GAY TIMES November 2001

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

On September 10, I was writing a letter to the Egyptian Ambassador in London, protesting at the trial of 52 men in his country who were charged with various homosexual offences. This was obviously a show trial, I said, and it is clear (see last month’s Gay Times for details) that many of the men aren’t even gay, and are simply sacrificial victims, apparently chosen at random, to create a diversion from the country’s financial woes.

Then there was September 11.

A few weeks after this catastrophe, we were told by our Prime Minister that Islam had nothing to do with it. The people who did it were simply ‘terrorists’, not ‘Islamic terrorists’. Then he went to Pakistan in order to create a coalition with a nation that, only days before, had been regarded as a pariah to decent people and a grotesque abuser of human rights, and he assured the leaders of that country that Islam is a peaceful and glorious religion.

A recent issue of The Pink Paper examined the approach to homosexuality in leading Islamic states. The catalogue of cruelty, murder and persecution of gays was second only to their abuse of women. But we aren’t allowed to place the blame where it truly lies – at the door of Islam.

And even as I write, a news story comes down the wires, taken from an Iranian daily paper called Entekhab, saying “Iran’s government has ordered police to stamp on gays, who it claims are a sign of ‘western depravity’, and on women who are ‘unIslamic.’ Police have been told to close down internet providers who allow gay sites as well as internet cafes frequented by gays.”

Then at the Labour party conference, Home Secretary David Blunkett promised British Muslims that legislation would be rushed through making “incitement to religious hatred” illegal. He did this because Muslims in this country are being threatened and beaten up in the street in the wake of the World Trade Centre attacks.

I feel very sorry for those innocent people who are being violated and intimidated because they are Muslim. My sympathy arises from direct experience of being subjected to random violence and harassment from strangers in the street. I sympathise because last month a friend of mine was queer-bashed so badly that he had to spend two days in hospital. I sympathise because two straight colleagues of mine who were on their way to a party together were mistaken for “batty boys” and, for no other reason, were given a good kicking by a gang of strangers.

We in the gay community know what this kind of arbitrary violence can do to both body and mind. Let us not forget that the bomb that went off in the Admiral Duncan pub was an act of terror aimed at gay people, by a man filled with seething hatred that must have been incited somewhere – probably on some fascistic website. So why aren’t we getting protection from incitement to hatred?

After all, there is enough anti-gay hate mongering around. We are subject to casual abuse from many different sources. Tabloid newspapers sometimes vent their hatred of us in unrestrained terms. And so do religious zealots. One has only to remember the campaign waged in Scotland by Brian Souter and Cardinal Winning, and the violence that flowed from it, to realise that Muslims are not the only ones who need protection.

The race relations law has done little to stop racist violence, but it has stopped racist groups being able to publish inflammatory material advocating that violence. I’m all for that. But how would that work in relation to religion? Would the new law be protecting people, or their ideas?

Perhaps it was The Daily Telegraph that best summed up the dangers in an editorial. “It is important to be clear what Mr Blunkett is putting forward. Incitement to criminality has always been illegal. When person A persuades person B to attack person C, person A is breaking the law. What makes the race laws different is that person A can be convicted on the basis of his pronouncements alone, even if no one has acted on them. For the first time, crimes can be dealt with differently according to the accused’s motivation. This goes to the heart of our judicial system. Traditionally, English law has concerned itself with punishing deeds, not thoughts or words. If the law tries to stipulate what can or cannot be said about religious belief, we really are heading back towards the Middle Ages.”

The Public Order Act, the Criminal Damage Act, the Offences Against the Persons Act already make it illegal to bash innocent people in the street or threaten them or harass them whether they’re Muslims or Scientologists, black or white, straight or gay. So what exactly is this new law supposed to cover?

Well, it all depends on what Mr Blunkett decides “incitement to religious hatred” means. Does it mean that if I should say, for instance, that Islam is a hateful, murderous religion that persecutes women, gay people – and even sometimes Christians – I will be sent to prison or heavily fined? I only ask because, in its more unpleasant forms I think Islam can be a hateful, murderous religion – but then, so can Christianity and Judaism and Hinduism, when they get the chance to be. We have only to remember the letter sent to The Times opposing the lowering of the age of consent, and signed by just about every religious leader in the country, to know that they don’t hold back from trying to rob us of our human rights.

Some religious groups have been actively hate-mongering against gay people over the past few years and there is little that anybody can do to stop it. Some Muslim clerics in this country have called for the death penalty for gays, but I didn’t see Mr Blunkett rushing through any new laws to protect us from that.

If this law protects religion from criticism, then it could put us at a severe disadvantage. If, for instance, the Christian Institute decides to produce and distribute even more extreme anti-gay literature than it does already, will we just have to grin and bear it? If the Evangelical Alliance says that it doesn’t want gay people to have jobs in any welfare organisation that it controls, will we just have to take our P45s without protest?

