GAY TIMES 232, January 1998

These are the stark figures: 16,000 people become HIV-positive every day. Thirty million people have HIV infection or Aids. Some 2.3 million people will die from the infection this year — a 50 per cent increase on last year.

With these horrific statistics, the promoters of World Aids Day tried once again to get HIV back on top of the public health agenda. They had little success. The articles that appeared in the serious newspapers had the feeling of duty about them, rather than any serious sense of alarm at what is happening.

The tabloids gave the story a couple of paragraphs each — and even then, some of those were condemnatory. Unless some celebrity succumbs in the meantime, that’s probably all we’ll hear about it until next December.

Television coverage was even more derisory. In The Observer, Robert McKie complained that, on the day the United Nations announced the statistics that opened this column, ITN chose to lead its bulletin with Earl Spencer’s divorce proceedings.

“We are plunging into a global epidemic,” wrote McKie, “and clearly we are desperate to raise awareness about HIV. So ITN gave us details of Earl Spencer’s preposterous wealth, his infidelities and a great deal of soap opera fluff. Now, the dumbing down of TV news is not a new problem. But to ignore one of the greatest science stories of the century seems laughably perverse.”

The London Evening Standard managed to give the story a local spin by quoting from a report from the Health of Londoners Project, which looks at the state of public health in London. This report suggests that “one third of all homosexual men in the country live in the inner city” and, as a result, 42 per cent of Britain’s HIV cases are now concentrated in inner London, where Aids is the leading cause of death for all men between 18 and 54— 3,780 mortalities by the end of 1996.

But the situation could have been worse. As The Guardian pointed out: “Fundamentalists who opposed Britain’s liberal approach — safe sex campaigns and free needle exchanges for drug users — should look at how many more people died elsewhere. America, where needle exchanges were banned, has had far higher mortality rates. Neither France nor Spain achieved the same high profile safe sex campaigns: proportionately, France has had three times as many Aids cases as Britain and Spain seven times as many.”

It is clear, then, that forthright, no-nonsense safer sex campaigns save lives. So why do we still have journalistic primitives like Richard Littlejohn in The Daily Mail opposing them? On December 4th he wrote: “A reader sent me a copy of a leaflet issued by Coventry and Warwickshire HIV network. It is entitled Suck it and ? — Information about Oral Sex for Gay and Bisexual Men… The text is beyond obscene. You don’t want to know, trust me. Yet this is financed by tax-payers and presented in a crazy-guy kinda way. There are all kinds of fun tips and advice, yet never the slightest suggestion that this might not be a way to behave in the first place. Mustn’t be judgmental.”

He makes his usual claim that he doesn’t care what consenting adults do “provided I don’t have to watch, participate or pay for it” but then goes on to say, “It is the triumphalism I abhor. And the idea that people who knowingly indulge in dangerous and unhealthy practices are some kind of heroes, to be plied with public funds and protected from the inevitable consequences of their own perversion.”

He ends with a cheap crack about being able to put anything into your mouth these days as long as it isn’t a cigarette.

Daily Mail readers are constantly fed this idea, that they are the persecuted minority, that it is their hard-earned cash that goes to pay for all this perversion and loose-living. The message that is constantly hammered home is that the middle-classes are under relentless attack from the dregs of society — homosexuals, single mothers, drug addicts, paedophiles and endless foreign immigrants. How come honest, normal folk don’t get all the privileges that these poofs and gypsies and pregnant teenagers get? The Government, the Mail asserts, is clearly on the side of these undesirable minorities. But I would remind Paul Dacre, editor of The Daily Mail, of something written by the American thinker Wendell Phillips in the last century: “Governments exist to protect the rights of minorities. The loved and the rich need no protection — they have many friends and few enemies.”

However, those of a conservative frame of mind are by nature selfish. They are not enthusiastic about granting minority rights because they fear that, in doing so, something will be taken away from them. Such conservatives are naturally drawn to The Daily Telegraph (which has resumed its habit of putting the word gay into quotation marks). The Telegraph’s letters column has also recently become a platform for virulent anti-homosexual sentiment.

A frequent correspondent is Dr Adrian Rogers, the celebrated political failure. His letters are almost always given lead status. On November 19th, his familiar message was encapsulated in the pithy headline “Homosexual activity is always wrong”. Then, next day, came a missive from Mr John Cowlishaw, headed “The power of rich homosexuals”.

But best of all was the letter from Mrs Valerie Riches, of Family and Youth Concern, who was making the point that homosexuals had donated £2 million to President Clinton’s election campaign fund, and therefore, “In view of the recent revelations about the £1 million received by the Labour Party from Bernie Ecclestone before the general election, a further issue is raised. Mr Blair has given public support for the homosexual rights movement in this country and is set to reduce the age of consent to 16 on the ground of equality. Is it fair to ask: what did the Labour Party receive from homosexual groups or eminent supporters before the general election and, if any, what strings were attached?”

I immediately wrote to the editor of The Telegraph to confess that I had donated £10 to the Labour Party’s election fund on the understanding that in return I would receive full equality with every other citizen in this country. My demands have yet to be satisfied, but I will fully understand if Mr Blair is embarrassed by my generosity and wishes to return my tenner. I would not wish him to suffer any further conflict with the Parliamentary Standards Committee. My letter was not, for some reason, selected for publication.

Now let us visit The Express and find out what its contribution to the great gay debate has been. “Only 1 in 100 men says that he is gay” the paper announced on December 1st. It was quoting research carried out by the Office of National Statistics, which surveyed 2,000 people. “Only one per cent of men admitted to practising exclusively homosexual sex,” The Express crooned. “Another one per cent say they have had sex with both men and women. Ninety two per cent said they had only ever had sex with women.”

The paper was also pleased to reassure its readers that “Last year an attempt by the ONS to count the number of stable gay couples for the Government’s General Household Survey found fewer than 20 among 9,000 households. Their number was left out of the survey as ‘statistically insignificant’.”

This, of course, gave The Express the opportunity to whinge about the way society had been misled by “the gay lobby” and its persistent claim that one in ten is gay. It also dragged in the money being spent on Aids prevention. “Critics have said that spending much of the £52.3 million government grant on controversial tactics like handing out condoms in gay haunts tends to encourage homosexual behaviour.”

Also in for the kill came the Conservative Family Campaign (which had probably planted the story in the first place), whose spokesperson, Hugh McKinney, said: “These findings show yet again the misinformation that is used to allow pernicious propaganda to spread through society.”

Ah yes, pernicious propaganda. Mr McKinney knows all about that, because in the very next sentence he says: “American figures show that the life expectancy of a practising male homosexual is less than 40 — around half that of a heterosexual man.” (The source for this statistic is a right-wing American fundamentalist group, so, of course, it must be true).

Not to be left out of the statistical jamboree, The Daily Mail quoted Dr Jacqueline Scott, a social researcher at Cambridge University, who claims to have discovered through her research that “seven out of ten men and six out of ten women deplore and condemn homosexual behaviour.”

Well, excuse me, Dr Scott, but only days before, in The Independent on Sunday, I had read that the Health Education Authority had conducted yet another survey which revealed that “the percentage of people who believe that sexual relations between men are wrong has fallen by more than a third during the last ten years. In 1987, 74 per cent of people thought that sex between men was ‘always or mostly wrong’. This month the figure has fallen to 44 per cent in the survey of 1,442 people.”

Who is telling us the truth, and who is trying to mislead us? Well, you pays your money and you takes your choice. But the principle remains that however many gay people there are in this country, even if it is only half a dozen (and their 250,000 apparently straight supporters who go to Pride), they shouldn’t be treated as second-class citizens.

***

Now let’s have some good news. According to The Independent on Sunday (November 30th), the boycott of the Disney Corporation, called by the Southern Baptist Convention in the USA, has failed abysmally. The boycott was ordered last year after the Disney Corporation announced that it would treat its gay workers fairly and equally. The Barmy Baptists demanded that their 15 million members cease forthwith to use or purchase any Disney product.

Well, since then the value of. Disney’s shares has risen by 10 per cent, and their profits by even more. Seems those pious Americans much prefer Goofy to God.

Meanwhile, The Daily Telegraph was alarmed to report that “Churches may be forced to marry homosexual couples” (all 20 of them) if the European Convention on Human Rights is incorporated into British law. Baroness Young said provisions covering ‘public authorities’, such as anti-discrimination laws, could include churches and other religious organisations.

She added that adoption agencies linked to churches might be unable to prevent children being placed with homosexual couples. “Lady Young urged peers to exempt the Church of England from the Human Rights Bill, which incorporates the Convention into British law,” the paper reported.

Baroness Young, a major ‘sponsor’ of Family and Youth Concern, has obviously been primed by the right-wing on this one. And Stonewall, the lesbian and gay lobbying group, really needs to get a response on the go.

Finally, Michael Portillo is reported as saying that he thinks the time is coming when it will be perfectly possible for Britain to have a gay Prime Minister. I think he probably means an out gay Prime Minister, because, of course, we’ve already had several closet cases. According to The Daily Telegraph, Pitt the Younger, Disraeli, Balfour and Lord Roseberry were all that way inclined to some extent. There have been others, who cannot yet be named because (a) there isn’t enough evidence or (b) they are still alive, and prefer to keep their closet intact.

Given Mr Portillo’s well-known ambitions, the question on everybody’s lips is: who does he have in mind?

GAY TIMES 233, February 1998

After that fateful summer night in Paris, it was generally assumed that the press would shoulder some of the responsibility for the death of Princess Diana. After all, it was their photographers she had been trying to outrun when her car crashed under the Pont d’Alma.

Earl Spencer certainly tried to make the papers see the error of their ways in his now-famous funeral oration, when he said the press had his sister’s blood on its hands. (He later paid dearly for that criticism when his own private life was unflatteringly portrayed during his divorce action—the British tabloids are nothing if not vengeful).

The country was horrified and disgusted at the press and its ruthlessness. Inevitably, the familiar calls rose up for legal curbs to be introduced. It was obvious, said critics, that the press could not govern itself, therefore Parliament should do the job. Politicians agreed and tried to rise to the mood of the country but, as ever, they were cowed by the power they perceive Fleet Street to have over them come election time.

Enter at this point the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), intent on solving the dilemma for politicians and press alike. Despite its noble words about existing to protect individuals from intrusion by newspapers, the PCC is actually a body set up by newspapers to protect themselves from threats of legislation — and against the anger of their readers.

How often have we seen the following cycle of events unfold? Despite promises, the press disgraces itself with cruel and intrusive activities that appal the whole country. This is followed by angry noises from the Government, which promises to frame legislation. There is much uproar in the papers about the threat to free speech, democracy etc. that such legislation would impose.

The PCC then steps in and says that there will be no need for legislation because it has set up a committee which will “toughen up” its code of practice. It then changes the code in some small particular and the newspapers all make a big ballyhoo of “signing up” to enforce the new, improved rules. The threat of legislation recedes and the press carries on as before.

The last time this little ritual was acted out, David Mellor was the chappy in charge. He coined the memorable phrase “The press is drinking in the Last Chance Saloon.” Within months of uttering those words, Mr Mellor was on the front page of the News of the World accused of shagging a Miss Antonia de Sanchez while wearing a Chelsea football strip. His political career is now over.

