GAY TIMES January 2004

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

“My government will maintain its commitment to increased equality and social justice by bringing forward legislation on the registration of civil partnerships between same-sex couples,” said the Queen, acknowledging, for the first time in her 51 years on the throne, that she has gay subjects.

Even more staggering, from an establishment point of view, was a leader in The Daily Telegraph carrying the headline: “Gay couples should be equal under the law” and making a passionate case for partnership registration. Is this the same Daily Telegraph that only a few short years ago wouldn’t use the world gay or would only do so if enclosed within dismissive quotation marks?

What further proof can one need that there has been a seismic shift in attitudes to gay rights in a very short time? Only three years ago, that editorial would have been utterly unthinkable. Now it has happened. Frame it, for it is almost as significant as the Bill itself.

Of course, in media terms there is still one final fortress to conquer, and that it is the intractable Daily Mail. Its reaction to the news about civil partnership registration was predictably apoplectic. (And this idiocy will not cease until the paper’s editor, Paul Dacre – whose knee jerks more often than a can-can dancer – steps down and takes his reactionary agenda with him.)

The Mail, as is its wont on these occasions, wheeled out the frothy-mouthed Melanie Phillips to predict Armageddon and the end of all life on earth, and possibly the universe, if this goes through. “How can any responsible government even contemplate such a nihilistic piece of social vandalism?” she hyperventilated. “The whole gay rights agenda is a direct attack on heterosexual monogamous marriage… one has to see the gay rights movement for what it really is: a highly-organised, pan-Western movement which uses victim culture to advance its interests, with the result that personal liberty and independence of thought and action are replaced by the tyranny of the most powerful interest groups over the weak.”

Sending a message from the real world to the planet Melanie, Jeanette Winterson in The Times, wrote: “There is no Pink Plot to undermine traditional family values. Bigots will warn us all about the disintegration of society and the collapse of marriage, but marriage is a robust institution that in itself is continually evolving. If marriages no longer last for ever, it is because we are all living longer, and because women in particular have different expectations of married life. Recognising gay relationships does not harm marriage – what it does is help us all be part of the same family.”

The Christian Science Monitor in the USA took a look at what impact “gay marriage” has had on countries where it has been legal for a while. What it found was (sorry to disappoint you Melanie) “the social impact of gay marriage has been less dramatic than some people had expected.” The paper quotes Kees Waaldijk of the University of Leiden as saying: “It’s difficult to notice a difference in general that has developed in the last two years.”

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t problems. Freedom of religion is guaranteed under the Dutch constitution and under this umbrella some registrars have refused to register gay couples. “One town did not renew the contract of a registrar who said she would not be available for same-sex marriage,” reported The Christian Science Monitor. “The woman appealed. ‘We still don’t know if she has the right to invoke her conscience,’ Waaldijk said.”

In this country the Christian Institute is making precisely that point. Will there be opt-outs for registrars who don’t – because of their bigotry…er, I mean, religious conscience – want to register gay partnerships? You can be sure that when the legislation comes before parliament the CI will have its puppets in the House of Lords trying to secure these exemptions, and others – that’s if they can’t manage to scupper it altogether.

However, we can be optimistic that the proposals won’t have too rough a ride through parliament (although we must not be complacent at this stage). Michael Howard, the new leader of the Tories has indicated that he intends to give his troops a free vote on the issue. It seems this legislation has serendipitously arrived at the very moment that Howard is trying to demonstrate his party really is compassionate and inclusive.

He is even allowing the openly gay MP Alan Duncan to speak from the front bench for the party during the debate. The Guardian reported: “Insiders believe Mr Howard gave Mr Duncan the job of shadow secretary of state for constitutional affairs with this debate in mind.”

However, the Tories may complicate things by trying to introduce the concept of registered partnerships for a wider range of dependent relationships – like elderly siblings living together.

Other unexpected “supporters” have emerged from the woodwork. Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, said on the BBC1 “Breakfast with Frost” programme that: “In my book, as long as we don’t call it marriage… there may well be a case for looking at civil partnerships.” Well, that’s very magnanimous of him. Now why doesn’t he go away and shove his head in a bucket?

Then came Lady Hale, the first woman Law Lord (Law Lady?). She told The Independent: “My present view is that there is a strong case for introducing a legal commitment between people who are unable to marry, principally gay and lesbian partners.”

So, it seems everything’s coming up roses. This cannot be said in the USA, where the same issue is causing a stink of the first order.

When the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that gay couples could not be denied the right to marry, it set off a reaction so filled with hate it made me feel rather sick. But once again, gay people are being used as a “wedge issue” by politicians and priests, anxious to exploit us for their own ends. Every raving reverend and opportunist politico – from tin pot local bigots right up to the President (is there a difference?) immediately jumped on the bandwagon and started with the anti-gay invective.

Republicans immediately began claiming that the decision was “judicial tyranny” and didn’t reflect what the people wanted. However, newspaper polls showed that more than 50 per cent of people in Massachusetts approved the court’s decision, with only 38 per cent opposing it.

Perhaps this issue above all others illustrates the difference between European and American culture; between our precious liberalism and their accursed fundamentalism.

As soon as the Massachusetts ruling was announced, Bush insisted that marriage was “a sacred institution between a man and a woman” and that the court had violated that principle. While he was in London, Bush said: “I will work with congressional leaders to do what is legally necessary to defend the sanctity of marriage.”

The Times reported that “hoping to short circuit further rulings more than 760,000 people have signed an on-line petition calling for a federal constitutional amendment outlawing same sex marriage. Conservative activists are vowing to make this a litmus-test in the presidential campaign.”

