GAY TIMES January 1997

When I worked on the problem page at Woman’s Own, I was astonished at the number of letters that came from women who had discovered, sometimes after decades of marriage and several children, that their husbands were gay. Often they were in a state of profound shock, insisting that they had never had any suspicion about their spouse’s secret inclinations.

Judging by the number of times this particular problem still crops up in agony columns, there has been little change over the years. The Sunday Mirror’s doctor, Mark Porter (who has taken over from the late, lamented Marje Proops), was proffering advice to a “secret gay afraid to tell his bride-to-be” (November 24th). Then Deirdre Sanders on The Sun heard from a woman who had discovered that her fiance “admitted a gay fling with another man two years before we met” (November 21st) and wondered whether it indicated a poor prognosis for their intended marriage.

Of course, we’ve recently had a very high-profile example of a gay man who didn’t come out until after the marriage vows had been taken. When Michael Barrymore proclaimed his homosexuality, he left his wife Cheryl, but eventually returned to her. And that’s the other thing I found out about mixed marriages (one gay spouse, one straight): people can be incredibly accommodating to new circumstances. Friendships blossom where once there had been resentment, companionship continues, even though sex doesn’t. So, when a gay man marries a straight woman, it doesn’t inevitably spell disaster. (Interestingly, The Sunday Mirror has started a feature on making anagrams from famous people’s names. “Michael Barrymore”, they discovered, rejigs as “I’m a merry bachelor”.)

But what about those wives whose husbands are dogged by rumours of homosexuality? How certain can she be when she is required to pooh-pooh these speculations?

There seemed to be little doubt in the mind of Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of Klosters. Her husband Prince Andrew’s sexuality has been the subject of rumours for years now. And not just within the gay community. Giving interviews on US television, promoting her so-called autobiography, it seemed inevitable that Fergie would find herself quizzed on the topic. And so it came to pass when she appeared on The Diane Sawyer Show. “Because the Prince has not been seen with other women, therefore he must be gay?” asked the chat show hostess bluntly. “Oh right, yeah,” replied Fergie, “I really love that. There’s absolutely no chance he can be gay. A lot of people believe that’s true – and it is categorically not true.”

The following day her remarks appeared on the front page of The Daily Star (November 14th) as: “I Know Andy’s No Pansy” (with a strange sub-heading “Ooh, aah, he’s no Brendaah”). Inside, the paper continued to phrase its headlines in this curious, football terrace-style language. “Andy’s Too Randy to be a Dandy”. The paper insisted that he had been “linked with lovelies” such as Koo Stark and lots of others who you’ve never heard of. And to categorically prove that he is heterosexual, The Star said that the Prince “once famously revealed his crown jewels by whipping off his swimming trunks in front of three girls.”

The rumours about Andrew had begun, said the paper, when his wife took an HIV test in 1986. Buckingham Palace was forced to issue a denial that the Prince was HIV-positive after rumour circulated on the Internet. The Daily Star says: “It sparked the rumours about Andrew’s sexuality and newspapers – including The Daily Star – began to receive tip-offs from people claiming to have evidence about the Prince’s private life. Some, claiming to be highly placed, said the Palace would announce that Andrew had a serious illness. Others said they had solid information that he was gay.” None of this seems to have yet come to pass, but there was a particularly fetching picture of the Prince judging a drag competition aboard his ship in The Daily Mirror.

Another public figure who has been similarly hounded with persistent rumours about his sexuality is Peter Lilley, the Social Security Secretary. He also found his wife coming to his defence in an interview with Hello! magazine. Foolishly rising to the question “People have said that Peter is gay. Does that upset you?” Gail Lilley said: “I’ve heard the rumours about Peter, but there’s nobody less remotely gay than my husband. That’s the funniest thing yet because I know it’s not true I just think it’s silly and I laugh.” She agreed that the rumours were probably a spin-off from the fact that he is childless.

There was alarm in the Tory party at Mrs Lilley’s undiplomatic blabbing, and Carole Sarler in The People (November 24th) commented: “Senior party figures are apparently alarmed by Mrs Lilley’s unwise remarks, fearing that to even address the issue is to make people feel that there is no smoke without fire. Besides, says one anxious Tory grandee, this could now ‘become the latest fodder for the comedians scripts’. He need not worry that anything is about to change for the worse. In the comedy clubs that I frequent, the comics have been making merry with this rumour for more years than I can remember.”

Indeed, The Sunday Telegraph’s weekly “Table Talk” feature (“the week’s news – as digested at a dinner party near you”) said that “jumping firmly on the bandwagon, Dinner Party wives publicly declare their husbands to be straight as dice. As is usually the case with such unprompted declarations, the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” (Next week no doubt the Sunday Mirror’s anagram editor will realise that “Rt Honourable Peter Lilley” can, coincidentally, be rearranged into… no, I’d better let you work this one out.)

Another politician who round himself in a similar position once was Jeremy Thorpe. His tragic tale was rehashed by Channel 4 in its Secret Lives programme on November 18th. The Independent also took up the tale in its November 13th edition, telling the story of the once-influential politician who had become embroiled in a homosexual affair with an unstable young man who then tried to bring him down. The affair with Norman Scott began in 1961, but Mr Thorpe didn’t marry his second wife until 1973. Was she aware of his homosexual romps? Perhaps we should send a reporter from Hello! round to find out. Whether she did or not, Thorpe managed a very effective cover-up of his secret gay life for many years.

Perhaps there is a lesson for modern-day politicians somewhere in here: closetry — which is a particularly nasty form of lying because it harms other gay people by perpetuating the myth that homosexuality is shameful and must be denied — can bring terrible consequences when you’re eventually found out. It is also a form of wife-abuse.

I wouldn’t have thought it was so bad for pop stars, though. All the same, George Michael can’t bring himself to say one way or the other. In an interview with The Big Issue magazine (ripped off by The Sun before the magazine hit the streets), Mr Michael comes over as monstrously narcissistic and self-regarding man. (Indeed, “George Michael, singer” is an anagram for “G: him sincere large ego”.) However, the part of the interview that interested the tabloids was the bit about his sexuality. As The Sunday Express (or, as we now have to call it The Express: Sunday) put it: “To be gay or not to be gay? That is the question which George Michael cannot answer.” Or will not. “I think everything about me has always been ambiguous,” said the great artiste. “Although my sexuality hasn’t always been completely clear to me, it was never a moral question. I’ve never thought of my sexuality as being right or wrong. To me it has always been about finding the right person. The only moral involved in sex is whether it’s consenting or not… Anyway, who really cares whether I’m gay or straight? Do they really think they’ve got a serious chance of shagging me or something?”

Boy George, forever a thorn in Mr Michael’s apparently much-desired flesh, threw out this challenge to the great sex symbol in his column in The Daily Express: “George says he has nothing to hide and that he has never considered his mysterious sexuality to be wrong. If that’s the case, then why can’t he get it past his lips?”

Mr Michael explains that his obfuscation about the gender of his preferred bed partners is really a career consideration. If he can maintain the ambiguity about his sexuality he can fascinate both men and women, and then everybody is happy. Except those of us who find him absolutely repellent, of course.

And still in the mad world of pop, we return to Michael Jackson who has, since we last communicated, been married and separated again. “Is there anything Michael Jackson won’t do to make us think he’s normal?” asked The Express when the marriage to Debbie Rowe was announced. The paper cast doubts on the veracity of Mr Jackson’s intentions when we were informed that Ms Rowe was carrying his child. “Is the man this desperate or are we being unfair?” asked Jane Warren, the Express’s reporter. “Could it be that he has a genuine desire to be linked in the eyes of God to the mother of his child? The only comment I can offer is: watch this space.”

Well, we did watch that space and within days it was announced that the two were separating. “Michael Jackson’s pregnant bride issued an amazing statement last night,” reported The Sun, “declaring: ‘I’m not a lesbian.” Apparently she felt bound to make the statement after American reporters started to raise doubts about her heterosexuality. Her attorney said: “It is beyond the bounds of decency to suggest anything like this. There is absolutely no truth whatsoever.”

Oh, and just another little note for the anagram editor of The Sunday Mirror. Did you know that “Michael Portillo, as MP” makes “I’m a male trollop, chaps.” And “Prime Minister John Major” comes out as “Ja, strip John, I rim more men”.

Interesting, isn’t it?

***

QUOTES OF THE MONTH:

The new-look Daily Express, desperate to attract new readers, seems still to be attractive to the old-style ones, if this reader’s letter is anything to go by. One Geoffrey Lindley from Dorset wrote in calling for a ban on the sale of mistletoe. “Bearing in mind the current Aids epidemic,” he reasoned, “it is highly irresponsible for anyone to sell merchandise that encourages people to act in a debauched and immoral fashion. The habit of kissing beneath the mistletoe is not simply an innocent act and often encourages intoxicated folk to indulge in casual sex.” We’ve obviously been going to the wrong parties…

George Michael comes out. Well, no, not really. His world exclusive interview with The Big Issue magazine was a masterpiece of studied ambiguity. “My sexuality is no one’s fucking business,” he declares, reasonably enough, before talking about it at length. “Even though my sexuality hasn’t always been clear to me,” he waffles on, “it was never a moral question. I’ve never thought of my sexuality as being right or wrong. I’ve wondered what my sexuality might be but I’ve never wondered whether it was acceptable or not to me…” That’s quite enough, thanks George. Don’t call us…

Jane Seymour’s TV son has been caught snogging another man. A picture in The Daily Mirror showed Chad Allen, who plays Seymour’s son in Dr Quinn Medicine Woman, “smooching in a swimming pool with a man.” A “startled” onlooker at a “lavish Hollywood party” said: “Chad suddenly put his arm around Jason and kissed him… [they] could not stop kissing and touching.” Chad will not be surprised to learn that he has been dumped by his girlfriend.

They’ll get you innuendo. Derek Laud, prospective Tory candidate for Tottenham (where he faces the impossible task of unseating Bernie Grant), is black. He is also, The Observer wants us to know, a close friend of former Tory MP, Harvey Proctor, “who was forced to resign his seat in 1987 after admitting gross indecency with rent boys.” And he’s close to gay Tory MP, Michael Brown, “with whom, it was reported, Laud shared a home and for whom he worked as a research assistant.” And? Oh yes, Derek Laud is “a confirmed bachelor”. Which means, presumably, he will never marry…

GAY TIMES February 1997

There have been a number of novels and TV dramas recently about political intrigue and double-dealing at Westminster. Just about all of them have featured an MP (usually Tory) who is being blackmailed with threats of outing. The situation is so ubiquitous that it has become a cliché. But, as they say, life is much more dramatic than art —and in the case of Jerry Hayes, one has to say, more melodramatic.