Now, once again, the Last Chance Saloon is open for business, and the PCC has “toughened up” its act once more. Its “new” code of practice is effective from January 1st and all the editors have — yet again — signed up to say that they will uphold the code to the letter (just like they did last time).

Lord Wakeham, the chairman of the PCC, says that the code is the “toughest in Europe”. You would imagine from these words that the consequences of violating the code would be swingeing. So, what exactly happens when a newspaper blatantly disregards this voluntary agreement?

Well, first of all, the person or group who feels they have been ill-used by newspapers makes a complaint to the PCC. The PCC then takes a few weeks to decide whether there is a case to answer. If there is, a long exchange of correspondence between the complainant and the newspaper editor follows. Then the complaints panel (which is, incidentally, composed of newspaper editors) decides whether the complaint should be upheld or rejected. By the time this procedure is completed, the issue is all but forgotten, the complainant is totally exhausted and the press continues its irresponsible gallop, as before.

Even if the complaint is upheld, the newspaper simply prints a small paragraph at the bottom of page 32 summarising the adjudication. And that’s that. Big deal. Unless, of course, the paper can find any juicy gossip about the complainant, in which case it will be splashed all over the front page.

Well, given that even the most famous woman in the world, namely Princess Diana, could get no change from the PCC, what chance has Joe Public got? I’ve tried often enough in the past to get the PCC to enforce the Discrimination clause in its code of practice, but without success. The clause goes like this: “The Press must avoid publishing details of a person’s race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental illness or disability unless these are directly relevant to the story.”

So will the new, tough and uncompromising code of conduct be more rigorously enforced? I decided to test it at the first opportunity.

I didn’t have to wait long for a suitable case to complain about. On December 31st, The Sun ran a story headlined “Gay nurse ‘in 100 murders’.” The item concerned Orville Majors, a male nurse in America, who is alleged to have done away with up to 100 patients in his care.

Now, what exactly did Mr Majors’ sexual orientation have to do with all this? Did he murder these people because he is gay? None of the other papers thought so. Indeed, every other newspaper in the country ran the story, but not one of them mentioned Mr Majors’ alleged homosexuality. They didn’t think it relevant — so why did The Sun?

A prima facie breach of the PCC’s code of conduct, you would think. So, off went the complaint and I am now waiting to hear whether it will be accepted for adjudication. After all, the editor of The Sun has signed up to the “tough new code” and has gone into print saying that he intends to ensure that his paper upholds it to the letter. Just as he did last time it was “beefed up”.

I wonder if William Hill the bookmakers would give me odds against this complaint getting any further than the PCC’s office junior? After all, on the form book it should be rejected out of hand. I have made at least five other complaints under the same clause, all of them equally clear-cut, and each of them falling at the first fence.

I’ll keep you informed of the progress of this one.

***

The horrendous story of Mark Trotter, the Hackney social worker who abused the children in his care and later died from an Aids-related illness, was once more brought into the public arena after the publication of a report into the scandal. No-one doubts that Mr Trotter should have been disciplined, suspended and kept away from children —enough evidence had accumulated to suggest that he had paedophile tendencies. But because the council hadan equal opportunities policy which protected gay people, Trotter was able to manipulate the rules and intimidate people with charges of “homophobia” if they suggested he wasn’t the right man for the job in a children’s home.

The Sun headlined its report “Scandal of the vile, gay Aids riddled pervert that a loony council allowed to care for KIDS”.

Naturally, The Sun blames “the politically correct madness that pervades town halls”. But this so-called political correctness started out as an attempt to bring justice and fairness to traditionally disadvantaged minorities. Regrettably, when they are not tempered with common sense, equal opportunities policies can become weapons of intimidation, easily exploited by people like Trotter.

Hopefully, local authorities, trade unions and personnel departments have learned their lesson from this case. They must continue to ensure that gay people, black people and disabled people who behave properly are protected from discrimination. But they must challenge the political ethos that has allowed equal opportunities to give carte-blanche to abusers and exploiters from those minorities. They must not be afraid to challenge wrong-doing for fear of being called homophobic or racist or whatever.

It is not equal opportunities that are to blame for this incident, it is inadequate and cowardly council officials who cannot operate them properly.

***

The Daily Mail carried an interview on December 20th with the Revd David Holloway, vicar of Jesmond, on Tyneside. Mr Holloway will be familiar to readers as the resident religious zealot on such shows as Kilroy and The Time, The Place.

Mr Holloway was in the news again last month because he was once more rebelling against what he calls the Church of England’s “mealy-mouthed liberalism” on the topic of gay sex. Now Mr Holloway’s poison has spread to neighbouring parishes.

On an anti-homosexual ticket, these fundamentalists are staging an impressive revival of what they call “traditional values” — which means a more authoritarian approach to sex. Holloway says that if other parishes followed the lead of Jesmond, and took a “moral stance”, they, too, could have congregations running into thousands, just like his. It seems that there’s nothing quite like a bit of spite and hatred to rouse the fervour of upright, traditional Christians. Throw in a bit of scape-goating and watch them flock in.

Up on Tyneside, Mr Holloway’s brigade was arranging for a novice priest to be ordained. Nothing special about that, you might think. But Mr Holloway has declared that his parish does not recognise the authority of its appointed Bishop — who is soon to be installed in Newcastle — and the retired Bishop of Uganda was invited to conduct the ceremony instead. The CoE was forced into the undignified position of having to obtain an injunction in the High Court to stop this blatant defiance.

The reason the Geordie evangelicals didn’t want the official bishop — the Rt Revd Martin Wharton — to perform the ceremony, and why the parish does not recognise his authority, was because he had said on radio that “loving permanent homosexual relationships are not sinful.”

In the meantime, Bishop Wharton — the poor, liberal football in the middle of Mr Holloway’s political machinations — awaits his transfer to the Holy Roller Land on the banks of the Tyne. At present, he resides in leafy Kingston-upon-Thames, where fire and brimstone are a little less hot than they are in Jesmond.

The Daily Telegraph tried to interview Mr Wharton about the controversy, but couldn’t get much out of him. He has been so traumatised by the reaction to his pro-gay views that now “he tends to repeat one anodyne statement over and over, punctuated by long pauses, nervous that any elaboration will get him into hot water.”

The Daily Telegraph says that the Bishop is now “too frightened to speak his mind on gays.” And that just about sums it up. The evangelical wing of the CoE operates by terror and intimidation. Mr Holloway and his mob (and I use the word advisedly) may well get their way in the end, they may force the CoE further to the right, but their aims will be achieved by bullying and coercion.

The time is coming for liberal Anglicans to declare themselves as such, and proudly. They should stop being “mealy-mouthed” and put Holloway firmly in his place.   ii

GAY TIMES 234, March 1998

The pendulum swings backwards and forwards — or should I say from left to right — and at the moment it seems to be swinging rather fast.

The subject is ‘The Family’, and whenever it is raised in the public prints, it now seems to include references to homosexual relationships. This is a measure of our success in getting the topic on to the agenda; the “pretend family unit” is now an inevitable part of the family equation.

This does not suit everyone, of course. William Hague is one such. According to The Daily Telegraph, Mr Hague “does not believe that the law should give cohabiting couples the same rights as those who are married”.

According to The Telegraph, Mr Hague is “trying to put the traditional family at the centre of Conservative values”. But the paper made clear that our Willy has not reneged on his promise of tolerance for those who will not — or cannot — live in a “traditional” family unit. He was anxious to make clear that he “was not abandoning earlier comments about the importance of tolerance towards other ways of life such as couples living together and homosexuality”. Apparently Willy believes that “tolerance is not contradicted by a desire to play up the importance of the traditional family”.

The Times agreed. In an editorial about Mr Hague’s pronouncements, the paper said that the old Tories lost power because they were over-fond of bigoted moral crusades. The paper says that Mr Hague is attempting to rid his party of “its least attractive traits: an attachment to the priggish and sometimes prejudiced morality of the fifties and before”.

“People born after the War,” it says, “and particularly those brought up during and after the Sixties, share a certain set of attitudes about women, homosexuality and marriage. Some of their parents now do too, as a result of seeing their children live their lives according to these post-Sixties values. Liberally-inclined voters will become an ever-increasing element of the electorate. Any party that tried to shut its eyes to this demographic trend would be condemning itself to electoral oblivion.”

I do hope that’s a message Tony Blair has taken on board. He seems afraid to keep the promises he made to the gay community before the election. But listen, Mr Blair, if even The Times says it’s OK to deliver justice to homosexuals then there’s nothing to worry about. The voters put you there to make things better. So stop equivocating and give us equality.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, of course, is not at all pleased with all this talk of equality. He believes the politicians are handling this whole family values business appallingly. He called on Tony Blair to “strengthen the family” — which, in his terms means heaping disadvantage on those who aren’t living by the supposed “Christian ideal” of man and wife. The Archbishop was complaining to the Prime Minister that, by living openly together, Robin Cook and his mistress were not setting a good example. It was, he said, undermining the church’s efforts to put marriage back at the heart of society.

But then Dr Carey himself was in turn chastised — by Janet Daley in The Daily Telegraph. Why has he left his protestations so late, she wants to know. “Where have they been, these august spiritual authorities, for the last decade? Until now it has been left to a handful of newspaper pundits, bravely non-conforming academics and unfashionable politicians” to make the case that marriage was superior to the other “rich diversity of relationships and ‘family types’ on offer in the modern supermarket of social life”.

Janet Daley thinks it’s a good thing that the Church has abandoned the idea that cohabiting couples are on an equal moral footing with married ones (as expressed in its report Something to Celebrate, which asserted two years ago that “living in sin is no sin”). Daley says: “Suddenly politicians and churchmen are jamming up behind one another to speak fearlessly in favour of marriage. It has to be a good sign.”

A good sign for whom? For the moral authoritarians, perhaps. Prelates can preach until they fall off their pulpits and politicians can talk till they’re blue in the face, but ultimately, nobody takes any notice of them. People will still annoyingly have minds of their own, they will continue to make their own choices about how they live.

Minette Marrin, a columnist in The Sunday Telegraph was willing to admit it as much. Her piece was headed “Why politicians can’t help the family”.

She said: “The interesting question is what any politician actually intends to do about supporting the family. Blair has always made eloquent noises about it, but has actually proved to be anti-family. He may have campaigned against single mothers, but if his purpose is truly to defend the traditional family it is absurd to include under its umbrella, unmarried couples, never-married single parents and gay lovers, as Blair has done (although without much conviction).”

Unfortunately, Ms Marrin’s personal pendulum is stuck permanently on the Right. She is susceptible to propaganda from reactionary “pro-family” pressure groups, which is why she is able to say quite categorically: “We ought to be allowed to say what is obviously true, that these less conventional households are much less likely to offer a child a good upbringing than a traditional household run by a heterosexual couple. To put it more strongly, these unconventional households are now known to be generally much riskier for children. Therefore, they ought not to get the same support —legally, fiscally, socially — as conventional families, because they do not offer the same public benefits —sometimes quite the reverse.”