If you think I am exaggerating, think back to the experience of Peter Tatchell in 1994 when he was protesting at a rally of Islamists at Wembley Arena. The 6,000 fundamentalists in attendance were advocating the murder of homosexuals, and Peter bravely went among them carrying a placard reading: “Islam Nazis behead and burn queers”, a reference to the gruesome methods of execution used by the Iranians to kill 4,000 gay men and lesbians since the Islamic revolution there. He was prosecuted under the 1986 Public Order Act, charged that his placard was “threatening, abusive or insulting” to Muslims and likely to cause them “harassment, alarm or distress”. No Muslim was arrested for advocating the murder of homosexuals.

But this illustrates that Blunkett’s law is already redundant. All that can be put in place that is not already there is some kind of extension to the blasphemy laws, which at present only apply to certain elements of Christianity (and which, we shouldn’t forget, were last used to prosecute a gay magazine in 1977). This would make it very difficult to attack religious extremism of any kind. One word out of place, and the many lawyers at the Christian Institute would be on you like a ton of bricks.

And before people start writing in to tell me that I’m racist, let me explain that this is not just a tirade against Islam, it’s a tirade against all religion. They have all set themselves up as our enemy, and whatever liberals within the various faiths might say, the official line in all major faiths is anti-gay.

The Pope thinks we’re “intrinsically disordered”, the Archbishop of Canterbury signed the notorious Lambeth Conference motion, putting the cause of gays in the church back by decades, the Chief Rabbi has spoken out in disparaging terms about homosexuality on many occasions. Even the Hindus and Sikhs added their name to a petition drawn up by Lady Young to keep Section 28.

But it is the Islamists who are the biggest threat to us. Their intention is not just to keep us in our place, but to eradicate us.

The events of September 11 brought out an apparent determination by the leaders of the Western world to fight hard to protect the liberal values of our society and the freedoms that have been so hard won.

And yet here we have a Home Secretary who is willing to sacrifice an important element of free speech to placate bigots. If this law is as restrictive as I fear, then it will be a capitulation to terrorism, not a defiance of it.

Islamic theocracies do not even understand the concept of human rights or civil liberties, and that is the chief element of what separates us from them. We must make every effort to ensure that the repressive values of Iran and Pakistan and Egypt do not find their way into our lives by stealth.

And with this in mind, my message to the Home Secretary is: Junk it, Blunkett!

GAY TIMES, December 2001

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

New Labour, we are told by the website, is giving serious consideration to the idea of partnership registration for gay couples. In an interview with Baroness Sally Morgan, the Minister for Women and Equality, we are told that “There is an increasing public debate on rights for same sex partnerships and I think it’s one that the government is watching with interest because there are clearly areas where most people would recognise that at the moment there is some unfairness.”

It sounds like good news, but the good Baroness goes on to tell us that “there’s no suggestion whatsoever that the government would move on the issue of marriage. We are very clear that marriage remains as it is and there would be no change in that.”

So, marriage is an institution reserved exclusively for heterosexuals, is it? Did you say you were the Minister for Equality, Sally? Could you give us some idea of what “equality” actually means in New Labour circles?

The news was greeted with equanimity by most of the tabloids, although The Daily Express went into Daily Mail mode with a front page headline reading: “Fury over go-ahead for gay ‘marriage’” It quoted our old friends Cornelia Oddie of “Family and Youth Concern” and Dr Adrian Rodgers who now runs an outfit called “Family Focus”, presumably from his front room. They considered that “Gay rights campaigners have won yet another battle.” It’s very nice of them to say so, but it’s a bit premature. However, we do seem to be motoring on this one.

Meanwhile in The Mail itself, there was slightly less hysteria, although it managed to squeeze in a quote from Ann Widdecombe (who seems to have inherited the title Blonde Bombsite from Lily Savage). La Widdecombe pronounced said: “This would undermine the institution of marriage. Any kind of formal recognition of gay relationships would militate against marriage.”

Last month, Jane Griffiths MP set the ball rolling by introducing a Bill into Parliament seeking to “legitimise” gay and lesbian partnerships. It gained a pleasing majority of 120. Reporting this in The Daily Telegraph, Frank Johnson wrote: “Tory MPs – already terrorised by the new regime of tolerance imposed by anyone contesting, or winning, the party leadership – fled the Chamber.”

This was not true of John Bercow, the Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who wrote an article for The Times in which he said: “A Conservative argument can be made for such an arrangement… we must not speak or behave in such a way as to imply the inception of such arrangements in this country would mark the end of civilisation as we know it.”

For all his fine words, Mr Bercow couldn’t see his way to supporting the Griffiths Bill (to be fair he didn’t oppose it, either).

Another issue – that of partly gay relationships – was also raised last month as the TV series Bob and Rose came to an end. The series was an exploration of what can be termed the Robinsonian – because its most high-profile adherent is the pop singer Tom Robinson. The Robinsonian is a relationship between a gay man and a straight woman. Since Bob and Rose hit the screens, there has been an acknowledgment that such relationships are far more common than was realised.

The Sun carried a feature about a couple – Caroline and Andy – who have a Robinsonian and seem perfectly happy. Caroline even goes so far as to say that she considers herself “the luckiest woman alive” because she has “the most gorgeous man who doesn’t fancy any of my friends!”