Mr Hayes is said to have first learned about the impending News of the World exposé from a reporter from The Sunday Express the day before it was published. The nonchalant MP reportedly responded: “I certainly haven’t heard anything to date about a story being published about me. I’ll just keep my head down. I’ve just been away with my family on holiday to France and I don’t know about any impending scandal. You can come and doorstep me if you want. I’ve been around long enough, I know how the game works.” Subsequent events indicate that Mr Hayes has absolutely no idea how the game works at all.

Given the experiences of so many previous victims of The News of the World, you would have thought that any politician worthy of the name would have anticipated the dangers in starting a liaison with a callow youth and writing soppy love letters to him on House of Commons notepaper. But not Mr Hayes. Despite all that has gone before, all the political nous he claims to have, and all his legal training, he still went ahead and did all the things that would eventually and inevitably lead to his downfall.

The newspapers have called him “a prat”, “a perverted pip-squeak”, “a joker”, “a fool” and “a deceiver”. It seems he deserves each of these sobriquets. And to add to his list of follies he has started libel proceedings against the News of the World. My advice to him on that topic can be summed up in two words: David Ashby.

There are no heroes in this melodrama, only villains and victims. Mr Hayes himself, to begin with, seems to fit both roles. Although there has been some sympathy for him (the general opinion seems to be that he’s a nice guy but a buffoon), I’m afraid I don’t share it. Not only is he the architect of his own downfall, he insults gay people as he tumbles. Whatever the truth of the story that appeared in The News of the World, I could have lived without Mr Hayes’s assertion that his feelings for Paul Stone were “unhealthy”. Given that he is supposed to be a great supporter of gay rights, we now know exactly what he thinks about gay relationships. His indignant insistence that he is not gay carries with it an implied insult to all of us. Maybe he isn’t, but does he have to be quite so insulted at the mere suggestion?

There are other serious aspects to the situation which have not gone unnoticed. A relationship counsellor, Jean E Findlay, wrote to The Guardian making an important point about the behaviour of MPs in general: “It is not the sex life or orientation that we need to know about, but the individual’s capacity to lie and deceive in order to cover up their actions; for they are betraying the person or people, who are supposedly most important in their lives. How much easier [it would be] to be dishonest in situations with less at stake.”

And then there is Paul Stone, the grasping, greedy youth who says he went public because he felt guilty about what he had done and because he wanted to expose Jerry Hayes’ hypocrisy. But alternative motives shine like a beacon: revenge and the desire for large amounts of News International’s filthy lucre. An unnamed “friend” described Paul Stone (in The Daily Express) as “a nice, middle-class mother’s boy” when you first meet him, “but when you get to know him…he’s ruthless callous and selfish. He’s only out for himself, that’s the way it’s always been with him.”

Then we have the editor of The News of the World apparently “gutted” at having to run the story. He said he did so — only after “long consideration” — because Mr Hayes compromised security at the House of Commons by giving Stone a security pass, because he was in love with an 18 year old when the age of consent was 21, because Mr Hayes cheated on his wife while extolling his love for his family and that he sent his love letters through the free Commons post. Can you drown in crocodile tears?

Then we have sleaze-merchant-in-chief, Max Clifford who claims he is a Labour supporter and that he took the story to The News of the World because he wanted to damage the Tories. I see little sign of Mr Clifford donating his £25,000 rake-off to the Labour Party’s election fund, though.

Then we have the Labour Party itself, which on the one hand claims that Mr Clifford has nothing to do with them and on the other has John Prescott sneering: “I said a couple of days ago that John Major’s new push on family values was bound to end in tears — and it has.”

As The Independent said in an editorial: “Imagine how much more publicity Prescott would have attracted if he’d simply said ‘This is a private matter which has nothing to do with Mr Hayes’s ability to serve as an MP.’” That’ll be the day.

And then we have the Tories pushing all this “morality” clap-trap as though they even know what the word means. Does it mean, for instance, Mr Howard’s policy of chaining women remand prisoners to their bed while they are being treated for breast cancer, as happened last month? Or do they mean kicking political refugees out of the country to face an uncertain, maybe terminal, fate in their own country? Oh yes, morality takes on an amazing elasticity in the hands of the Conservative party.

Next comes Roy Greenslade maundering in The Guardian’s media pages about the “amorality” of newspapers, especially The News of the World. “The tendency among liberal critics of stories like the Hayes exposé”, he writes, “will be to throw mud at The News of the World and Max Clifford or the tabloids in general. But that misses the point. These are servants of the culture, panderers to the appetites of a public which refuses to grow up. Oh yes, and one laced with homophobia, too. Have we learned nothing since Oscar Wilde was carted off to Reading Jail?”

But wasn’t Mr Greenslade himself one of the prime panderers to public prurience only a few short years ago when he edited The Daily Mirror? Isn’t this the same Roy Greenslade who, in 1990, ran a grotesquely homophobic three page story about Prince Edward and his denial that he was gay? The one that went on and on about the Prince’s supposed effeminacy, his lack of manliness, his fondness for the “darlings and dearboys of the theatre world”? Is this the same Roy Greenslade who tried to excuse his running of that story by saying that if he hadn’t, some other paper would have done?

And after pinpointing the rather squalid bunch of villains in this farrago, we now turn to the victims who have to stand on the sidelines and absorb the muck that the political parties, the papers, the betrayers and the money-grubbers throw at each other. Leaving aside the obvious contenders — Mr Hayes’s wife and children, there are other less obvious losers in this mess — you and me. For when everyone has finished “accusing” each other of being homosexual, via the medium of Britain’s slimy popular press, public homophobia is reinforced and justified. Readers of the tabloids are left with the impression that homosexuality is disgraceful, shameful, sordid, underhand, unworthy and something that must be denied and hidden at all costs.

And because this is an election year, and because the tactic has proved so successful in the past, we can expect more of the same between now and the spring. As The Sun said in an editorial on January 6th: “It’s no good pretending that public attitudes to homosexuality have changed — they haven’t to the extent that voters will turn a blind eye to what Hayes has been up to. The thought of a married man writing explicit love letters to an underage boy revolts people — never mind what they got up to between the sheets.”

This kind of public hostility is easily exploited for political advantage, and the desperation of both parties will ensure that maximum points will be scored at our expense.

***

Reader’ Awards 1996

It is gratifying to see that the top two favourite newspapers among readers of Gay Times — as nominated in our readers poll — are The Guardian (by a mile) followed by The Independent. Nice to see that we are loyal to those who are loyal to us. The Times also made a decent showing — maybe because of gay columnist Matthew Parris and maybe because of the low price. The Telegraph — which seems more and more like the Church Times every day — garnered only a handful of votes.

The Daily Mail received almost as many thumbs up as The Pink Paper did, even though the Mail is avowedly gay public enemy number one. The Sun, I’m gratified to see, seems to be setting as far as GT respondents are concerned. It was way down the field this time round. The tacky Star and its equally ugly sister The Express hardly figure at all in the survey. Which brings a big sigh of content from this column.

Sunday newspapers aren’t your favourite, with only The Observer, Independent on Sunday, Sunday Times and Mail on Sunday figuring. The other newspaper nominations were for regional dailies and specialist papers like the Financial Times and Racing Post.

Favoured straight magazines covered a large area from Psychology Today to Radio Times, from The New Internationalist to Take a Break, with no over-all favourite, which seems to indicate that our interests are as varied and wide-ranging as the rest of the community.

Of the gay magazines, Gay Times topped the poll, receiving four times more nominations than Attitude, its only real competitor. Boyz trailed well behind these two with The Pink Paper even further behind. Our sister lesbian magazine Diva made a showing, as did the pin up favourites Vulcan, Zipper and Euroboy. Spanky received a small pat on the bum and the Bisexual Community News was also there among the minority interests.

Gay Times, March 1997

It was Andy Warhol who said that everyone gets fifteen minutes of fame. I’m not sure about that, but if you’re gay, the chances of finding yourself in the media spotlight are better than average.

Television programmes and newspapers (particularly tabloids) are constantly looking for people who can provide them with human interest stories or scandal – or both.

Involvement in the media can be voluntary or involuntary. The dozens of public figures who have been outed and “exposed” by the Sunday tabloids will tell you that it is a painful, humiliating and damaging experience. And despite the tabloids’ reputation, victims are still shocked by how underhand and mendacious the “investigative reporters” from the scandal sheets can be.

Then there are those who willingly assist with what they imagine is the media’s attempts to discuss homosexuality. They do it because they think it will raise public awareness and increase understanding. They, too, often come out of it feeling battered, bruised and betrayed.

Charming journalists can make you feel like the most important person in the world a they court your co-operation. After a few hours in their company, they can seem like your best friend.

You come to trust them and believe that they really will do their best for you, if you decide to open up. But remember: however intimate the conversation at the time, it has a potential audience of thousands, if not millions. And when it appears in print, it will be on the reporters terms, not yours. Your retractions, emphases and modifications will be left out if they are not in line with the angle the reporter wants to take. You may say something you later regret or which is open to misunderstanding when taken out of context. A passing remark can become the focus of the story.

The interviewer chooses which parts of the conversation to leave in and which to leave out. The reader will not hear the tone of your voice or see the wry smile. What you thought was a joke can sound nasty and heartless without these modifiers. Your fifteen minutes of fame can rapidly turn into your day of notoriety.

An example of this came last month, a Gay Times reader (who I will not name because he feels so aggrieved about what happened to him and I don’t want to add to his distress) gave an interview to the Mail on Sunday’s magazine You. The feature was about gay men who might straight women and then leave them for other men. Our reader gave the interview in good faith and was promised some sort of consultation before the feature was published. However, the article appeared with no further contact. 

Our reader does not come out of it very well. Being what it is, the Mail on Sunday gave all the sympathy to the wife, while the gay man and his lover came over as a couple of selfish home-wreckers. No wonder he was upset. I cannot imagine what his friends and family think about him after reading such a one-sided presentation.

We can all learn a lesson from this. If you are approached by the papers for an interview, be warned that you may not be pleased with the result. Newspapers – and individual journalists – have their own agendas. Even if the journalist is sympathetic and writes you up well, his words may be filtered through the prejudices of the sub-editor, who are well-versed I the paper’s political philosophy. At that stage the whole thing can be turned on its head. Judicious editing can turn a hero into a villain.

With this in mind, don’t say anything in an interview that you don’t want your Aunt Edith to know about.

In this situation the newspapers have all the power, pull all the strings and call all the shots. Unless you’ve just single-handedly won a Lottery roll-over (which is just about what it takes to fund a libel action) there’s no satisfactory way to get back at them.

Another variation of this is voluntary co-operation is the kiss-and-tell, where gay people go to the press and sell the details of their relationships with the rich and famous. A recent high-profile example was Paul Stone who last month shopped Jerry Hayes MP to the News of the World.

