tory newspapers is nowhere more apparent than in The Daily Mail, which can spin even the most innocuous gay happening until it becomes a stick with which to beat the opposition.

On 15th March the paper headlined: “If Blair wins so will we, say the gay campaigners.” This headline was over a report which began: “Gay campaigners intensified their pressure on Tony Blair yesterday, demanding a raft of new rights from a Labour Government. And they are confident, on the basis of a promise from a shadow minister, that homosexual sex at 16 will be allowed if the party wins power.” So there we have it. Labour is the gay-lovers party.

The story was based on the publication of a “manifesto” by The Labour Campaign for Lesbian and Gay Rights. As well as lowering the age of consent, the group is also apparently demanding “the lifting of the forces’ ban on gays and the presentation of positive images of lesbians and gay men in schools. The policies would then be enforced by a Gay Rights Commission.”

In 1987, just before the general election of that year, The Daily Mail wrote an almost identical story which it headlined on the front page: “The Left’s plan for a gay charter”. Once more it was based on demands issued by The Labour Campaign for Lesbian and Gay Rights. It was equally distorted and misleading. Seems The Daily Mail knows the tricks that work and recycles them endlessly. (But, of course, whatever Labour does, it can’t win in the pages of The Mail. The paper had already reported, a few days earlier, that “Gays accuse Blair of betrayal as he misses vote on Forces ban.”)

Then, when the former Archbishop of Canterbury made his now famous admission that he had knowingly ordained gay priests during his time in office, The Mail inevitably sought the opinion of York Minster’s malevolent Billy Bunter figure, “The Venerable” George Austin, who said: “If an Archbishop flouts the policy where does that leave everyone else? Does he close his eyes to a man’s promiscuous heterosexuality or to someone who is financially untrustworthy? Scripture is quite clear in its condemnation of homosexuality.”

All this led The Mail to exhort the virtues of Islam: “Anglicans who are desperately trying to believe in their Church can be forgiven for envying the simple moral certainties preached by Islamic clerics in the fast-growing networks of mosques across this green and pleasant land.” (Presumably Mail readers would like to see the return of decapitation for adulterers and limb-severance for shoplifters? Not to mention stoning to death for shirtlifters? And if Paul Dacre likes authoritarian religion so much, why doesn’t he bugger off to Iran?)

The Loony Left, of course, is never far from Mr Dacre’s thoughts, and he must have been rubbing his hands with glee when he found out that “Lesbians working for local authorities are eligible for ‘paternity’ leave at public expense when their partners have a child.” The policy, which apparently has been accepted by “many of the 480 local authorities around the country”, allows five days leave with pay to “the child’s father or partner, or nominated carer of an expectant mother at or around the time of birth.” But better still, left-wing Islington Council in London has doubled the leave entitlement to two weeks.

A few days later, the Chief Executive of Islington Council pointed out in a letter to The Mail’s sister paper, The London Evening Standard, that the policy was generally accepted throughout the country and made no specific mention of lesbians – a “carer” could be a sister or a mother. He said: “This misleading report will only damage Islington’s reputation at a time when we are doing all we can to attract companies and organisations into the borough to provide jobs for local people.”

So why had The Mail introduced lesbians into the equation and singled out Islington Council? Why, because Labour leader Tony Blair is a resident of Islington, and if they can whack him over the head with a lesbian they’ll do it. The fact that the whole thing was total distortion was of no consequence to the moral bankrupts at The Mail.

Then came the story that gay sex is now apparently permissible in prison. The Mail headed its version “exclusive” — exclusively lifted from The Pink Paper that is —and then editorialised: “Len Curran, [deputy head of Healthcare for the Prison Service] speaking this month to a conference considering HIV in prisons, said the Prisons Service considers sex between consenting prisoners in a locked cell to be a private matter and therefore legal under the 1967 Sexual Offences Act. The truth is that a sorry mixture of cowardice, permissiveness and political correctness means that the Prison Service would rather condone a perverse regime built around sex and drugs in jail instead of acting ruthlessly to stamp out these growing evils.”

Then the Mail found the perfect opportunity to solicit more predictable quotes from the raving Right after news emerged that Jane Hardman Brown, (described as “a lesbian headmistress who refused to let her pupils see a production of Romeo and Juliet) had been promoted to become a schools’ inspector. “The fact that she is so committed to a homosexual agenda must make it a reason for concern that she should sit in judgement over other schools,” said MP Julian Brazier. The Conservative Family Campaign (an organisation with inordinate influence at The Daily Mail) called for “a proper vetting procedure to be put in place for such appointments.”

In The Mail’s frighteningly one-dimensional world, Ms Brown could not, of course, have been given the job on merit. Despite having her skills lauded in two official reports, The Daily Mail still thinks it’s all down to “political correctness”. In an editorial the paper says: “Many had hoped that Ofsted would deal with the worst excesses of permissive education. Ms Hardman Brown’s appointment suggests that either trendy liberals wield undue power in the educational establishment, or that Chris Woodhead, Ofsted’s director, feels the need to make a token appointment to assuage his increasingly vociferous liberal critics. Either way alarm bells should be ringing.”

