GAY TIMES January 2001

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

Has Mr Blair done the principled thing in forcing through the equalisation of the age of consent? Or has he seen another blasting coming from the European Court of Human Rights and thought that a bit of flak from the Tories in the Lords was preferable to another adverse judgment from Strasbourg?

Whatever his motivation, you can’t fault the man’s determination in the face of a major onslaught. He could easily have put up his hand and said: “Not my fault, voters – it’s those Europeans again who are making me do it.” But then again, that would have given his Eurosceptic critics the ammunition they needed to give him another battering.

It’s a dirty game, and although the Labour Party was the major target of the reactionary rags that call themselves newspapers, there is no doubt that gay people suffered heavy collateral damage after another high profile face off.

All the same, we have reason to be cheerful. One of the major aims of the gay struggle has now been achieved, and it is time for us to step back from the fray for a moment and decide what our next step should be.

What can we learn from this latest battle in the struggle for equality?

The first thing is that our most potent enemies have discovered that violent opposition to gay rights can bring them support from the large constituency of bigots that still infest this country. Whether it’s the Tories or the loony religious lobby, opposing justice for homosexuals has become a major area of activity for them. The fact that Mr Blair is such a high-profile Christian also makes his present stand against intolerance so brave and admirable. For some, though, it is a mystery why a man who espouses “family values” and Christian principles should be so passionately sympathetic to gay demands.

“The question one would like to know about Mr Blair’s religion,” wrote Richard Ingrams, in the Observer, “is to what extent it impinges, if at all, on his political decisions. Last week, for example, the Daily Telegraph published a letter from the heads of all the Christian churches, including the Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, opposing the Government’s decision (now enshrined in law) to lower the age of homosexual consent to 16. One would love to know how a committed Christian could push through a law which apparently offends not only the main Christian churches but Muslim and Jewish religious leaders too.”

Meanwhile in The Mail on Sunday, Peter Dobbie was also perplexed about Mr Blair’s espousal of family values and his commitment to gay rights. He made the usual connection between the disintegration of “the traditional family” and giving justice to homosexuals. “It raises the basic question of how Mr Blair can shy away from recommending marriage while condoning so vehemently sex between 16-year old boys. It is a message that goes out loud and clear. To propose that to support marriage is to be partisan and hurtful to a minority while insulting the majority by bowing to the desires of a vocal minority is hypocritical and, yes, hurtful.”

I’ve longed for someone to challenge this Daily Mail-created myth that being pro-gay automatically makes you “anti-family”. At last, Suzanne Moore, also in The Mail on Sunday, did it. “It cannot be said often enough that gay people are born into families and often raise families,” she wrote. “Nor can discriminating against gays do anything to strengthen the institution of marriage. We heterosexuals do a fine job of screwing up marriages all by ourselves. Making gays scapegoats for our failure to maintain relationships is as daft as blaming our high divorce rate on global warming.”

The Daily Mirror, too, ever loyal to the Blair camp, editorialised: “What the Government has done is sensible and fair. What on earth does it have to do with family values? In fact one of the difficulties for many gay people is knowing that they will never have children. But others won’t have children, either. Ann Widdecombe, the Tory Home Affairs spokesman, for example. No-one accuses her of being anti-family.”

(The Mirror failed to mention Michael Portillo and William Hague, too, are both without offspring. And the relentlessly homophobic Archbishop of Canterbury never mentions to his dwindling band of followers that his precious Jesus wasn’t exactly a family valuer, either. Quite the reverse, in fact.)

Of course, such common sense will have no effect on the usual suspects, particularly The Daily Mail, which will continue to insist that giving right to homosexuals means the end of all family life as we know it.

Norman Tebbit was also intrigued to know how and why Mr Blair is pushing a “New Pink Labour policy”. He asked in The Mail on Sunday: “Just what is the hold that the extreme homosexual lobby has over this Government that in the face of public opinion Mr Blair persists in this legislation?”

Poor old Tony. If he stands up for what he believes he’s accused of being in the pocket of Stonewall, and if he backtracks he’s condemned for kow-towing to The Daily Mail.

Perhaps he is taking notice of something written by Mary Ann Sieghart in The Times under the headline: “Why Blair can afford to ignore the Mail”. She had been on a Radio 4 phone-in show about “gay marriage”. The producer had hoped for argy-bargy but had found that “by a ratio of four to one those listeners that called the programme thought that gay couples who stayed together should have the same beneficial tax and pension treatment as heterosexual married couples.”

Ms Sieghart concluded from this, and from the British Social Attitudes Survey published the same week, that “society is becoming more permissive in its attitudes to pre-marital sex, homosexuality, sex on TV, and abortion. And, what is more, those of us who are liberal in our youth are not becoming more conservative as we age.”

She discerns a real culture change that is at odds with what The Daily Mail preaches. “Most of its readers don’t live like that,” she wrote. “And I wonder how many of them still subscribe to the old dogmas that sex is smut, asylum-seekers are bogus, liberal means ‘politically correct’, working mothers are selfish and homosexuality threatens the family. It’s a peculiarly dated agenda, which was passé enough when Mr Passé himself, John Major, was Prime Minister. Now it tastes like yesterday’s toast.”

She advises Mr Blair to lose his terror of The Mail because, she says, “it no longer matters”. This could “remove huge constraints on the Government’s liberalising tendencies”. She reassures Mr Blair that: “If the past week has taught the Prime Minister anything, it is that the big tent does not have to enclose 75 per cent of the electorate. He can be confident in standing up for modern values, and he might even be surprised to find the occasional Mail reader agreeing with him. If he alienates others, he can afford to. After all, he only needs 42 per cent of the vote to win another big majority.”

So, now that we’ve got an equal age of consent (and doesn’t it just gladden your heart to hear Lady Young sobbing among what The Daily Mail called “the smouldering remains of her campaign”?) where do we go next? There is obviously still a huge amount of unfinished business in the way of partnership rights, adoption and fostering, employment rights, immigration rights, pensions and so on. But how much more enthusiasm for the battle can we expect from Mr Blair in the immediate future?

Emerging bruised and battered from this latest heave-ho, and immediately before that, the Section 28 debacle, and with an election in the offing, Mr Blair’s political survival instincts are coming to the fore.

The Times reported: “Downing Street has decided not to renew its pledge to repeal Clause 28 and will leave it out of the Queen’s Speech… Labour officials are planning to drop hints that the issue will be included instead in Labour’s manifesto… The decision to avoid the issue reveals the extent to which the Government feels vulnerable. Labour suffered a huge backlash north of the border when the Scottish Parliament forced through the reform. Labour has decided a legislative battle on Section 28 would divert attention from economic questions.”

Like all politicians, Mr Blair has to be pragmatic. He has seen how the opposition can use gay rights to damage him, and he is unwilling to risk giving ground to the Tories with an election perhaps less than five months away.

I think we should support him in this. We should send Angela on a sabbatical (and perhaps she could take Peter, and his catastrophic demands for a new age of consent of 14, with her), giving Mr Blair a clear run. There should be no further demands and no further parliamentary initiatives until the election is over.

And any suspicion that, having had his hands burned, Mr Blair will be tempted to drop gay rights completely in the next Parliament can be put aside. It is Europe, not Westminster, that now drives the gay rights agenda. The Government has committed itself – through signing a European Directive – to give us, within three years, protection against employment discrimination.

Naturally, when the domestic legislation is framed and comes before Parliament, our bitter enemies will once more march on to the battlefield and try to deny us our rights. We must be ready for them, and if Mr Blair is in power with a reasonable majority, I am sure he will be on our side.

But who are our enemies? And how do they operate? I’m afraid all roads lead to Jesmond in Northumberland. It is there that the Christian Institute resides, and it is from there that a huge amount of damage was done to perceptions of gay people during this – and previous – attempts to lower the age of consent.

This time around, with the promise that the Parliament Act would be invoked, the Institute realised that it could not succeed in stopping the legislation altogether, as it had in the past. So it concocted a rather clever tactic – try to water it down by framing amendments that kept the age of consent for the specific act of “buggery” at 18 for both heterosexuals and homosexuals. The amendments appeared under the name of Lady Janet Young, but what I want to know is how much input into their formulation came from the Christian Institute’s high-powered legal advisers? Given that Lady Young is their Patron, I think we should be told.

In a briefing paper that the Institute issued at the beginning of its campaign, great emphasis was placed on the word buggery. In its summary briefing, which ran to only two pages, the word occurred 19 times. It was obvious that the intention was to create as much revulsion in the minds of middle England by harping on endlessly about a sexual act that many of them see as being the very definition of homosexuality. You know the old cry: “I don’t mind people being queer, so long as I don’t have to think about what they actually do.”

Well, it was the Christian Institute’s intention to give them chapter and verse about “what they do”. The Institute also went into great detail about the medical problems that “buggery” brings with it, including the connection with Aids. There was much information about the damage done to the lining of the anus by this practice and the amount of “slippage” and tearing that occurs when condoms are used. They sent out 65,000 copies of this report to their supporters, with a plea for them to bombard their local Peer and MP with letters.

Their Lordships were, of course, entranced by this minutely detailed information about the supposed sexual practices of homosexuals, and several of them quoted verbatim from the Christian Institute’s document during the debate. Letters appeared in the press that were direct lifts from the “report”. A whole swarm of doctors wrote to the Daily Telegraph to inform its readers about the dangers of buggery. Although it was not clear how these concerned medics were brought together, one can’t help thinking that their rallying point might have been somewhere in the vicinity of Jesmond.

Then a flotilla of religious leaders wrote to The Telegraph – the Archbishops of Canterbury and Westminster, a prominent mullah, Lady Jakobovits (widow of the late and unlamented Chief Rabbi) and various important Lords and Ladies. Who had concocted this round robin and got this disparate group to sign it?