Mr Stone may have thought the News of the World did him proud and told the story entirely from his point of view. But the other newspapers saw it differently. He has since become the object of almost universal scorn and contempt in Fleet Street. Most of the other papers carried articles about him and none of them were very flattering – (“Paul Stone thought his betrayal of Jerry Hayes would mean instant fame. Today even his local pub has closed its doors to him,” – Daily Mail; “Oh, Paul, how could you?” – The Guardian; “I felt sick to the pit of my stomach at the wicked lies about Jerry,” – The People.)

Imagining you can “manipulate” the media to your own advantage is a delusion. If you please one newspaper, you automatically set yourself up for “exposure” by the others. And, as Paul Stone has found out to his cost, they are merciless.

Television is little better. Chat shows and documentaries need an endless supply of gay people with stories to tell. Did you come out to your parents? Did you foster or adopt children? Did you marry in haste and repent at leisure? Almost anything that gay people do is fodder for day time chat shows with incessant demands for participants. (Or “ordinary people” as we are patronisingly called).

It begins with a phone call from a researcher who will make you feel very important. Your story will be listened to at great length and, having satisfied themselves that you are capable of speaking a coherent sentence, the researcher will invite you on to the programme, assuring you that you will get a sympathetic hearing.

You will be whisked to the studio, all expenses paid, sometimes in a chauffeur-driven car. But once the programme begins, you will probably find it unpleasant and confrontational. It won’t be a serious attempt to explore the issues, but frivolous entertainment about the most intimate parts of your private life. Inevitably there’ll be some raving Christian fundamentalist denouncing everybody in sight. You might get to speak for forty-five seconds or so to tell your story (unless you can produce tears, in which case you might get as much as three minutes) and the rest of the programme will consist of shouting, hurled insults and acrimony.

If you don’t take it seriously and don’t expect too much, you might actually enjoy the novelty. But few opt for a second helping.

Television uses up “ordinary people” at an alarming rate. When the whole thing is over, you’ll feel as though you’ve been processed.

The friendly researcher who was so anxious for you to take part will now be completely indifferent, her only concern being to get you off the premises at the earliest convenience. I have spoken to many people who have taken part in these daytime TV farragoes – I’ve done some myself – and all have been left disappointed by the experience.

The moral is that gay people get involved with the media at their own risk. If you are approached for your story and you decide to go ahead, then tread warily. Journalists may seem like counsellors, but their purpose is quite different. If you’ve got a problem and need to sort it out, talk it through with a trusted friend.

***

No doubt at this very moment there is a researcher at Conservative Central Office combing through the minutes of every Labour local authority in the country, looking for evidence of “political correctness” that they can pass on to the tabloids.

As the general election approaches, we can expect to see more and more of their discoveries. Like the one at Camden Council in North London, which promised at £500 grant to Male Out gay youth group so that they could take a trip to Amsterdam.

Despite the fact that £500 hardly registers as a pimple on the council’s multi-million pound budget, there was an immediate uproar in the tabloids. Equally predictably, the council withdrew the grant. “Gays can’t go Dutch,” sneered the Daily Mail (February 1st) taking the opportunity to point out that Camden is a “cash-strapped, left wing Labour authority, and also pointing out that that two members of the Male Out group are “under 17 – a year under the age of consent for homosexuals in Britain.”

The London Evening Standard then told us that there was a “storm” over “explicit gay novels stocked in a library run by a Labour authority in a bid to give equal rights to homosexuals.” More Tory tosh, of course, but if any reader wishes to examine these shocking, child-corrupting works of literature, they are stocked at the Marcus Garvey Library in Tottenham.

***

Do I detect a growing intolerance among gay people for raving religionists who seek to interfere with our health and safety? The Times (January 21) reported that a Leeds-based group called Faith Ministries was pelted with eggs when they preached hell-fire and damnation for homosexuals in a York street.

A witness said: “They had a huge crowd gathered round and were shouting at the top of their voices for people to save themselves. You could tell there was going to be trouble. One started shouting about homosexuality and the people that practised it would rot in hell.” That’s when the groceries started flying.

Pastor Phil Dacre of Faith Ministries said: “For the past six months, since the Lord told us to go out to preach and proclaim, we have sent teams to Yorkshire telling people to repent. This team were asked by the Lord to visit York but it seems the people of that city did not want to hear the message.”

For their own safety, the evangelists were carted off to the police station and charged with causing a breach of the peace by aggressive preaching. York will now no doubt be known in evangelical circles as Sodom-on-Ouse.

Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph reported (January 18) the case of Keith Buxton, a gay man who worked at the Royal Courts of Justice. Mr Buxton was fined £200 for attacking a colleague, Naomi Perras, who is a born-again Christian. Apparently, the two had got on well together until Mrs Perras found out that Mr Buxton is gay and then started saying that she would pray in church for him to “mend his ways”.

After that, their relationship deteriorated until Mr Buxton could stand it no longer and punched Mrs Perras on the back of the head.

I am no advocate of violence and in no way do I excuse Mr Buxton’s attack. I always advocate the use of reasoned discussion to settle differences. The problem is that reason and born-again Christians just don’t seem to go together.

And speaking of unreason, we come to the latest antics of the Reform group, which is harassing the Anglican Church over its refusal to totally condemn homosexuality. The Independent (21 January) reported that “The schism in the Church of England over the ordination of practising homosexuals widened when the conservative Reform group announced plans to create its own bishops and plant churches outside the Church of England that would be ‘legally independent but theologically connected”.

The Independent tells us that Reform is “vague” about its plans. Of course it is. The groups is always making threats that it never carries out. And like most of what Reform says, this latest outburst is nothing but gob with gaiters on.

GAY TIMES April 1997

“Abort babies with gay genes, says Nobel winner.” This was the startling headline on the front page of The Sunday Telegraph on February 16th. Such was the sense of déjà vu that for a moment I thought they had resurrected the ex-Chief rabbi Lord Jakobovits to repeat his now-infamous remarks on this topic.

But no, this time it was down to Professor James Watson, who won the Nobel Prize for discovering DNA. The distinguished scientist had apparently said that if ever a gene predisposing people to homosexuality were to be identified, it should be permissible for women who find they are pregnant with a potentially homosexual child, to abort the foetus. The Sunday Telegraph’s interview quoted Professor Watson as saying: “If you could find the gene which determines sexuality, and a woman decides she doesn’t want a homosexual child, well, let her [terminate the pregnancy].”

The Sunday Telegraph’s hyperbolic presentation of Dr Watson’s opinions brought an immediate and understandable reaction. Nick Partridge of the Terrence Higgins Trust said the suggestion was “outrageous”, while at the other end of the spectrum, Quentin Crisp opined in The Times that it was a good idea, and that the world would be a better place without homosexuals. This in turn “mortified” Boy George who, in his Daily Express column said: “To quell my anger I had to remember that Quentin Crisp is as old as my granny, God rest her soul, and she would have said much the same.”

Meanwhile the obviously distressed mother of gay playwright Shaun Duggan, wrote to The Daily Mail to say that her son is: “a most caring, thoughtful person who wouldn’t hurt a fly: I don’t know what I would have done without him. He is loved by everyone who knows him. Scientists should be looking not for a supposed homosexual gene but for the gene that makes women give birth to monsters like Myra Hindley, Ian Brady and Peter Sutcliffe, to name but a few.”

Then came the straight defenders of homosexuals. I know they mean well, but somehow I can’t help but cringe when I read patronising stuff such as this, from Heather Lax of Portsmouth who wrote to The Daily Mail: “Throughout history our lives have been enriched by brilliant and talented homosexual entertainers: Oscar Wilde, Sir Ian McKellen, Rudolf Nureyev, Freddie Mercury and numerous other dynamic showmen. Mothers of gay men love their sons for who they are, not for the child they might provide. I feel privileged to count homosexuals among my closest friends. My life would be sadder without gay men’s joie de vivre, sparkling wit and sense of humour, usually directed against themselves.”

I don’t see much joie de vivre in Quentin Crisp these days. In fact I’m thinking of putting him touch with the voluntary euthanasia society. That might cheer him up.

Kathleen O’Hanlon, a leading gay researcher at Stanford University in California told The Independent: “Science doesn’t designate homosexuality as a disease. Aborting a foetus for what is not a disease appears to be more like the practice of eugenics, more like the 1940s in Nazi Germany than the 1990s in the US or Britain. It will not be tolerated.”

These were emotional responses, and perfectly understandable. More rational thoughts came a few days later. The famous biologist Richard Dawkins (author of The Selfish Gene) wrote to The Independent that Dr Watson was being misrepresented: “A woman might passionately desire a homosexual child and elect to abort a foetus with heterosexual genes. Indeed, I have not the slightest doubt that Dr Watson would be happy to add heterosexuality to his list of hypothetical reasons for aborting.”

Matthew Parris took this libertarian stance a step further in his Times column. He thought it foolish to try to halt the march of progress and says that parents have always wanted the best for their children and if there is a way to ensure that they have a “bright, strong and handsome” baby, they will take it. “It is simply fatuous,” he writes, “for a man who is tall, or crippled, or pale or short, or gay to try to prevent access to such scientific mastery on the grounds that if it had existed previously, he might not have been born. So what? If you don’t exist you haven’t missed anything.”

Needless to say, this was perfect Mary Kenny territory. And, as usual, Ms Kenny couldn’t see the wood for her Bible. She is, of course, a good Catholic and as such opposed to abortion. Also as a good Catholic she opposes homosexuality. This puts her in a bit of a cleft stick because if she didn’t oppose abortion, she could take the Jakobovits line and welcome the possibility of a final solution — by genetic manipulation — for the “homosexual problem”. Instead, she thinks that scientists are going too far, and discovering too much, “uncovering the very stuff of life” as she puts it. The reason she doesn’t want “the very stuff of life” uncovering is because every new scientific advance further undermines the authority of her religion.

Kenny says that Dr Watson’s reported comments were “not a kindly signal to homosexual people — that they should be exterminated before birth.” But Watson himself was cut to the quick by such interpretations. He wrote to The Sunday Telegraph: “Your headline deeply wounds me and is bound to create the impression that I am a homophobic individual, hostile to homosexuals’ existence and rights, and indifferent to the great contributions made to societies in the past by homosexual giants like Michelangelo or Tchaikovsky and today such creative individuals as Sir John Gielgud and David Hockney. The headline which you used to purportedly reflect my views, was bound to create anger and dismay in any homosexual reader who read your paper or others that followed from it in other British newspapers.”

Dr Watson says that his reputation and career has been “damaged” by The Sunday Telegraph’s spin on what he said.(and, indeed, it was the reporter James Langton who raised the topic of the gay gene, not Dr Watson), which further supports my contention that you should never trust a Fleet Street journo to do the right thing.