An amendment to the US constitution is a major undertaking, however. It requires two-thirds majorities in both Houses and in the legislature of three quarters of all states. It could take about ten years to achieve. I think maybe President Bush will have come a cropper before then.

Marriage falls within the jurisdiction of individual states at present, and so different models are being created in different states. Just as they are in different countries of Europe.

Of all the countries here that have instituted some kind of gay partnership law, none is the same model and none will recognise the legality of any of the others at the moment. But now that we are part of the European Union, surely that could be put right?

Katherine Boele-Woelki, a professor of private international law at the University of Utrecht thinks that it will be “within two to three years”. She told the Christian Science Monitor of “two Dutch men living in Germany who came back to the Netherlands to be married. When they returned to Germany, authorities there regarded the men as cohabiting partners, with no rights as a married couple.”

Registered partnerships are now available in approximately 10 European countries, but cross-border non-recognition will increasingly create legal complications that will have to be addressed.

For the moment, though, we should take some time to savour our victory and gather our energy for this final push. This is a momentous time for gay people in Britain and – because we will still be here when Bush is long gone and forgotten – maybe for gay people all over the world.

GAY TIMES February 2004

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

After centuries when the topic wasn’t even thinkable, the issue of gay marriage has suddenly swept around the world like a tornado. Countries in Europe – including Britain – are falling over themselves to give gay couples partnership rights, while in the United States the political and religious conservatives think they’ve found themselves a sure-fire vote winner by opposing such developments.

In Canada, the Supreme Court has told the government to introduce gay marriage by May – or else! – and in Spain, the conservatives and the Catholics have joined forces to make capital from bigotry. The Independent then tells us that even Tasmania – once regarded as the most homophobic place in Christendom – has introduced a Relationships Act which the paper says is “one of the world’s most enlightened pieces of legislation.”

Britain, then, is proceeding towards the legal gay partnership with comparative decorum. All is serene as we await publication of the parliamentary Bill that will represent the biggest advance in gay rights since… well, since ever!

I say that all is quiet, but that does not mean that the dead-head religious groups that have been fulminating from the sidelines might not be preparing a nasty surprise. Despite the fact that the Conservative party has decided to allow its MPs a free vote, we should not drop our guard until Her Majesty has autographed the statute.

But preparations are in progress. The Sunday Telegraph advised us that the National Trust has announced that it is making some of its properties available for the celebration of gay partnership ceremonies. Given the middle-England make-up of the National Trust’s membership, this news sparked only token resistance from some of the predictable fuddy-duddies – like right-wing “philosopher”, Roger Scruton. He told The Sunday Times: “The purpose of the National Trust is to maintain some kind of picture of what the English countryside and properties were like, and one thing they were not like is that.”

It’s a very different story in the USA, where hysteria informs the topic at every turn. Last November the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that prohibiting same-sex couples the right to marry violated the state’s Constitution. The court gave the State Legislature 180 days (which expire on 17 May) to rewrite the law in order to permit same-sex marriage. It now turns out that under Article IV of the US Constitution, same-sex marriages performed in Massachusetts may have to be recognised in other states. (Coincidentally, New Jersey has just become the fifth US state to voluntarily recognise same-sex unions).

The right-wing is pushing for a Constitutional amendment that would reserve marriage for only one man and one woman. Bush says he’s sympathetic to such a move, but he hasn’t said he’ll support it yet.

Meanwhile – seeing the Democrats taking a lead in the polls – Republicans around the country are trying desperately to exploit the uncertainty and, in the process, garner more votes for November’s presidential election.

Much of their ire is directed at Democrat front-runner, Howard Dean. When he was governor of Vermont he committed the cardinal sin of signing a civil unions bill that granted gay couples the same rights as marriage.

The Christian soldiers who are presently running the United States demanded that he say where he currently stands on the issue. Mr Dean – recognising the need not to upset the powerful religious constituency in the US – equivocated. In an interview with the Washington Post he said that while he doesn’t support gay “marriage”, he could live with “civil unions” for gay and other unmarried partners.

“The overwhelming evidence is that there is a very significant, substantial genetic component to it”, Mr Dean told reporters: “From a religious point of view, if God had thought homosexuality is a sin, he would not have created gay people. My view of Christianity… is that the hallmark of being a Christian is to reach out to people who have been left behind. So I think there is a religious aspect to my decision to support civil unions.”

Last November, an opinion poll for The Boston Herald showed voters only narrowly supported “gay marriage”, but overwhelmingly supported the idea of equal rights for gay couples. In other words, call it something other than “marriage” and you’ll win.

But one person who doesn’t care for that particular compromise is Andrew Sullivan, a gay Englishman who made a career as a conservative pundit in the USA. In the column he writes for The Sunday Times, Mr Sullivan – a long-time advocate of gay marriage – praised Britain for its commonsense approach, but wanted to know why a proposal that was, to all intents and purposes, marriage, wasn’t being called marriage. “I have a feeling that many gay couples might even take such partnerships more seriously than some straight couples, because they have never taken them for granted,” he wrote. “These couples will have children; they will cohabitate; they will share finances; they will be everything that married couples are. So why call them something else?”

In Canada, the Government is under orders from the Courts to redefine marriage so as to include same-sex couples. There is much reactionary agitation aimed at blocking the change. Despite their best efforts, though, the conservatives and the Catholics have not yet been able to derail this decision, and if nothing dramatic happens, gay marriage should be legal in Canada within the year.

Meanwhile, in Rome, the quavering pope reinforced his opposition to gay unions over the holiday. The Vatican announced, through its Zenit News Service, that Pope John Paul II had once more “called for a greater defence of the institution of marriage between man and woman” and said that the push for gay marriage was the result of “misunderstood rights”.