The paper wasn’t content to leave it there, though, and a few days later reported that “an education chief who tried to discipline a lesbian headmistress is planning to quit his job.” The man in question is Gus John, Director of Education at Hackney Council. The lesbian being, of course, the aforementioned Jane Brown. The Mail suggests that Mr John has been driven to early retirement because of pressure from “the gay lobby”. In fact his desire to discipline Ms Brown was thwarted not by some homosexual fifth column but by the parents themselves who supported Jane Brown from the very beginning.

Next in The Mail’s firing line was Euan Sutherland, with his battle to get the age of consent law changed by appealing to the European Court of Human Rights (or “his disturbing gay crusade” as The Mail has it). Euan and his parents were interviewed by the Mail’s reporter John Ungoed-Thomas. The subheading over the feature said it all: “This boy is using your money to fight for a lower age of homosexual consent. But does he know his own mind?” Mr and Mrs Sutherland were presented as “permissive” parents for allowing Euan to sleep with his boyfriend in their house at a time when the law forbade it: “What is deemed acceptable in this middle class home is poised to have a possibly devastating influence over Britain’s ever-sliding standards of morality.”

Euan is subtly portrayed as a child who does not know his own mind. “The fact that Euan had shortly beforehand lost his virginity to the schoolgirl he had been dating hardly seems the behaviour of someone who had everything clear in his mind.”

The Mail’s record of hatred and intolerance has a long pedigree. If we go back to its issue dated January 15th 1934 we will find the headline “Hurrah for the Blackshirts!”

The Blackshirts were, of course, the British Union of Fascists. Unsurprisingly, The Daily Mail supported them enthusiastically, even after Hitler came to power.

A long time ago? For regular readers of the Mail it must seem like only yesterday.

QUOTES OF THE MONTH:

“Accused people want their briefs tarted up for their day in court.” David Ashby MP revealed exclusively in a Commons debate on whether judges and barristers should still wear wigs.

“Jason Gardiner’s Dick leaves me quite unimpressed,” wrote Nicholas de Jongh, The Evening Standard’s theatre critic, in his review of the musical, Dames at Sea. His editors were not impressed either. In later editions, the review was changed to read: “Jason Gardiner in the role of Dick…” What were they thinking of?

“Gay marriage seeks merely to promote monogamy, fidelity and the disciplines of family life among people who have long been cast to the margins of society. And what could be a more conservative project than that?” argued conservative American gay journalist Andrew Sullivan in Newsweek.

“I always thought Margo had a certain appeal as a gay icon, so I was delighted to be asked to do the voiceovers,” Penelope Keith, star of the kitsch 70s sitcom The Good Life, told The Radio Times about her new role on Gaytime TV. What would the good folk of Surbiton have to say about this?

“The dafter aspects of political correctness are just that,” Tony Blair commented recently to The Evening Standard when asked about the decision by Islington Council to allow ‘paternity’ leave to the partners of pregnant lesbians. Adding insult to injury Blair said that the action of Islington was not typical of Labour councils.

“Absolutely speechless,” Lady Olga Maitland told The Sun when asked her response to lesbian headteacher Jane Brown being made a schools inspector. If only it were really true then the world would be a much happier place.

Gay Times, August 1996

WHEN I saw The Sun’s headline “Loony Lottery”,  I thought, yes, betting at odds of 16 million-to-one is certainly loony. But the story turned out not to be about the impossible dream but about how the Charities Board spends the money set aside by the Lottery for “good causes”.

In tabloid-speak the Loony Lottery is simply a variation of the Loony Left – spending all its ill-gotten gains on gays, prostitutes, foreigners and other dissolutes.

The papers were. of course, taking their lead from that nice Mr Major who was said to have “thumped the table” in anger when he heard that some of the Lottery cash was being given to organisations like the Leicester Lesbian. Gay and Bisexual Centre and the Gay London Policing Project.

Could this be the same Mr Major who once invited Sir Ian McKellen round for tea and to wish him well his gay rights campaign?’ What on earth could have brought on such a violent volte face? It couldn’t have had anything to do with keeping another of his Euro-embarrassments off thefront pages, could it?

“Major Fury at Lottery Payout – charity cash goes to gay groups and a prostitutes centre” was the Mail’s obliging front-page lead. The tabloids were grateful to the Prime Minister for handing them a whole new area of “political correctness” to bang on about, and they constantly railed about the Charities Board, which was suddenly portrayed as a bunch do-gooding left-wingers.

The Chanties Board in its turn was defiant. In fact, it gave a rather vigorous response to the posturings of the Tories and their tabloid lapdogs. The Board’s head, David Sieff, said: “All groups offered grants sent excellent applications and were assessed thoroughly against our criteria.” 