Then a Mori poll was conducted in the Prime Minister’s constituency of Sedgefield, which was leaked to The Sun and showed that 71% of the voters there thought it wrong to use the Parliament Acts to allow gay sex at 16. And who commissioned that poll?

After that, an advertisement appeared in newspapers with the heading “A very unhealthy act?” It quoted the above mentioned opinion poll and asked readers to “Give us your view on the Lords amendment”, inviting them to visit a website – – to register their vote. The advertisement was placed, it said, by “a group of Peers from the Lords, led by Baroness Young, who voted against lowering the age of consent for anal intercourse.”

Is that so? It is just pure coincidence, is it, that the website is an offshoot of the Christian Institute’s own site? Anyway, the whole thing was a disaster. At the time of writing, some 9,000 people have responded, and answered the question “Do you want to keep the age of consent for anal intercourse for both boys and girls at 18?” 41% said yes they do want to keep the age of consent at 18, but 59% voted no, they didn’t.

Not quite what the Christian Institute was expecting, but that may be more to do with a badly worded question than anything else.

The conclusion has to be that almost all the organised opposition to the age of consent emerged from this one source. We should bear this in mind next time.

In the meantime, if you wanted to write and let the Christian Institute know what you think of them, their address is FREEPOST (NT2948), Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 1BR.

GAY TIMES February 2001

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

Despite my poor prognosis for (and I hope I’m wrong, for their sakes), I have to congratulate them on their fantastic advertising coup, which netted millions of pounds of free coverage for what must have cost a matter of thousands.

Over the Christmas period, Queercompany’s advertising agency, Anti-Corp, issued a new poster showing two scantily-clad girls on a bed, kissing, with the legend “Thank God for women.”

Immediately it was the focus of one of those ambivalent displays of newspaper outrage/fascination. The release of the ad came only nine days after an outcry had caused the banning of a poster advertising Opium perfume which showed Sophie Dahl wearing just a necklace and high-heeled shoes in a pose which one commentator said made her look as though she was “having sex with the invisible man.” The poster, according to the Advertising Standards Authority had caused “widespread offence”.

The ASA said it would be “monitoring the public response” to the Queercompany advertisement, but would certainly not be banning it outright. “We are not social engineer or censors,” a spokesperson told the Daily Express, “We would need an enormous bureaucracy to check all 100,000 posters each year before they appear.”

The Authority had already rejected complaints about the previous ads Queercompany had issued showing two men embracing under the headline “I’m Queer and, by the way, this is not an apology.”

Because the poster had been released over the Christmas period, when there is little else for the newspapers to report, it got far more attention than it otherwise might. Zoë Williams in The London Evening Standard said that her complaint about the poster had nothing to do with the “moral wrongness of lesbianism”. No, she said, that would be daft. She was much more concerned about what thoughts were sparked by the sight of “two people, with their improbably white underwear, having that much fun, with only each other and an improbably tidy bedroom.” She envied them their passion because “they probably didn’t go home for Christmas” and “they categorically didn’t force each other to eat turkey and puddings fashioned from the purest lard (look at those gamine thighs). And if they didn’t go home, they didn’t have to go on a train, or a plane, or even go outdoors. I bet they don’t own a telly, let alone know how rubbish it was. They probably don’t even know it’s snowing, goddamit. All our rage about being cooped up for 48 hours, having to eat too much and not be able to whine about it, is being vented on two thin people who choose to stay in bed and get off with each other instead. Which is, of course, entirely natural. Somebody ban this sickening ad!”

More seriously, Nigella Lawson in The Observer, tackled the issue of who the ad was actually aimed at, and who it would please most. She began by chastising Queercompany for the nature of the image, which she found “stylised and cold and not the slightest bit sexy.” If she were lesbian, she said, she’d be furious. “If Queercompany really wanted to challenge peoples’ assumptions, as it claims, it would be better to use an image like the recently censured one of Sophie Dahl: a beautiful woman, a real woman, fully inhabiting her flesh, rather than a couple of model-thin boy-girls in artful embrace.”

Ms Lawson continued: “The image here is not particularly inflammatory, (though lesbianism may still be). For one thing, it seems to hold such an erotic charge for heterosexual men (and women). Straight men are both turned on by it and excluded from it. For the fantasy, or reality, to be at all satisfying, the man has to be involved either as a participant or spectator.”

She then goes on to try to answer the question that has puzzled lesbians for many years: why is lesbianism such a turn on for straight men? “Is it that men do not feel that a sexual act could be complete or fully satisfying without a penis, so that in imagining two women sexually engaged with one another, the straight man feels himself powerfully in possession of what they really want?”

And yet, she says, men also seem to feel that in witnessing two women pleasuring each other, they are seeing a display of sexual gratification that they cannot bring about – and this makes them anxious.

It’s a conundrum, but it might also explain why the poster showing two men embracing did not draw quite same attention. Instead of provoking pleasant sexual fantasies in straight men, the male poster would be more likely to provoke nausea and anxiety. So, no widespread reproduction of that that image in the straight papers, then.

Nigella Lawson makes the point that in order to make the straight fantasy of lesbian sex potent – for it to be a kind of foreplay to straight sex – the women involved have to be heterosexual. In that way, the straight man can intervene and give them a dose of the “real thing” – which is what they really want. The fantasy fails to arouse if the women are really lesbian and therefore unlikely to welcome a male intervention.

Some confirmation of this theory came when the macho and irredeemably heterosexist News of the World took up the tale and tracked down 25-year old Tabitha Denholm (she’s the one on the right in the picture). The paper says Tabitha admitted to being bisexual. The NoW quotes her as saying: “My sexuality is ambiguous. Yes, I’ve snogged a bird. I don’t think there is anything wrong or shameful about being gay.” But, at the same time, her main emotional focus is on her boyfriend. So the fantasy is still viable for the leering male readers of the News of the Screws.

Unable to muster the usual “this filth must be banned” outrage, The Daily Mail instead went to Tabitha’s parents for their reaction. Her mother said: “I’m extremely angry about this. To put up (the poster) is extremely dangerous, irresponsible and stupid. I have no problem with people wanting to be gay or lesbian – that’s fine. But please don’t include heterosexual people with that. It can create all kinds of problems… She is not lesbian and has a boyfriend and everything – has he seen this?”

Oh dear, this is the kind of coming out that every gay person dreads – having someone else tell your parents for you – and not only that, but telling them particulars of your sex life that you thought were private.

Meanwhile, Kathryn Knight in The Daily Express had grave doubts about Tabitha’s mother’s claim that she has no problem with people being gay. “Ah yes,” she said, “the old ‘don’t have a problem’ chestnut. In my experience, whenever people say that, they usually mean exactly the opposite.”

As to the other woman in the picture, all we know about her is that she is called Helen, is an American and is a friend of the photographer. So we cannot know whether she is primarily a fantasy for gay girls or for straight men.

Queercompany claims that since it started it has gained in excess of 4.5 million hits on its site. I wonder how many of them were straight men responding to the advert and looking for more of the same?

GAY TIMES March 2001

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

The traditional perception of newspapers is that The Mail and The Telegraph hate gay people, while The Guardian and The Independent love us.

But last month there was a very interesting cross-over of values, when The Daily Telegraph had to admit that, really, it doesn’t mind us, and The Guardian dropped its friendly mask and got nasty.

It started with an interview with Tory shadow Foreign minister Francis Maude in The Daily Telegraph. Mr Maude is of the Portillo persuasion (politically-speaking, that is) and opined in the interview that “it should be perfectly possible for the leader of the Tory party to be gay.”

Mr Maude told The Telegraph: “We were the first party to have a Jewish leader, the first party to have a woman leader, so I could absolutely conceive of that happening. The fact is that we are a country where there are homosexual people. That’s part of life, so disapproving of it is rather like disapproving of rain: it’s pointless. We mustn’t give the impression that we are against homosexuality.”

Compassionate Conservatism in action, you might think, but many Telegraph-reading members of the Tory party did not agree, and a couple of days later they made their feelings quite clear as a tidal wave of hatred washed from the paper’s correspondence column.

Pastor Ken Slater led the charge with a quotation from Revelations 21 verse 8, in which he listed the many categories of sinners who were headed for the “fiery lake of burning sulphur”. Top priority for the swimming pool from hell are sexual deviants.

Nigel Simms, in the same batch of letters, was repelled by the thought of “a newly elected Prime Minister, standing at the door of number 10, waving to the assembled media, whilst kissing and cuddling his boyfriend.”

The Rev J. W. Hughes thought that it “beggars belief, even in these Dark Ages, that sexual perversion should be spoken of in the leadership of anything… the perversion of homosexuality should not be allowed in any form of public life.”

Jason Robertson castigated us for our “disease-creating practices” while John Horsely also thought that practising homosexuals should be excluded from public life. And then came Lynette Burrows, career homophobe and sister to the equally appalling Victoria Gillick. She produced statistics that she said proved beyond doubt that “a disproportionate number of homosexuals molest children.”

Letter after letter was burning with the same disgust and detestation. Such was the scale and depth of loathing that The Times reported that the more liberal elements on The Telegraph’s staff had protested vigorously to the editor about the tone and extent of the homophobia, and some had even threatened to resign.

In order to mollify its revolting journos, The Telegraph promised to put the other side of the argument the following day. And, indeed, another ten letters were printed, nine of which expressed shock and disbelief that such bigoted opinions could find a platform in the 21st century. (The other one was from a frothing-at-the-mouth Air Chief Marshal Michael Armitage who claimed to have been corrupted by reading Peter Tatchell’s book Safer Sexy. One can’t help wondering how the Air Chief Marshall came to be in possession of the book in the first place, and what prompted him to read it in such detail, but hey ho.)