The Vatican has ordered Catholic politicians to oppose gay rights whenever they have the opportunity. They should, the pope says, promote Catholic dogma even if it contradicts the clearly stated desires of constituents. Anti-democratic, or what?

In Spain, “domestic partnership rights” are being manipulated into a wedge issue for the forthcoming election. The opposition Socialist Party has put forward a package of reforms including the legal recognition of gay couples. This has given the ruling Popular Party the opportunity to moralise and drag in the powerful Spanish Catholic Church to support it.

The head of the Church in Spain, Cardinal Antonio Maria Rouci Varela, delivered what he hoped would be a knock-out blow. He claimed granting gay people partnership rights would result in the collapse of the social security system. Finance Minister Cristobal Montoro said that the proposals would “ruin economic growth and job creation”, leading to “a society of the unemployed.”

The Socialists responded by calling the Minister “imbecilic”. The Spanish Federation of Lesbians and Gays said that the government, in league with a bigoted Church, were trying to “promote an intolerant society”. A Christian gay group said the Cardinal had made a fool of himself by delivering a pack of lies under the guise of a sermon (but aren’t all sermons a pack of lies by their very nature?) Anyway, Spain seems to have an unpleasant battle on its hands.

Whereas, back in Britain, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland broke the religious mould by making plain his backing for the Government’s proposals for civil partnerships. Iain Torrance – for it is he – said it was “a matter of justice, not religion”. He told The Herald newspaper in Glasgow that he was sad that the various churches were being so “defensive”. Christianity, he said, “has a long tradition of defining itself by vilifying the other.”

Other priests have reached the same conclusion. According to the National Catholic Reporter, 23 priests in Chicago signed a round-robin letter addressed to “The Hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church”, calling on it to stop using “violent and abusive language” in relation to gay people.

“Has any other group within the Body of Christ been so assaulted and violated by such mean-spirited language?” they asked. They point to a document released by the Vatican last summer that condemned gay unions and which, the letter writers assert, “demonised these children of God” by using such terms a “a serious depravity” and “a grave detriment to the common good” and “intrinsically disordered” about gay people. “Does anybody consider this vile and toxic language invitational?” they asked.

The originator of the letter, Fr. Richard Prenderghast, told The National Catholic Reporter: “The Vatican statement has caused Catholic homosexuals to finally ‘flip the switch’ and abandon Catholicism. They’re beyond anger. There’s just sadness that they can’t belong to such a church anymore.”

Oh well, the Vatican document did some good, then.

GAY TIMES – March 2004

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

The topic for discussion this month is a big one – free speech and its limits. Recent events have put a severe strain on what we’re allowed to say in public. The tabloids usually dismiss such restrictions as “political correctness gone mad”, but maybe this time they’ve got a point.

I’m beginning to get a little worried myself about the restrictions on opinions that are gradually creeping upon us. And worse still, I’m beginning to wonder whether the gay community is adding to the problem.

The issue flared up anew with the Robert Kilroy-Silk debacle. You will remember that Mr Kilroy-Silk made some comments about Arabs that were adjudged “racist” by some in the Muslim community (and the ever-ready-to-be-offended Trevor Phillips at the Commission for Racial Equality). There was much agitation for the veteran chat show host to be sacked. He apologised and said it had been a mistake. His comments, he claimed, had been directed at Arab states rather than just Arabs, but had somehow become mangled in the journey between his word processor and the pages of The Sunday Express.

As we know, after a nasty controversy, Mr Kilroy-Silk was suitably punished; not by being burned at the stake, as with heretics of old, but by being axed from his TV programme.

All of a sudden, it seems, if you say one word out of place, you risk at best getting your P45, and at worst a court appearance. But is the gay community any better? Are we in danger of falling into the nasty habit of demanding that our critics shut up or else? Have we lost the power to argue our case by rational means?

Now, let’s get the terms of this debate right, to start with. I’m not talking here about inciting violence against people. If a rap singer exhorts his fans to batter a batty boy or stab or shoot him, or an Islamic rabble-rouser encourages his followers to kill, harass or otherwise harm gay people, then that is illegal, and so it should be.

But what if, for instance, a Roman Catholic cardinal says that 90% of gay men are perverts? Should that be illegal? We know it’s stupid, ignorant – laughable even – but should it be against the law for him to say it?

I’m referring here to Cardinal Gustaaf Joos of Belgium, who told a soft-porn magazine: “I’m prepared to sign here in my blood that of all those who say they are lesbian or gay, at most five to 10 per cent are effectively lesbian or gay. All the rest are sexual perverts. I demand you write this down. If they come to protest on my doorstep, I don’t care. I’m just speaking out on what thousands of people are thinking, but never get the chance to say.”

As I say, bonkers and not worth even responding to. And yet instead of simply saying “The Cardinal needs treatment”, a Brussels civil rights group called the Centre for Equal Opportunities and Struggle Against Racism began proceedings against the Cardinal for violating Belgium’s anti-discrimination laws.

Remember the document released by the Pope last year, the one condemning gay marriage? It contained some of the most hateful, spiteful language I’ve ever seen in a Church document. But rather than trying to get the poisonous pontiff’s collar felt, I much prefer the approach of the brave Catholic priests around the US who signed a letter calling the Vatican to account. A group of them in Chicago, and now another lot in New York, sent round robins to Rome deploring the vindictiveness of the phraseology in the Vatican document. They made the case for restraint in compassionate terms that put the Vatican to shame.

Needless to say, the Holy See has ways of silencing these recalcitrant priests and its wrath will no doubt fall upon them in the near future.