That cut no ice with the publicity-seekers on the Tory backbenches Peter Butler, the MP for North East Milton Keynes, was quoted in The London Evening Standard as saying that he thought it was “a disgrace that public money should be spent on those sort of people” The Sun said. “When the Lottery was started we were told our pounds would help good causes like The Scouts, youth clubs, medical research, old people and the needy. We never dreamt that hundreds of millions would go to opera, ballet and a host of politically-correct schemes while boys clubs and groups giving holidays to child cancer victims were turned away without a penny.”

The Daily Express thought it “was wrong to use cash from the public to support groups that encourage perverted or immoral behaviour, or help foreigners slide round our immigration controls . What if £10,000 had been given to, say, a group campaigning to win acceptance for sex with children or a National Front youth summer camp?” 

But despite this sanctimony from the Tory press, Mr Major’s little ploy backfired on him, in the way that everything seems to these days. The Guardian said “The protest could not have been more confected. It was badly planned poorly executed and ended, deservedly, with egg all over the protesters’ faces. A Prime Minister who once claimed he wanted to create a classless society showed himself ready to attack even the most vulnerable minority charities for narrow party advantage. Ministers did not just look foolish, they looked cheap.” 

The Independent editorialised that had our grotesque Home Secretary, Michael Howard, made these homophobic remarks at a party conference, no-one would have noticed. But the fact that supposed moderates like John Major and Virginia Bottomley had said it was different “These are supposed to be the balanced, mature, sensible and tolerant members of the Cabinet. Probably they look in the mirror and see that liberals are smiling back They should look again. Their remarks this week were not only illiberal, they were vile” 

Alex Falconer, MEP, wrote to The Guardian saying that he thought that small minority charities are the only ones deserving of lottery grants. “All the other so-called good causes should be properly resourced from national taxation. The Charities Board is a substitute for a well-regulated and fair taxation system. It takes money from those people least able to afford to subsidise these areas of public life which are rightly the province of public funding.”

These remarks cam to mind a few days later when The Sun reported that an old folks home had changed its name to the Gay Gnome Club to give it a better chance of getting a lottery grant

The chairman of the Club said that “the lottery people ignored our request, most probably because we are straight and normal.”

But what the hell is an old folks home appealing for charity money anyway? What did they pay all those National insurance stamps and taxes for over the years? Surely the state should be caring for them, they shouldn’t need to depend on the whim of a Chanty Board. This ail has the whiff of those Victorian Values so beloved of the Tories.  If they aren’t careful, the Gay Gnomes Club will shortly find that their Old Folks Home has been redesignated as a workhouse, and then it’ll be too late for them to realise they’ve been shooting at the wrong target. 

The whole business has pointed up a disgraceful aspect to our national life. It shows just how the nation is being conned by the Lottery and how the Government is using it as a way to wash its hands of its proper responsibilities. The point has been made, of course, that it there really is widespread disgust at the way “good causes” money is being spent. Lottery players have an option which is not open to them with taxation They can refuse to buy tickets. 

Try suggesting that to the Great Bntish public when there’s a £20,000,000 roll-over. 

***

THE DAILY MAIL returned to the theme of Aids funding last month. Apparently, gay activists working in the “Aids lobby” (or “Aids industry or “Aids Mafia”, depending on the paper you read) have said that the “we are all at risk” education campaigns have been a “deceit” and that “experts, doctors and politicians created a myth wasting £1 5bn of your money.” 

Quintessential Mail journalist Anne Leslie patted herself on the back saying she had the foresight to resist the “deliberate deception on the part of the gay lobby” that had cost so much and achieved so little. “I stressed that Aids was not simply a tragic and incurable disease it was a boom industry,” she wrote. The money being siphoned out of taxpayers’ pockets was enriching the ad-men, the hucksters, carpet-baggers who were swarming on the Aids gravy train, all shrieking Gimme, gimme, gimme.” 

Andrew Neil made much the same point, saying that The Sunday Times under his editorship was the most prominent paper to argue that heterosexual Aids was a myth, and the latest statistics “totally vindicated’ the paper’s stance.

Princess Diana then came under attack for continuing to associate herself with those affected by HIV and Aids. Mary Kenny, The Daily Express ‘s “Christian” columnist, counselled the Princess to abandon her efforts to raise awareness of the disease “She must not be fooled by those lobbies which spread the propaganda that everyone is at risk when knows that it is a specific behaviour that puts specific people at risk”. 

But what is the real message of these journalists and many others of their ilk on the right-wing press? Did they think money had been “wasted” because only gay mens’ lives had been saved? That it should have been spent on “real people” with “real” problems? Perhaps the most honest spokesman for these people is extreme right-wing Tory MP Terry Dicks who said in a letter to The Daily Mail “It’s only people with dirty needles and filthy habits who stand any real risk of catching Aids” The unspoken conclusion to that is: “And they deserve it,”

One of the “disciples of doom” that The Daily Mail named as being instrumental in “spreading lies” was Baroness Jay. She was allowed a forlorn comment at the bottom of one of the many pages devoted to this issue and said: “If there had been no great awareness campaign and there had been high levels of infection there would have been the most terrible fuss. It’s one of those things that you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.” 