Of course, not everyone believes that there is a gay gene and for such people this whole debate is hypothetical nonsense. Peter Tatchell, for instance, wrote to The Times: “If heterosexuality and homosexuality are, indeed, mutually exclusive, unchangeable and genetically determined, as this theory suggests, how do we explain bisexuality or people who suddenly in mid-life switch from heterosexuality to homosexuality (or vice versa)? We can’t. It is, of course, possible that genetic factors might predispose individuals towards a particular sexuality. However, a predisposition is not the same as causation. Most studies indicate that genetic influences are of secondary significance compared to social mores and expectations.”

In other words, nurture has far more influence than nature. But is this true, or is it, as the arch-proponent of the gay gene theory, Chandler Burr, says, flying in the face of the evidence in order to defend an out-dated political stance?

I recently met Dr Dean Hamer, the man who, in 1993, claimed to have found the area of genetic material that was likely to contain the gene that would determine sexual orientation. I asked him whether he truly thought that the time would ever arrive when such a genetic identification could be made with any certainty. He was absolutely sure that it was imminent, although he accepted that biology would not explain everything about homosexuality.

All this still leaves an unanswered question: is the gay gene science fact or science fiction? A couple of decades ago we were asking the same thing about cloning. Similar moral debates raged about the consequences of scientists pursuing this line of enquiry — where was it going to lead us? Well, the scientists did carry on their research, despite the doubts of moralists, and now here we are —hello Dolly! — with a successfully cloned sheep and the doubtless ability to clone people.

On the Internet I came across an interview with Randy Wicker, a man in New York who describes himself as “an atheist priest”. Mr Wicker insists that cloning is a gay issue, and has started a group called Clone Rights United Front which “demands the right to reproduce ourselves without interference from religion, politics or society.”

Mr Wicker says: “Now that sperm appears to be no longer necessary, just DNA and the female body, heterosexuality…is historically obsolete. A woman can reproduce herself, as certain species do, without the use of males.” He also thinks that it totally undermines “the tyranny of the phallus in which men rule the world and everything bends to their whim” because “sperm is no longer necessary.”

So this is the brave new world, is it? I don’t know about you, but it’s doing my head in.

***

The Sunday Mirror was the platform last month for Paul Stone to take another pop at the hapless Jerry Hayes. We won’t go into what the gay betrayer said this time — mainly because another libel action is in train — but what I found most insulting about the piece was the photographs which accompanied it. Mr Hayes is shown sitting in a night club surrounded by four scantily-clad women with whom he is, apparently, whooping it up.

The photograph is so obviously phoney — posed and set up for effect — that it makes Mr Hayes look desperate. I don’t care whether he is gay or not (although I lean towards not) but does he really have to insult our intelligence with such obvious attempts at manipulation?

Meanwhile, the erstwhile MP unexpectedly found himself paired once more with his persecutor, this time in The Observer magazine. Mr Hayes was asked to describe his worst holiday and Mr Stone his best. Hayes’ anecdote was a boring recollection of awful charter flights and half-built hotels.

Paul Stone, on the other hand, told of a family package to Spain when he was seven years old. “One of the best things about it,” he reveals, “was that I was allowed to buy a handbag with my holiday money. It was just like my Mum’s — small and black and I carried it under my arm. I took it everywhere. I didn’t keep anything in it; I just liked carrying round a handbag.”

One suddenly begins to warm to the lad.

GAY TIMES May 1997

When the Scouts Association announced that it was introducing a new equal opportunities policy, which would at last allow openly gay men to become leaders, the reaction from the press was utterly predictable. The combination of homosexuals and “our children”— just about the only combination these days that can elicit the kind of screeching hysteria and unbridled homophobia we saw last month — was perfect for the tabloids.

With such potential for whipping people up, there was no way that our sworn enemies in Fleet Street were going to present this story as a simple news item. It needed the full shock-horror-political-correctness spin, and the papers on the moral-panic roundabout didn’t disappoint.

“Fury over gay Scout leaders” screamed the front page of The Daily Mail —”parents, MPs and churchmen condemn ‘equal opportunities’ policy” —while The Sunday Telegraph headlined: “Scouts admit gays: Baden-Powells outraged”.

And that was the starting signal for every foul bigot and knee-jerk MP to come crawling out of their fetid netherworld to slander homosexuals in the most effective way they know how — by suggesting that we are all paedophiles.

Hugh McKinney of the Conservative Family Campaign was quoted by The Mail as saying: “Parents are outraged to think that their children could share intimate personal contact with homosexual men on camping trips.” Backbench MP Jacques Arnold, who advertises himself as secretary of the “All-Party Parliamentary Scout group”, said: “Youth groups act as a honey pot for perverts. Open homosexuals are inappropriate.”

Writing in The Daily Mail, Simon Heffer said there was a good case for discrimination. It was, he said, “the only thing that keeps our children safe”.

“No one wishes to reduce the rights of homosexuals who act within the law and with the same discretion we expect from heterosexuals,” Mr Heffer wrote rather unconvincingly. “But the matter of whether they should be put in positions of authority over children involves the rights of more than just themselves. If a choice has to be made between the freedom of homosexuals to become Scoutmasters, and the safety of our children, it is a simple one. Our children must come first at all times.”

This theme of homosexuals as rampant paedophiles, totally unable to control their perverted sexual impulses when in the company of children, was carried on throughout the popular press. “Would you want your son to spend a weekend camping with a gay man?” asked The Sun. “No, we don’t think you would. It is another victory for the politically-correct gay lobby… Being gay is a private matter. But when it impinges on public life — especially where children are concerned — it is a very public concern. That is not prejudice. That is the common-sense view of the majority.”

An isolated voice in favour of the Scouts’ changes came in the unlikely form of Mary Kenny. Writing in The Daily Express, she said: “Homosexual Scout leaders are not exactly an innovation. Running jokes about them have been around for as long as l can remember. Whether bringing this out into the open will make folks more tolerant is a moot point. People are sometimes willing to accept in a nudge-nudge kind of way, something they would baulk at when formalised and officially approved. More awareness of homosexual orientation may also lead to more vetting and thus, paradoxically, less camping about on the campsite.”

She says that “in less watchful times” many a lad has been helped by a respectable homosexual. “It is a question of the older person behaving morally — not whether he is gay or straight.”

And surely this is the crux of the matter. There are gay men who are paedophiles, and they should be kept away from children. But there are an awful lot more gay men who are not paedophiles, and who want to work with children for all the same reasons that heterosexual people do — to impart knowledge, to put something back into society and maybe even to increase tolerance. What’s so terrible about that? As Michael De-la-Noy wrote in a letter to The Sunday Telegraph: “Scoutmasters who happen to be gay have been giving admirable service for years. Indeed, without gay Scoutmasters, gay teachers and gay clergy, some of our most essential institutions would have collapsed ages ago.”

But as our own James Cary Parkes in The Guardian said: “Gay men and kids, now there’s a queer combination. Just the stuff to set every tabloid editor spouting puns and indignant innuendoes.” And, indeed, the “gays and children don’t mix” card was played for all it was worth by The Mirror when it revealed that the mother of a child who was to be fostered by a gay couple in Southwark had complained to the paper about the arrangement. “This is political correctness gone mad,” she is reported to have said.

She declared that she was not homophobic, but insinuated that her son would not be safe from the sexual attentions of Les and Peter, his proposed foster carers.

Les and Peter, it seems, have been successfully fostering for more than six years. Many children and adolescents have passed through their home and benefited enormously from the care, attention and commitment of the two men.

The Mirror, however, managed to locate one of Les and Pete’s rare failures, and this is the one to which they naturally decided to give prominence. “My hell in gay foster home” was the bold, reversed-out headline over the story in the edition of March 25th. It told the story of a teenager who had been placed with Les and Pete and apparently hated the experience. He had gone to their home quite voluntarily, but then, he said, he saw gay magazines and newspapers lying about, went to a gay festival with his carers (where he saw drag queens and heard people calling each other “darling”), attended gay parties at their home and watched a gay video called The Art of Gay Lovemaking while they were out.

“There were times when I sat on Peter’s knee while the parties were going on, Les and Peter used to have Gay News delivered,” the boy whinged. Leaving aside the fact that Gay News went out of business before the lad was born, there is no suggestion that anything improper went on. It was just that the boy was maladjusted and going through a difficult period — that much he admits himself. But to call Les and Pete’s home “hell”, as The Mirror did in its headline, seems grossly unfair.

To give The Mirror its due, it also carried the story of another young man who was fostered with Les and Pete. He has nothing but praise for them. His mother says that under the influence of the gay couple’s “warm and caring family” her son blossomed. She said: “My son is not gay and Les and Pete don’t flaunt their homosexuality. They have provided a much-needed father figure for him. He has found stability and warmth in their home… I have seen a big change in him. He is now a very funny child, spontaneous and out-going. I have a folder full of certificates and awards given to him, including one for pupil of the term. It’s all down to Les and Pete.”

Remember, this ringing endorsement appears under the headline “My hell in gay foster home”. With such distortion is there any wonder that when The Mirror asked its readers, “Should any child be placed with gays?” 10,005 rang in to say “no” while only 620 said “yes”.

Needless to say there was more to all this than the papers were willing to admit. Their stories and spiteful comments would not have stood up if it had been made clear from the start that, despite his mother’s objections, the boy in question desperately wanted to move to Les and Pete’s home. Nor would the full facts have supported The Daily Mail’s contention that the decision was “state-sponsored political correctness gone mad”. As The Times reported (well after the event), the mother failed to attend any meetings to decide her son’s future: “She failed to attend a case meeting two weeks ago at which social workers from Southwark council decided to place the boy with the homosexual couple who have been fostering children for six years. The boy, who has visited them and wants to take up the placement, is currently living with foster parents in Kent.”

The newspapers’ hysteria over this case is depressingly familiar. Their wilful ignorance on the subject and malevolent distortions can only stand in the way of gay fosterers providing a much-needed service. Instead, these disturbed children will find themselves stuck in council homes where the level of attention can never be the same and the potential for damage to them is huge. As James Cary Parkes concluded in The Guardian: “What we have here is a question of equality and, oddly enough, an argument for the best interest of the children themselves. It’s noteworthy that when gay men are allowed to foster children, more often than not the child has so many other problems that they’ve been rejected by their natural parents and social services have been unable to place them… These children are as much outcasts as the gay men who want to give them decent, safe, caring and, yes. Ioving homes.”

This hardly squares with The Mirror’s hypocritical editorial saying that cases like that of Les and Pete “should not be used as a chance for gay-bashing”. If this is so, why does The Mirror continue its hate-filled campaign against carers who are doing their best in difficult circumstances? If the paper truly has the interests of the children at heart, it would not want to see them dumped in council care until they are old enough to live in cardboard boxes on the streets. They would be glad that the children are receiving the loving stability they need to get their acts together and make something of themselves. And if generous gay couples are prepared to take on such an onerous task, it shouldn’t be the business of shiny newspapers to rip their efforts to shreds in public and incite hatred against them.