The Telegraph also concocted an editorial for the same edition saying: “Some readers of The Daily Telegraph seem not to like the idea that the Conservative party might one day be led by a homosexual… With respect to our correspondents, we disagree.” There then followed a gentle distancing of the paper from the rabid elements within its readership.

One point seems to have been forgotten amid the brouhaha – we’ve already had gay Prime Ministers. And some of them were even Tories.

Anyway, you might be saying to yourself, what’s so shocking about Daily Telegraph readers showing their true, blue, homo-hating colours? Isn’t that why we all read The Guardian?

Oh yes, The Guardian. Now let’s take a look at something that our traditional friend in Fleet Street thought appropriate to print after the resignation of Peter Mandelson. It was an op-ed entitled “It’s a gay thing” and was written by Hywel Williams. Mr Williams is himself gay, so presumably The Guardian thought it OK for him to pronounce that Peter Mandelson’s homosexuality is a fatal character flaw that was bound to destroy him.

Mr Williams says that many homosexuals suffer from a sort of “Mandelsonian deception” syndrome, particularly those who flourished in the 80’s when being gay was almost OK, but not quite. For the “orthodox careerists” among them, lying has become second nature. Mandelson has not been completely honest and upfront about his sexuality, and this, according to Williams, informs everything he does. Take his resignation announcement, for instance: “I’m afraid he couldn’t have been queenier if he had tried. The tousled locks, the quivering lower lip, the nostrils poised to flare: all signalled a gay at bay. This was camp High Noon.”

It was as though Mr Williams were projecting his own insecurities and self-hatreds on to the rest of us. So then, like The Telegraph, The Guardian found itself inundated with letters from its own outraged readers.

Nicholas de Jongh, who was once the paper’s chief theatre critic, wrote: “The conviction that present-day homosexuals, unlike their heterosexual counterparts, are inherently unreliable, dishonest and self-destructive, unfit to do anything more than act, make dresses, cut hair and decorate shop windows, flourished in the age of gay witch hunts – the 50s… By publishing an article dependent upon this discredited, malign claptrap, complete with tasteless references to ‘bare-backing’, ‘one man’s bitch’ and ‘the shifty fudge-packer’, The Guardian becomes the transmitter of a form of homophobia more virulent than anything published by the tabloid press.”

Mr de Jongh is right, of course, because if such stuff appears in The Guardian it gives it added credence. It’s easy to dismiss Daily Mail diatribes against gays on a they-would-wouldn’t-they basis, but not so easy to do so with The Guardian.

De Jongh was right, too, about the tabloids – why would they resist such a story? And tabloid-man himself, Richard Littlejohn of The Sun, really went to town on it, gratuitously dragging in Mr Mandelson’s boyfriend, Reinaldo da Silva. “Last night,” Littlejohn wrote. “Howell James, former aide to John Major and adviser to the Hinduja brothers, admitted that he used to sleep with Peter Mandelson’s Brazilian boyfriend. That’s right, a man who served in the private office of the last Conservative Prime Minister and now works for the man at the centre of the cash-for-passports scandal, had a homosexual affair with the current lover of a Labour cabinet minister, who was one of Tony Blair’s closest advisers until he was forced to resign this week over his own role in the same cash-for-passports scandal… Mandelson has consistently refused to answer questions about Reinaldo’s immigration status. Now we know why. What is he doing here? Apart from being passed around like a tray of biscuits across party lines?”

Littlejohn returned to the attack a few days later after Mandelson engaged the services of solicitors to try to stop some of the slanderous things that were being said about him. Under the headline “Mandy making a drama queen out of a crisis”, Littlejohn advised Mandy not to sue. “He reminds me of a journalist friend of mine who once considered suing for libel. After careful consideration, his brief told him he didn’t have a reputation to lose. Mandy’s got too much previous. This isn’t going anywhere.”

I’m sure Mr Littlejohn hopes he’s right, particularly after a little contretemps he had with Barnardo’s. The children’s charity won an out of court settlement after The Sun columnist called the staff of the charity “perverts.” Littlejohn had accused Barnardo’s of producing a teaching pack “featuring pimps, rent boys, incest, smackheads and prostitutes” and that far from protecting children from perverts, the perverts were on the payroll. In fact, the teaching pack was aimed at warning children of the dangers of prostitution and had been endorsed by the Home Office, Department of Health and Department of Education. The staff at Barnardo’s were, understandably, up in arms, particularly when they discovered that Littlejohn hadn’t even seen the material he was complaining about.

The News of the World couldn’t resist kicking Mandelson while he was down, either. It reported that the “family of Peter Mandelson’s gay Brazilian lover have accused the ex-cabinet minister of corrupting their lad. They insist that there was ‘nothing wrong’ with 28 year old Reinaldo when he left their humble home.”

The paper seems to think that the crude and primitive approach to homosexuality that holds sway in Brazilian slums is perfectly reasonable.

Under such pressure is there any wonder that the couple are having difficulty holding their relationship together? The Sunday Express reported that, indeed, there was speculation that the two year affair was at an end, and Mandy was devastated.

So, despite all the evidence to the contrary, it seems poor old Peter is human after all. Hard as it might be, you’ve got to feel a bit sorry for him.

GAY TIMES April 2001

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

Although Labour politicians are keeping their fingers crossed that the demands of gay rights campaigners are on hold until after the election, the struggle to establish “the right to a [gay] family life” continues unabated.

Although most “traditional” families usually start out with a marriage – wedding bells, confetti and the vicar maundering on – it’ll be a long time before we’re welcomed into our local church to tie the knot. Nevertheless, individuals keep pushing at the boundaries. Neil Morris and Mark Jinks, for instance, had their relationship blessed on a Valentine’s Day edition of the Richard and Judy Show by ersatz bishop Jonathan Blake.

The ceremony may have brought a tear to the eye of Judy Finnegan, but it brought sick to the throat of many viewers if the following day’s reaction was anything to go by. “Fury as Gays Tie Knot on Richard and Judy Show” bellowed The Sun. It claimed that “telly viewers were gobsmacked” by the sight of the “gay wedding”. Apparently “dozens of outraged fans called The Sun to complain”, but only one was quoted – “mum” Ann Carter of North London. She opined that, “It was totally over the top. It was really creepy.”

Her opinion was shared by Simon Heffer, one of the most barking of The Daily Mail’s resident huffers and puffers, who called the wedding, “this week’s most repulsive stunt”.

He was countered by Lorraine Kelly in The Sun who catalogued the failures apparent in heterosexual relationships before saying: “At least there was some love at the gay wedding. So despite the abuse and scorn heaped on gay couple Mark Jinks and Neil Morris, their gay wedding was strangely refreshing. I wish them all the best”.

Meanwhile, the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, was under fire for proposing to spend £100,000 of “taxpayers’ money” to set up “partnership registration” for any couple, gay or straight. The Observer reported: “When the partnership pledge was made, it was envisaged that the facility would be offered only to lesbian and gay couples. However, the Mayor’s advisory group on registration has agreed that the amenity will be offered to all couples.”

The Daily Telegraph reported that “The move is designed to give homosexuals the same rights as heterosexuals and ensure that there are fewer disputes over inheritance, pension rights and tenancies of shared homes. But it is unlikely to have any formal legal standing.”

This is the crux of it, really. What is the point of spending your £25 registration fee for what will be, in effect, the privilege of having your picture taken outside the new County Hall and your worthless certificate signed by Ken. It’s not supportive gestures we need, it’s changes in the law.

Anyway, after you’ve made your vows in front of Ken, you will then want to pop along and start your little family. The Mail on Sunday reported that “Britain’s oldest children’s charity is recruiting gay foster carers to look after the most vulnerable young people in society.”

Apparently the Coram Family (previously known as the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children) is “offering annual salaries of £23,000 to gay men and lesbians to care for young people between 11 and 18 with ‘challenging behaviour’.”

Actually, they are offering £23,000 salaries to all their carers, gay or straight, who are prepared to take on this arduous task, but let’s not get in the way of The Mail on Sunday’s little porky.

The paper admits that the selection procedure – which goes on for six months – is very strict. It includes police checks, home visits, training courses and many interviews. So, it is unlikely that these vulnerable children would end up in unsuitable homes with untrustworthy carers.

But here comes Valerie Riches, of Family and Youth Concern, to say: “Research has shown paedophilia is higher in the homosexual community than in the average male population. These children could be abused by the people who are supposed to be looking after them. Homosexuals may be able to give them the material benefits but cannot give children the moral background to develop emotionally and sexually.”

Over in The Guardian Weekend Magazine, Julie Bindel was saying: “One way the anti-gay bigots seek to poison minds against homosexual men is to label them all child abusers.” She thought that this was “clearly an offensive generalisation” but at the same time “gay men need to ask themselves if they are doing anything to fuel this argument.”

She trawls the archives to come up with evidence that gay men are reluctant to distance themselves from the proponents of “man-boy love”. To back up her case, she goes back as far as the late 70s when the Paedophile Information Exchange gained short-lived support within the gay community. Then she chastises Peter Tatchell for his advocating an age of consent of 14. She tells us that in the 80s some gay men working in social services got away with child abuse because everyone was afraid to challenge “members of the gay community” because of the ethos of “equal opportunities” that gripped local authorities.

She says that blaming gay men for child abuse gives a handy shield to the real abusers – “the jolly uncle or grandfather, using his place in the nuclear family to hide his foul activities.”