Indeed, over in The Independent, Tom Wilkie was warning against those who preach that HIV is not a potential danger for everyone. “By logic that defeats rational dissection, the very success of the safe sex campaign has now been transmuted into evidence that it was never needed at all. Globally in 1996, Aids is a disease of heterosexuals, although gay men remain the most affected group in Western countries and the death toll among them is terrible.” Mr Wilkie reported that in the UK something like 9,000 people have died from Aids, whereas in the United States, with just four times our population, 318,000 have succumbed He thinks this may have something to do with the influence of that country’s strong “moral majority” which has intervened in every public education campaign about the disease. 

In France. Italy and Spain where no coherent health messages were disseminated, the incidence of new Aids cases is running at four times the British rate. So, was that money really wasted? As Tom Wilkie has said “Every case of Aids is an individual tragedy, but that the absolute numbers are so small is a cause to rejoice, not curse that the money was so well spent in the past.” 

This reasoning did not stop the Mail editorialising mightily over its great (although somewhat belated) revelation that Aids education campaigns are to be re-gayed: “At last, the truth is conceded and the Aids awareness campaign is to be targeted where it all along should have been: at members of the predominantly vulnerable gay community. They deserve compassion and help” Read that again: “They deserve compassion and help.” In the very same issue of the paper there was a news item criticising the Charities Board for awarding a small grant to a gay group called Freedom Youth 96. One of the group’s aims is to distribute vital health information to the most vulnerable section of the gay community – those under 25. And yet the Mail recruited Tory MP David Wilshire – one of the architects of Section 28 – to comment that the grant was “absolutely disgraceful”. The headline said it all: “Gay barbecues to burn Lottery cash”.

What was it the Daily Mail was saying about gays deserving “compassion and help”? The crocodile tears are sick-making

***

QUOTE – UNQUOTE

JODIE FOSTERis suing PolyGram for $10 million after, she alleges, they broke an oral agreement for her to star in the film, The Game. PolyGram, reported The Guardian, cites “creative differences”, though rumour has it that the company felt Foster wouldn’t be accepted by audiences as a romantic lead. However, The Guardian naughtily suggests another reason: “So it would be absolutely nothing to do with the rumours around Hollywood that Foster is about to come out of the closet, then.’”

IT CAME ASa bolt from the blue. Jim Davidson in his Daily Mirror comment urged for all those harassing Michael Barrymore to leave him alone. His sexuality isn’t an Issue, he said, and added: “I’m there to help him He can come and stay with me if he wants.” But ever the ‘comedian’ the cheeky Cockney added: “That’s as long as I’ve got my back against the wall, of course.“ Davidson up against a wall, now there’s an idea. 

“I WILL SMASHevery hooligan I meet, break their bones, split their skin open, and bloody them generally. They will receive no mercy from me, though I shall still pray for my attackers, once I have disabled them. Praise the Lord.” Thus spake 86-year-old Sister Leema of St Anne’s convent in Madras. She and the nuns have been receiving karate classes after several of the sisters had been attacked. (Quoted in Private Eye). 

“WE’VE BEENtogether for three years, we’ve never gone through separate entrances and we’ve never disguised the fact that we’re together. But we don’t make an issue of our relationship,.. Anyone whose life revolves around their sexuality, well, it’s boring,” Elton John’s lover David Furnish told The Radio Times while plugging his documentary about the superstar, Tantrums and Tiaras. 

THERE MAY SOON COMEa time when the one-legged Irish lesbian beloved of chroniclers of looney left lore is seen as a target voter by Conservative Central Office and courted accordingly. Sitting MPs in key marginals can be astonishingly broad-minded.” said journalist Anne McElvoy in The Spectator on the changing Tory attitude towards gays

GAY TIMES September 1996

“LOVE ALL” was the headline over a two-page spread in The Sunday Mirror (July 14th) concerning Martina Navratilova and the new love in her life – “stunning model” Hunter Reno. “She’s tall, she’s blonde and she’s beautiful,” said the paper, “But back off guys – she is also Martina’s.” The feature was decorated with several snatched photographs of Martina kissing her new beloved on the doorstep of their rented Wimbledon house. If you leave aside the icky feeling that many straight, male Sunday Mirror readers would be suffering an underpants disturbance from the sight of two women kissing, the story was generally sympathetic (“they had love in their eyes… it looked like a spontaneous show of affection.”).

The article went on to say that “the couple can expect rumblings from the gay community now that the news is out.” An unnamed ‘friend’ was quoted as saying: “Gays see Martina as their champion. A woman who speaks up for them and speaks out. They don’t think she should be hiding Hunter in the closet.”