But on what evidence does she base her certainty that unconventional families are harmful to children? Presumably her “facts” come from the same source as the statistic she quoted in October, that gay men have an average life expectancy of 30 years less than heterosexual men. Ms Marrin should be careful. Anne Atkins quoted the same nonsense in The Sun and got blasted by the Press Complaints Commission for her trouble. So come on, Minette, where’s the proof for your assertions?

Despite all this right-wing reaction and huffing and puffing from religious control freaks, there are signs that the pressure for more equitable treatment for the unmarried is building. The Guardian reported that the Equal Opportunities Commission is calling for “a radical overhaul of sex discrimination law, with stronger powers to force employers to eliminate sex bias”. If the proposals from the EOC were to be accepted, they would outlaw discrimination against homosexuals for the first time. Let’s hope Mr Blunkett (who will ultimately consider the proposals) is brave about it.

Then there’s the Law Commission which, according to The Sunday Times, has undertaken a three-year study into the property rights of unmarried couples. Writing about the study, Ferdinand Mount says that one of its suggestions is that cohabiting couples should be allowed to “register” their union. He says: “When the registered twosome broke up, they would be allowed to seek court approval for a fair distribution of assets.”

But Mr Mount is not impressed with this idea. He says: “Are we not in danger of going round in circles here? The uncommitted commitment sounds like a marriage that dare not speak its name, a kind of ‘marriage lite’.”

He may have a point for heterosexuals. If they’re going to sign up as a legally binding partnership, why not just do it at the registry office, thereby solving all the problems? Homosexual couples on the other hand do not have that option. There’s no civil or religious equivalent for us.

The Law Commission, however, is anxious for it to be known that it has not forgotten the gay dimension to all this. A registered partnership might solve a lot of problems for us — pensions (see Keith Wood’s article on pages 32-34) and property rights would cease be the minefield of injustice that they are at present.

While we wait for the verdict on those Law Commission proposals (and it could be years before anything happens — if ever) we have to continue fighting issues individually, chipping away at the seemingly endless unfairness inherent in our system.

One such individual battle was recently won by 70-year-old William Webber of Dumfries. According to a report in The Observer, Mr Webber’s long-time gay partner (who actually owned the house where they lived) needed to move into a nursing home, and the council were threatening to use the value of the house to pay the fees. This would have left Mr Webber homeless. If the couple had been heterosexual and married, there would have been no such threat.

Now, after a year-long investigation, Dumfries and Galloway Council agreed that gays in long-term relationships will get near-parity with mixed-sex couples. “Gays will be treated the same if they can provide ‘evidence of the same-sex relationship or companionship for a period of 10 years’. It will look at shorter relationships case by case.”

The Observer says that the council’s decision “could set the tone for other authorities”. Mr Webber, whose brave stand may benefit thousands of couples in the future, hopes that the 10-year rule “will gradually be chipped away”.

***

Fleet Street loves to have a whipping boy and at present it is Peter Mandelson. It is difficult to imagine a politician more unpopular with journalists. They love to humiliate him.

What puzzles me is that, with this level of unpopularity, the journos have managed to leave Mandy’s sexuality out of it for so long. But perhaps that moratorium is about to end.

Punch magazine (supposedly satirical, but difficult to work out what it is in reality) recently carried a ten-page examination of all aspects of Peter Mandelson. In the interests of completeness, it couldn’t leave out references to his sexual orientation, and it commissioned Peter Tatchell to write about it.

Mr Tatchell reminds readers that Mandy has been subjected to more outings than a school bus. The Daily Telegraph, The Independent on Sunday, The News of the World and Brian Gould in his book Goodbye to All That, have all revealed Peter Mandelson’s non-secret.

Peter Tatchell adds his own fuel to the fire by telling how “Mandelson had a rendezvous with a friend of mine, a member of the gay rights group OutRage! during a trip to Moscow a few years back”. He says it was not a “honey-trap” outing plot, but a serious attraction between the two men.

Anyway, such is the contempt in which Mandelson is held that it is only a matter of time before the ruthless tabloid hacks go for his sexuality in a big way. I do hope he doesn’t have any skeletons in his closet.

The niggling has started, with Richard Littlejohn in The Daily Mail unkindly suggesting that Mandy looked less like a miner and more like a member of the Village People on a recent visit to a coal mine.

Mandy’s asking for it, of course, by not being more open. And, according to Peter Tatchell, he’ll deserve it, because he is “personally responsible for de-gaying Labour Party policy” by ditching key commitments “including the promise to outlaw discrimination against gays in housing and employment”.

Gay Times, April 1998

The press debate on Aids was given fresh impetus last month by the launch of the Government’s new education initiative. Aimed primarily at heterosexuals, the campaign was immediately condemned all round for targeting the wrong audience. 

Dr James Le Fanu of the Sunday Telegraphsaid (21 Feb) that the Health Education Authority had originally wanted to address the message to gay men but when the advertising agency came up with “an ingenious idea that had matchstick men doing bizarre things in odd positions” it was “rejected as ‘insulting’ by representatives of the homosexual community.” This led, he said, to “inverse discrimination” — that is ‘insulting’ straights by suggesting they were equally at-risk. He quotes the British Medical Journal as saying: “There is no evidence that HIV infection is being spread by casual vaginal intercourse,” and concludes that the money being spent on the present campaign is being wasted. 

The other papers were quick to take up this point. The Sunsaid (3 Mar): “Why do these ads show only boy and girl couples? Showing love’s young dream makes pretty pictures. The truth is uglier. There have been 44 cases in Britain involving heterosexuals. But a massive 1079 homosexuals have been affected.” The People(21 Feb) opined: “The money would be better spent if concentrated on those most at risk.” Whilst the Daily Express said: “Anal intercourse —overwhelmingly confined to homosexuals — is without doubt the primary means of spreading the Aids virus. Propaganda that does not focus on that is a con.” Writing also in the Daily Mail (19 Feb), Michael Fumento an “Aids analyst” said that the threat from vaginal intercourse was “one-in-a-million”. He said that there were many reasons why we weren’t being told this. He quoted a “San Francisco health official” as “defending the practice of suggesting that heterosexuals were at risk because it made them ‘socially conscious’ of the problems of homosexuals.” 

“Another reason,” wrote Mr Fumento, “is to do with research money. A lot of gay people are convinced that funds would be slow in coming if Aids wasn’t perceived as a general threat.” He didn’t stop there, either. “Are the pharmaceutical giants (who receive vast sums of money from governments to search for a cure) and some contraceptive companies exploiting the plague fear for financial reasons?” 

Then along came sex researchers Masters and Johnson to throw a spanner in the works. Promoting their new book about Aids, M&J claimed in the Mail on Sunday(6 Mar) that “there has been a world-wide cover-up on the immense peril of the Aids epidemic and millions of lives are now needlessly in danger.” Their conspiracy theory, based on their own rather limited research, said that the estimates of the numbers “infected with Aids” are “up to 50 per cent too low.” That the “disease has already broken out alarmingly into the ordinary population and is now spreading at an alarming rate by normal sexual intercourse.” They also claimed that people had not changed their sexual behaviour to any extent in the light of Aids — not even gays. They resurrected the ideas that Aids can be spread by day-to-day social contact — even from lavatory seats. All these ‘facts’ said M&J were being denied in order to avoid “mass panic”. However, on 9 March the Independent was quoting Dr Jonathan Mann, director of the World Health Organisation Aids group saying: “Masters and Johnson know a lot about sex, but I don’t know how much they know about Aids”. Dr Mann warned against irrational fear of Aids and emphasised that it cannot be caught in the ways suggested by Masters and Johnson. 

Later that week the Daily Mail was saying that Masters and Johnson had withdrawn their claims about Aids spreading amongst heterosexuals, although they stuck by everything else they had said. Our old friend George Gale couldn’t let the opportunity pass, of course, and in The Daily Mail he wrote: “The silence of the authorities allows Aids to spread unchecked among homosexuals. And, with terrible irony, homosexual lobbyists, acting to protect their community from public hostility, do most to assist the killing disease flourishing in their midst.” 

The next issue of the Mail on Sunday(13 Mar) tackled that line of thinking in an editorial: “There is a school of thought that believes there is something called ‘the homosexual lobby’ rather in the way in pre-war days the troubles of the world were blamed on a Jewish conspiracy. The ‘lobby’ was first discovered by far-out American Rightwingers who regarded Ronald Reagan as being dangerously radical. Angus Macpherson who wrote our report last week, recalls not so long ago attending a Daughters of the American Revolution meeting where the mention of Aids brought a storm of applause. The disease would do for homosexuals what the gas chambers did for Jews!” And the paper went on to insist that they were right to report the Masters and Johnson study, and defended all they’d said. 

Meanwhile, the Independent (4 Mar) reported: “There has been a sharp decrease in the incidence of hepatitis B. The disease is transmitted in the same way as Aids, suggesting that the Aids campaign is proving successful.”

So, what are we to make of this rag-bag of confusion, contradiction and paranoia? Where can we get information about Aids that is not being manipulated by financial or political vested interests? I think the truth of the matter is that it is too soon for anyone to know precisely how the Aids crisis will develop, and it foolish and irresponsible for anyone to claim they are making anything more than an educated guess. Meanwhile, we have to take care that those who are interested in making money or political capital from this tragedy do not mislead us with statistics and theories that add nothing to the debate but plenty to their bank balance.

* * *

CAN I believe my eyes? The Sunactually reporting events of interest to gay people in a way that wouldn’t offend anyone but the most hardened homophobe? On 25 Feb the Suncarried what appeared to be an interview with Michael Cashman, actor and activist. Mr Cashman was allowed to slag off Clause 28 without contradiction. 

All good, stirring stuff. But it probably felt a mite familiar to people in London who also buy City Limitsmagazine, because the interview had been lifted from their pages by the Sunwithout credit. 

The following day the Sunwas congratulating itself by quoting Michael Cashman as saying the report had been “balanced and responsible”. Then on 8th March the Suncarried a story, which it had lifted from the previous day’s Daily Mirror. It concerned Status Quo guitarist Francis Rossi revealing how his 20-year-old son’s Coming Out had vastly improved their relationship. 

Mr Rossi sounds like a sensible chap, dealing with his son’s gayness well (“It took immense courage for him to tell me and I admired him for it. Coming out of the closet suddenly made him more mature. We can talk to each other man to man… we are great mates.”) 

Underneath this story was a helpful little chart entitled “10 Ways to Tell Your Dad You’re Gay” provided by “a counsellor with long experience” and looking remarkably like a precis of my book How to be a Happy Homosexual. Not that I mind so long as the message is getting across, although a small credit would have been appreciated. 

However, not all the Sun’s correspondents thought Mr Rossi was right to tell his story. Fiona Macdonald Hull (11 Mar) said that whilst “no parent would disagree with Rossi” (er… urn) she wasn’t too sure about the lightness of his telling the world about his son’s Coming Out. “If I were his child, I think I would expect a decent father to treat the details of my private life with the confidentiality they deserve.” 