Ms Bindel concludes by issuing a challenge to gay men to distance themselves from child sexual abuse by joining forces with those who are actively fighting it. “But”, she maintained, “we cannot escape the fact that, so far, more gay men have attempted to explain the ‘erotic nature’ of intergenerational sex, or shown sympathy and understanding of ‘boy lovers’, than have joined forces with those of us who wish to see an end to child sexual abuse.”

Methinks Ms Bindel is a bit behind the times. Peter Tatchell’s arguments (for those who would listen) were a bit more sophisticated than she credits. He wanted the legal right for young people to have sex with each other, not for them to be abused by older men. So where are these apologists for child abuse within the gay community that she talks about?

Anyway, assuming you can convince the adoption agency that you and your partner are not members of the Sidney Cooke fan club, all you’ve got to do now is sustain and nurture the partnership.

But, just as love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage, marriage and divorce go together like foot and mouth. And already gay couples are finding that splitting up is a much more complicated matter for them than for straight couples. Especially when children are involved.

The Sun reported the case of “A ‘divorced’ lesbian couple” who are “fighting a historic test case over their two-year old love child.

The two women, who had lived together for 12 years, paid £3,700 for one of them to have IVF treatment “believing that a baby would complete their happiness.”

Instead, the couple split up and the birth-mother banned her ex from ever seeing the baby again. Now the rejected partner – a nurse – is fighting in court for the right to see the child. Her lawyer says that: “The couple jointly decided to have the child, and our argument is that they should be treated like any man and wife. It is a very unusual situation, but we don’t see any reason why our client should be treated differently just because of her sexuality. More and more gay couples are having children and it’s a situation the courts will have to look at very carefully.”

There will be painful mud-slinging and recrimination when the case is heard. All very sad, but bound to become more familiar as gay relationships are taken more seriously.

And should you be unlucky enough to lose your partner as a result of murder or other criminal activity, you will soon be able to claim the same £10,000 from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Agency that heterosexual partners can.

Until now, only parents, children, spouses or long-term heterosexual partners of those killed by crime could be compensated, because same sex couples were not recognised by the CICA.

This didn’t suit Norman Tebbit one bit. In the Mail on Sunday he claimed it was just another “favour” granted to Tony Blair’s “favourite people.”

“Same sex ‘partners’ will be given the same rights as married people to compensation if their ‘partner’ is killed,” he wrote. “Of course, brothers and sisters who share a home – but not a bed – will not be treated as generously as homosexuals. What a clear statement of New Labour’s contempt for marriage and family and Blair’s continuing love affair with homosexuals.”

And what a clear statement of Norman Tebbit’s lack of simple human decency and his continuing love affair with bigotry.

And finally, the National Viewers and Listener’s Association, founded in 1964 by Mary Whitehouse, has renamed itself Mediawatch UK.

Nothing to do with me, mate.

GAY TIMES May 2001

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

In the United States a debate is raging about how gay issues are reported in the mainstream media. It is almost the mirror image of the debate we are having in this country.

While here we complain about the anti-gay bias that tabloid newspapers have traditionally displayed, in the US it’s the other way round. Accusations are flying that the national newspaper and TV outlets have become so politically correct that all negative and critical coverage of homosexuality is filtered out.

It came to a head last month when two gay men, Joshua Brown, 23, and Davis Carpenter, 39, were found guilty by an Arkansas jury of the rape and murder of a 13 year old boy called Jesse Dirkhising. The two men, who were lovers and ran a hair salon together, befriended Jesse’s mother and allowed the boy to work at the salon. They took him to their home, strapped him to a bed, drugged him and raped him repeatedly. The boy eventually suffocated when his tormentors went to get something to eat.

The case was almost entirely ignored by the American media, a fact that whipped up the right-wing opponents of gay rights. They pointed out that when Matthew Shepard, a gay man who lived in Wyoming, was murdered by homophobic bigots, it had become a national scandal. The Shepard case was eventually used as justification for the inclusion of homosexuality in federal hate crimes legislation.

Writing in The Washington Times, a right-wing newspaper with connections to the Moonies, Linda Bowles reported: “The Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation (GLAAD) is an influential organization that lobbies from the outside to influence how the media portrays homosexuality. GLAAD is aided and abetted by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, which works inside to accomplish the same thing. In an address to these gay journalists last year, Richard Berke, New York Times national political correspondent, boasted that ‘literally three quarters of the people deciding what is on the front page are not-so-closeted homosexuals.’”

From this, Ms Bowles concluded: “the way news is selected and reported exposes liberal media biases not only about race and homosexuality, but about politics, religion, immigration, abortion, education and environment, and gun ownership. Many liberal decision-makers are clearly in the business of censoring out news they do not want the people to see or hear, while amplifying news that advances their undisclosed agendas.”

This, of course, is only one way of looking at these events – and we shouldn’t forget that The Washington Times and its journalists have “agendas” of their own which they are keen to exploit.

Responding in the letters column to the controversy, Chuck Anziulewicz pointed out that the Dirkhising case “is no more a ‘homosexual crime’ than Ted Bundy was a ‘heterosexual rapist/murderer’. If the news media are paying little attention to the fact that the men responsible for this crime were gay, it’s because they didn’t target Jesse Dirkhising because he was gay or straight. The facts surrounding this case indicate that sexual orientation – whether of the perpetrators or the victim – was not a factor… In all the newspaper stories I have read involving men raping and/or murdering women, never once have I seen the word ‘heterosexual’ used. Similarly if the men accused of raping and murdering Jesse Dirkhising were instead accused of raping and murdering a teenage girl, I’m sure you would not be making such a cause célèbre out of it.”

Meanwhile in The Weekly Standard, a sophisticated platform for the religious Right, Mary Eberstadt (a sort of cross between Mary Kenny and Valerie Riches) wrote two long articles alleging that paedophilia is an increasingly prominent part of gay life and is condoned by gay leaders. “The better-known gay organisations,” she wrote, “all of whom stand dead against any conflation of homosexuality and paedophilia, are nonetheless sending out mixed messages about what is and is not off-limits for the under-aged. Most of them, for instance, now have ‘youth sections’ on their websites… the justification for this is to ameliorate the angst of gay teenagers. At the risk of stating the obvious, though, it is hard to see how this purpose is served by encouraging boys to act and think sexually at ever younger ages, which is the unavoidable side effect of the type of ‘outreach’ these sites engage in.”

The even further-to-the-right Jewish World Review agreed, and commented: “The defence of gay paedophilia has metastasised deep and far into the national conscience.”

Over in the New Republic, Andrew Sullivan, who is a gay man himself, branded all this as “ugly nonsense”. He admitted that “paedophilia has always been a vile undercurrent in some gay circles (as in some straight circles)” but “the vast majority of homosexuals are rightly horrified by the sexual abuse of children.”

All the same, Sullivan cannot completely refute the Right’s argument that there was bias involved in the reporting of the Shepard and Dirkhising cases. Checking the media website Nexus, he found that it had recorded 3,007 stories about the death of Matthew Shepard, while there had been only 46 about Dirkhising. “The discrepancy,” he says, “isn’t just real. It’s staggering.”

He comes to the conclusion that there may be some truth in the Right’s complaints of media bias. “The Shepard case was hyped for political reasons: to build support for inclusion of homosexuals in hate-crime law. The Dirkhising case was ignored for political reasons: squeamishness about reporting a story that could feed anti-gay prejudice, and lack of any pending interest-group legislation to hang a story on.”

Which brings us now to the reporting of a case in this country involving a gay man who raped and murdered younger men. Royal Navy Petty Officer Allan Grimson, 42, was convicted last month of bludgeoning to death 18 year old Nicholas Wright and 20 year old Sion Jenkins. There is a strong suspicion that he may have committed several similar crimes that have yet to be uncovered. The British press reported it “straight” as simply as an unusual and lurid court case, although references to his sexuality appeared in most of the headlines (“Gay Slayer”- Sun; “Homosexual sailor killed for kicks” – Telegraph; “Gay sailor given life for serial killings” – Express).

However, there was no added sensationalism in the reporting and no attempt to attach any wider significance to the murders. There were no titillating background features exploring the “twilight world” of homosexuals or any condemnatory editorials telling us that such horrors are an inevitable consequence of our lifestyles. Previous gay serial killers such as Dennis Nilsen and Michael Lupo drove the papers into fits of horror and moral outrage. But not this time.

So does this tell us that the political correctness that allegedly restrains the US press has now found its way into British newspapers? Or is it simply that our newspapers have grown up and no longer see the need to demonise all gay people because of the activities of a few psychopaths and nutcases?

Of course, it could be said that it was, indeed, Allan Grimson’s sexuality that motivated his grotesque deeds. After all, it was some sort of sex he wanted from the young men he eventually battered to death. But, of course, the same argument could be applied to the thousands of women who are annually raped and killed by straight men. And their sexual orientation is never mentioned.

But if the American Right has used these arguments about pro-gay bias with any success, you can be sure that the reactionaries in this country will soon be picking them up and attempting to import them here.

It would be difficult to sustain charges of over-liberality against British newspapers, though – the balance here has always been tipped towards the reactionary. No, the pressure is more likely to be on the broadcast media (particularly the BBC) with renewed charges that its liberalism and ‘political correctness’ are distorting the news agenda.

As the push for hate-crime legislation gathers pace in Britain, and the case for including homosexuals in it is made, we will hear more about the “skewed reporting” of homosexual matters. There will be demands that TV producers (who, according to the likes of Garry Bushell, already represent a Pink Mafia that controls the airwaves) give a more ‘balanced’ portrayal of gay life – i.e. a more negative one.

We saw a small prelude to it when Scotland Yard arrested 56 people in dawn raids throughout London. According to The Daily Telegraph these people were suspected of “hate crimes” such as homophobic harassment and publishing racist and homophobic materials.