What tosh. After the salutary experience of the Judy Nelson debacle, who can blame Martina for wanting to be sure before she goes public? And anyway, nobody can seriously lay charges of closetry at the door of Martina Navratilova. Not without deserving one of her legendary forearm smashes – right in the gob.

But the piece did illustrate the changing perception of gay relationships in the British press. Martina’s new amour was treated in exactly the same way as any other celebrity romance would have been.

Then came the bombing at the Olympic Games in Atlanta and news that one of the victims had been British. The Sun was soon on the case and headlined its report (July 29th) “Gay Brits in Bomb Hell – lover waits at bedside as Brian, 53, needs two ops to remove shrapnel.”

The first question has to be: what has Brian Carr’s sexuality got to do with his being injured in a terrorist incident? Well, nothing, of course. But the tabloids need to personalise everything, every story must have “human interest” angle or it won’t get into the popular press. And so, if it had been a “mum-of-two” instead of “a gay” who had been in Centennial Park that fateful evening, The Sun would have said so in the headline.

Mr Carr, and his lover, Chris Hankinson, were quite open about their relationship. There was no question of them being “outed” against their wishes, and so I don’t think The Sun can be criticised in this respect. Just for a change, the tabloids reported a gay relationship with sympathy and dignity. Chris is quoted in The Sun as saying: “We are a happy couple who have come through a lot, and now we are hit with this.” A photograph of them in happier times is captioned: “So close.”

The other papers were not quite so forthright and were obviously struggling with the situation. The Daily Express didn’t even try to convey the nature of the men’s relationship, describing them simply as “two friends”.

The Daily Mail, however, went a little further, describing Chris Hankinson as Mr Carr’s “companion and former business partner.” But it is obvious that they had been attempting to dig dirt in the village of Freethorpe, where Brian Carr lives. The paper quotes a neighbour as saying that “everyone knew about his relationship with Mr Hankinson. It didn’t really bother us. They were both nice blokes and we are all devastated by what has happened.”

But what kind of questions had the reporter been asking to elicit such a response? And what other little titbits did he dig up during his foray in Freethorpe?

We can only wonder what the tabloids have in store for Mr Carr when he returns home. Has The Daily Mail already constructed its familiar tale of a man who deserted his wife and two children to live with a gay lover? Will the respect and dignity that has so far been shown the couple by the paper evaporate as it always has done in similar cases in the past?

The Independent (July 15th) did a story on the home lives of Glyn Fisher and his partner Richard Carrington (and Richard’s two teenage sons Scott and Craig). When Richard’s wife left him, he decided to follow his gay feelings (which he said had always been there) and answered a contact ad. And – bingo – into his life came Glyn. The two of them set up home together and created a “pretend family” incorporating the two boys.

Despite a difficult beginning, the four of them have settled down to a generally pleasant life together. The boys have been teased at school, but are dealing with it very well. “Some of my good mates got into arguments with other people about it, because they stuck up for Dad, even when they didn’t even know him. You learn who your real friends are.” You do, indeed.

And finally to The Times, which carried an obituary of dancer Chris Komar, who died from an Aids-related illness last month. At the end of the eulogy a simple sentence – “He is survived by his partner Art Becofsky” – speaks volumes. This, and the other instances cited here, tell us that gay people are at last beginning to refuse to deny relationships that have enriched their lives. We will eventually reach the stage where no-one, however famous, will feel the need to insult their significant other – and the rest of us – by pretending that their love never existed.

***

Last month The Daily Mail was crowing it been right all along, and that Aids is, indeed, a “gay plague.” The paper’s journalists cursed the gay community for having “deceived” the general population into thinking they were all at risk. The “Aids Mafia” was traduced for having wasted “billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money” on unnecessary health messages for heterosexuals. The Mail congratulated the Government on its decision to target the funding more specifically at the groups most at risk, and said it should have done so from the start.

This month The Daily Mail’s career homophobe, Richard Littlejohn, was given a full page to attack Barnet Council because it has advertised for two men to work in Aids Education, specifically targeting men who have sex with men in public places (August 2nd). Mr Littlejohn prefaced his piece with the usual disclaimer, “This is not an anti-gay rant”, and then went on to rant maniacally about homosexuals who use cottages for their “revolting and dangerous anti-social behaviour.”

Littlejohn wrote: “We are constantly being told that the health service is struggling because of a shortage of money… yet there is never any shortage of money for Aids propaganda or for hiring field workers to service MSMs and equipping them with company cars and mobile telephones.”

The Mail also carried an editorial on the same topic: “Many people reading the words of the Barnet Healthcare advertisement on this page will be astonished that taxpayers’ money can be spent in such a way. They will wonder how it is that the Health Service can demand ever more cash, yet finance homosexuals to hang around public lavatories. Let it be said loud and clear: gays should not be discriminated against and Aids is a terrible affliction. But we despair for the future when even NHS Trusts succumb to such offensive, politically-correct clap-trap. Health Secretary Stephen Dorrell should remind these people that they are squandering our money.”