According to the News of the World(13 May) Simon Rossi, the young man in question, agreed. He was “furious” at his father and feared that the revelation might destroy his career. He also expressed a quite reasonable fear that ex-lovers would “come out of the woodwork” and make further trouble. No doubt the News of the Worldis prising them out of the cracks at this very moment.

••• 

SPOOF letter-writer Henry Root is not dead, but still catching the unwary in his net. William Donaldson, the prankster who, posing as H. Root, writes to the famous encouraging them to say things they’ll regret, has been in correspondence with Graham Webster-Gardiner, chairman of the crackpot Conservative Family Campaign. The London Standard(19th Feb) revealed that after Henry Root had suggested to Webster-Gardiner that the CFC’s idea of “tagging and isolating homosexuals” was a good one, Mr W-G had replied: “I’m pleased that you agree with us about homosexuality… There is no doubt that God quite clearly pronounced judgement on those who acted unrighteously and this is clearly happening to those who abused themselves with drugs or used their bodies in abnormal and unnatural ways as the homosexuals do.” 

Despite the fact that its leadership seems to be showing signs of mental instability, The Conservative Family Campaign is, it seems, quite highly thought of in Downing Street. 

The old adage about the patients taking over the asylum has never seemed more applicable to the Government than it is today. 

*** 

HOW times have changed — and yet how they’ve stayed the same. The stodgy old Daily Telegraphactually carried an obituary for Divine (9 Mar), which I’m sure must have puzzled and outraged many of its elderly readers (particularly the one who seems to write in at fortnightly intervals accusing homosexuals of ‘purloining that delightful little word gay’). 

However, having failed to mention Mr Milstead’s sexual orientation in the obituary, the Telegraphsignalled the fact to its bewildered readers with the traditional euphemism “He was unmarried.” After years and years of sending establishment closets to their graves without making any direct reference to their gayness, the Telegraphjust can’t kick the habit — even with someone whose celebrity sprang almost entirely from his homosexuality. If there’s a Heaven in heaven, I’m sure Divine will be seeing the joke.

***

The Daily Telegraph(11 Mar) tells us that the Rev Tony Higton, speaking at a “mass meeting” of the Jesus-in-jackboots fraternity at Central Hall, Westminster, said that he “sensed demonic influence at work in the Synod.” This is not the first time Mr Higton has said, when people have the temerity to disagree with him, that Satan is responsible. 

As was demonstrated with James Anderton, nothing turns off the British public faster than a raving fanatic. We should, therefore, encourage Mr Higton to pursue this kind of lunatic ranting and see him disappear into the obscurity that such headbangers deserve.

***

Quotes of the month: “Has Mr Gummer no homosexual friends? As a former Chairman of the Conservative Party, how does he treat those of his colleagues in the party who are homosexual?” David Steel on John Selwyn Gummer’s attack on Church of England Bishops for not being ‘tough’ enough on gay clergy – Sunday Express(Mar) 

“The old traditionalist right and the new, loony left have conspired between them to give birth to Clause 28. It is a throwback to a more intolerant age. It has no place in the new Britain.” – editorial in the Sunday Times(13 Mar). 

***

THE  gay mass lobby of the House of Lords conducted in connection with Clause 28 produced possibly the biggest ever single-issue postbag for peers. And yet Lord Ardwick, writing in the London Standard(24 Feb) said: “For weeks we have been receiving a dozen letters a day from sad, frightened or angry homosexuals. They have overdone it, I’m afraid. The sheer weight and suspected orchestration of the lobby has irritated its opponents.” 

And yet if we’d all remained silent and done nothing, no doubt his Lordship would have said: “There is no significant opposition to this legislation, so it passes without comment.” 

Clever, isn’t it, how the argument can be rigged so that whatever we do, and however we do it, we’re sure to be doing it wrongly.


GAY TIMES 235, April 1998

Here’s a name for your notebook: The Rutherford Institute. Although it may not be familiar at the moment, it’s likely that it will become so in the future.

Nick Cohen drew attention to it in an article in The Observer last month. He described it as the “legal arm of far-right American evangelists” which has opened for business in London. Mr Cohen wrote: “At first sight the institute does not appear too sinister. Most of their time is spent defending shopworkers who were assured that they would not be forced to work on the Sabbath when the supermarkets launched their unlawful campaign to force through Sunday trading.”

John Wayne Whitehead, an attorney and “concerned Christian”, who runs the Institute’s head office in Charlottesville, Virginia, says that the organisation’s aim is to “promote religious freedom”.

Nick Cohen comments: “I’m all for religious freedom, as long as no-one tries to exercise it within a hundred miles of me… but the law the Rutherford Institute wants to uphold is God’s not man’s — a preference shared by the late Ayatollah Khomeini.” Cohen then unearthed something that John Wayne Whitehead wrote in 1982: “We must influence all areas of life including law and politics. The courts must place themselves under the authority of God’s law.”

And this is where the Rutherford Institute turns its attention to homosexuals. After abortion, says Nick Cohen, “homosexuals are the second target. The moral majority’s tactic is not to attack them for merely being gay — it knows unadorned hatred does not play well, even in America — but to advance the slightly more sophisticated charges that gays ‘promote’ homosexuality and demand special ‘privileges’.”

The first attack came in Oxfordshire, where one of the Rutherford Institute’s lawyers — a Mr Paul Diamond — has tried to invoke Section 28 for the first time in that law’s iniquitous history. He says that the local probation service sent some of its gay members to a “gay conference” which offered “counselling” aimed at indoctrinating them and turning them even further away from heterosexuality. The service’s Christian Fellowship then demanded equal time off for prayer meetings and “counselling” for those who want to be “born again”.

Paul Diamond has already provided legal advice to Lady Young in her successful campaign to amend the Human Rights Bill in the House of Lords (see report in last month’s Gay Times). What he fails to mention in his attack on the Oxfordshire probation service is that the so-called gay conference was actually a training course for homosexual officers to learn how to deal with attacks from the public — and from their homophobic colleagues.

The Rutherford Institute is a substantial organisation, and cannot be dismissed as a tinpot band of fanatics, as can so many of our home-grown “family groups”.

As the Institute’s leading light, John Wayne Whitehead says: “We can leave nothing untouched by the Bible. Like it or not the Church is at war.”

Yes, indeed, the church is at war — and it is becoming increasingly obvious against whom the war is being waged. Until quite recently, most of the anti-gay rhetoric in our newspapers emerged from the Tory Party, but now William Hague refuses to endorse the crude anti-gay slander that was so popular with his predecessors. The press has to look elsewhere for its source of supply, and religious bodies seem more than happy to make up the shortfall.

Indeed, The Mail, Express and especially The Daily Telegraph sometimes seem like little more than supplements to The Evangelical Times.

On March 3rd, The Telegraph reported that “a biological difference between lesbians and heterosexual women has been discovered for the first time”. This followed hot on the heels of reports that gay men’s fingerprints were different from those of straight men.

In its editorial column, The Telegraph immediately went into theological mode, and began ruminating on genetic determinism and morality in relation to homosexuality.

“During the Middle Ages,” the paper wrote, “theologians agonised about whether the concept of free will could be reconciled with God’s omnipotence. In Paradise Lost, John Milton wrestled with the question of how an all-powerful deity could allow man to defy Him. Today, genetics raises the same problem: if our personalities are innate and fixed, how can we, be condemned for any wrong-doing?”

The Telegraph, naturally, starts from the standpoint that homosexuality is wrong even if it is a natural phenomenon. (“It is becoming increasingly difficult to deny that homosexuality, at least in some cases, is present from birth; but this should have no bearing on the argument about whether homosexual behaviour is right.”) And so, it seems that gay people, unique among humans, must accept that they have been given natural sexual impulses (by God or evolution, depending on your standpoint) but must deny them utterly.

It is at this point that The Telegraph’s argument falls apart — as most theology does, under rational examination. The paper says: “Heterosexual men could point out that evolution has implanted the desire to combine their genes with as many women as possible. Would anyone regard this as an excuse [for promiscuity]?”

But if homosexuality is a natural impulse for homosexuals, as heterosexuality is for heterosexuals, why should it not be expressed within the same constraints as straight sex is supposed to be? It’s a Catch-22 situation for that dwindling band of gay people who are liable to believe in the Bible.

Meanwhile, up in Tyneside, the rebellion continues, as, according to The Mail on Sunday, three parishes have decided to break away from the Church of England “in protest at their new bishop’s support for homosexuals”. Bishop Wharton, for it is he, had the audacity to opine that loving homosexual relationships are not necessarily sinful.

The Reverend David Holloway, bigot-in-chief of these “rebels”, is quoted as saying: “There is an issue of elementary Biblical morality here. We believe our bishops should uphold traditional Christian teaching. Bishop Wharton clearly doesn’t and therefore it’s impossible for us to accept his ministry.”

But, as avowed atheist Roy Hattersley pointed out in his Guardian column, dissent itself is un-biblical, (“For rebellion is the sin of Witchcraft” — Samuel 15.22). It follows that if witchcraft is punishable by death (“Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” — Exodus 18.22) Mr Holloway and his followers must be immediately burned at the stake —preferably using faggots to do the job efficiently.

Roy Hattersley wearily made the point again about the selectivity of biblical literalists. Why do they only get excited about sins of the flesh, when much else is forbidden in the Bible? Hattersley points out that lending money for interest is strictly forbidden in the Bible and the Koran. This is only one of their blind spots.

Those gay people with religious feelings will find it difficult to come across any major (or minor) faith that will accept them on their own terms. The Catholic Church is certainly not the place to go if you’re sickened by the CoE’s authoritarians. The nearer you get to the Vatican, it seems, the more vehement the homophobia becomes. An article in The Sunday Times magazine told the story of Enrico Sini Luzi, the Pope’s personal Usher, who was murdered in strange circumstances in Rome. The police immediately assumed that he was the victim of a serial killer, operating in the city, who has already brutally murdered at least 20 gay men.

Ten days after Sini Luzi’s murder, a 39-year-old gay Sicilian man, Alfred Ormando, travelled to Rome and burned himself to death on the steps of St Peter’s Basilica. In his suicide note to his parents, he wrote that he wished to be forgiven for having “considered homosexuality normal and for having considered myself equal to heterosexuals… I beg your pardon for having contaminated the air that you breath with my own venomous breath, I beg forgiveness for the crimes of the world against my (homosexual) nature, so precious but so reviled by Christianity.”

Gay activists in Italy are outraged by the unforgivably repressive attitudes of the Vatican towards homosexuals, which drive so many to such desperate acts of self-destruction and murder.

So, given that Christians are increasingly hostile towards us, could gay people find solace in the other “great” world religion; Islam? Certainly not if they live in Afghanistan. There, The Guardian reported (a mite too flippantly for comfort, under the headline “Gay Sodomites Resurrected”) that three men “convicted of sodomy” had survived an attempted execution “in which they were buried alive for 30 minutes”.

The Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, had ordered the three to be left for half-an-hour under a stone wall knocked on top of them by a tank. He declared that their lives would be spared if they survived. They did survive — and were taken to hospital. Allah may be merciful, but his followers certainly aren’t.