In The Daily Mail, Simon Heffer was quickly on the attack: “What about a co-ordinated series of raids to arrest muggers, drug dealers, car thieves and others who prey on everybody and not just on fashionable minorities? Or wouldn’t that play so well with the Metropolitan Police’s cringe-making attempts to ingratiate itself with a government obsessed with political correctness.”

Stand by for blasting.

GAY TIMES June 2001

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

According to a report recently issued by the Broadcasting Standards Commission, the British public think that “celebrities and politicians who court fame have no right to privacy”, although “the private lives of ordinary people should be respected”.

At the same time, the Press Complaints Commission has received a complaint from a friend of Noel Sullivan, of the band Hear’Say, about a picture that was published in The News of the World showing him embracing the pop star. The Guardian reported that Rebekah Wade, the NoW’s shadowy editor (has anyone ever seen her?) “will have to explain why she allowed an ordinary person to be subjected to the glare of publicity in the pursuit of increasingly salacious stories about Sullivan.”

All of which once again opens up the debate about the outing – or the voluntary coming out – of gay celebrities. How big a hand should the media have in “assisting” those in the public eye out of the closet?

In repressive eras, closetry was understandable. In the tight-arsed fifties, for instance, you kept your sexuality under wraps if you wanted to work (and stay out of prison). So although it was clear to anyone with eyes to see that Noel Coward was gay and so was Dirk Bogarde and Michael Redgrave, there was never any public acknowledgement of it while they were alive. Everyone conspired in the cover up.

When the conspiracy of silence was broken in the sixties, it became more difficult to maintain the fiction. In the seventies and eighties it was harder still, as tabloid newspapers became the sole arbiters of which famous gays would be allowed to retain their secret and which would be outed. Self-hating gays like Russell Harty and Kenny Everett never really recovered from the lascivious revelations about their sex lives that were splattered all over the Sunday scandal sheets.

There was only one way to stop this cruel routine, and that was by pre-empting the Fleet Street outers and doing the job yourself. A new, braver breed of showbiz gays came along, people who weren’t at odds with their orientation. Ian McKellen, Simon Callow, Paul O’Grady and Graham Norton all took the initiative away from the tabloids and did the job themselves. Latest in this line is Radio 1 DJ Scott Mills, 27, who came out last month saying, “The target Radio 1 audience will, I hope, be fine about it.”

Others have tried and been less successful. Michael Barrymore and his Garland-like descent from the summit springs immediately to mind, as does Peter Mandelson and the lesson we can learn from him on trying to be half out and half in.

Generally, though, the mould has been broken. It is now possible to come out in the full glare of the media and not only survive, but thrive. Nearly all those who’ve been honest about their sexuality have gone on to ever greater heights. In fact, the Sunday Times reported that the BBC and ITV are in a multi-million pound bidding war to secure the services of Graham Norton – probably because he is gay.

But despite this climate change, there are still those who can’t quite bring themselves to do the deed.

Speaking to The Daily Express, Dale Winton refused to take the leap. “With an ever ready smile for the camera,” said his interviewer, “Dale has survived his seven years in the spotlight remarkably unscathed, give or take rumours about his sexuality (he consistently refuses to be drawn on whether he is gay)”. Danny La Rue has also come in for stick over his inability to make the leap. The same gossip column quotes a theatre historian, Laurence Senelick as saying: “Everyone in British show business is familiar with his [La Rue’s] sexual predilections… is this masquerade necessary lest he lose the affections of the British public or is his a deeply confused identity?”

It’s not as if he were Sir Alec Guiness, whose career flourished at a time when such revelations would have had a real impact.

Three new Guiness biographies are about to be published, and all reveal that he was arrested and fined 10 guineas for “gross indecency” in a public lavatory in 1946. The Sunday Times told us that the then up-and-coming thespian managed to avoid any publicity by telling the police he was ‘Herbert Pocket’, the name of a Dickensian character he was playing at the time. Guiness was married with a young son when he was fined and it is likely, because of this and his religious faith, that he would have been traumatised by any publicity. We are promised that there are other revelations to come about his life as a tortured bisexual.

The other noted theatrical knight, Sir John Gielgud – who is also the subject of a biography by Sheridan Morley, which was reported in The Guardian – was not so lucky. He failed to come up with a nom de plume when he was arrested and fined for importuning in 1953, and the case was reported on the front page of The Telegraph.

Although he managed to survive it, it was such a devastating event for him that he never mentioned it publicly again – or any other aspect of his private life.

Since he died, though, it has emerged that he lived with another man for 35 years and would make donations to Stonewall on the condition that they were not revealed.

All we need now for the set is for that other member of the great British acting triumvirate, Sir Ralph Richardson, to be revealed as a closet case. But he’s the exception. The Mail on Sunday reported that in a biography, written by Garry O’Connor, there is a suggestion that Richardson completely rejected his son Charles, because he “strongly disapproved” of his homosexuality.

Antony Sher is one of the present-day great actors who is gay. The Sunday Times has been carrying excerpts from his achingly honest autobiography. One of these extracts explored Sher’s relationship with his parents. He decided to come out to his mother in 1973 – her initial reaction was good, but she told him that he must never tell his father. Within a couple of weeks, she had done the deed herself. Sher was anxious about how his father, whom he found difficult, distant and macho, would react. To his surprise, there was a definite improvement in what had been a chilly relationship. But it never became an intimate friendship, something which Sher regrets – “Dear God,” he writes, “heterosexuals are so queer. How can you have a son and not hold him, hug him, kiss him?”

Gay Radio 4 pundit and historian David Starkey, was also reminiscing, again in The Sunday Times – this time about his mother, who pushed him relentlessly to succeed. Eventually he decided that he had to tell her the truth, although he knew she would find it hard to understand. “My mother had begun to suspect, but at first I suppose I had sufficient tact to shield her. But it all came to a head just after I moved to London in the very early days of Gay Pride, and there was that marvellous slogan, which in many ways I still live by, ‘Better late than latent’. Eventually, inevitably I developed the determination to confront my mother with what I was. I said to myself, I’m doing this because it is the honest thing to do, but there was probably a cruelty underneath… The final, terrible, blank hostility after I finished; the banal response: ‘We brought you up to live a proper life. What sort of life is it, that?’ She wanted the world as she wanted it, she wanted 2.4 grandchildren. She could never understand it, and she never got over it. And it was unhealable, because there was no moment at which reconciliation took place, as she died.”

And in politics – which is really a branch of show business now – we have Chris Smith and Nick Brown keeping high profiles. Nick Brown, the lugubrious gay Agriculture Secretary has been thrust to the fore by the foot and mouth epidemic. Failing to be drawn into the hysteria that the press has tried to create, he has kept a steady hand throughout that should do his career no harm at all.

Chris Smith was interviewed at length in The Guardian and revealed something of his own coming out experience. He didn’t really realise he was gay until his early 20s, and then he didn’t tell his parents until shortly before his public statement at a meeting in 1984 to protest about Rugby council’s decision to drop anti-gay discrimination policies. “They lived in Scotland and I was in London,” he says “We never really had chance to have that rather difficult conversation.” He says they were initially concerned but “subsequently they have been wonderful. They always ask about Dorian [Dorian Jabri, his partner] when I speak to them on the phone.”

Chris Smith is now a widely admired politician who has survived some of the worst crises of the first Labour government – the Dome fiasco, the Lottery cock up, the endless wittering about the arts. We can only hope that his skills will continue to be utilised after the election.

These stories, sometimes heart-warming, sometimes sad, indicate how homosexuality has now entered into the consciousness of the nation. And there is no doubt that if you have the requisite talent and necessary bravery, you can prosper as an open gay person in public life.

So remember, gay celebs – better to be honest and retain your dignity rather than waiting for the News of the World to come and get you.

GAY TIMES July 2001

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

The lethal drink, drug and fame-fuelled roller coaster that is presently being ridden by Michael Barrymore has claimed many show biz victims in the past. Judy Garland, Paul Gascoigne and George Best are three that spring immediately to mind.

Others have taken the ride and survived, most notably Boy George and Elton John, both of whom managed to put on the brakes and recover before it was too late.

So is Barrymore on the way to becoming a tragic Judy or an heroic Elton? Is he at the end stage or the mid stage of his story?

We will have to wait and see, but worry not – the tabloids will ensure that we have a ring-side seat for every stage in what will either be a miraculous recovery or a tragic finale for the “troubled star” (as he is now invariably described).

Certainly no detail has been spared of the story so far. Courtesy of the News of the World, the Sun and the other red tops, we have followed Barrymore through his various struggles with drink, drugs, fame and homosexuality. His career has been written off repeatedly, and yet he has somehow managed to revive it on each occasion.

But this time it’s different. A young man who had been sexually ravaged in violent and sickening ways by multiple partners was found floating in Barrymore’s swimming pool after a wild party. The police suspect murder. Can even bouncy Barrymore recover from such a scandal, even if he wasn’t directly involved?

There has been enough conjecture about what has caused this once-loved performer to fall into such ruinous disgrace. His unhappy childhood, his struggle with his sexuality, his inability to cope with celebrity, his addictive personality and the kinds of people he has chosen to consort with.

All these things are likely to have played a part, but were any of them the prime motivator in his present degradation?

Was, for instance, his prolonged and messy coming out the trigger that sent him over the edge? After all, while they were married, Cheryl had kept him under a tight rein. His tendency towards impulsiveness, addiction and poor judgment were controlled by her cooler head.

But when the marriage ended, it was downhill all the way. His lack of self-control, his almost maniacal hedonism and his many other problems plunged him into a vortex of cocaine, pills, booze and reckless sex.