The Daily Mail’s concern for the health and well-being of gay men is touching, isn’t it? Last month it thought Aids money should be spent on targeting gay men, this month it seems to have changed its mind. When The Daily Mail expresses concern for gay people it can be roughly translated as: we are concerned that you are not all dead yet.

Their nasty arguments don’t stand up to logical analysis anyway. If only half a dozen people are prevented from becoming HIV positive by the efforts of these proposed “Aids propagandists” it will save the Health Service several million pounds.

On that basis they seem like a bargain.

Over in The Sunday Telegraph, (June 30th) Dr James Le Fanu was also telling us off, describing safer sex campaigns aimed at the straight community as “a betrayal”, saying that the risk to heterosexuals was comparable to being “struck by lightning”.

But then came a report in New Scientist describing a variant of HIV called subtype E. “A super-strain of the Aids virus, said to be of particular danger to heterosexuals, has spread from Thailand and America to Britain,” reported The Daily Telegraph (August 1st). Research by the Harvard School of Public Health has found that “the strain is more adept at infecting cells lining the vagina and tip of the penis than other subtypes.”

Let’s hope this turns out not to be the beginning of something horrible for heterosexuals, and that complacent newspapers are not going to have to eat their words. Let’s also hope that thousands of heterosexuals — lulled into feeling that they are immune by politically-motivated journalists — are not going to have to find out what it feels like to be at the battle front of such a horrible illness.

The nature or nurture debate was revivified last month by American science journalist Chandler Burr, here on a flying visit to hype his book “A Separate Creation — how biology makes us gay.” Mr Burr concludes that homosexuality is genetic and hormonal in origin.

The Daily Express’s coverage of the book asked rather barmily “Could you be gay for a day?” and advised us that “the gene runs in families. Women who are lesbian are more likely to have other lesbian family members, but not more likely to have more gay family members.” Work that one out if you can.

Chandler Burr concludes that the discovery of a “gay gene” will not result in attempts to eradicate homosexuality, as many activists fear, but will lead to more tolerance. “You cannot discriminate against people for an aspect of themselves that hurts no-one and is outside their control,” he told The Daily Express.

I wonder what “ex-gay” organisations like The True Freedom Trust and The Courage Trust will make of Mr Burr’s theory? The Catholic magazine The Tablet carried a report on these Christian groups that claim to “cure” homosexuality. “The ministries themselves now avoid the term ‘healing’ and want to get away from the concept of ‘sick’ homosexuals surrounded by ‘healthy’ heterosexuals,” the paper said. “In fact the former have much to teach heterosexuals about relationships, being often more sensitive, being more willing to be vulnerable and more honest about the need for physical affection. Living Waters, which set out to be a ministry to homosexuals, now finds that two-thirds of its work is with heterosexuals.”

But if this is so, what are these groups for? Why do they continue to torment their victims by setting them impossible tasks that damage them even further? The answer is that they are not motivated by humanity, but by the Bible.

QUOTES OF THE MONTH:

Joke overheard in the White Swan: Question: ‘Why do people hate Michael Portillo on sight?” Answer: “Because it saves time.”

“Does the Guardian think that Mark Simpson’s abusive attack on Gaytime TV is editorially justified? And ought you not to have pointed out that Simpson himself was auditioned for a presenting role on the show? Simpson’s real problem isn’t so much with Gaytime as with the whole business of what he calls ‘gay identity’. What a pity, then, that he should inadvertently have revealed himself as one of its most stereotyped manifestations: that of bitchy, jealous old queen.” Neil Crombie, series editor for Gaytime TV, getting his own back in the Guardian letters page

“I always had an eye for a pretty girl,” Julie Burchill vouchsafed to Brighton magazine, Printer’s Devil. And she went on to confirm, “I’m a lesbian.” Then, displaying the consistency for which she is justly renowned, she proclaimed: “I would call myself a heterosexual that’s in love with a girl. I don’t find women attractive at all, frankly, I find men attractive.” So that’s cleared that up then.

“It really upsets me to see people doing my mother in drag. How would you feel if it was your mother?” complained an upset Chastity Bono recently to an American gay magazine. While you can see her point, for any drag queen Cher is too good an opportunity to miss. (Rex Wockner)

“More lovely men please — it’s what the trade wants and needs. Might I suggest that circulation could be doubled by a cover picture of Ryan Giggs in a jockstrap? Just a thought.” So wrote “a Pimlico dealer” to Antique International magazine, thus dispelling that old myth about gay men and the antiques business.