So what about Judaism? Any joy there? In an interview with probably the most famous gay Jew in Britain, Rabbi Lionel Blue, The Daily Mail presented us with a picture of a reasonably happy homosexual. He lives contentedly in his dotage with his boyfriend in London. It’s only when you read the small print that you realise that Rabbi Blue has had to stretch the Jewish dogmas to breaking point in order to reconcile his homosexual lifestyle with the teachings of his faith.

He has also had to spend 40 years in psychotherapy to reach his present state of mind (you didn’t misread —that’s forty years). Not many of us want to waste that much time wrestling with our “faith” and spoiling what is the only really worthwhile thing in life — love.

Then The Independent reported that Phyllis Bowman, the deeply religious executive director of the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC), had won the right in Europe for anyone to spend as much money as they like on leafleting and broadcasting in the immediate period before an election, in order “to promote a favoured candidate or denigrate a rival”. Until now the maximum amount permitted to be spent was £5.

This, says The Independent, opens up the way for American-style election battles over the views of individual candidates on “single issues such as abortion, hunting and gay rights”.

Put this together with the considerable resources and determination of the Rutherford Institute, and religion’s war against gays could become extremely nasty at the next election.

GAY TIMES 236, May 1998

We haven’t seen such a media frenzy over homosexuality since Michael Barrymore faltered from the closet. But George Michael’s cottaging “shame”, “humiliation”, “degradation” etc. was, from the tabloid’s point of view, much more satisfactory.

A pop star waggling his willy at a pretty policeman in a public toilet? It was manna from heaven for pun-crazed sub-editors who came up with headlines such as “Zip me up before you go go” (The Sun), and “Wham, barn, flash in the pan” (The Daily Star). The two downmarket tabloids revelled in this stupid, childish sniggering throughout the whole episode. “He’s trying to give up fags” was The Sun’s retort, when it was revealed that George had a nicotine patch on his bottom when he flashed it at Marcello Rodriguez (the hunky “built like an athlete” policeman who arrested him). The Star said Michael “Got a big hand” when he finally emerged from his hideaway.

Of course, we’ve witnessed this kind of hysterical response before, when famous people’s sexuality has become an issue. From Oscar Wilde onward we’ve seen the same mixture of finger-wagging censure and cod sympathy from the media pundits. This time round you could take your choice from an almost endless parade of commentators. Richard Littlejohn thought George “can have sex with whom he likes, when he likes. But not where he likes.” Lesley White in The Sunday Times shook her head and wrote, “Having refused to play the game [of coming out], the star is now paying the price of a pick-and-mix tolerance, which cheers Ellen DeGeneres and movies like Philadelphia, but leaps on those ‘exposed’ as gay with all the schadenfreude our equal rights legislation makes a forbidden pleasure.”

So,would George have fared better if he’d been honest all along and not gone on about his “ambiguous” sexuality?

Would the papers have been less brutal? I think not. And neither does Matthew Parris, who wrote in The Sun: “What flaming hypocrisy all this fake astonishment and pumped-up commentary is.” But surely hypocrisy is the stock-in-trade of the tabloids? You can’t criticise them for fulfilling their raison d’être.

Mr Parris might still be astonished at the small papers’ capacity for being repeatedly shocked about homosexuality, as though each outed celebrity had personally invented it and it had never been heard of before. Groundhog Day haunts the papers on this one. We are doomed to see the same pattern repeated over and over again.

How many times have we had to hear columnists trying to fathom the reasons for gay men cottaging, and how many times will we have to hear it again? How many more times can they get away with the huge acres of newsprint devoted to why famous men act as though they were ordinary mortals? Why did Hugh Grant pay a hooker when he could have women falling at his feet? Why did George Michael hang about a toilet for sex when, apparently, half the world would gladly give him a hand to orgasm in more salubrious situations?

Another part of the pattern is the huge amount of confused, contradictory and misinformed bollocks that gets written about homosexuality during an event such as this. In The Mirror, Adrian Shaw said that “in America they call it cruising, after the Al Pacino film of the same name” while rent-a-gob agony aunt, Anne Atkins, said in The Sunday People that Michael’s arrest had been “hijacked” by gay rights campaigners. “To them the only sin in the world is staying in the closet,” she wrote. “If only [famous gays] would come out none of this would happen. What nonsense. If George Michael had kept his private life genuinely private none of this would have happened.”

Not only bollocks, but self-evident bollocks. Mr Michael did try to keep his private life private. And it still happened.

The People also claimed that “A gay Brazilian who eventually died of Aids was the man who persuaded George Michael he was homosexual.” (Mr Michael presumably had no idea that he was gay before he met his Brazilian brainwasher.)

Then came the notorious News of the World pictures of “George on the Prowl”. These showed our superstar hanging about the same park toilets a few months before his arrest. He is shown “furtively luring” another man into the conveniences before the two of them emerge three minutes later. In case you think this proves that George Michael suffers from premature ejaculation, The News of the World had tracked down the other man, Johnny Brown, who has convictions for cottaging, and got him to tell the tale. According to Mr Brown, he followed George into the lav and saw him exposing himself in a cubicle. Mr Brown refused George’s invitation to join him, assessing the situation as too risky.

But George can take some comfort from history. All the same hysteria and hyperbole accompanied Michael Banymore’s exit from the closet two years ago, and in the end it has done him no harm at all. Indeed, it may have been the saving of him.

If the pattern continues in the usual way, George Michael will not only eventually be forgiven his “slip up”, he will be hailed as a hero who survived tabloid torment. If he continues to produce music that the public likes, his career will flourish. The only annoyance he will have to put up with is having the description “the troubled gay pop-star” precede his name every time it appears in print.

GAY TIMES, June 1998

Whenever Peter Tatchell manages to stage an OutRage! stunt that hits the headlines, people immediately take up their polarised positions. Do his confrontational tactics retard progress or advance it? Does he get issues discussed, or does he just provide a diversion that allows them to be avoided?

Well, now that the dust has settled on the Good Friday pulpit storming, we can look to the reactions for some answers.[Note: Peter Tatchell climbed into the pulpit at Canterbury Cathedral during the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey’sEaster sermon,to protest at the Church’slack of support for gay rights. He was arrestedand charged under the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860.]

It goes without saying that the papers —broadsheet and tabloid alike —remain hostile to Peter’s tactics. Their verdict is clear — Tatchell is a publicity-seeking bully who “outs” people against their will. Or, as Norman Tebbit put it in his column in The Mail on Sunday, “When that repulsive exhibitionist, Mr Peter Tatchell, forced his way into the pulpit during the Easter sermon of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, was I the only one who prayed that just for a moment the Archbishop might forget himself and punch the ghastly creature on the nose? What a wonderful moment it would have been.”

This violent antipathy towards Mr Tatchell was echoed by Richard Littlejohn in The Sun, who wrote: “Peter Tatchell should have been dragged from Canterbury Cathedral and clubbed like a baby seal… I don’t know why television producers give him house room or newspapers publish his views. I’m conscious that, by writing about him myself, I’m adding to the publicity he craves… Tatchell, like all bullies, is a coward. He may think he was being terribly brave storming the pulpit… but jostling Dr Carey is the political equivalent of kicking cripples.”

Mr Littlejohn then suggests that Peter should try handing out leaflets at football grounds or at an IRA jamboree. “If he wanted to be really brave, he could always storm the Regent’s Park Mosque and denounce Islamic teaching on homosexuality.”

Now let’s look at these comments more closely. Both of them were written by men who are not known for their gentle behaviour. Norman Tebbit was famed for his thuggish political activities during the Thatcher era, and was even lauded for them. But that’s the sort of society he moves in: kick them, punch them, hate them, especially if you have power over them.

Tebbit’s loathing of homosexuality is well-known, as is Richard Littlejohn’s. The piece I have quoted was subsidiary to another attack in the same column — this time on George Michael. And yet, Mr Littlejohn claims that he is not homophobic. In an interview with The Guardian, he claimed that he couldn’t understand how people had come to the conclusion that he was “antagonistic” to gays. He dismissed the interviewer’s question about his incitement to murder Peter Tatchell as “over-analysis”. He said: “The whole point of that piece was not to say, literally, that Tatchell should be clubbed. It was about him being a coward and choosing a soft target.”

As The Guardian writer points out: “I wonder how many Sun readers would see it like that?”

The reason Richard Littlejohn writes as he does, without thought for the pain he causes or the damage he does, is that he is well paid for it. And that is the beginning and the end of the explanation. In fact, he is the highest-paid journalist in the country, and he makes a handsome living from harsh opinions. After all, which of his victims has the opportunity to hit back? Are the columns of The Sun open to them to reply to his violent incitements? Of course, not. What does Mr Littlejohn care? He’s safe behind News International’s razor wire. (And, just for the record, Peter Tatchell has challenged Muslim fanatics — at a rally for fundamentalists organised last year. But don’t let the facts get in the way of your spleen, Mr Littlejohn).

Peter Tatchell doesn’t only have to contend with hostility from straight bully boys, there are our traditional liberal supporters, too, as well as other gay people who disapprove. In The Guardian (rapidly becoming a large-size Daily Mail) Ros Coward thought that OutRage!’s stunt was “crass and insensitive” and advised that “if the gay rights movement doesn’t want a reaction to set in, they should distance themselves from the likes of Tatchell once and for all.” (In other words, we bring oppression on ourselves. This opinion is shared by The Daily Mail’s own Glenda Slag figure, Linda Lotta Pee).

Meanwhile, John Lyttle in The Independent said: “I fail to grasp why Peter Tatchell gives a toss about the Church of England and its edicts. The Church of England is about as popular – and influential – as volleyball. Who cares? It’s worse than counter-productive: it allows a dinosaur a new lease of life.”

This is bollocks, pure and simple. The Church of England may only have a negligible number of bums on pews, but its influence on our legislature and institutions is all-embracing. Twenty-six Anglican bishops sit in the House of Lords, altering legislation when they don’t approve (look at the amendment to the Human Rights Bill, carried with the support of the Bishops on a tide of homophobic rhetoric). The opposition to lowering the age of consent is being led by religious people most Anglican bishops included and they have power and influence far in excess of their support in the country. Institutions such as the Armed Forces, schools and Parliament will not change their attitudes until the Church of England does.

Next came Stonewall’s Simon Fanshawe in The Guardian. He asserts that the softly-softly approach works better than the loudly-loudly one. He says that Stonewall’s age of consent campaign has caught on like a “forest fire” and it was achieved with debate and without confrontation. He then asks Tatchell: “Who do you represent? Who asks you to zap Archbishops?”

Well, I have to ask Simon Fanshawe the same question – who elected you? I don’t remember voting on whether Stonewall could make behind-the-scenes deals with the Government on my behalf without consultation. Stonewall may be effective and professional, but it is not democratic, and if it makes a big mistake on our behalf, how do we get to punish it?

So what about the debate? Did Peter Tatchell’s antics get the issue back on to the agenda? Of course they did.