There are grey areas, of course. One of these occurred in Canada when a court recently ruled that a teacher in a state-run school had no right to make public his abhorrence of homosexuality. The teacher, a frothy-mouthed Christian by all accounts, wrote condemnatory letters to the local paper saying things like “Homosexuality is not something to be applauded” and “I refuse to be a false teacher, saying that promiscuity is acceptable, perversion is normal, and immorality is simply ‘cultural diversity’ of which we should be proud.” In upholding his sacking, the court ruled he should not be in charge of vulnerable children while spouting such opinions in public. The judge said: “It is entirely appropriate that the teaching profession, like any profession, be held to uphold more stringent standards of conduct than the lay public.”

But I don’t think these caveats apply in the case of the Gay Police Association and Richard Littlejohn.

Mr Littlejohn is not my favourite journalist – or yours either, I would guess. In his aggravating column in The Sun he wrote about plans to introduce a quota system in the police force to ensure proper representation of gay men and lesbians. He doesn’t reckon much to the idea of quotas, whether they be on grounds of race, gender, sexuality or anything else, which is a legitimate line to take.

However, he expressed his opposition in rather immoderate terms, saying that “these days, cottaging is a career move” for gay police officers. He venomously attacked Inspector Paul Cahill, chairman of the Gay Police Association, who had been awarded an MBE. “Good luck to him,” wrote Mr Littlejohn sarcastically, “but what marks him out from hundreds of other inspectors other than his predilection for same-sex sex?”

He also took an unpleasant pop at Brian Paddick and compounded it all by saying that it had to be assumed that all women police officers were lesbians unless otherwise stated.

I can understand these policepersons being outraged by such comments and their anger was widely reported and commented upon. But not happy with simply making a reasoned riposte, they then made a formal complaint to Scotland Yard’s hate crimes unit and wondered whether Sky TV should reconsider Littlejohn’s nightly show.

That’s where I squirm with discomfort. If Mr Littlejohn has told a lie, deliberately brought a person’s reputation into disrepute or otherwise traduced their good name, then there is a libel law to fall back on. Brian Paddick used it successfully against The Daily Mail when it made allegations about him that were false and went far beyond the realms of fair comment, putting his reputation as a policeman on the line.

If any of Littlejohn’s comments fall into that category, the victims can sue. But if it’s just that they don’t like his opinion and feel he should be sacked because he hurt their feelings, then we’re into a whole different ball game. That would amount to a blasphemy law for gay people. It must not happen.

It is not so many decades ago that gay people were ruthlessly silenced (Radclyffe Hall found herself in the dock when she published the lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness in 1928.) We had to fight long and hard to break that silence. We have been extraordinarily successful but we mustn’t let our new freedom turn us into tyrants, gagging others as we were gagged. It mustn’t be a crime to criticise us – after all, sometimes we deserve it.

We have to accept that there are many people in this country who haven’t come to terms with our new-found visibility and don’t like us. We’re not going to change their mind by sending the Thought Police round every time they challenge us. We have to convince them, and if we can’t convince them, then we at least have to argue our case for the benefit of uncommitted onlookers.

In his classic defence of freedom, John Stuart Mill said there was a difference between offence and harm. We need to think about that and take it on board. We mustn’t stop people doing or saying things just because they offend us. Too many people are offended by too many different things – including homosexuality. We should curb the freedom of others only if what they say or do causes harm – and being insulted is not the same as being beaten up.

Instead of trying to muzzle our critics, we should be defending their right to make their views known, and we should defend our right to argue.

Remember, one day the pendulum may swing back and our turn to be silenced might come again. There are many people who would love that. Only last month the Pope said the media portrayed homosexuality with too much sympathy and such a thing was, in his opinion, “inimical to the common good of society”.

So watch out boys: if you censor others they might well come round one day with the gag for you.

GAY TIMES, April 2004

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

The Daily Telegraph carried an obituary last month of Ivor Stanbrook, one of the old-style Tory MPs who flaunted their bigotry in the House of Commons like a badge of honour. Such repulsive characters had their last hurrah during the Thatcher years, when it seemed that no prejudice was too foul to express from the Tory benches. Even his own colleagues called him Neanderthal.

Mr Stanbrook’s death seems somehow symbolic, for he passes into history just as the Tory Party tries to throw overboard everything that he stood for. Once more, the Tories are attempting to reposition themselves as the inclusive, friendly party that will no longer brook bigoted bombast from its MPs. After all, look what happened to Anne Winterton when she cracked her now infamous joke about the Chinese cockle-pickers.

At the same time, the Church of England seems to be trying to do a volte face over the issue of homosexuality.

As we reported last month, there were encouragingly friendly noises emanating from the General Synod, as the abusive anti-gay rhetoric of the past year was suddenly replaced by kindly understanding and a desire to be fair and – well, nice to gay Christians.

The Church of England was the Tory Party at prayer when the blue rinses and country squires ran the show. Taking tea with the vicar at that time meant you had to share your cucumber sandwiches with little old ladies who wanted hanging brought back for graffiti artists, imprisonment on Devil’s Island for shoplifting and saw no reason why the children of single mothers should not return up the chimney, as in the good old days.

It’s all changed now. As the old gels with the helmet-like hairstyles go the way of Ivor Stanbrook, and the country squires look to the BNP for succour, both the CofE and the Tories are trying to convince us that underneath it all, they really, really like us.

Homosexuality is the touchstone by which their progress is to be judged.

But can we trust them? Haven’t we been here before, with promises of a welcoming hand, swiftly followed by a stab in the back?