An interview with Madonna in the Budapest magazine, Blikk, which was (mis)translated into Hungarian and back again is causing much merriment. “Are you a bold hussy-woman that feasts on men who are tops?” Blikk asked. “Yes, yes,” said Madonna, taking a break from filming Evita, “this is certainly something that brings to the surface my longings.” Then, protesting “I am a woman not a test-mouse!” Madonna confided, “I am a tip-top starlet.” The interview ended on a touching note. “Thank you for your candid chitchat,” said Blikk. “No problem friend who is a girl,” replied the tip-top one.

GAY TIMES October 1996

The Daily Express’s opinion page on September 2nd was devoted to the laudable aim of alerting its readers to the increasing use of propaganda in public debate. “How they stop us thinking for ourselves” announced the feature by Nicholas O’Shaughnessy.

Who “they” are is unclear, but apparently “they” feed us loaded political messages in order to win elections and “they” distort the facts in order to push forward the agendas of pressure groups in “the media”. Mr O’Shaughnessy shows us the methods employed by the propagandists in their attempts to convince us that black is white and up is down.

Among them is “name-calling”. The theory is that if you attach a negative label to something, you can encourage people to “reject it without examining the evidence.” (An example might be Garry Bushell’s review of the EastEnders gay kiss in The Sun on August 28th — ”Queer we go on an Eastbenders outing”).

Then there’s the technique of “transfer” — seeking to have ideas rejected by associating them with something despised. (An approach favoured by that putrid old has-been, Norman Tebbit.) Commenting in The Sun (August 22nd) on the Belgian paedophile horror he concluded: “Before long I am sure there will be a campaign to legalise sex of all kinds with younger children. Already in America there is a campaign to force the Scouts to accept homosexuals as Scoutmasters. Don’t think it won’t happen here.”

Then there’s “testimonial” — seeking the endorsement for an idea from some “respected person” in order to give it validity. (Norman Critchley, leader of the Tory opposition on Bolton council, was asked by The Daily Express to comment on a ceremony to bless the relationship of a lesbian couple at the local town hall: “I am appalled. It is totally and utterly disgusting,” he said. “I have never come across such a blatant abuse of procedure. It makes a mockery of the whole marriage ceremony and lowers the standard of religious belief.”)

After the testimonial we have the “plain folks” trick, whereby propagandists shore up their ideas by making it appear that “ordinary people” applaud them. In tabloid terms this is often where the “mum of two” makes her appearance. She will be quoted as supporting the newspapers’ bigoted position on any given issue so that others can identify with her.

This time round The Sun quoted not a mum of two but a “Gran” from Kent who apparently “stormed” that the gay embrace on EastEnders was “totally irresponsible”. She vowed never to watch the programme again. She was, according to the paper, supported by “a storm of disgusted soap fans.”

After the common people have spoken, there comes the “bandwagon” effect, which consists basically of the theory that “the vast majority believe it, so it must be true.” The Daily Express itself was employing this one — and most of the others — the following day when it reported the case of Bill Zachs and Martin Adams, the two gay men who paid an American woman to have a surrogate child for them.

In an editorial about the case, The Express said: “Just what do you give the homosexual couple who have everything? A child will do nicely it seems — just a little something to round off their dinky lives after the ‘marriage’ has been blessed by some pretend priest or priestess… Responding to this case the churches have for once spoken with one firm, clear voice and reasserted what the vast majorityof us know to be true: Children should be brought up by a married heterosexual couple.” (My italics).

The Times, however, did give Helen Reece, from an organisation called Freedom and Law, space in its letters column to say: “The arrangement that this couple made was an imaginative and creative way of starting a family: the fact that money changed hands is merely an indication of how strong their desire was to have a child… The Reverend Bill Wallace [of the Church of Scotland] argues that these parents have placed gay rights above the child’s ‘basic right to have a normal upbringing in a stable home’: children have no such right — indeed the very idea of a right to be born into a particular environment is quite absurd. In contrast lesbians and gay men make as good parents as heterosexuals and should have an equal right to be parents.”

The tabloids, of course, don’t just use propaganda; propaganda is their raison d’être. It was kind of The Daily Express to give us a behind the scenes glimpse of its own working practices.

***

Has the gay community become a Frankenstein monster, completely out of control and destroying its own creators? Are we in the thrall of commercial interests that have hijacked gay life and transformed it into nothing more than a niche market, forcing us into a frenetic life of boozing, drug-taking and empty relationships? Has the gay community become the gay shopping society, closed to those over forty, those without funds and those without pecs?

Regrettably, these have become legitimate questions, and they were raised by Peter Tatchell in The Guardian (August 29th). “The last two years have been a turning point in gay history,” he wrote, “marked by a fundamental shift in values and attitudes. The idealism, solidarity and activism that was so significant in the first 25 years of the post-Stonewall gay psyche is now being superseded by a new gay zeitgeist of consumerism, hedonism and lifestylism. The shallow, vain, frivolous, amoral, self-obsessed, commercialised trend in gay ‘culture’ is not a pretty sight, and no amount of glamorous beefcake in Calvin Klein underwear can disguise its essential ugliness. Moreover, it threatens to disarm politically a whole generation of lesbians and gay men.”