The Bishop of Oxford wrote to The Times: “Peter Tatchell is unfair to accuse the Archbishop of Canterbury of refusing to meet the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement. The Archbishop, through the House of Bishops, has set up a special group, which I chair and which contains three other diocesan bishops, specifically to engage with interested parties and to further the debate on human sexuality. We have twice met a delegation from the LGCM and will be continuing in dialogue with them…”

Such disingenuous double-talk gave an excellent opportunity for Richard Kirker of the LGCM to respond to the Bishop’s “evasions”: “The LGCM has been refused meetings with the Archbishop of Canterbury every year since his enthronement. He routinely meets with a wide range of groups working for change and missions within and outside the Church, not all of whom it could be said he was in agreement with. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that if he had more respect for our members he could have found time to meet us by now.”

And so it seems the polite approach has left the Archbishop of Canterbury unmoved and unwilling to talk or, as Dr Carey might put it: “Meet the poofs? No way, Jose!” In the face of this intransigence, what option is left but a direct approach (even if it was at a moment which might be described as “inconvenient” for our pouting primate)? What a shame it wasn’t Richard Kirker who stepped up into the pulpit, Filofax at the ready, advising the Archbishop that he could fit him in just about any time.

But Christians are nothing if not blinkered. A Mr A. D. Keith of Newcastle wrote to The Daily Express that “Tatchell and his cohorts fail to realise that Christians are not militant people and will be horrified by their hard-line tactics.” I wonder if Mr Keith has met Julian Brazier MP, or Dr Adrian Rodgers of Exeter?

He might also be interested in a letter in The Church Times from Tony Crowe, who wrote about the perils of confrontation, and the danger that it can “polarise deeply-held convictions”. Mr Crowe recalls an incident which took place in 1985 at St Luke’s Church in Charlton. “I celebrated Eucharist in thanksgiving for a friendship between two men that had lasted for 25 years. More than 100 attended, including several clergy and the late Bishop Edmund Capper, to show their support for the couple, who were deeply committed to each other. Before the service, the Thirty-Nine Articles were nailed to the church door. During the sermon, a born-again Christian invaded the pulpit and quoted verses from Romans. Intercessions were also interrupted by fundamentalist protesters. St Luke’s was a first-hand experience of homophobia, which united us in solidarity with those who had been oppressed because of their sexuality down the ages. Sensational press reports resulted in attacks on the rectory. My wife’s car was turned over. There were differences with local churches. There is still on-going dialogue with a neighbouring parish.”

Yes, indeed, Christians are certainly not militant, they’re peace-loving and non-violent.

***

The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has issued its annual report, and congratulates itself on its efficiency. It reveals that of 2,944 complaints it received, “nine out of ten involving a breach of its Code of Practice were resolved”. Sounds good, doesn’t it? But what exactly does “resolved” mean? Does it mean that they dragged the cases out for so long that the complainants just gave up? Or did they just get them a behind-the-scenes apology from the newspapers concerned? (“Now, let’s forget all about it, OK?”)

You may remember that I made a complaint to the PCC some months ago about a story in The Sun concerning a nurse in the USA who had allegedly killed a hundred of his patients. None of the other papers that reported the story mentioned the man’s sexuality, but The Sun headed its report “Gay nurse in 100 murders”. I complained to the PCC that this breached the discrimination clause of the Code of Practice, which forbids mention of a person’s sexuality unless it is “directly relevant” to the story. In a letter to the PCC, The Sun put up its hands and admitted “It may be we have breached the letter of Clause 13 of the Code of Practice”.

All cut and dried then? Not so. The PCC ruled that my complaint was “third party” in origin, and therefore not admissible. Only a complaint from the nurse himself would be entertained.

There is no appeal against this decision, but I still maintain that the way papers like The Sun abuse gay people is a matter of general concern, not just relevant to one individual.

I suppose my case was “resolved”, so I assume I’m counted as one of the 2,944 satisfied customers.

GAY TIMES 238, July 1998

If you count the number of times any individual has been mentioned in Media Watch over the years, I think Paul Johnson would probably top the list.

For years the great moralist has been raging against the sexual immorality of our society. He has written repeatedly, and in immoderate and hateful terms, about his disgust at homosexuality. He has called on God to punish us and those who support us. Indeed, once he called on the Almighty to cause Sir Michael Bishop, Chairman of Channel 4, to die in a plane crash. He said Sir Michael was “waging war against Christianity” by broadcasting “15 solid hours of sex-pervert propaganda known as Dyke TV”. Oh yes, Paul Johnson is definitely King of the Bigots.

The Daily Mail was Mr Johnson’s main platform for these fire and brimstone rants. Week after week, Johnson would berate the nation for its lack of virtue. His “we’re all going to damnation” essays were just the ticket for The Mail’s readership. Johnson was completely at home along with the flying saucers, ghosts and quackery that makes up most of the rest of The Daily Mail’s content.

But now Mr Johnson’s house of absolute moral values has come crashing down around his ears. On May 12th, The Daily Express carried a two-page interview with Gloria Stewart, a lady who has been having an affair with Mr Johnson for the past 11 years. She was enraged by an article he wrote in The Mail about his 40th wedding anniversary. In it, he extolled the virtues of a long and happy married life with his wife Marigold.

Ms Stewart revealed that, not only was her relationship with Mr Johnson a sexual one — it was kinky with it! She told how Johnson “loved to be spanked, and this was a big feature of our relationship”. Oh joy of joys!

“Basically I’m a Ten Commandments Christian,” Johnson told Lynda Lee-Potter in The Mail, back in 1987, although presumably now he is a Nine Commandments Christian (or isn’t that Eight, given the lies he must have told his wife?). Then, in 1992, he told Mick Brown of The Daily Telegraph: “One reason why I think the West has succeeded, as opposed to the Muslim world, is that we have a tradition of monogamous marriage.” In 1993, Johnson wrote in The Spectator that he considered “sexual licence, the easy availability of divorce, the decline of monogamous marriage” to be the great evils of the modern world. “What I cannot bear is humbug,” he wrote in the same piece.

When the Tory Government got itself into bother over the Back to Basics campaign, Mr Johnson had a field day. In 1994, in relation to Tim Yeo, a Government minister who was forced to resign for impregnating a woman who was not his wife, Mr Johnson wrote in The Mail, “Adultery is wrong and should be punished. If the offender occupies a high position, then the punishment should be correspondingly severe… The apparently irresistible rise of promiscuity is a sin crying out to heaven for punishment.”

There are reams and reams of similar stuff in the Paul Johnson memorial archive. While he berated others for their sins, he was privately committing those same sins himself.

Ah, hypocrisy, Johnson is thy name!

But, of course, Mr Johnson has friends in high places in the media. His downfall was not reported in The Mail; it was not mentioned in the Murdoch press, either. But in those newspapers that owe no allegiance to the crony-network to which Mr Johnson belongs, there was little mercy.

Victor Lewis-Smith in The Mirror said Paul Johnson “ought to be horsewhipped on the steps of his club” but then thought better of it. “The trouble is, Mr Johnson would probably pay good money to be horsewhipped, and his club is probably called the Pussy-A-Go-Go.”

Christopher Hitchens in The Observer wrote a vitriolic attack on Johnson, obviously settling an old score. But it made great reading. After rubbishing Johnson’s academic posturings, Hitchens wrote: “On the moral front, he employs the Church’s teachings in the same way that a hopeless drunkard uses a lamppost. Over the course of an 11-year illicit liaison, he must have gone to confession fully intending to repeat the sin as soon as possible. To say this makes him a hypocrite is to say the least of it. What it mainly shows is that the sexual code of the Palestinian Bronze Age, with its sinister fairy tales about reward and punishment, is useless, even to those who affect to believe in it.”

Suzanne Moore in The Guardian was less concerned about Johnson’s sexual hypocrisy, more that he promotes himself as Tony Blair’s advisor on family values.

A N Wilson, on the other hand, mounted a defence of the reptile in The London Evening Standard (which, coincidentally, is in the same stable of papers as The Mail). “There are plenty of ways for us journalists to show our loathing of one another,” Wilson wrote, “without resorting to the underhand tricks displayed in The Daily Express.”

Oh, please! Cant on top of hypocrisy, humbug on top of sanctimony. What about the hundreds of innocent people who’ve been destroyed by journalistic underhand tricks? Johnson deserves all the humiliation he gets — so let’s give him some more.

Not only is Paul Johnson professionally repellent, his personal relationships leave much to be desired, too. He may have written rapturously about his 40-year marriage to Marigold, but, as Christopher Hitchens reveals: “In order to make a point in a crowded restaurant, he once struck his wife in the face. Those who intervened were threatened with violence in their turn. In his prose and in his person he repeatedly resorts to wild and lurid threats.”

And his florid, ginger-headed appearance has been likened to “an explosion in a pubic hair factory”.

I have waited a long time to see Paul Johnson get his come-uppance, so you will forgive me for wallowing in it for just a moment longer. For Johnson has not only betrayed his saintly wife, his credulous readers and his children, he has also made a mockery of the religion which he purports to uphold with every fibre of his being.

Mr Johnson has written approvingly of the way that Islam enforces its own moral codes. He seems to think that the choppings and stonings and lashings (especially the lashings) are a good way to keep sinners in line. He will be happy to know that Iran has recently downgraded the penalty for adultery from stoning to fifty lashes. No doubt he will be on the next plane — so long as the flogger is a nubile young girl dressed in leather.

We should not forget that last month two young men in Southport were jailed for 18 months for employing other men to whip them with belts. How come Paul Johnson isn’t banged up, too? Surely he deserves to be punished more severely than most. Or, as Suzanne Moore said: “Johnson’s advice to David Mellor was that he should endeavour to ‘rehabilitate himself with some worthy activity, involving self-sacrifice’. May I suggest that for once, Johnson walks the walk as well as talks the talk and makes the ultimate sacrifice by never writing another word.”

I’ll say amen to that.

***

And while we’re on the topic of grotesque public figures, let us turn our attention to Ann Widdecombe MP, newly-promoted shadow minister for health. Ms Widdecombe, it will be remembered, embraced the Catholic religion a couple of years ago because she did not approve of the CoE’s acceptance of women priests. She has been assaulting us with her personal morality ever since.

We must also remember that this was the woman who stood up in Parliament when the Tories were in power, and justified Michael Howard’s policy of chaining pregnant prisoners to their hospital bed. I remember, at the time, writing to my own MP when I read that another prisoner — a man in this instance who was dying of stomach cancer —had also been chained to his bed during his final hours. Once again, Ms Widdecombe claimed this was justifiable. Ah yes, the joys of being morally superior.

The saintly MP for Maidstone naturally joined the campaign against an equal age of consent for gay men. Writing in The Daily Mail under the heading “Protect your sons from legal gay sex at 16” she describes Labour as “giving its imprimatur to sodomy at 16” and describes the Parliamentary moves towards equality as “the whole revolting business”.

Ms Widdecombe speaks contemptuously of “compassion”, saying that it now just means political correctness. She claims that it is not possible to disapprove of things you find horrible any more, and then goes on to do exactly that, at great length and in a national newspaper.

Ms Widdecombe says in an interview in The Mail that William Hague has done the right thing in getting married: “He has got engaged, he has got married and presumably — in due course — there will be a family. That’s the right progression.”

Oh is it? So why hasn’t she taken that path herself? Why is she still “a spinster” (a term she uses of herself) if she thinks marriage is the “right” way? Another “do as I say, not as I do” merchant.