GAY TIMES June 1997

What joy! What ecstasy! What unrestrained wallowing in other people’s disappointment! On that glorious morning of May 2nd, 1997, I felt not one iota of sympathy as one hated Tory bigot after another was cast into the long-overdue outer darkness.

And then came the icing on the cake: within two days of the political demise of Harry Greenway, Olga Maitland, David Evans, Adrian Rodgers and so many other ghastly deadbeats, came the news that “Sir” John Junor had gone to that great newsroom in the sky. With beautiful irony, the noxious toad who had, through the auspices of his weekly column, heaped insult and obloquy on gay people for 20 years, had popped his clogs.

As The Daily Telegraph reported: “He dismissed homosexuals as ‘poofs’, ‘powder puffs’ and ‘pansies’, and expressed the view that Aids was the punishment ordained by God for sodomy. In particular, he anathematised those ‘who flaunt their homosexuality and try to subvert and convert other people to it. These are the people I have utter hatred for, because I think they are spreading filth.’”

This was only a tiny sample of the absolutely unfettered hatred he felt for us. At the time of a particularly nasty arson attack on a gay cinema in London, when ten people were killed, he made comments that I will not repeat but which I will never forgive.

And then came the maudlin, sentimental tributes from those of his journalistic colleagues who had been on the receiving end of his patronage. Michael Toner, who had been Political Editor of The Sunday Express under Junor wrote: “Yesterday when I telephoned a former colleague to tell him of the old man’s death, I found him on the verge of tears. I wasn’t exactly dry-eyed myself.”

Peter McKay was, of course, one of Junor’s protégés, and it shows in his own style of writing, which shares the penchant for abuse and spite. In The Daily Express he said: “John Junor was a journalistic giant who built the old Sunday Express into a perfect family newspaper.” A perfect family newspaper? A disgusting repository for every nasty prejudice you could think of, more like.

Nearly all the obituaries commented about Junor’s abhorrence of “cant and humbug” and yet it is clear that he was a major practitioner of hypocrisy himself. He would ride about in chauffeur driven cars and then write about conversations he’d had with ordinary men and women on the tops of buses.

Junor was a personally unpleasant individual who used his editorial position to wound and terrorise the journalists working under him. There are many stories of his cruel whims and arbitrary sackings has often featured in Mediawatch over the years, and some of the most shockingly racist and homophobic opinions ever to see print came from his pen.

He began to write his JJ column in 1979 when Mrs Thatcher came to power and it was for licking her arse that he was awarded his knighthood. It seems fitting that his flow of poison should be stemmed in the week that so many of his fellow reactionaries have been kicked off their platforms.

As Julian Critchley so aptly said (Independent, May 5th) of this self-styled “man of the people”: “John Junor may have had his finger on the nation’s pulse, but he also got on its nerves.”

***

Clifford Longley, The Daily Telegraph’s religious correspondent, is convinced that “the crunch is coming next year over gay clergy.” In his column on April 25th he said: “It will not be possible to find a solution to the problem of gay clergy in the Anglican Church. The Lambeth Conference next year will be the moment when the irresistible force meets the immovable object.”

And as a warm-up to that knockout event, we have OutRage! members scaling the walls of Lambeth Palace to force the Archbishop of Canterbury to meet them (on the grounds that the Archbishop will not meet the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement). According to The Daily Telegraph (April 24th), the Archbishop was “boorishly ambushed by Peter Tatchell’ s militant homosexuals” demanding that gay priests should be allowed to ‘practice’, and that there should be some form of ‘marriage’ for homosexuals. Dr Carey certainly looked more than slightly annoyed in the photographs that were printed of the event. Peter Tory in The Daily Express said “he looked like a martyr startled in heaven”. I thought he looked more like Mr Pooter startled by a whoopee cushion.

Saint Peter of Tatchell deserves our thanks because each time he stages one of his events he has to endure another outburst of the type of abuse that the tabloids seem to reserve especially for him.

“I felt sorry for the Archbishop of Canterbury,” wrote the reptilian Norman Tebbitt in The Sun. “Poor man kept his temper despite being pawed by the disgusting Peter Tatchell… If the Church of England throws out the Bible in favour of buggery, it will have only itself to blame when Christians leave its churches empty. On your bike, Tatchell. Off the pier and take a duck-ying.”

To provoke invective of this kind surely indicates that Peter Tatchell is having the desired effect — unsettling those establishment cronies whose complacency has been shaken by the recent events of the general election.

The confrontation had been precipitated by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s reaffirmation of his stance on homosexuality (which roughly translates “it’s OK to be it, but don’t do it.”).

It was ironic, then, that this announcement coincided with a report showing that many conventionally married Church of England vicars are wife beaters. A.N. Wilson of The London Evening Standard maintained that a good rule of thumb about vicars is “if they are married they are probably wife-torturers. If not overt marital rapists, there is something invariably creepy about the heterosexual clergy. Personally, I’d rather a daughter of mine married almost anyone — even a brothel owner, even an MP— before she married a parson.”

He continued: “All the best clergy are, overtly or not, ‘queer’. (This includes the asexual ones who like dressing up while not actually ‘doing anything’ with boys).”

But back to The Daily Telegraph and its editorial it mentioned that the Bishop of Salisbury, John Baker, had given a speech saying that he had changed his mind since his participation in the working party which had produced the infamous 1991 document saying it was OK to for gay lay persons to have sex, but not priests. Now Bishop Baker says the report was wrong and that gay priests should be permitted to have a full sex life without fear of retribution, if they want to. They should even be able to get married to their same-sex partner.

The Daily Telegraph, naturally, didn’t agree. “The purpose of sexual relations is, above all, procreation,” it says sternly, “which obviously rules out homosexual acts, because they are sterile and thus unnatural. Christians of every tradition considered homosexual acts inherently sinful.”

The paper says that Dr Carey should stand firm and insist that his gay clergy keep their pesky genitals locked firmly in their Y-fronts. “We need a faith whose precepts are founded on the solid rock of doctrine, not the drifting sands of fashion.”

This is tripe, of course. Homosexuality has a much longer history than Christianity. There are records of gay carryings-on in the cultures of Rome and Greece, in Ancient Egypt and China. All these cultures have passed into obscurity, all their beliefs — in their own times regarded as unassailable truth — are now regarded as quaint mythology. The same fate eventually awaits Christianity. Homosexuality, on the other hand, will continue regardless.

***

Press reaction to Channel 4’s lesbians-in-the-army film, The Investigator, was mixed. Just about all the papers carried features based on the programme, but critical reaction to the actual drama was muted. Roy Hattersley, TV reviewer for The Daily Express, thought it was “pure propaganda”. Although, he says he “supports the cause it championed” he did not “want the case for reason and reform dressed up like drama… Throughout The Investigator, I had the feeling I was watching an attempt to change viewers’ minds without them realising it.”

Peter Patterson in The Daily Mail thought similarly: “Since this was, in effect, a party political broadcast on behalf of the homosexual lobby, only one brief sentence was allowed as to why the Army might wish to discourage lesbianism at military installations.” This sounds rather like The Daily Mail’s own coverage on the debate of gays in the military, except the other way round.

Naturally, Garry Bushell in The Sun couldn’t resist the programme: “Lovely Helen Baxendale played a lesbian soldier. Problems. First, Helen is a babe while the real Meagher is as plain as a Dewhurst’s ham.” (Eh?)

Cristina Odone (one-time editor of The Catholic Herald) reviewed the film for The Daily Telegraph and thought it “tough, unflinching and as unsettling as a dawn raid. Powerful, disturbing stuff.” Perhaps, as the only woman in the bunch, she would naturally have more sympathy for the humiliations that were heaped on those female soldiers in the film.

Hopefully the new intake of MPs were watching the film and will realise that the time is long overdue for change in the armed forces. And we don’t want some half-arsed compromise like the one they’ve settled for in America.

Are you listening, Tony?

GAY TIMES July 1997

New developments in fertility technology have naturally attracted the attention of gay people who want to become parents. It was once accepted as inevitable that gay male couples could not have children unless one of them had been in a previous heterosexual relationship and brought their kids with them, but that no longer applies. And Artificial Insemination by Donor (AID), surrogacy and a more sympathetic approach to adoption and fostering mean that parenting is far from being an impossible dream for lesbian or gay couples.

Last month the whole issue came to a head in the press when a judge allowed a woman who is living in a lesbian relationship to adopt an 11-year-old girl. The tabloids immediately became hysterical. “Uproar as judge lets lesbian adopt girl” roared The Sun, which unearthed “morals campaigner” Victoria Gillick to say that the decision had been “wicked and stupid”. The Daily Mail’s preferred bigot was the recently rejected “family values” fanatic, Dr Adrian Rodgers, who bleated: “It is a sign of cultural degeneracy.”

We needed to turn to the broadsheets for a more sensible and informed approach. The Times, for instance quoted Chris Barton, Professor of Family Law at Staffordshire University: “The ruling confirmed the effect of a Scottish decision last year, making clear that there was no legal bar to adoption on the grounds of sexual orientation.”

The Sun editorialised that if the law didn’t specify that parents must be heterosexual it ought to be changed. “When the Adoption Act was passed 20 years ago, it was surely not intended that children be handed to gays or lesbians.” The paper then went on to state quite categorically: “Parents are one man and one woman.”

Well, for The Sun’s information, a lot of people’s parents are not one man and one woman. And some of the children of those same-sex parents came forward to tell their stories. The Daily Mail tracked down Nicholas Hetherington, who was the first child to be born to a lesbian using artificial insemination in 1972. The Mail’s headline over the story says “He was Britain’s first baby born to lesbian parents. Today Nicholas is 25, divorced and uncertain of his own sexuality.”

It soon becomes clear, however, that Nicholas’s only real doubts about his sexuality are minor ones, the sort that just about everybody has at some stage. He experimented at school with other boys, but didn’t like it. He preferred girls and found them attractive. He even married one, although it didn’t work out (nothing sinister about that — ask the millions of other divorced heterosexuals). The headline gives the impression that Nicholas has been deeply damaged by his experiences in a lesbian household. His account of things shows this not to be the case: “The fact that my mother was gay and living in a gay relationship didn’t make me gay. What it did was give me an awareness of all aspects of life. It was a liberal upbringing and I became very open-minded about all situations. I was willing to accept anybody, warts and all.”

If only more young people could say that, the world would surely be a better place.