For a while it seemed he had found his saviour in Shaun Davis, a young man who cared for him. But he was driven away reportedly by Barrymore’s chaotic, coke-fuelled lifestyle.

Those who stepped in to fill the emotional vacuum were the very people Barrymore should have run a mile from. They were, as one commentator put it, “more concerned about how much white powder he had in his pocket than they were about him.”

His last boyfriend, John Kenny, sold the story of their relationship and what had happened on that fateful night to The News of the World. After that, he revealed to The Sun that he was HIV positive – something he hadn’t told Barrymore until their relationship was over.

So, was homosexuality the cause of Michael Barrymore’s downfall? After all, he wouldn’t be the first gay man to have buckled under the strain of a double life.

Most of the Fleet Street’s self-appointed experts were sure that his sexuality wasn’t to blame.

Carole Malone – a graduate with honours from the Glenda Slagg school of journalism – wrote in The Sunday Mirror: “I am finding it increasingly hard to stomach the endless stream of stories about Barrymore’s pain, his tortured life and his demons…. His career is all but finished and everything that finished it is his fault. So let’s stop all this twaddle about all his problems being down to him being a repressed homosexual in a loveless marriage. Let’s stop portraying him as a tortured soul bereft of any of life’s advantages. Because he had ‘em all – and he blew it.”

Lorraine Kelly in The Sun agreed: “It has nothing to do with him being gay but everything to do with his lack of self-control and self-respect.”

In The Daily Mail, under a picture of Barrymore and the headline “Is this man now beyond the pale?” David Thomas wrote: “Homosexuality is not the source of public disgust. Had the body in the pool been that of a young woman, our horror would have been just as great, perhaps even greater.”

In The Times Nicholas Wapshott said: “To come out as gay was once considered the most damaging revelation for an entertainer. But no more – in Britain at least. The television screen is littered with camp comedians – Julian Clary, Lily Savage and Graham Norton – and, as with Kenneth Williams and Frankie Howerd, the British public does not care a damn about what they are up to in private so long as they make us laugh.”

Naturally there were others who tried to exploit the Barrymore debacle to push forward their own nasty agenda. Simon Heffer, the deeply unpleasant right-wing columnist on The Daily Mail wrote: “It was revolting to read details of the allegations made against Michael Barrymore and his friends, and even more revolting to be told of the physical state of the young man found dead in his swimming pool. When members of our liberal tendency read of this sort of horrible activity, are they still so smug that, thanks to them, such bestiality can now be inflicted on children of 16?”

And so, Barrymore rushes off to another clinic, this time in Arizona, looking for the miracle cure for his problems. You’d think experience would tell him that therapy doesn’t work for his kind of troubles in the same way that a shot of penicillin works for the clap. It actually takes a lot of determination and will power to beat addiction, but first of all it takes a willingness to even want to try.

So, if it wasn’t homosexuality that did for Michael Barrymore, was it his inability to cope with the level of fame and recognition that he has achieved? As Lynda Lee Potter (queen of the Glendas) wrote in the Daily Mail: “He’s complained bitterly about the pressures of success. He may well find the pressures of failure are even harder to bear.”

Bryan Appleyard in the Sunday Times examined Barrymore’s relationship with his “adoring fans”.

He quotes Michael as saying “It’s very difficult to have a relationship with millions of people. They know me, but I don’t know all of them. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve tried to discover the real me”.

To this, Appleyard retorts: “Let us be clear about this: there is no ‘real self’, no ‘child within’, no ‘real me’, no authentic essence somehow concealed beneath some malign combination of drugs, sex, fame and money. There are only people who live and people who just talk about it. The latter are all sick and quite a lot of them are rich and famous. There is something about the process of suddenly finding themselves known, watched, adored and wealthy that flings certain people into futile paroxysms of psycho-babbling narcissism”.

More likely, says Appleyard, what stars who go off the rail really cannot handle is that they are freed from constraints such as lack of money or serious disapproval. “Barrymore could have all the sex ‘n drugs ‘n easy listening he could handle. Barrymore plunged into that distinctive form of contemporary nihilism which, for some reason, is known as having a good time or, more accurately, ‘getting wrecked’. Why not? There’s nothing else to do, no other reason to live.”

Appleyard then goes on to berate those public figures who have fallen into this trap of imagining that they are not doing these terrible things to themselves, but that somehow things are being done to them, and that their real self has been buried by this false sense of celebrity.

He advises those self-regarding celebrities such as Barrymore to exhibit a little more decorum, to take responsibility for themselves and “seek salvation in the real world not in the fantasy land of therapy and expensive clinics.”

So, are we any nearer to knowing whether it was his gayness, his fame or simply an inability to control his impulses that brought Barrymore low?

It was probably a combination of all three. Many people who wait until later in their lives to start to explore their homosexuality find that, after decades of denial, it isn’t so easy to shrug off the accumulated self-hate. And a young man from a modest background with little education who is suddenly plunged into the world of celebrity and adulation would find it a struggle to keep a handle on reality. But most of all, I think it was his embracing of the now widely-held philosophy that if you want to do it, do it and bugger the consequences.

Maybe it’s time for all of us to look at the way we are living and question the assumption so prevalent on the gay scene that unrestrained hedonism and self-indulgence is a desirable or adequate lifestyle.

Gay Times August 2001

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

Michael Portillo’s long game is now reaching a critical phase, and one wonders whether he still has the stomach for it. There is something about his public persona that seems rather detached and distracted. He seems reluctant to talk, and gives away the absolute minimum about his thoughts and feelings.

This may simply be a politician’s ploy, based on the maxim “least said soonest mended”. Perhaps he now realises the value of keeping schtum, having been caught out so many times by wily journos who led him up the garden path only to dump him in the fish pond.

Mr Portillo realised that if he wanted to achieve his ambition of becoming leader of the Conservative Party, he would have to expose to public gaze that rather large skeleton rattling in his closet. Consequently he made his admission about youthful dalliances with homosexuality and hoped that that would be the end of it. He gambled that people would admire his honesty and take him to their hearts as they have done so many other gay people in public life who have done the brave thing.

The liberals in our society would gladly have done that. The Independent – that standard-bearer of everything that is fair and just – editorialised: “Mr Portillo has been congratulated on his openness about his past homosexuality, and rightly so, but only on the assumption that it might help lead to a situation in which such information was a matter of indifference… If the Conservative Party really is to reach out to a new bloc of voters, it must put prejudice and homophobic innuendo behind it. As the once-influential Bow Group says, it must tone down its support for that symbol of discrimination, Section 28. And no more should be heard from within the party’s ranks about Mr Portillo’s private life. Let the candidates for the Tory leadership be judged on their merits and their merits alone.”

Unfortunately, the Independent does not have much influence in Tory circles and Portillo’s case wasn’t helped much when news emerged that another former lover had died from Aids. Francois Kervan died in Madrid on 8th June. Another lover, Nigel Hart, died in 1999.

After he had made his admission, someone asked if he regretted it. “I was keen to put to rest the rumours that had been circulating about me… I don’t think it was a particularly big burden but I don’t have any regrets. The truth is a good thing” he said.

Ah yes, but now we come to the philosophical point: what is truth in this context?

Jaded hacks have been quick to notice the inconsistencies in Mr Portillo’s tale, and who can blame them for being cynical when the man himself gives the impression that he’s deliberately creating smokescreens. Such a manoeuvre never works with the press.

So, although Mr Portillo had hoped to lay the gay ghost by opening his closet door just a crack –giving the world a tantalising glimpse inside before slamming it shut again – he has actually ended up by fanning the flames of scepticism.

And the consequence is that THE question keeps being put, and Mr Portillo has to find new and elaborate ways of not answering it. Matthew D’Ancona in The Sunday Telegraph asked Portillo if he was certain that there was nothing else to come out about his gay past. “I’ve said that any number of times,” Portillo replied.

“But just for the record, can you restate your position,” persisted Mr D’Ancona. To this our hero retorted: “I will say it again. I do say it again. I have always spoken the truth.”

Then Mr D’Ancona asked if Mr Portillo thought, given the more tolerant age in which we live, that his opponents’ attempts to use homophobic innuendo against him might backfire, “The danger is that if I answer your question, I get led into what I don’t want to do,” was the enigmatic reply. What on earth can it all mean?

David Frost didn’t fare much better when he asked Mr Portillo if he had any homosexual experiences since his marriage in 1982 (Breakfast with Frost BBC1). “I have been completely straightforward about this” said the evasive shadow chancellor. “I don’t think any politician has been as straightforward as I have been. I have nothing to add to that.”

So was that yes or no?

And does it matter, really? An ICM poll conducted by The Daily Mail asked: “Michael Portillo has admitted to a gay past. If selected as party leader, how would this affect ordinary voters?” 37 per cent thought it would count against him. 1 per cent said it would count in his favour and 59 per cent thought it would make no difference.

The Times reported: “Other polls have shown that a majority of the public has a generally permissive attitude to personal lives. This is not necessarily a guide to the view of Conservative party members.”

In The Daily Telegraph, arch-Tory Tom Utley wrote: “I have a suspicion that his past will count against him with unsophisticated, non-metropolitan Tories… It will be jolly interesting to see.”

Indeed, the straw polls conducted by the papers among Tory voters – who will make the ultimate decision as to who will be their new leader – have shown an awful lot of intolerance. All this talk of reform in order to make the party more welcoming to minorities does not play well in the provinces. The Daily Telegraph sounded out opinion in the bar of the Cavendish Hotel in Keighley, West Yorkshire.

Paul Smith, a window cleaner, said: “I’ve voted Conservative all my life, but there’s one guy who if he got it I’d seriously change my vote. I don’t like his arrogance. Basically I don’t like him because he’s actually come out with it that he’s gay. I don’t like things like that. It’s against all moral standards in my eyes.”