She reveals that she once had a “chaste” relationship with a man at college, but was relieved when it ended.

Ms Widdecombe is presently being promoted by the right-wing press as the possible saviour of the Tory party (“darling-ised” as The Guardian puts it). She is lauded for her sense of humour and her self-deprecation. The Daily Express even thinks she may be the next Tory leader.

In that case, let’s hope her lousy party never regains office.

***

Those gay Christians who thought that the Lambeth Conference was going to bring them some kind of breakthrough with the Archbishop of Canterbury must be seeing their hopes diminish by the minute. The Church Times reports that “Two bishops with opposing views on homosexuality have drafted a paper which they hope could form the basis of consensus at the Lambeth Conference this summer.”

The bishops in question are John Spong of Newark, New Jersey (pro-gay and a non-believer in most of what the Bible says) and the Reverend Peter Lee of South Africa (definitely anti).

They have produced between them what they call A Catechesis on Homosexuality (what is it with holy Joes and pretentious, inflated language — can’t they just use English, for God’s sake?) Anyway, in this “catachesis” they suggest that the Conference should “take no vote that would imply that one side or the other had won or lost the debate”. They say that if no consensus can be reached (and how could it ever be?), then “an international panel should be set up by the Archbishop of Canterbury.”

Christ, not another bleeding international panel. Just the thing for ensuring that nothing happens for at least another ten years.

But, of course, attempts at bringing peace and harmony to the Church of England can only result in further conflict. And it wasn’t long in coming. Canon Michael Saward of St Paul’s Cathedral says that the Lambeth Conference must “massively ignore whatever John Spong says.” And George Austin, the Archdeacon of York says that the plan is doomed to failure because “proponents of the gay lobby have no intention of allowing the real issue to be debated.”

What a fabulous bun-fight the Lambeth Conference is going to be (and, my dear, the frocks!).

GAY TIMES, August 1998

Our famous victory in the Commons on June 22nd was long overdue [Note: MPs reduced the homosexual age of consent from 18 to 16.], but we must not lose sight of the fact that, although we may have won this particular battle, we are a long way from winning the war. We may have convinced the House of Commons — as yet we haven’t convinced the House of Lords — of the justness of our cause about the age of consent, but we certainly don’t seem to have convinced the country at large. Not if opinion polls are to be believed.

An NOP survey last year revealed that 53 per cent of the public are opposed to lowering the gay age of consent, while only 37 per cent supported it. Teletext did a phone vote on June 23rd, asking the question, “Do you support MPs who voted to lower the age of consent from 18 to 16?” There were 5,410 votes — 69 per cent said no, while 31 per cent said yes.

It can be argued that Parliament must lead public opinion and not follow it. Our representatives are supposed to examine the issues in detail on our behalf and make informed decisions about the wisdom or otherwise of legislation. We pay them to study the facts, listen to the arguments, weigh the implications, and then make decisions in the light of this knowledge.

We should be thankful that this is the brand of democracy we favour in this country, because if we made our legislative decisions by referenda, Britain would be a deeply unpleasant place to live. The frequent hysterical outbursts calling for hanging, flogging, castration and the sending home of “immigrants” give some indication of what I mean. Part of the reason for this social conservatism is, of course, that the majority of the population get their information from the media, and the majority of the popular printed media still has a very specific right-wing agenda. Tabloid readers are fed a daily mishmash of bigotry, ignorance, superstition, half-truths and plain propaganda.

Imagine if MPs had to depend on The Daily Mail or The Daily Telegraph for their information and advice. Imagine if Tony Blair took his lead from The Sun (and no cheap cracks about ‘he does, doesn’t he?’). Imagine if the only source of debate about the age of consent campaign had come from newspapers.

“This vile gay charter is wrong, wrong, wrong!” wrote Jim Sillars, a columnist on The Scottish Sun. “Homosexual relations don’t produce homosexual children who grow into prospective sexual partners for others like them. So there is no stock of homosexual young males. The answer is to legalise it and get the age as low as possible to ensure a continuous supply of sexual partners.”

Barmy? Extreme? You ain’t heard nothing yet. Take this, from Richard (“I’m not anti-gay”) Littlejohn in The Sun: “The momentum behind the age of consent campaign has come from predatory older homosexuals who like their sexual partners as young as possible —’chickens’, in gay parlance. The campaign to lower it still further to 14 is already underway.”

The Daily Telegraph editorialised. “Monday’s vote can be seen for what it really was: a licence for the exploitation of children, an attack on every parent in the land, and a disgusting act of hypocrisy by our ‘family-friendly’ Government … Prejudice against homosexuality is justified — not because homosexual men or women are wicked, but because the homosexual condition itself is usually an unhappy one, and one that no loving parent would wish on his child … The Government, and most MPs, fret about young boys buying fireworks, but have voted to allow them to be sodomised. Sooner than Tony Blair thinks, parents will come to view him with contempt for espousing ‘family values’ while effectively voting for child abuse. Their children have been set free — but before long, they will be everywhere in chains.”

Over in Scotland on Sunday, Gerald Warner wrote: “The paedophiles’ charter … legalising the sodomy of 16-year olds … was a slap in the face to every parent in Britain … The question our legislators should have asked is: will any young man’s life be ruined because he is not sodomised between his 16th and 18th birthday? If the Lords do not reverse this aberration by the Commons, there will have to be a campaign to repeal it under the next Government.”

And naturally, according to tradition, we had the ritual conjuring-up of Lynette Burrows, who, for some reason, is regarded as an expert on homosexual rights by the right-wing press. In The Sunday Telegraph she wrote, under the heading “Into the hands of paedophiles”, that 92 per cent of gay men in a Project Sigma study engaged in anal sex, or “buggery”, as she so lubriciously calls it. Having regaled us with this statistic, she turns her attention to homosexual group sex, and then makes a somewhat tenuous connection between those who have group sex and sinister paedophiles. She claims that when Holland liberalised its own laws, it resulted in the wholesale exploitation of young boys in pornography. “The paedophile sex industry is very big business in Holland and the lucrative trade in photographs and videos of young boys, for a world-wide market, is a magnet for men who specialise in staged group sex.”

The connection here eludes me, but Mrs Burrows is the expert, so what she says must be true. (By the way, Mrs Burrows is correct in saying that The Sigma report indicates that 92 per cent of gay men have had anal sex. She forgot to add ‘at some time in their life’, which doesn’t mean they have it all the time. Indeed, the report qualifies the statistic with the comment, “anal intercourse is not a particularly frequent part of the sexual repertoire, even among men who currently engage in the activity.” Come on, Lynette, dear, can’t you make your arguments honestly?)

And so the newspapers lined up in a fairly predictable way. The Telegraph, Mail, and Sun opposed the change with frightening determination. The Telegraph even went so far as to unearth last July’s infamous letter from Peter Tatchell to The Guardian, which made the case for an age of consent of 14, and then lead its front page with it on June 22nd: “Activists to push for gay sex at 14” was the bold headline. It was misleading to the point of dishonesty, but such are the familiar tactics of our opponents.

Indeed, apart from the personal opinion of Peter Tatchell (which he assures me he had not reiterated in the run-up to the debate), which was used as a merciless club to beat us with, the only other major source of ammunition was from the Church. “Bishops lead fight against moves to lower age of consent,” reported The Telegraph. Indeed, our 26 senior Holy Joes, led by their be-frocked and befuddled leader, George Carey, issued a statement that, “Pressures are at work to legitimise any and every lifestyle, irrespective of any difference of value and quality between them.” The bishops said they were concerned that the change would “send wrong messages to young people and society as a whole.”

It was at this point that those newspapers who took our side kicked in. Joan Smith in The Independent on Sunday spoke for many of us when she wrote: “I have had quite enough of bishops. I am tired of hearing their views on sex; I don’t want to know what the Church thinks I, or anybody else, should do in bed; I don’t care what the Bible has to say about homosexuality, fornication or masturbation. The phrase ‘I am a practising Christian’ is guaranteed, right now, to make me throw up.”

In The Independent, David Aaronovitch pointed up the stupidity of the idea that young men would abandon heterosexuality in droves now that they can practise “homosexual genital activity” at 16. “Are you saying that heterosexuality is so tedious, so unattractive that, given half a chance, the more red-blooded of today’s teenage boys would soon find themselves cracking whips over PVC-clad muscle men in Berlin? [Right-wing commentators] seem to believe that most of us are repressed homosexuals, nailed with difficulty to the narrow board of conventional family life. Speak for yourself boys.”

On the bishops and their “wrong messages” he asked: “What wrong messages? That we value gay teenagers as much as straight ones? That we believe that equality before the law will turn happy hets into homos? Or is George Carey’s concern perhaps that a whole load of those notoriously gay vicars will suddenly — and embarrassingly — turn from the basses and begin to proposition the altos in the church choir?”

The London Evening Standard changed sides — last time it was supportive, this time anti. Unexpectedly lining up in the gay corner, with The Guardian, Independent and Observer, were The Express and The Times. The Express, under its new editor, Rosie Boycott (previously of The Independent), has taken a definite leftward swing. This must be somewhat bewildering for its traditional readers, accustomed as they are to the kind of raving right-wing rhetoric that we’ve already seen from The Mail and The Telegraph. Ms Boycott has taken with her from the Indy John Lyttle, the virtually unreadable gay columnist, and rumour has it that other high-profile gay writers will follow.

The Times carried an extraordinary editorial on Pride day, giving its assessment of the current state of gay politics. The paper hopes that the community is not going to fracture in the way that the black community has in America. It draws parallels between those who want integration and those who want to preserve a separate culture. When this option was given to American blacks, it led to the forming of militant separatist groups like The Nation of Islam, which, the paper says, “may have enhanced black pride but only at the price of black prosperity. Gay politics here will soon stand at a crossroads. The real choice is between outreach and OutRage! It would not serve the majority of homosexuals well, in the words of Martin Luther King 30 years ago, to be equal but separate.” It was almost surreal to see The Times fretting itself over the welfare of the gay community.

No such sophisticated thinking, though, in the religious press. The Catholic Herald attempted to “name and shame” those religious MPs who had voted for equality. In an editorial, the paper accused the Catholic MPs and their Anglican colleagues, including the Prime Minister, of “betraying the people’s trust” and defying religious leaders. It said that the vote “marked a new low in this country’s slide into moral degeneracy.”

Over in The Church Times, Ken Batty, a gay Christian, was telling off the readership in an article entitled “Why do you pick on this sin only?” He wrote: “When I told my gay friends that I was a Christian, they reacted rather like the friends of a Jew who has revealed that he is a Nazi. They could not understand why I consorted with what they see as ‘the enemy’. And when I told people in my church that I was gay, they reacted rather like the friends of a Nazi who revealed to them that he is a Jew. Initially they marked me out as different, but eventually their discomfort became more open, and I felt forced to leave. I do not go to church any more. Disillusioned, I am happier at home. If they do not want me, then I do not want them.”