Not to be outdone, The Express interviewed another family, that of Ruby Harvey who is lesbian and has a daughter, Amanda, who is now 22. Amanda tells that she was bullied at school, and that her mother and her female lover were persecuted by neighbours. But they came through it and thrived. The Harvey family are happy, close and love each other dearly.

In The Independent, Andrew G Marshall wrote “In praise of lesbian mothers” and quoted Dr Fiona Tasker, a psychologist at Birkbeck College in London and author of I’m Growing up in A Lesbian Family — Effects on Child Development. Dr Tasker studied two groups of children whose parents had divorced: one raised by lesbian mothers, the other by single heterosexual mothers. She returned to her study sample after 14 years to see how they had developed as young adults. “Long-term mental health, family relationships, memories of school days and sexual identity were all tracked. We found there were no major differences between the two groups, although the young people raised by lesbians seemed to have a better relationship with their mother’s new girlfriend than the heterosexual group did with their stepfathers.”

Andrew G Marshall concludes that maybe heterosexuals are anxious about their own parenting skills and scapegoat lesbian parents “because it allows everybody else to feel better without having to change”.

But whatever positive images are projected in the features pages, it doesn’t seem to stop the hysteria in the news pages, as we saw over the next story — the “pickle jar” lesbian.

Lisa Whiting inseminated herself using sperm donated by a friend and has given birth to a baby girl. She and her partner, Dawn, are now being pursued by the Child Support Agency, which is demanding that they name the father or have their benefits cut. If they had been inseminated by a registered fertility clinic, the CSA would have had no jurisdiction over them, but because they couldn’t afford it and did it themselves, they could lose 40 per cent of their income.

The tabloids were particularly interested in the vessel in which the sperm had been collected, the aforementioned pickle jar. Day after day these lesbians were vilified and commented upon. “Must we pay lesbians to conceive by pickle jar?” asked the sensitive and kindly Richard Littlejohn in The Daily Mail. He said that “Nothing will prevent lesbians having babies provided they can find a willing donor. And if they can support them financially, then it’s none of our business. But when two able-bodied women decide to milk the system to fund their selfish indulgences it becomes our business.”

If Mr Littlejohn had stuck to this “let’s end the dependency culture” argument it might have been tolerable, but his seething hatred for homosexuals is barely concealed, and this turned into just another opportunity to give us a kicking.

No sooner had the “pickle jar” lesbians been disposed of than a male gay couple, Chris Joyce and Russell Conlon, suddenly found themselves splashed all over the papers. They work for the gay parenting group called Happy Families, and had given an interview to the Today programme on Radio 4. This was then picked up by the newspapers who quickly stripped the men of their dignity, and turned the story to their advantage. “A sickening story to shock Britain” said The Sun. “The gay couple who claim the right to share a baby” was The Daily Mail’s headline.

Russell and Chris have, according to the papers, been seeking a lesbian couple — one of whom would act as a surrogate mother for them. “When the child is born they want it to live with them for half the week and with the lesbians for the other half,” reported the Mail.

The couple both have disabilities and both are unemployed and on benefits. They have already applied to adopt a child, but have been turned down — Russell says on the grounds that they are gay, although the council insists it is because of their disabilities and the fact that they are living on state support.

Russell Conlon is quoted as saying: “It is our God-given right to be parents and have children. We have a lot of love and experience to give.” And it is at this stage that the professional moralism enter the fray. Child-rearing is not the arena for social experimentation, they say. And children are not status symbols to be acquired like the latest model motor car.

“Nobody has the right to be a parent,” said The Sun. “It is a precious gift. But surely nature never intended homosexuals to father and raise children? The two gays who are searching for a lesbian surrogate mother are making a mockery of parenthood… Being loving and caring is not enough — parents must be able to teach by example. Men who share a bed are a bad example.”

This idea of the “right” to parenthood was explored in a letter to The Guardian from Andrea Marks who said: “Parenthood is not a right… It is abhorrent to envisage children as vehicles to gratify our desire for love and respect. Quite the opposite: it is our duty and privilege to love and respect our children. Nothing must interfere with that – certainly not the selfish needs of those who see parenting as a right rather than a responsibility.”

But I can’t get my head round this one. Surely it is The Sun that has no “right” to tell anyone that they can’t be a parent, and surely Andrea Marks has no “right” to chastise gay people for wanting children. How can you love and respect your children until you’ve got them? Russell and Chris may not be the gay community’s dream representatives in the battle for gay parenting, but they are human beings, and who exactly is going to decide who is worthy of being a parent and who isn’t? Dr Adrian Rodgers, perhaps? Or maybe the editor of The Sun?

Lots of us were born into poverty but have turned out to be reasonable human beings because we were loved and nurtured. Material privilege is no guarantee of successful parenting — look at the Queen and her family! Dysfunctional or what?

Simon Jenkins summed it all up in The Times: “Those opposed to advances in assisted pregnancy maintain that their interest lies ‘with the child’. This is usually an excuse for intrusive, repressive and reactionary interference in personal freedom. Governments cannot make children happy. All they can do is ease the path to happiness for miserable parents. Science offers help to thousands for whom children have been an unattainable blessing. The only immorality is to stand in their way.”

GAY TIMES August 1997

Guardian writer Ros Coward started it all with a piece about a “shocking” GMP book called Dares to Speak. It is a collection of essays about “man-boy love” and Ms Coward was appalled that GMP should bring out a book which, she says, dismisses current concerns about paedophilia as “hysteria” or the product of “the abuse industry”.

She wrote: “The book refuses to take seriously sexual abuse and its consequences,” and she also made the point that no one stands up for abused boys in the same way that they do girls. “The view of boys is that they are more active in exploitative situations: after all, if the boy’s body shows a response, doesn’t that amount to collusion? This is why boys have been so vulnerable to unwanted sexual attention from men and so unlikely to find proper protection.”

Peter Tatchell, who has long advocated an age of consent of 14, responded to this in The Guardian’s letters column. “The positive nature of some child-adult sexual relationships is not confined to Western cultures. Several of my friends —gay and straight, male and female—had sex with adults from the age of nine to 13. None feel that they were abused. All say it was a conscious choice and gave them great joy. While it may be impossible to condone paedophilia, it is time society acknowledged the truth that not all sex involving children is unwanted, abusive and harmful.”

The reaction to that from other readers was immediate Andrew Holden wrote: “Sex between adults and children, the innocuous euphemism Tatchell uses, is sexual abuse, plain and simple. It is about power and it corrupts children who are not in a position to make judgments about sexual behaviour. Most gay men will rightly be disgusted by his opinions.”

Many others wrote in — some of them experts in the area of child abuse —horrified that Peter Tatchell appeared to be making excuses for the abusers who exploit children and then trying to justify their activities with “self-serving myths concealed behind a veneer of ‘academic’ research,” (Richard Scorer). Valerie Howarth of ChildLine wrote of her own organisation’s dealings with abused boys. “These boys did not feel positively about the abuse, it certainly brought them no joy. The sexual attentions were unwelcome but to keep them silent they were threatened with violence, told they would not be believed, or abusers told them of the harm it would cause if the family found out.”

In The Sunday Times, Lesley White commented that she thought the book — and Peter Tatchell’s apparent “apologia” for it — did the gay community no favours, “instantly throwing the image of the minority back into the black hole of fear, suspicion and nasty assumptions about child molesting from which it has only just managed to escape.” She wrote: “Conveyed in tabloid shorthand, this already looks like a very good reason never to hire a gay baby-sitter… Why hand the moralising enemy all the ammunition it needs and make the Conservative Family Association’s day?”

And, indeed, just like clockwork, The Daily Mail picked up Peter Tatchell’s letter and featured it in large type, right in the middle of a double page spread about efforts to get the age of consent back on the agenda. “The problem is,” the paper editorialised, “that the more concessions are made, the more the gay lobby demands… Some even think that sex with children can be justified. Yesterday, in a sick letter to a newspaper, gay rights protester Peter Tatchell wrote of the ‘positive nature’ and ‘great joy’ of sex with children as young as nine. Nobody is suggesting that the Government would ever dream of supporting such extreme views. But the whole area of gay rights is one in which Ministers must tread carefully.”

Peter realised that his letter — however unintentionally — had unleashed a wave of emotional responses (not all irrational) that inevitably accompany discussion of child sexuality. He wrote again both to The Guardian and to The Daily Mail to make clear that his words had been misinterpreted. “By writing that ‘not all sex involving children is unwanted, abusive and harmful’ I was clearly implying that most of it is abusive. It is absurd to say that because I acknowledge some exceptions, I am denying the suffering of those who have been abused. I don’t for a moment.”

But it was too late by then. The self-appointed moralists, Victoria Gillick and her equally pious sister, Lynette Burrows, were already on the bandwagon. “The current campaign by all gay rights groups to have the age of consent lowered to 16 (or even 14) is surely evidence that interest in boy-children is as keen as ever among most adult homosexuals,” wrote Gillick in The Guardian. Burrows made exactly the same point on Radio 5. Then The Daily Mail’s resident anti-gay activist, Richard Littlejohn, wrote: “Many of those campaigning to lower the age of consent to 16 are sincere and really do see it as an issue of equality and human rights. But this is not just about allowing 16 and 17 year olds to kiss and cuddle with members of their own sex. To put it bluntly, it would give grown men the legal right to bugger schoolboys.”

There’s no doubt that paedophiles have long tried to gain respectability on the coat tails of the struggle for gay liberation. From the earliest days they’ve been trying to pretend that we are fighting the same war on the same side. Well we aren’t. I have no doubt that children have sexual feelings and want to express them. When they do this among themselves I have nothing but indulgence. But when adults become involved — however spontaneously — the imbalance of power and experience means that some exploitation is inevitable. I am aware that some children are the initiators in some of these scenarios, but the burden of guilt that our society imposes on them will not make it a positive experience. Whatever happens in Papua New Guinea or Ancient Greece has no relevance to what took place in Britain in 1997.

When men begin to organise themselves in an effort to “get” children, when they deliberately insinuate themselves into youth clubs, schools and churches for the sole purpose of gaining access to children, then I think society has a right to be concerned. When paedophiles get together and start comparing notes and conspiring to ensnare particular types of children (pre-pubescent, certain hair colour, a particular height) then the children lose their humanity and become fetish objects to be used for gratification. I will never stand shoulder to shoulder with paedophiles. And I will object to their presence in any gay forum. I do not believe Peter Tatchell would support any paedophile organisation either. I fully understand that his concern is for the young people. But that does not really undo the political damage that has been done.

As Leslie White said: “understanding for ‘boy-lovers’ is not the next staging post in the great march towards gay freedom, merely a return ticket to a hostile yesterday.”