Mr Michael Howard – the recently installed leader of the Conservative Party – promises to be different from his predecessor, Ian Duncan Smith. He assures us that he has changed from his time as a reactionary bastard in the Thatcher Years. He makes friendly noises about being in favour of legalising gay partnerships and has given his imprimatur to a conference that will explore the effects of homophobia on young gay people. What a wonderful conversion – sing hallelujah and put the rainbow flags out.

But we can’t forget (and some of us can’t forgive) Mr Howard’s personal responsibility for the introduction of Section 28 when he was Home Secretary under Old Ma Thatcher. We can’t quite get out of our mind that he voted against s28’s abolition, and against the lowering of the age of consent. Mr Howard’s gay-friendliness is of very recent origin. And I’m not yet convinced he isn’t just a politician, like all the others, facing whichever way the wind blows.

However, on the plus side, Mr Howard – may we call you Michael? – did make clear that he supports the idea of partnership registration for gays, although he stopped short of endorsing gay marriage. “Civil partnership differs from marriage,” he told the Policy Exchange in a speech (as reported in The Guardian). “Marriage is a separate and special relationship which we should continue to celebrate and sustain. To recognise civil partnership is not, in any way, to denigrate or downgrade marriage.”

On the other hand, denying gay people full marriage, and offering as compensation a second-best alternative, denigrates and downgrades gay people, don’t you think, (can we call you) Mike?

And while the front end of the Tory Party is making reassuring noises, its arsehole end is just as smelly as it always was. In February the Tories decided to vote against a measure in the Housing Bill that would guarantee the right of tenure succession, so that same-sex partners could stay in tenanted accommodation after the death of a partner. It would particularly benefit gay and lesbian council tenants.

The Shadow Minister for Local Government, John Hayes, speaking for the Conservatives, said that he was calling for his fellow Tories to join him in voting against the measure. “Let me make it clear that I have not got a socially liberal bone in my body,” he bragged. Fortunately, his rallying cry was unsuccessful, and the measure was voted through with Labour support. But it does make you wonder how much of Mikey’s siren song is top-show.

The same applies to the Church of England, of course. We’ve already been bewildered by the contradictory remarks of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who blows hot and cold on gay rights. His pronouncements are so convoluted that it’s difficult to know what the hell he thinks about the issue most of the time.

For instance, at the first meeting of the Eames Commission (which has been set up to try and make progress on the war over gays in the Church), Dr Williams said (according to The Times): “You will need to be aware of the danger of those doctrines of the Church which, by isolating one element of the Bible’s teaching, produce distortions – a Church of the perfect or the perfectly unanimous on one side, a Church of general human inspiration or liberation on the other.”

What does this mean – if it means anything? Where does the Archbishop stand? Is he with us or against us?

The Church Times tried to make sense of it when commenting on Dr Williams’ first year in office. It recognised his desire to be “friendly” to both combatants in this war, but it also saw the danger of such an approach. Whenever he made friendly noises to either side, the other immediately jumped to the conclusion that he was against them. The paper warned that the Archbishop “might need to use a firmer hand” if he is to avoid a full scale meltdown.

But despite the apparent rapprochement towards gays from Church House in London, there is another side to the Anglican Communion that is far from friendly. The Daily Telegraph showed us it when it carried a report from Adrian Blomfield in Kenya. He wrote: “Parishioners here are deeply conservative. Most think that homosexuality is abhorrent. ‘The church is very much against a person who has openly declared that he is homosexual being ordained,’ said the Rev Habil Omungu. ‘Such a person would introduce unacceptable and unbiblical teachings’.” Mary McNaughton, who goes to Rev Omungu’s church, says that she considers homosexuality “absolutely horrific”. “It’s totally un-Christian,” she shudders. “I think if it were to happen here I would probably leave the church. I wouldn’t go to a church where a homosexual was preaching and God would not want a homosexual to come between me and Him.”

Then The Daily Telegraph reported that the Archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, had deliberately slighted Rowan Williams by “refusing to attend a meeting of Church leaders, hosted by Dr Williams.” Akinola has described the installation of a gay bishop in the USA as “a Satanic attack on the Church”. Then the Primate of Central Africa launched his own attack on the Americans, saying they had inflicted “a desperately grave wound to the Church” and warned that they would split from the Communion “for the spiritual safety of our people.”

In the face of such opposition, there seems no leeway for negotiation. Either the gay bishop goes or the Africans do. And the Asians. And large parts of the United States, too.

Rowan Williams cannot unite these people with the likes of the liberal Bishop of Oxford, or South Africa’s Desmond Tutu, who have spoken out strongly in favour of including gays in the Church. Not even if he had the wisdom of Solomon and a thousand years to play with can Rowan Williams keep his Church in one piece.

So, eventually the Archbishop of Cant will have to stop obfuscating and take a stand – just like Michael Howard has. Both of them risk alienating their traditional wings. Michael Howard has put his money on the table.

Now it’s Rowan Williams’ turn.

The stakes are rather different, though. Michael Howard’s traditional wing is dying off, but for Rowan Williams, it’s the only part of his constituency that is growing.

GAY TIMES May 2004

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

Like most reality TV shows, Making Babies the Gay Way made gruesomely riveting viewing. The cameras followed four gay couples as they each tried for children, using a variety of non-traditional methods. And everywhere the participants went, so did the cameras – bedroom, lavatory, the lot.

Why do they do it, I thought. What motivates people to go on TV and spill their guts for the entertainment of the nation? The present mad obsession with reality TV give almost unlimited opportunity for “ordinary people” to get on the box and expose themselves to ridicule or judgment. But, I ask again, why do they do it?