Others said they didn’t mind Mr Portillo’s sexual history, but weren’t taken with his big lips.

The Times contacted the chairmen of 60 Conservative constituency parties and asked for opinions about his sexuality. More than a third thought the revelations would damage his chances.

John Kennedy of Beaconsfield replied: “Mr Portillo’s statement about his homosexuality did not help at all. It put a lot of people off… I am perfectly happy for people doing what they want behind closed doors but I don’t want them waving it about in public.”

Lady Fry of the Wellingborough association wanted to know whether there were any more skeletons to be brought out, as did Neil Stocks of Colchester. Bryan Hobson of Shipley opined: “There are certain people who did blanch at his statement and will never forgive him for it. But people have had much worse peccadillos than that.”

The overwhelming fear among those questioned, and one that Mr Portillo is doing nothing to allay, is that all the cards are not on the table.

Indeed, a small item in the “Scurra” gossip column in The Daily Mirror fuelled these fears. It said: “As he previously denied having any gay relationships since university, this appeared to mean that this phase of his life was behind him. So why is a Sunday newspaper spending so much effort in tracking down a 43-year old Surrey-based pilot believed to have been a close friend of the Tory leadership contender?”

You can be sure that the tabloids will be sparing no expense in their renewed effort to break through Mr Portillo’s enigmatic denials.

The Times thought that Michael Portillo was caught in a trap. Every time he talks about the Tories becoming more “inclusive” it is interpreted as “banging on about gays”.

“No one, though, said the same of John Major when he said the party needed to drop its censorious moral tone, show more tolerance and judge people less,” said the paper. “Was it because Major, in Lord Tebbit’s loaded description of Iain Duncan Smith, one of Portillo’s rivals, is a ‘normal family man with children’?”

Meanwhile in the Sunday Telegraph, Gyles Brandreth was exploring the long relationship between “the love that dare not speak its name” and the Conservative Party. “Many Conservatives, especially on the right of the party, are revolted by homosexuality,” he wrote. “And many Conservatives, especially on the right of the party, are homosexual.”

From then on, every idiotic stereotype pertaining to homosexuals was paraded for the pleasure of Sunday Telegraph readers. Naturally, in Brandreth’s world, gays are all Thatcher worshippers. Peter Just, of Politicos bookshop – himself a gay man – says: “We adore her. She’s wonderful. So camp, so gorgeous in her Aquascutum suits. We are grateful for her achievements when she was Prime Minister and now we just love the drama of her every appearance.”

According to Brandreth, gays are all naturally right-wing – look how many homosexuals there were in the Nazi party, he says. The theory seems to be accepted by an increasingly idiotic Ivan Massow. “It’s a matter of extremes,” the great sage-cum-insurance salesman is quoted as saying. “It’s camp. It’s over the top. And, of course, if you want to go to the far Right, there’s an element of Aryanism. I am right, aren’t I?”

Maybe about yourself, Ivan, but leave me out of it.

Gay Times September 2001

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

Very soon, Mr Blair will have to make a tricky choice between two of his pet issues, and whichever choice he makes, he’s going to unleash a storm of resentment and resistance.

The issues are homosexuality and religion. As we have seen in recent debates, the two seem utterly incompatible. If gays get anywhere near gaining equality, religionists immediately begin agitating to retard progress. As Mary Riddell in the Observer said: “Whenever the abolition of Section 28, or biotechnology, or gay sex at 16 is at issue, a gaggle of apoplectic archbishops proffer brimstone and damnation.” We’ll see much more of this in the forthcoming battles on partnership and employment rights.

For instance, last year the European Union approved a directive that obliges member states to enact legislation within three years that will give citizens protection from discrimination in employment on grounds of age, sex, religion, disability and sexual orientation.

Religious lobbyists fought hard in Europe to have the protection for gays watered down. They wanted religious organisations to retain the right to refuse employment to homosexuals. Active homosexuality, they said, was incompatible with their beliefs.

There will be similar sustained bombardment from the religious lobby when this new legislation is considered by Westminster. Organisations like the Christian Institute and the Evangelical Alliance say they don’t want religious bodies to be “forced” to employ gays and lesbians in hospitals, schools, care homes and other welfare organisations that they operate.

The Government is going to have to make a choice. Either gay people get complete protection from discrimination, with no ifs or buts, or they get partial protection, with the religious bodies given a free hand to refuse employment on the grounds of sexual orientation.

If MPs choose the former option, the religious lobby will create an enormous fuss. If they choose the latter, gay people will be outraged and rightly demand full equality (“partial equality” being surely an oxymoron). And for those who think it is OK for Christians, Muslims or Jews only to employ their own, let us not forget that church schools employ tens of thousands of teachers at public expense. The law of averages dictates that some of them must be gay. Will it be OK simply to sack them from jobs? Will it be OK for church schools to put at the bottom of their recruitment advertising “We are an equal opportunity employer – but gays need not apply”? And what about the new Muslim schools that are being proposed by the Government? Can you imagine how a gay teacher would fare in such a place – and how would the Government try to enforce his or her rights in the face of religious bigots who want to stone us to death?

At the same time, pressure is coming from some religious sources for more public funding for faith-based welfare. The Reverend Steve Chalke has started a campaign called “Faith Works” which is lobbying the Government to ensure that faith-based religious charities are not “discriminated against” when taxpayer’s money is handed out. Mr Chalke argues that many churches run welfare facilities, such as old people’s day centres and homeless shelters, and they don’t always get public money to do it. He says that as soon as local authorities realise that religion is involved in the provision of these services, they lose interest and shut their coffers. “Many churches are revealing a picture of having to battle against extraordinary odds to win support from local government,” he told The Church of England Newspaper.

What Mr Chalke doesn’t say, though, is that many of these charities have discriminatory employment policies and some have even refused to provide services to gay people. This is often the reason local councils, with their strict equal opportunities policies, won’t fund them.

The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement uncovered several cases of injustice against gay people carried out by religious welfare groups. For instance, St George’s Crypt Centre in Leeds is a church-run charity for the homeless. Its “equal opportunities” policy stated that it would not employ, among others, homosexuals, adulterers and those involved in occult groups. Evangelical Christians run the Clarendon Street Shelter in Bedford, a hostel for the homeless. They told two of their clients, Michelle Bates and Amanda Grove, that they would have to end their lesbian relationship or be barred from the facility.

This kind of small-minded prejudice and discrimination is widespread in religious organisations. And they want the right to retain it, enshrined in law, when the new legislation comes forward. It is at that point that the Labour Government will find itself between a rock and a hard place – which will they choose, the rights of homosexuals to be free from unfair employment practices or the “rights” of religious groups to sack innocent people from their jobs?

North of the border, where the Church of Scotland is the largest provider of welfare in the country, this discriminatory attitude is particularly strong. Ann Allen, convenor of the Church of Scotland Board of Social Responsibility told The Church of England Newspaper: “All our work is done in the name of Jesus Christ, so those who work in his name have to know him.” This certainly means that atheists can’t work for the Church of Scotland, but it might also mean that “practising” homosexuals can also be considered to have turned away from God, and therefore not be worthy of employment.

Thankfully this view is not universally shared. In the July issue of Life and Work, the magazine of the Church of Scotland, the Reverend Ewan Aitken of Edinburgh writes that discriminatory employment policies operated by religious groups are “insanity” because they damage the “credibility and thus the ability of all churches to be at the heart of the many initiatives to get beside some of the most vulnerable people in society (or not in society, actually).”

Mr Aitken argues that “Jesus did not discriminate. He loitered with those discriminated against by others… If we then, in our structures and policies, exclude these folk from being part of our work, then we fail to loiter. We simply patronise and reject again.”

We can see a little of the trouble ahead if we look at what is happening at present in the USA. There, George W Bush was elected on a promise that America’s welfare system would all but be handed over to religious charities. Billions of dollars would be provided for the purpose, he said. This was the new thinking – to which Mr Blair also apparently subscribes – that partnership between church and state is the way ahead in relation to social welfare.

But almost as soon as Mr Bush had made his proposals, objections arose from a whole raft of civil liberty and human rights groups. Would the religious groups being offered this massive injection of cash be required not to discriminate? Many of them said they’d rather not have Government money if it meant they had to employ homosexuals or adulterers or non-believers. And how would a “faith based” group be defined? Would radical separatist groups like Nation of Islam qualify? Or those that oppose rights for women or minorities? Is Scientology included, and Hare Krishna and the Moonies?

A huge campaign of resistance arose, but despite this, the faith-based welfare initiative – Charitable Choice as it is euphemistically called – has passed its first legislative hurdle by being approved by the House of Representatives. It still has a long way to go, and is being modified in order to make it more acceptable to the Senate. Mr Bush is anxious to reassure doubters that discrimination will not be institutionalised through this legislation, but at the same time the Guardian reported that “The Bush administration was accused of plotting to allow federally funded American religious organisations to discriminate against gay men and lesbians. A spokesman for [the President] denied a report in the Washington Post that the White House had made a ‘firm commitment’ to allow the Salvation Army and other religious charities to discriminate against gays. But it did not deny claims that it was discussing ways in which charities can continue to discriminate while they receive millions of dollars in federal aid under Mr Bush’s ‘faith based’ social services plan.”

While this was happening, a significant case was heard in Kentucky, concerning a woman who had worked for a Baptist children’s home, but who had been fired when it was discovered she was a lesbian. In its firing notice, the Baptist church said: “Alice Pedreira is being terminated from Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children because her admitted homosexual lifestyle is contrary to Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children core values.”