***

Before the Tory party leadership election there was much speculation about the sexuality of the semi-glabrous wunderkind William Hague. Any political figure who has reached the age of 36 and shown little interest in romantic involvement with the opposite sex is sure to fuel curiosity. And when such a figure is up against ruthless opposition, the smear-machine will be merciless. The Independent said: “The hot-house atmosphere of the Commons is a notorious breeding ground for the most scurrilous stories about senior politicians, the higher they climb, the dirtier become the claims spread against them.”

But the speculation about Hague was not invented especially to hinder his chances of becoming Tory leader. In 1989, when he won the Richmond by-election, I reported in Mediawatch a comment which appeared in the London Evening Standard’s gossip column. “He shares a flat with Alan Duncan, two years his senior and also politically inclined.” In that column I asked: “Are the papers trying to tell us something?” In the same piece, Mr Hague also remarked prophetically: “It’s complete nonsense that you have to marry for career reasons.”

Which brings us round to Ms Ffion (Jolly) Jenkins, Mr Hague’s recently acquired fiancée. According to the Express on Sunday, rumour had it that the engagement was nothing more than a “stunt”. An unnamed source was quoted as saying: “I heard one person say the wedding will be called off the moment he becomes leader. Another said Jolly is a madly ambitious girl who wants to marry a famous politician at any cost.”

By way of denial, The Express said that “One Tory MP was amused when he saw Mr Hague pinching Jolly’s bottom two weeks ago. And the elderly widow of a peer was shocked when she saw them kissing passionately in the gardens of their Westminster apartment block.”

But this “passionate” embrace was witnessed by others, more worldly-wise and less shockable than the unnamed widow. Matthew Norman in the London Evening Standard commented: “One Sunday paper reported him dragging his fiancée into the Dolphin Square garden for a passionate public snog and he may yet go the extra mile and engage the poor woman in soixante-neuf in the Commons tea room.”

Perhaps the person to whom Hague has been closest is fellow MP Alan Duncan. But who is Alan Duncan, other than Mr Hague’s recently appointed parliamentary political secretary, or “spin doctor”? The splendidly named Simon Sebag Montefiore was despatched by The Sunday Times to find out, and his interview was published on June 22nd.

Mr Montefiore is not what you’d call a discreet interviewer, and his piece opens: “‘Take me to the bedroom of William Hague,’ I say to Alan Duncan MP, the diminutive eminence grise who managed Hague’s triumphant campaign from his Gayfere Street house in which we sit.

`What?’ splutters Duncan.

`When Hague was a new MP he shared the house with you: show me his room.’

`No. Certainly not. Bloody cheek! Actually, it was up there towards the back. It was really only for three months. I was in Singapore mostly. William was with his girlfriend.— “

(If we can leave this interview momentarily, and pop over to The Guardian, June 24th, which informed us: Hague was “briefly a tenant at Duncan’ s Westminster house” — together with the “famously-gay” Andrew Sullivan, former editor of The New Republic. No mention of girlfriends.)

Back to Mr Duncan, and the innuendo-packed interview with The Sunday Times.

“‘Do you think Hague will distance himself now from your exotic reputation?’

`No. I am what I am’.”

Although there should be no “guilt” by association, the fact that Mr Hague and Mr Duncan go back so far together suggests that they have a pretty good friendship. As The Sunday Times has it: “Alan has fierce hates and loves, whereas with William it is much more glacial… and Duncan is the stronger personality. If one compared them to a couple, then Hague would be very much the wife and Alan the daddy figure.”

To sum up: Mr Hague denies categorically that he is gay: “My friends know things like that are ridiculous,” he says. On the other hand, he is generally not unsympathetic to the gay cause, although he did vote in favour of Section 28. He caused a minor stir when he recently announced that he had no objections to gay weddings. “When they’re not causing harm to other people, why should we object?” When he was president of the Oxford Union he instigated a debate on the age of consent.

There is the evidence, such as it is. Make of it what you will.

GAY TIMES September 1997

According to The Independent (July 31st) the “right-wing think tanks” that wielded so much influence on Tory party policy over the past 20 years are now “drifting aimlessly in an ideological limbo” and “whining like trapped wasps”.

The think-tanks, as they say, are running on empty.

All of them except, that is, the Conservative Christian Fellowship (CCF). This organisation has no doubt what the Tories must do if they want to regain superiority —they must once more embrace “traditional family values” and fight anything that threatens those values. So, according to the CCF, if the new Tory leader, William Hague, wishes to see his party ever return to power, he must agitate vigorously against the further acceptance of abortion, euthanasia and homosexuality.

Now, I’m not usually one for conspiracy theories, but is it really a coincidence that since the CCF put out its call, the right-wing papers have been absolutely awash with news of homosexuality and mercy killing? In the past month, I think I have collected more press clippings on these two topics than at any time in the past two years. Some of it has been extremely unpleasant.

This has not been the case in the liberal papers. The Guardian, Independent and Observer continue to present these issues as public debates; the others present them as public alarms.

All the homophobic voices which we had hoped had been silenced by the Tories’ defeat are suddenly back in a big way, given an enthusiastic platform by the likes of the Mail, Express, Sun and Telegraph. Suddenly they all seem to have only one message.

“The biggest threat to our society is the assault on the family, because it is in the family — mother, father, grandparents, aunts and uncles —that children learn values, the morals and standards that will guide them later in life,” wrote Norman Tebbit in The Mail on Sunday (July 20th). “Youngsters who have not even taken their GCSEs will soon be legal prey for lecherous, predatory sex perverts waiting outside school gates. Parliament seems set to give approval for dirty old men to take young boys from schoolroom to bedroom for `gay’ sex.” He continues this inflated rhetoric for several more paragraphs, piling on the slander as he goes. Is Norman Tebbit simply stating his opinions, or is he part of a new strategy which uses homosexuality to batter at Labour’s popularity?

Leo McKinstry also in The Daily Mail (July 7th) was telling us that “gay rights have gone far enough”, citing Peter Tatchell’s now notorious letter to The Guardian as proof positive that “this ideology has badly undermined our child protection services, allowing abusers to exploit the system”.

McKinstry rails against grants from public funds for gay events and at the hedonism of gay life. He says sex educators have lost all sense of morality. “Take marriage and the family,” he writes, with a terrible predictability. “In the brave new world of gay rights, no moral distinction is made between the sacrifices involved in bringing up children within a stable relationship and irresponsible hedonism. Both are presented as just different lifestyle choices. Such a disastrous message is now being given out to schoolchildren.”

Simon Heffer (“the pundit the politicians dread”), also in The Daily Mail (July 12th), stated the CCF’s message most plainly in the headline over his piece: “Bring back the family, Hague, or you’ll never get back.” Heffer wrote: “Mr Hague should realise one of the greatest forces behind the Conservative movement, and one of the likely platforms for its revival is the family.” Naturally, Heffer thinks that homosexuals are the number one enemy of the family. He chides Hague for sending his “ridiculous message” to Gay Pride. “During the leadership campaign he appeared to advocate homosexual marriages. If he is not careful, his supporters will start to question his commitment to genuine Conservative values.”

Mr Heffer gives us another insight into the reasoning behind attempts to revive family values. He wrote: “As the Right in America has shown, there is a massive constituency to be won by supporting traditional values. It does not have to be done with the puritan intolerance and fanaticism we see in that country; it merely requires a moderate statement of the values that Conservative-minded people, as opposed to Mr Hague’s ultra-enlightened circle of friends, want their party to support.”

The Mail even unearthed Daniel Farson (“author and homosexual”) to batter its message home. He wrote: “This Government, headed by a church-going Christian, is engaging in political correctness of the worst sort. It is driven by the aggressive gay lobby. And it will do untold damage to the vulnerable young.”

Not to be left out of the gay-bashing jamboree, The Sun commissioned Anne Atkins (the only agony aunt in the country who causes more problems than she solves) to write: “It is politically incorrect to say so, but the gay lifestyle is a very harsh one. Promiscuity, depression, substance abuse, alcoholism, illness and suicide attempts are far more common in the gay community. This is not an opinion: it is a fact. The life expectancy of a gay man without HIV is a shocking 43 years (with HIV it is 39).” (Simon Fanshawe, the comedian, has made a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission about that one.)

The Sun editorialised that the new age of consent proposals were “a serious misjudgement of the mood of the country… If a free vote makes gay sex legal at 16, Parliament will fly in the face of public opinion.”

Over in The Express (July 15th), Peter Hitchens was pushing the gays-are-a-threat-to-the-family bandwagon a little further: “The new morality breaks a vital link between sexual pleasure, marriage and children. Once this link is broken — and contraception and abortion have helped to break it — sex is a recreation without obligations or consequences. Sex between two men or two women is the purest statement of this.”

Roger Scruton, Mrs Thatcher’s favourite philosopher, was putting forward his familiar arguments in The Times. Liberals, he said, are the cause of all this trouble: if liberals hadn’t removed the natural [his words] restrictions which control sex, then gay men feel obliged not to have sex at all, and the interest that they have in children would be diverted into teaching and scouting and team coaching, rather than seduction.

Naturally, Dr Adrian Rodgers wasn’t going to miss out on all this, and he was widely quoted in news items, as well as having letters included in The Daily Telegraph. “Homosexuality is a sterile condition, strongly associated with Aids and its spread and condemned by all wise cultures and religions. From years of practising medicine, my personal experiences and some evidence, I am sure homosexuality is acquired; it can be promoted as a way of life; and there is a strong association with paedophilia,” he asserted in the Telegraph’s correspondence column.

Valerie Riches of Family and Youth Concern, was quick to support her friend, the good doctor from Exeter. “Dr Rodgers draws attention to the link between homosexuality and paedophilia, and has reason to be concerned. Equally alarming is the extent to which the way is being prepared for acceptance of paedophile activity.” And up again comes Peter Tatchell’s letter to T he Guardian, as well as quotes from the now long-defunct Paedophile Information Exchange and the Family Planning Association.

It was not all confined to the age of consent debate, of course. The Daily Telegraph also led the charge against the Appeal Court judges who criticised the law that caused them to rule that a gay man could not take over the tenancy of his partner’s flat after his partner died. The judges had called on Parliament to amend the law so as to respect “all abiding relationships, the heterosexual, the lesbian and the gay”.

So the judges want to be in step with the times, do they? “Well, that would be nice,” bitched the Telegraph. “But are these judges, aloof and splendid on the bench, really so in step with the times? Have they caught up with the widespread concern in many quarters over the decline in marriage and the traditional family, and the impact of that on children?”

Even The Sunday Times gave voice to this: “The tolerance towards homosexuals that liberals once demanded was always a fraud. Liberals are the least tolerant of people. Homosexuals were to be the battering ram against traditional values, social institutions and conduct. Fox-hunting is bad, deviancy is good. Schools hire paedophiles as gym teachers and put gay marriage and gay sex on the agenda and there is no moral distinction between a family and irresponsible hedonism,” wrote Taki Theodoracopolous. “Marriage, of course, is rendered meaningless once it’s accorded the same rights and privileges as a homosexual marriage.”