Gay people, I suspect, do it for two reasons. The first is that they hope they will increase understanding of whatever aspect of gay life it is they’re trying to raise awareness of. The second is that they are incorrigible exhibitionists who’ll do anything to get their 15 minutes of fame.

It all started with Oprah Winfrey in the States. In the early days of her seminal chat show in the 80s and 90s, she’d regularly have gay people on, encouraging them to talk about their experience of coming out and trying to make their families understand the situation. Oprah was the doyenne of such programmes – liberal, compassionate and genuinely interested in the stories of the people she brought on to her show. There is little doubt that she played a part in promoting understanding.

But Oprah quickly spawned imitators, many of whom have been less benevolent. The Oprah style of sympathetic enquiry was rapidly replaced by the Jerry Springer freak-show approach.

Mr Springer – and lesser competitors – seemed to have no problem finding trailer-trash fodder for their confrontational family massacres. If a family was at war, or a relationship strained, no expense would be spared in making sure the wounds were reopened right there on set. Indeed, the show was adjudged a failure if someone didn’t end up sobbing or a chair hadn’t been flung.

Inevitably, it led to murder. In 1995, The Jenny Jones Show (described in court as “the ultimate in bad taste and sensationalism”) invited a gay man on to describe the secret sexual yearnings he had for a work colleague. The colleague, stunned and humiliated by the revelation, turned out to be lethally homophobic and later went to the young man’s house and killed him.

After the talk shows (Ricki Lake, Trisha and some even trashier) came the reality documentaries, where film crews would follow people in their jobs, to watch them doing some other interesting activity – such as abusing their customers at airports. All very fascinating for those of us safe in our armchairs, passing comment about people’s stupidity or their repulsive lifestyles. But what happens to those people when the camera crews have packed up and gone and the temporary TV stars have to face their neighbours or parents – who they just happen to have been slagging off on BBC2 the night before?

Television is monstrous in its appetite for new flesh. It chews people up and spit them out at an incredible rate, leaving them to clear up the shit that the programme has probably left them in. But, hey, these idiots did it of their own free will – and the TV company has the signed waivers to prove it.

Which brings us back to Making Babies the Gay Way. Gay parenthood is a hot topic, of course, and a legitimate subject for general debate. But this wasn’t general. It was very personal and intimate. I don’t know whether this was the effect the producers were aiming for, but I squirmed a I watched and blanched as men and women in the street were invited to make bigoted, ill-informed comments about how wrong it was for “poofs” to bring up kids.

Making Babies was no informed discussion. It was pure Roman arena-style entertainment, with the prospective parents put on display for the audience to cheer or boo as the mood took them. There was emotion, intrusion, tears and anxiety: all ingredients that were bound to cement the prejudices of those already unsympathetic and to undermine the confidence of those fighting our corner.

But why do the participants allow themselves to be used in this way? Had the producers persuaded them that they would be presented with dignity and as trailblazing heroes? If they did, it was a forlorn hope.

The lesson to be learned from this is that going on reality TV is a dangerous business. It can make you into a star (if you happen to be Will Young and win Pop Idol) or it can make you look like a berk (and if you already are one, you’ll look 20 times worse on TV).

When Quentin Crisp allowed a TV company to film his home life, he knew precisely what he was doing, his eccentricity, he realised, would play well with a TV audience and his story created sympathy. Mr Crisp was very much in charge of the way he was portrayed and the rest is history.

But for those of us who aren’t so wise, the risks are enormous. Not only will everyone – but everyone – come to know your intimate secrets but because you’ve put them in the public domain, they’ll assume you’ve given them carte blanche to be as insensitive as they like when telling you what they think.

Be aware that when a TV company invites you to participate, they’ll ask you to sign an agreement that lets them do what they like with what they’ve filmed. They can edit it in any way they want and however well you imagine you’ve performed, a skilled editor can still make you look idiotic. And you’ll have agreed to let them show it on cable and satellite stations ad infinitum. Just when you thought you’d got over the trauma, it’ll pop up again on UK Gold.

It’s flattering to be courted and cajoled by the researchers from the programme. They’ll make you feel like the most important person in the world as they persuade you into taking part. And you’ll be whisked about in a flashy car and maybe offered big fees for what seems like little effort. But as soon as filming’s over, you’ll be dispensed with. The researcher who seemed to friendly and thoughtful will now move on to the next project. You’re yesterday’s product. You may have arrived at the studio in a big, chauffeur-driven car but it’s likely you’ll be going home on the bus.

If you’re going to do one of these shows, the first thing to remember is that you are a commodity. No-one in TV cares about you, however charming they are at the start. You’re there to make them a living and, if they’re lucky, a reputation.

Not all producers are as exploitative as this, of course. Some are genuinely committed to exploring the topic they’ve taken on. But increasingly, it’s about hysteria, sensation and confrontation. You’ve seen Wife Swap, right? Well, stand by for the gay version.

Secondly, make sure you get paid. TV producers are aware that “ordinary people” (that is, anyone not sanctified by being a “broadcast professional”) don’t know the drill. You haven’t got an agent to advise you so unless you ask for money it probably won’t be offered. They’ll give the impression that you’re doing them a favour – or even that they’re doing you a favour – and money will never be mentioned. But, of course, they’ll be getting a fat pay cheque and the programme will be making a profit for the TV company. Given that all this cash will be generated at the expense of your dignity, at least get the most generous cut you can screw out of them. Don’t be shy – they aren’t.

If you’ve got showbiz ambitions, reality TV is not the route to fame. Talent will be spotted in the appropriate place if it’s there. Putting yourself through the reality TV mill will get you, at best, a few minutes of infamy that will be forgotten by the viewer almost as soon as they’ve hit the remote to change channels.