With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, Alice Pedreira had challenged her sacking in the District Court. Last month, the Judge ruled that the Baptists did have the right to sack her. “The civil rights statutes protect religious freedom, not personal lifestyle choice,” he told The Courier-Journal newspaper.

Although the Baptist Homes receive 80% of their funding from the public purse, they will not be required to amend their employment policy and can continue to exclude gay people from employment and sack those employees they subsequently discover to be gay.

“This is shocking stuff,” said Eric Ferrero, a spokesman for the lesbian and gay rights project of the American Civil Liberties Union. “We now have a court saying that you can use taxpayers funds to discriminate, and that is perfectly legal. It ups the ante on the Bush faith-based initiative and sets off alarm bells.”

Could this kind of crude religion-inspired persecution of gay people happen here? Let’s not forget that the Labour party manifesto included the promise: “We welcome the contribution of churches and other faith-based organisations as partners of local and central government in community renewal. We will use a successor to the Lambeth Group to look at the government’s interface with faith communities.”

The pressure is really on – not only from the loopy Steve Chalke, but also from the Conservative Christian Fellowship. I was invited recently to debate with one of the CCF’s representatives about this very issue on GMTV. It was clear that the religious lobby has an almost open door access to Downing Street. Mr Chalke himself – who was, bizarrely, chairing this debate – has, according to The Times, made two visits to Number Ten to push his case for public money to go to religious initiatives. When I raised the point about discrimination, the man from the Conservative Christian Fellowship didn’t seem to have thought of it. “I’m sure it wouldn’t happen,” he said. So I pointed out the two cases I’ve mentioned above. He seemed unperturbed.

But the Conservatives don’t matter in this case. It’s the Labour party who will be pulling the strings, and there is increasing concern about the Christian domination of the Cabinet. Speaking on the BBC1 current affairs programme On the Record, Martin O’Neill of the trade and industry select committee said of Mr Blair’s overtures to religious charities: “We could be in danger of reinforcing social divisions in the name of alternative forms of provision.”

Let’s hope that when battle commences, Stonewall and the other gay rights groups are ready for the fray. Fasten your seat belts, it could be a bumpy ride.

GAY TIMES October 2001

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

There are high hopes that Ken Livingstone’s charming gesture to inaugurate a “partnership register” in London will, in the fullness of time, lead to something a little more legally meaningful. Even if the certificate that comes with the registration has no official significance, at least the launch put the whole issue of gay partnership rights firmly on to the agenda.

Surprisingly, there was little resistance on the day. In fact, from some right-wing sources, there was an element of grudging good will, and recognition of the injustices. Even Richard Littlejohn, The Sun’s self-regarding “star” columnist, headed one of his outpourings “Why I’m backing gay weddings”. Mr Littlejohn said that he expected the “wedding” of Ian Burford and Alex Cannell (who were first in the queue) to make him squirm with embarrassment, but to his surprise he found it “rather sweet and touching. And not the slightest bit offensive.”

Mr Littlejohn – and we have to listen to what he says, I suppose, because he is a leading light of that ugly rump of ill-informed bar room opinion that seems to pervade much of Britain’s printed media – catalogued the petty discriminations and humiliations that can attend gay relationships. “Why should a homosexual be denied visiting rights when his partner is seriously ill in hospital?” Littlejohn rightly wanted to know. “Why should a man who has lived in a council flat for donkey’s years be evicted when his partner dies, simply because his name was not on the rent book? Why should a lesbian have to go to an industrial tribunal to get the same employment benefits as a married colleague? People should be able to transfer their pensions to someone with whom they have been in a long-term relationship, married or otherwise.”

The Daily Telegraph’s equivalent of Richard Littlejohn – the ridiculous Tom Utley – also felt that the partnership register was “right”, but for the wrong reasons. “At first I was against the register,” he wrote, “believing it would cost me money through my council tax. But even that charge will not stick. At a hefty £85 per entry, the register looks like becoming a nice little earner for the Greater London Authority.”

As far as Mr Utley is concerned, the whole thing is about money. He’s happy if the certificate can help persuade those who practise discrimination against gay couples to be a little less hard, but he is not happy about the equalisation of inheritance tax and pension rights. “Here, we are talking about big money, and we cannot afford to be sentimental… To put it bluntly, the state has a strong vested interest in promoting heterosexual marriage – but almost none in seeing that homosexual couples stay together. The state needs a constant supply of well-adjusted and law-abiding children – and countless studies show that marriage offers the best conditions in which to produce them. The state does not need homosexual partnerships.”

Mr Utley concludes by saying that churchmen will be ritually shocked by Ken Livingstone’s symbolic register: “We all know that God disapproves of homosexual acts,” he says, “so let us leave God out of this, for the moment.”

If only we could. The plain fact, however, is that when Lord Lester’s and Jane Griffiths’ proposed private members’ bills are introduced into the Lords and the Commons, there will be a general uprising from the religious establishment, who will be claiming breach of copyright on something that they consider to be exclusively theirs – namely, matrimony. They will see it as their duty to man the barricades in defence of “traditional marriage” and fight the introduction of any compassionate, progressive change in the law. Valerie Riches of Family and Youth Concern (a woman not noted for her kind-heartedness in public) started the ball rolling when she told The Daily Mail: “It’s a move towards making themselves socially acceptable as married couples and I don’t think it’s possible. It is another attempt to undermine the whole concept of marriage.”

This has been the story in all the Europe countries that have attempted, and sometimes succeeded, in introducing their particular variation on this partnership theme. The religious have resisted and protested every step of the way. At present in Austria, the Church has been riven by a suggestion that gay relationships might be blessed on hallowed ground. The Catholic weekly, The Tablet reported that: “Influential branches of the Austrian Catholic Men’s Association have distanced themselves from its recent proposal for a special church blessing for gay couples. According to the Association’s Vienna and Salzburg branches, the controversial proposal, which was rejected by the bishops’ conference, was published without consultation and ‘contradicts church doctrine’.”

At the same time, the Calvinist Church in Austria is in favour of gay blessings and has published a list of churches where this is possible. The Lutherans haven’t decided on the issue, out of “consideration for conservative Lutherans”.

Then The Guardian reported that England’s Roman Catholic primate, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, had stepped in to stop the blessing of a long-term gay relationship. It was being conducted by Right Reverend John Crowley, Catholic Bishop of Middlesbrough, who was set to say mass to celebrate the 25-year partnership of Julian Filochowski, the director of the Cafod aid agency, and Martin Prenderghast, former director of the Catholic Aids Link charity. The Cardinal rang moments before the service was to begin and forbade it. The Vatican is now, in its inimitably sinister way, “investigating” the bishop of Middlesbrough.

But, according to research conducted by Alan Bray, author of a soon-to-be published book called The Friend, church blessings for same sex couples were quite common between the 14th and 19th centuries. According to a report in The Guardian, there are lots of commemorative gravestones and memorials around the country which indicate that two people of the same sex were buried together in respect for the relationship they had when they were alive. “In Merton College Oxford, a brass dating from the 14th century records the burial together of John Bloxham and John Whytton, showing the two figures standing side by side holding hands in prayer,” reports Stephen Bates, The Guardian’s religious correspondent. “Another dating from 1684 in Christ’s College chapel, Cambridge, celebrates the ‘connubium’ or marriage of John Finch and Thomas Baines, illustrated by a knotted cloth. Nearby in Gonville and Caius College chapel a memorial of 1619 commemorates Thomas Legge and John Gostlin with a flame uplifted by two hands with a Latin inscription which translates as: Love joined them living. So may the earth join them in their burial. O Legge, Gostlin’s heart you still have with you.”

But lest we get the impression that gay partnerships were common and approved of in days of yore, we have Andrew Carey – son of the Archbishop of Cant. – pouring cold water on the idea.

He writes in The Church of England Newspaper that journalists are trying to paint “these friendships as equivalent of modern-day homosexuality”. They were nothing of the sort, he insists, and “spiritual kinships” of this kind were not sexual and the participants were not “married” in any recognisable sense.

“The Church has always regarded marriage as the pinnacle of God-ordained relationships. The self-identity of gay Christians cannot be read back into history in any kind of straightforward way,” Mr Carey opines. He says that the search for antique evidence to justify modern causes “must be resisted if we are not to corrupt the study of history completely”.

Excuse me? But isn’t the Christian church famous for repeatedly rewriting history to its own advantage? We don’t need lectures from Christians about perverting history – they are the past masters!

The fact is, though, that when the issue comes before Parliament, Lady Young will be gently prodded back to consciousness, and battle will commence. I can imagine that the propagandists at the Christian Institute are already writing her speeches and concocting another of their slanderous pamphlets that will be called something like “Gay Marriage: the end of all Christian life as we know it and the final insult to all God-fearing people, amen.”

But gay “marriage” is not what we are asking for. Nowhere (except in lazy newspaper headlines) has anyone asked for “marriage”. We want partnership rights, plain and simple. Let heterosexuals keep their blessed, misery-making institution for themselves. And let gay Christians fight a separate battle for the right to celebrate their unions in church. We cannot wait another century for the Pope to change his mind, and the Archbishop to relent in his opposition. We need legal protection, and we need it now.

In the meantime, we have to go at it piece-meal, fighting each issue separately. The Observer reported that “Armed forces plan to give gay partners full married benefits”. Such an approach simply creates discrimination, as those outside the armed forces are denied these benefits.

Let’s thank Ken Livingstone for getting the debate started, but let us also not underestimate what lies ahead. The Independent was quite clear that it doesn’t see much scope for progress in the near future – “such a prospect still appears a long way off” it said. But that doesn’t mean that we should not press on with optimism.

So let’s don our battle fatigues once more, roll up our sleeves and make “pretend family relationships” very much into legally-recognised real ones.