This is fine by me. I think all gay Christians should take the same line — then the Archbishop of Cant would know about it. Indeed, Mr Batty finishes by saying: “The commonest response among my lesbian and gay friends to Peter Tatchell’s invasion of Carey’s pulpit on Easter morning is to wonder why he bothered. Why should any gay person want anything to do with the church? The church wants nothing to do with us … I would like to agree with them. Only one thing stops me taking this view of the Church entirely. My partner of the past 14 years is a Church of England clergyman.”

Well, Ken Batty, why not get your partner round to the careers office and see if they can fix him up with a meaningful job that would allow him some dignity? Then he will be able to openly fight his bosses when they try to reverse the reform in the House of Lords.

And speaking of the bench of bishops, which, together with Lady Young and other Christian peers, is (as I write) drawing up plans to sabotage our hard-won amendment, perhaps they should take note of something written by a Cambridge professor of philosophy, Ralph Wedgwood, in a letter to The Times: “Although the lowering of the age of consent is not accepted by the majority of the people, it follows directly from a basic principle of human rights, which is accepted all over the world: the principle that it is wrong for governments to discriminate between classes of people without an uncontroversial and compelling justification. On the other hand, the traditional Church of England view that homosexuality is a sin is a sectarian religious position, which is not even accepted today by all Anglican bishops, let alone others, such as Quakers, Unitarians or Buddhists. When a sectarian religious view conflicts with a universal principle of human rights, it is clear which of the two should prevail.”

So stick that up your cassocks, your eminences, and leave us alone.

GAY TIMES 240, September 1998

What a month! From cheers to tears in the space of a fortnight. But how did it happen? How did a bunch of arrogant geriatric bigots manage to snatch the prize from our fingers? And how are we going to get it back? [Note: The amendment that would have reduced the homosexual age of consent from 18 to 16 had been passed in the House of Commons but was removed in the House of Lords.]

Make no mistake, our enemies know they have won a major battle, and they intend to capitalise on it in a big way. Mr Straw may have promised to restore the age of consent legislation at the first opportunity, but this time he’s going to find himself up against a formidable propaganda assault from rampaging religionists and self-styled protectors of the young.

In the House of Lords, Lady Young said that her campaign was supported by the vast majority of the population, and she cited an opinion poll, taken last year, which indicated that 73 per cent of respondents had opposed lowering the age of consent from 18 to 16. Polls taken after the Lords debacle painted a similar picture. In The Daily Telegraph (July 28th), a Gallup poll indicated that 65 per cent wanted the age of consent to “remain at 18”. An NOP survey reported in The Sun showed that 68 per cent were “against lowering the gay age of consent to 16”. Teletext asked its viewers to phone in and say “yes” or “no” to the question

“Do you agree with Dr George Carey’s view that legalising gay sex at 16 was ‘a grave error’?” Of the 7,000 or so who voted, 72 per cent said yes.

Yet we cannot take these polls at headline value. Analysis shows that younger people (those in the 18-24 age group) overwhelmingly support our call for equality, while those over 65 are very much opposed. But there is an anomaly. The Telegraph poll shows that general tolerance for homosexuals is growing. Gallup found that 42 per cent thought homosexual acts were “morally equivalent” to heterosexual acts (only 39 per cent thought they were inferior).

Maybe this is why there’s an alarming anti-gay frenzy being whipped up by the religious lobby around this issue; now unable to win their argument with rational debate, they’ve resorted to distortion, manipulation and sheer lies. And the right-wing press is happy to peddle it all with enthusiasm.

Lady Young, for instance, seems quite happy to play down her true motivations and keep her support network behind the scenes. She makes no secret of her Christianity. But what kind of Christian is she? Her choice of associates tells the whole story. Take the Rutherford Institute, for example, the legal arm of far-right US evangelists (see MediaWatch in the April issue of Gay Times for the full, sinister details).

The Rutherford Institute supported her during her attempts in the House of Lords to get religion exempted from the Human Rights Bill. She succeeded, by using anti-gay scare-mongering tactics. She never mentioned the Rutherford Institute during the whole of that campaign, even though they were pivotal in advising her.

I am not sure what part these undesirable American imports played in her age of consent campaign, but my suspicion is that they were pulling the strings somewhere in the background, because they have stated plainly that they intend to fight the advance of gay rights with everything in their power.

How does she get away with inviting raving US fundamentalists, with a specifically stated anti-gay agenda, effectively to interfere in our legislature? She is abusing her power and position, and she is doing it under the cloak of being reasonable.

Baroness Young is also closely associated with the fanatically homophobic Family and Youth Concern evangelical group, and at a press conference given in the House of Lords she was, according to The Independent, “flanked by two young men from the Christian Institute [another bunch of homophobic zealots], who handed out a pamphlet entitled ‘gay pressure on the young’”. Lady Young tries to present an acceptable face for this mish-mash of extremists. In reality, she acts as a rallying point for fanaticism.

But Lady Young and her covert crew aren’t the only ones beavering away to our disadvantage. On the day before the age of consent debate in the Lords, the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote in The Times that granting equality would be “a grave moral error”. He also tried to justify his new “muscular” stance by quoting Lady Young’s much-vaunted opinion poll. “Very many people in our land share our concern,” he said.

But claiming to speak for the people is a dangerous trick. After all, if he’s going to be consistent on this, Dr Carey is going to have to change his tune on the topic of euthanasia. After all, 82 per cent of the population support a change to allow death with dignity for the terminally ill (according to The British Social Attitudes Survey, 1996). Yet, the Lambeth Conference has just announced that the Anglican Church will never support euthanasia. Why not, George, given that “very many people in our land” want it legalised?

Carey says society is in need of “a strong moral framework — that is, one based on Christian principles.” If Dr Carey’s own behaviour is anything to go by, Christian principles leave a lot to be desired. He has said, for instance, that sex is reserved for married heterosexuals only, and that everybody else, gay or straight, must remain celibate.

But on the BBC, on July 26th, he was asked how he stood on the question of the growing number of heterosexual couples who were living together out of wedlock. Shifting in his seat, he said that many of these relationships were “akin to marriage” and advised them to tie the knot, but, significantly, did not condemn their co-habitation. The interviewer drew attention to his apparent contradiction — is sex strictly reserved for those in holy matrimony or isn’t it? Or is it just exclusively denied to homosexuals? So much for his claim not to be homophobic.

It is this kind of weasely squirming that makes Dr Carey look every bit the nincompoop he is. And I am not alone in thinking this. David Aaronovitch, in The Independent, wrote, “Carey’s position, when cleared of all the pompous penumbra [is that]… the equalisation of the age of consent will mean boys of 16 or 17 will become prey to the wiles of older men and, as a consequence, will be seduced into a lifetime of gayness when otherwise they might have grown up to be decent, God-fearing heterosexuals. It ain’t so, George.”

Aaronovitch says that he respects the Archbishop’s right to hold any opinion he wants, but not the power he has to inflict it onto other people by force of law. “Archbishop Carey has allied himself with the forces of intolerance and reaction, and is using his power as leader of the established Church to assist an unelected group of backwoodspersons to frustrate the decisions of the elected chamber… He hides the nature of his objection behind pomposity and presumption.”

Over in The London Evening Standard, Matthew Norman wrote: “Dr Carey is a blathering twit… Perhaps fearful of bringing on himself a truly appalling recruitment crisis, he eschewed stating plainly his apparent belief that gay sex is wicked in the eyes of God, and instead voiced his concern about the vulnerability of confused boys — an argument founded on the unchristian supposition that older gay men are marauding sexual vultures; and the illogical assumption that, where the sexuality of heterosexual 16-year olds is fixed, homosexual ones are just going through a phase.”

Meanwhile, at the Lambeth Conference, homophobia swirled out of control while denials of homophobia were issued seemingly on the hour. The Bishop of Mityana, Uganda wrote in The Independent that gays, like prostitutes, must be “brought to their senses… made to repent and be healed”. Another African bishop compared homosexuality with bestiality and child abuse. The Bishop of Akure, in Nigeria, said he would never meet gay Christians. He told The Independent: “I won’t listen to them, because it would be a sheer waste of time… As far as I’m concerned, it is against the word of God. Nothing — I repeat nothing — can make us African bishops budge, because we judge what God says as firm.” He then denied being a bigot.

But the influence of the ubiquitous US evangelists may be more pernicious than we ever imagined. The Daily Telegraph reported that “An advertising campaign by Christian political organisations, defining homosexuality as a curable ailment… pushed the ‘culture war’ to the top of the agenda of forthcoming elections. The White House accused conservatives of ‘gay-bashing’ for political advantage.” Indeed, the headline over the piece said it all “Homosexual ‘ailment’ fills vacuum in US politics.”

The Christian Coalition/Republican Party axis in America has realised for a long time that homosexuality is a “hot button” issue that it might be able to exploit successfully, and this was explored further in a major article in The Guardian about “the American backlash against gay rights”. The right-wingers are whipping up a humdinger of a reaction with clever tactics that appear to show “concern” for the “sick” people who are homosexual. They are using the “ex-gay” movement to great effect in their advertising. See — all these people have been cured of their sinful illness, which shows it’s just a perverted choice.

Maybe it is the same thinking which is leading to the revival of intolerant religion in this country. Perhaps, like his fellow religionists across the Atlantic, Dr Carey thinks gay-bashing can regenerate his own dying church. What, last month, we thought was our success story may turn out to be their success story.

The next year is going to be crucial, and the religious lobby is ready. They are fired up with their successes and they are now on an all-out crusade, not only to stop our progress but to push their own agenda. Mr Blair is going to find himself in a strange situation, caught squarely between his party’s liberalism and his own oft-proclaimed religious beliefs. How is he going to balance the conflicting demands of Stonewall and Lambeth Palace? Of Peter Tatchell and Baroness Young?

Peter Oborne, in The Daily Express, doesn’t think we can depend on him to keep his promises. “If the Prime Minister really cared about gay rights,” Mr Oborne wrote, “he would have instantly made it clear that the Commons was not going to be pushed around by the Lords on this vital matter of high principle… It is easy to see Mr Blair sitting down with his press secretary … and saying: “Let’s drop the gay vote, Alistair. And let’s blame the Lords.”

It is not the first time this has happened. Six months ago, the House of Commons voted by a huge majority to outlaw fox-hunting. Just as in the gay rights vote, New Labour MPs were near unanimous. Just as in the gay rights vote, the Prime Minister purported to be in favour. And just as in the gay rights vote, opposition in the Lords was used as an excuse for caving in. The question is often asked: what does Tony Blair believe in? No one has yet come up with a satisfactory answer.

Of course, he can’t “drop” the age of consent issue, because of rulings from Europe, but the repeal of Section 28 and other issues might be a different matter.

The next wave of anti-gay propaganda has already begun. The Daily Mail carried a two-page article on July 30th, with the headline: “At 16 he was lured into a homosexual affair with a much older man. Yet now Ian has a wife and child and knows he was never gay at all. What does he say to all those who want to lower the gay age of consent?” The same article reappeared, verbatim, in the following Sunday’s edition of The People, decorated with a ticker-tape headline saying: “Are you listening Mr Blair?”

It will get worse before it gets better. Can we depend on Tony to stand up to it and do what is right? Or is Baroness Young riding a tsunami

that cannot be stopped?