Meanwhile, your appearance might have long-term implications for your private life that aren’t worth any amount of attention.

GAY TIMES June 2004

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

Three cheers for Ross Kelly, the TV presenter, late of TVam, now of The Heaven and Earth Show, who came out in an interview with The Mail on Sunday. (Mind you, given he’s been on our screens for 20 years and has never said a word before, perhaps we ought to reduce that to two cheers). “It’s time to tell the viewers that I’m gay,” was the headline over his rather unexceptional revelations.

Mr Kelly says that this declaration of his sexuality is entirely voluntary but given that he’s fronting a religious programme these days, it will be interesting to know how the evangelical element of his audience will take the news that their favourite TV personality is a child of Sodom. Neither will they be reassured by his other confession – he’s also an atheist. No sooner have the Bible-thumpers picked themselves off the floor from one blow than he delivers another. “I don’t think you can take the Bible too seriously. As well as denouncing homosexuality, for example, the book of Leviticus says couples found in adultery should be taken to the market place and stoned,” he says.

Ross Kelly’s fulsome revelations stand in stark contrast to two other public figures who have decided to go down the “ambiguity” route – the keep-’em-guessing game that that Peter Mandelson so painfully discovered is like a red rag to the tabloids.

Robbie Williams’ former manager Kevin Kinsella started the ball rolling when he went on TV and said he could state categorically that Robbie is gay. “I don’t think he is bisexual, I think he is totally gay,” Mr Kinsella said on a Channel 4 documentary about Robbie’s days with Take That. “I think Robbie has the same problems as Michael Barrymore. They know that they are gay. They know what they want to do. But they are controlled by parameters that say you can’t come out and say you are gay because it will affect your career and sales, and people may not love you. So what happens is that these demons inside of them come out in drink and drugs.”

This little tirade cranked up once more the speculation that has accompanied Robbie throughout his career. Is he or isn’t he?

The Daily Mail presented all the known evidence – and a bit of new stuff – in a double-page spread by Robbie’s biographer, Paul Scott. Mr Scott says: “In the past, [Robbie] has announced variously that he is having an affair with his straight song-writing partner, Guy Chambers; declared that he was changing his name to Roberta Williams; and told a Top of the Pops audience: ‘Tomorrow I’ll be coming out as homosexual.’”

Mr Scott asks us to consider Robbie’s “camp performances” with his lifelong friend Jonathan Wilkes at the Royal Albert Hall concert in 2001. “Williams and Wilkes put on a performance shot through with homosexual innuendo. At one point, Wilkes threatens to tell the audience Williams’s ‘gay secret’, while Williams himself described his flat mate as his ‘rent-boy’.”

The ostentatious parading of a string of short-lived “girlfriends” is also suggested as a cover for the truth. This, along with many other instances, all add up to the inevitable conclusion, according to Mr Scott.

So why doesn’t Robbie just do a Ross Kelly? Well, it seems that senior executives at his record label, EMI, “wake up in cold sweat from nightmares that Robbie has again said something about being gay”. An unnamed “record company insider” says: “For some time there has been a plan in place for how to handle the fall-out. The truth is that nobody here knows what Robbie is going to do from one minute to the next, so it is best to be prepared.”

It seems that Mr Williams will be well-protected and well-advised should he ever feel the need to tell us something ‘important’.

This is more than can be said for Kevin Spacey, the Oscar-winning actor, who caused a tabloid sensation after it was revealed in The Daily Mirror that he had been “mugged” in a London Park while out walking his dog at 4.30am.

Now, before we go any further, the question that none of the papers have asked is: who revealed the details of Mr Spacey’s visit to the police?

Well, the only people who could possibly have known about it were the police themselves. Presumably someone in the cop-shop thought it their public duty to contact the press and let them know they’d had a VIP in. I’m sure no money would have changed hands, of course. And newspapers never reveal their sources, do they?

Anyway, Mr Spacey’s little adventure in the park – rapidly dubbed “a gay haunt” and a “cottagers paradise” – mushroomed into a humiliating barrage of innuendo.

Trying to stem the flow of speculation, Mr Spacey foolishly went on the Today programme to explain to an agog public that he was in the park at 4.30am because his doggy “needed to go”. He said that he had not been mugged, he had simply been conned out of his mobile phone by a youth spinning a cock and bull story (sorry, better make that a “likely story”) about needing to make an emergency call and then running off with the phone. In hot pursuit, Mr Spacey fell over the dog and cracked his head on the pavement. He went to the police station to encourage them to pursue the thieving youth by telling them he had been mugged. A few hours later, thinking better of it, he returned to the station and said he didn’t want to take the matter any further.

The reaction to this explanation was summed up in a headline next day in The Daily Mirror. “Yeah, right Kev…”

You would have thought that at this point, Mr Spacey’s close friend Peter Mandelson might have stepped in to warn Kevin about his own experiences of trying to run rings round the press on such matters.

He obviously did not do so, and there followed a few days of sneering scepticism from the papers, including the predictable cracks from Richard Littlejohn in The Sun: “It wasn’t Clapham Common by any chance, was it? Someone should tell Kev to be more careful. He could have bumped into Ron Davies looking for badgers.”

Once more it was The Daily Mail that took up the sword of truth for its readers, probing far back into Mr Spacey’s mysterious past for information that might shed light on the actor’s fiercely protected “private life” (i.e. sex life). It quoted from interviews he had given to various magazines. In Vanity Fair in 1996, the headline had been “Kevin Spacey has a Secret”. “The interviewer had asked him three questions about his sexuality, but Spacey refused to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’. ‘I live in a world in which I work with many different people all day long. They are my friends and I love them. And many of these people are gay and homosexual. And I can’t imagine the need to jump up and say: ‘I’m not one of them’. If anyone wants to think that they are absolutely free to think that, I have no interest in confirming or denying that at all. It’s just of no interest to me. So what?’”