They met at the wedding of a mutual friend, but didn’t actually consummate the relationship until Andy went to Brighton, where Caroline lives, to the Gay Pride Festival. Caroline knew Andy was gay, and there was no big ‘coming out’ scene. They are now happily married and hope to have children. Andy says that he is still gay, although he has promised to be faithful to Caroline. “I feel happier than ever,” he says. “Being married hasn’t changed my sexuality, but I have pledged to be faithful to Caroline. I would never jeopardise my relationship. I am still a gay man – my partner just happens to be a woman.”

Many readers will be puzzled by these arrangements, but who are we to pass judgement on what other people feel? If it’s right for them, then that’s all there is to it. Although, of course, this is one gay man who doesn’t feel discriminated against in the marriage stakes.

A much more worrying manifestation of this willingness of straight women to marry gay men as a trophy or comforter, or even a cuddly toy, was demonstrated by Cristina Odone in The Observer. She described how she went to a big wedding in the Lake District where: “Sharing my hymn sheet is a delectable young man who, when he gets drunk at lunch, tells me blithely how he’s had an affair with the groom. ‘So have half the men here’ he giggles as he downs the champagne.”

At first Ms Odone is shocked and wonders why someone didn’t speak up at the “If anyone knows of just impediment why these two should not be married” bit of the service. Then she gets to thinking about the number of married politicians and entertainers who are rumoured to be gay and concludes: “if even half of the stories are true, there must be lots of marriages out there between gay him and straight her.”

After considering the matter for a while she says: “What could be nicer? When straight she draws gay him into the straight community, everyone benefits. He certainly does.”

She says that for millennia, gay men chose marriage because it secured their property rights, lines of succession and, in Christian societies, avoided puritanical censure.

“In evolutionary terms,” Ms Odone tells us, “the marrying gay is on to a winner; he secures the right to pass on his genes, rather than foregoing the reproductive imperative in order – according to the latest research – to assist his siblings’ children.”

From the woman’s point of view the advantages are that she gets for herself a great companion who isn’t this macho stud. “Marry a gay man and you do away with the tension (at first so exciting, but ultimately so exhausting) of being with a sexual aggressor who’s ever on the prowl and whose every thought bubble is of you in a pussy-pelmet and stilettos.”

She thinks it would be great to shift the emphasis of marriage from attraction to camaraderie, and who better to provide that than a tame gay man. “I’ve always known that some of my best friends are gay,” says Cristina, finally. “Now I might even marry one.”

Of course, a castrated homosexual would be the ideal for such a woman as Ms Odone. For your average gay man might not be on the prowl for pussy, but he never loses his taste for cock. To expect gay men to become eunuchs so that they can support women and their children is to expect too much. I think, before she takes precipitate action, Ms Odone ought to do a bit of research about the number of acrimonious divorces that occur because gay men have tried to sacrifice their sexuality on the altar of straight marriage. What she is advocating, in effect, is the same as what the ex-gay movement does, and we all know what a failure that little exercise has been.

Meanwhile, up on Canal Street in Manchester, the girls are out in force trying to do a Bob and Rose – according to the Guardian, anyway. Decca Aitkenhead reported that the gay village is now crowded with straight women looking for something. Something that’s different to their usual hetero milieu with its aggression and naffness. One such woman, Irene Kyme, who was there with her gay friend, is quoted as saying: “He wants me! He does, I swear. He was talking about threesomes the other night. Would I do it? Ab-so-lutely! I’m telling you, some of the men in here, they’re absolutely gorgeous. Straight men, they all just go about in Ben Sherman shirts. In here, it’s so exciting.”

Some of the gay regulars on Canal Street aren’t quite so thrilled. Mark Blake, a Via Fossa regular said: “These women come clattering in here like herds of wildebeest, shouting ‘Oi, I think you’re fucking sexy’. They’re always fat and bawdy, and I really don’t know where they get their clothes from. They dance around, and bosoms hit the floor and the ceiling, and the other night we couldn’t even get in because there were so many of them. It’s like the fat ladies’ Ritzy now. What they think they’re going to get out of it I don’t know.”

Presumably they live in hope that they’ll be able to attract a gay teddy bear to take home and cuddle (just cuddle, that’s all), just like Rose did.

Somebody who knows what the dire consequences of the Robinsonian can be for those who are unprepared is Deirdre Sanders, agony aunt at The Sun. She received a letter from a woman mooning over a gay friend. “This bloke and I spend all our time together and talk on the phone every day. We are really close. I know I am in love with him – so much it’s unbearable… He says he loves me, but not in the normal sense, more as in a close loving relationship. It hurts so much and I am so unhappy.”

Deirdre sensibly replied: “You know you can’t change this man. He can only be a dear friend. You are the one who must change.”

Of course, since Bob and Rose, there is far less likelihood that Ms Sanders’ wise advice will be heeded. And we can expect a spate of very unhappy marriages in the near future.