There was support for Peter Tatchell’s view in the ensuing correspondence. Ian Lucas of Coventry wrote: “The saddest thing… is that the debate simply cannot happen in the gay press. A single company now strangles and misreports news, servicing advertisers rather than readers, gossiping instead of reporting. By and large we love it — they tell us how to improve our looks, how to stay young, where to drink and where to shop.”

This is not absolutely true. Gay Times does report news and does air issues, and even The Pink Paper, with its total dependence on advertising and its rather Pollyanna-ish editorial policy, recently carried a piece by Nick Vince, a 39-year-old gay man who “feels like a stranger in the promised land.” He put into personal terms what Peter Tatchell had been saying more generally. “I don’t feel old and I certainly don’t think I look old… and yet the gay scene makes me feel absolutely ancient. Worse than that, it makes me feel excluded, past it, over the hill, on the shelf… It seems that if you haven’t shaved your head or had your nipples or your nose pierced; if you don’t sport a tattoo somewhere about your person; if you don’t get ‘off your face’ with drugs every Saturday night and stay out clubbing until the early hours of Sunday afternoon — then nobody wants to know… Surely there must be an alternative to the high fashion, drug-crazed, pop-music orientated gay scene?” he asks. But is there?

On the other hand, Stephen Coote makes this point in The Guardian: “Openly gay businesses are increasing in numbers and in the range of services they offer, and part of this success story is the economic power it provides our community. If we cannot gain equality through moral argument, then we must use all the resources at our disposal to make our point, and that includes selecting where we are going to spend our discretionary income.”

Sorry, Stephen, but equality can’t be bought in the shops, not even for a pink pound.

***

And so we return to that gay kiss on EastEnders (reduced from two seconds to half a second by those on high). “Get this filth off our screens!” was The Sun’s familiar greeting, together with the mandatory rant from Terry Dicks MP.

Anyway, Tony and Simon’s snog must have been the briefest in the history of the known universe, but it served its purpose in bumping up the ratings. As Geoffrey Phillips, the TV reviewer at The London Evening Standard said: “A year ago Coronation Street and EastEnders were neck and neck in terms of audience figures. The latest ratings show EastEnders four million ahead. Impressive: how has the BBC done it?”

Well, they whip up a storm of moralising in the tabloids to start with, then give as little as possible to the gay audience, and then write the characters out so that they can bring in some new ones and do the same thing all over again. (I think that Geoffrey Phillips must have seen an unedited preview version of the kiss because he said: “When the male lips meet one is irresistibly put in mind of a tug of war with sink plungers.” The version I saw required the eyes to be propped open with match sticks so as not to risk missing it.)

Jo Brand commented on the use of homosexuals to boost soap opera ratings in her column in The Independent: “Women have been snogging on the box for quite some time now, but because that is the stuff of pubescent male fantasy it was greeted with a Phwoah! as opposed to the outraged queasiness announcing two blokes at it.”

And that just about sums it up. Once upon a time, gays were introduced into soaps in the hope of increasing tolerance and understanding. Now the question has to be: are we being served, or are we being used?

***

QUOTES OF THE MONTH:

“Peers are locked in battle over the alleged outing of the World War Two figure Field Marshal Montgomery. During a debate in the House of Lords on homosexuality in the armed forces Lord Wallace of Saltaire recalled how as a young choir boy at Westminster Abbey he visited Monty whom, Wallace claimed, paid too much attention to him. Springing to the war dog’s defence Lord Longford told the The Sunday Telegraph: “I worked with him [Montgomery] for years and he was not that way inclined. It’s a good job Montgomery’s son wasn’t in the chamber, or this Wallace chap would have been lynched.”

“The Princess knows her support for victims of the predominantly gay disease will unleash fury. But she wants to become a global charity figure at any cost,” so editorialised The Daily Express on Diana, Queen of Heart’s decision to become more actively involved in HIV and Aids campaigning. The paper later commented: “She will be criticised for supporting the ‘gay plague’ at the expense of charities she spurned.” Any charities with complaints better get in the queue behind The Daily Express for a start.

“Ten years ago, people calling me names hurt. Now it’s like, well yes, technically you’re right. I am a shirt-lifter!” was what black, gay singer David McAlmont had to say on the issue of the name-calling he’s endured over the years. The interview appeared in London listings magazine Time Out.

“Buxom Barbara Windsor,” The Manchester Evening News revealed in a super scoop, “has warned EastEnders bosses: ‘I’m not getting my kit off!’ As Peggy’s romance hots up in the soap, the star is determined not to let her love scenes get too steamy. Barbara is 60 next year, and finally hopes to shake off those saucy Carry On boobs that haunt her still.” A great trick if you can pull it (or them) off.