Is it really only coincidence that all these hacks and activists seem to have exactly the same opinions? Am I being paranoid in imagining that something is going on?

Maybe there isn’t a huge conspiracy, but I think there are smaller ones, often interconnected. I think journalists do take notice of briefings from right-wing think tanks and pressure groups, and try to spread their messages. I do think that some Christian extremist groups orchestrate media campaigns — and very successfully, too.

I cannot believe that it is completely coincidental that Victoria Gillick and her sister Lynette Burrows keep plugging away at the “paedophile” angle wherever they can find a platform. Do they really not discuss it with each other, and with others of a like mind? Does Family and Youth Concern not liaise with the Conservative Family Campaign when their agendas are so similar? Do the Mail, Express and Telegraph not enthusiastically shop-window the ideas from these sources?

The next question has to be, does it matter? Aren’t these just marginalised idiots who can’t accept that they’ve lost the argument? Or could it be that they are on to something?

In the end, if there is a conspiracy, it is not an anti-gay conspiracy, it is an anti-Labour and pro-Tory one. We are just the means to an end, the battering ram.

Let’s not forget that when Teletext asked its readers to ring in and answer the question “Should same sex couples have equal employment rights?” Only 42 per cent said yes, and 58 per cent said no. They were also asked “Should gay sex be legal at 16?” 43 per cent said yes, 57 per cent said no.

Nothing can be taken for granted. If the Right can agitate enough hysteria around this issue, Blair might have to back down or compromise. And that would be the first triumph of a resurgent Right.

GAY TIMES October 1997

The controversial Tory MP, Alan Clark, wrote in The Spectator about the “growing body count” caused by media intrusion into private lives. He eerily prophesied in his article that eventually the media would cause the death of “HRH” (which the editor took to mean Princess Diana, but which Clark later denied). Among the others he named as fatal victims of newspaper harassment was the MP for Paisley South, Gordon McMaster, who was allegedly driven to suicide by rumours about his sexuality and his HIV status, allegedly spread by his Labour Party colleagues and later taken up by the press.

After an investigation of the events, the Labour Party’s chief whip, Nick Brown, concluded that Gordon McMaster’s suicide had been prompted by “a depressive illness” and not by the rumours. However, Mr McMaster, in a suicide note, had named neighbouring Labour MP Tommy Graham as his tormentor, along with Lord Dixon, the former MP for Jarrow. “I hope Don Dixon and Tommy Graham can live with themselves,” he wrote. “I would rather be dead with my conscience than alive with theirs. I expect to go to heaven, and I don’t expect to see them there. But if I do, I hope it’s in a dark alley. Even after I am dead they will keep badmouthing me.”

There is certainly evidence that Tommy Graham since suspended by the Labour Party — conspired with other members of the local party in Paisley to unseat Mr McMaster. They had tried to use the media as part of this plan.

The Times reported that Paul Mack — another Labour Party member, who had “plotted to oust McMaster” so that he could have the seat at Westminster — had told The Sunday Times last April that Mr McMaster “was HIV-positive and was believed to have been cohabiting with a Spanish waiter.” McMaster was also under fire from the Scottish National Party, one of whose councillors told a newspaper that “Mr McMaster was having a relationship with an under-age schoolboy, which the boy had denied.” The councillor was suspended from the SNP.

But was there any truth in the rumours about Gordon McMaster? And was it really the newspapers that drove him to gas himself?

Simon Edge, a well-known gay journalist, wrote in The New Statesman what the other papers had avoided saying: that the gay rumours were, indeed, true. Edge revealed that McMaster had been seen in “a rough North London pub with black windows and sex on the premises. And it was fetish night.” The portly MP had also been spotted at Blackpool’s Flamingo Club during the Labour Party conference. He allegedly “picked up gay newspapers before slinking away”.

Simon Edge wrote: “One can imagine him on both occasions returning to the false comfort of his whisky bottle, unhappier than ever. At any rate, I can. Like most gay people, I’ve been there. The misery of the closet intensifies as you watch your repressed youth slip into the past.”

So why couldn’t he just have been honest, as other Labour MPs have? Surely we are past the stage where it can be argued that being gay is a bar to a successful career in Parliament?

Peter Hillmore in The Observer demonstrated that all this is far from the case. He told of the difficulty he’d had persuading any gay Labour MP to write an article about “the mild tensions within the party between those who have ‘come out’ and those who remain within the closet”.

He said that the few openly gay MPs were worried “that their constituents wouldn’t like it or the party wouldn’t allow it; MPs who are privately known to be gay refused for the same reasons.” But he also cited the case of the late Allan Roberts, who was MP for Bootle (“where all the arguments about working class conservatism would apply”). ‘When Mr Roberts’ escapades in a Berlin gay leather bar hit the Sunday newspapers … there was shock and astonishment in cosmopolitan London. But in Bootle there was no reaction — for Mr Roberts had never made any secret of his predilections. He once addressed a meeting with one hand wedged firmly in a pocket, because he had lost the key to a pair of handcuffs round his wrist. So shocked were his constituents when he pulled his hand out to emphasise a point that he was re-elected with an increased majority.”

But Gordon McMaster could not take that step of honesty. Glasgow, it is argued, would not let him. And nor, it seems, would the press.

John Lyttle in The Independent explored this ambivalent attitude of the press towards honesty about homosexuality. He quotes Simon Callow, who has given more press interviews than most. Mr Callow reveals that during all those hundreds of conversations with journalists, he never made a secret of his orientation — or his boyfriend. But journalists wouldn’t print it. The reason? “The press’s sole interest in my homosexuality was in either denial, so my reputation could be heartily defended or, conversely, in gloating exposure. Either way, homosexuality had to look bad, an insult or a secret. The press had no interest otherwise.” In fact, I says John Lyttle, “once told, journalists could turn distinctly chilly, or worse. Hypocrisy was a given. Honesty, however, gummed up the works.” Lyttle says this is also the story of Gordon McMaster. The papers were happy to retail the “smears” about him but also anxious to report that they were untrue or, at least, “tasteless and irrelevant”.

So, Gordon McMaster couldn’t live any more with his depressive illness. But what part did reactions to, and exploitation of, his homosexuality play in the formation of this illness? We will probably never know, and everyone is anxious that his parents be caused no further pain by the telling of unpalatable truths.

This, of course, dismisses all those others who are walking the same tightrope that Gordon McMaster eventually fell from. How many others are inhabiting the booze-sodden closet that Gordon McMaster writhed in? How many others feel the speculation swirling round them, and feel at the mercy of rumour-merchants and smear artists?

How many other Gordon McMasters are there, looking at the exhaust pipes of their cars and — at last — seeing a way out of the closet that cripples and torments them?

***

“What does the Roman Catholic church do with gay clergy who insist on having active sex lives?” asked The Independent (August 27th). And answered its own question by commissioning an article from an anonymous gay priest who had been sent to a sinister corrective institution called Our Lady of Victory, in Stroud, Gloucestershire. “An open prison” he called it, “a boot camp” where paedophiles, alcoholics and homosexuals were banished, together with heterosexual clergy who had fathered children, to be shown the errors of their way. Apparently the phrase “being sent to Stroud” sends chills down the spines of Catholic priests up and down the country. And when you hear what goes on there, it isn’t really surprising. It has driven at least one priest to suicide.

The Independent’s unnamed priest, who had spent a week at Our Lady of Victory, likened its methods to those used in the novel A Clockwork Orange — the creation of morality by the use of the immoral methods. It is run by an order called The Servants of the Paraclete — the name alone of which is enough to send shivers up your spine. Their activities turn out to be as scary as their name.

The readers’ reaction to this priest’s experience was immediate. Mrs Jackie Hawkins wrote angrily to The Independent that the Catholic Church should be ashamed of itself for supporting such an institution as that at Stroud — “resembling more something from the era of the Soviet Union than from the lifetime and ministry of Christ.” She commented: “Hiding its weaknesses, as it defines them, is a besetting sin of the institutional Catholic Church. As all the other Christian traditions tussle with the issue of clergy who are actively gay, I wonder when the Catholic Church will admit that there is a flourishing gay culture among our own clergy — as any honest bishop will tell you.”

Paul Smith wrote that Stroud makes a distinction between “the drinkers and the men with an altar boy problem.” He says he suspects this is “born out of the homophobia which is still present in the attitudes of many in the church and which regards homosexuality and paedophilia as virtually synonymous. Gay men should not be sent to Stroud. Equally, if they have been blessed with a vocation and ordained, they should ideally acknowledge their homosexuality but also embrace celibacy.”

Ah yes, celibacy. That most unnatural state which the Pope insists cannot be avoided by those who choose to take up the cloth.

But there are dissenters, and one is a psychotherapist called Paul de Berker who wrote in the Catholic journal The Tablet that “Roman Catholic priests can be turned into paedophiles by the stress of celibacy.” This should seem obvious to most people, but it seems the Catholic Church is having to find out the hard way.

Dr de Berker says that when priests have “errant thoughts” of a sexual nature they should be given counselling help to sublimate and redirect them. What actually happens is that they are told to deny them, put them from their minds and distance themselves by spiritual exercises. Dr de Berker says this approach is of “doubtful use” and can actually be dangerous since “it can lead to distortions of the psyche and can be accompanied by great anxiety and depression.” Not to mention the kinds of child abuse scandals that have been making the headlines over the past few years.

In The Tablet article, Paul de Berker quotes St Jerome: “If only the human race could desist from the filthy act of copulation then God would let us all multiply in purity like the bees.” That was written in the 4th century, but little seems to have changed in Vatican thinking since then.

Indeed, The Times reported that the Catholic Church in Scotland had laid into the Anglican Bishop of Edinburgh, the Right Revd Richard Holloway, for suggesting that homosexual clergy should be ordained and that gay marriages should be recognised. A spokesman for the Catholic Church is quoted as saying: “We feel that Bishop Holloway unfortunately succeeds in promoting the caricature that Christianity is only interested in sexuality.”

But the Anglican Church needn’t pat itself on the back for its liberality. The Daily Telegraph reported that Canon Philip Crowe — a former theological college principal — was leaving his parish in protest at the Church of England’s “dishonest” treatment of homosexuals. He said his departure was prompted by the Church’s “duplicitous behaviour” towards homosexuals and women priests. He was quoted as saying: “It is the sheer dishonesty of the Church of England which I can no longer bear. This is reflected in the treatment of gay people.”

Mr Crowe has made the right decision. Others should follow his example. At the same time I have limited sympathy for those who join a club, knowing the rules full well, and once admitted to membership start carping that it’s all so unfair. Why join in the first place? Can’t they find something more constructive to do with their lives?