Another American magazine, however, published photos of Mr Spacey walking hand in hand with a young man in a park, where they later cuddled, massaged thighs and generally looked to be more than mere acquaintances.

Mr Spacey seems to want to keep the world guessing, but he is obviously unfamiliar with the tactics of the British tabloid press. Kevin is said to like dogs – I wonder whether he’s ever seen a terrier with a rat? It ain’t over yet, Kev.

But go back to the beginning of this article and consider Ross Kelly. He’s now in the driving seat. You could be, too, if you wanted to be.

GAY TIMES July 2004

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

Here’s a plea to TV companies everywhere. Can you send your make-over teams round to my gaffe, please?

I want first of all a visit from those two daft women – Aggie and Baggie – who arrive on the doorsteps of people who live in shit holes and, after a bit of ritual humiliation, clean them up for free. Then I want the makeover team that comes in and throws all your furniture, carpets and fittings in a skip, after which they force you to consign all your most precious and sentimentally valuable souvenirs – including pets – to a crusher, while at the same time training the camera on your face to record any escaping tears for the nation’s amusement.

After that, I want the team that paints the whole inside of the house white and throws out the few bits and bobs that you still have left to create a “minimalist” effect. You then end up with a house that is so bright it could blind you when you open the curtains in the morning, but at the same time doesn’t permit so much as a footstool lest it spoil the effect of endless space.

But this is all arse over elbow. According to the received wisdom, I shouldn’t need these people to sort out my life. Being a gay man, I should be sorting out theirs. Being gay, you see, I am genetically programmed to have good taste, and am instinctively stylish and beautifully groomed.

Just look at Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and Fairy Godfathers (basically the same formula but on different channels). In these programmes, a bunch of gay men go round telling straight men how to behave, how to dress, how to wash their feet, how to stop belching so loudly at the dinner table and then trying to get them to control the release of noxious gases in bed. It is usually at the behest of their girlfriends who have grown weary of trying to effect any change in the Neanderthals to whom they have, for some reason, devoted their lives. (Here’s some free advice, girls, take up lesbianism, it’s more rewarding in the long run).

The stereotypical “gay men” who inhabit these shows reinforce the irritating idea that we are all screeching eccentrics who mince around in outrageous clothes, with little polka dot neckerchiefs and whatnot, aching to spend our lives amusing heterosexuals.

If this is really our purpose, then I have failed utterly and completely as a gay man. You see, I, too, need a visit from the Fairy Godfathers. I need titivating and smartening up. I need to spend several thousands of pounds on new designer clothes that will make me look as barking as the Fairy Godfathers do. And I definitely need surgery – or at least dreadfully painful injections – on the face and neck. My saggy tits need a gym all of their own. How did I let the side down so badly?

Oh bugger this. The Fairy Godfathers are not gay. They’re some TV production company’s idea of what is gay. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that they’re both raving heterosexuals who live in Guildford with their wives and four children.

I live in a pigsty and dress from Marks and Sparks, I don’t know anything about cosmetics and I don’t care for body shaving (or worse still, pulling off the chest rug with wax). But I’m still gay. The telly stereotypers are not going to take that away from me.

And I was pleased to read that someone else is getting sick of all the “amusing” gay make over programmes.

Fox television in the USA is thinking hard about whether it should broadcast its latest reality show, entitled Seriously Dude, I’m Gay, in which two straight men compete for $50,000 by trying to pass themselves off as homosexuals (which is to say, they force themselves to behave like pseudo women – drag queens without the drag).

The rethink follows complaints from the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation that the show was exploitative and stereotypical. They branded it “an exercise in systematic humiliation”. GLAAD’s executive director, Joan Garry, said: “They offered us an advance copy of the show and were incredibly responsive to our grave concerns.” Meanwhile, in The Independent, Johann Hari (himself a gay man) has grown equally weary of these gay make over shows. “It is all the more aggravating,” he wrote, “that producers no doubt consider themselves terribly radical and right-on, rather than manufacturers of a latter-day Black and White Minstrel Show.”

But the complaints don’t stop the “liberal” commentators accepting the myth of the gay style gene (they wouldn’t dare carry on about the “black rhythm” gene any more). In The Sunday Times, Michael Bywater was commenting on how marvellously civilised Soho has become since the gays moved in. “The atmosphere became congenial, civilized, cosmopolitan. The coffee improved beyond measure. And the Burger People moved away, like defeated oafs, to vomit elsewhere, and now even the straights dress nicely and look after themselves and are polite to each other and smile and actually seem to enjoy their night out. In other words, the Pink Pound is a civilizing influence.”

Also in The Sunday Times, Bryan Appleyard was commenting on Queer Eye, coming to the conclusion that the gay “experts” act as a kind of catalyst for straight men and women who just don’t seem to understand each other. “His [the gay man’s] evolutionary role is to enable the woman to civilize her heterosexual partner because the great lummox will take from a gay man what he won’t take from a straight woman. The gay gene persists because its stake in the future is the successful and civilized reproduction of others. Or not. The less ambitious insight into this show is that it marks a moment at which a certain idea of gayness has come of age socially.”

Mr Appleyard says that the Queer Eye lads are exactly the same as the Jules and Sandy characters of Round the Horne. But whereas Jules and Sandy were in the closet, the Queer Eye lads are as far out as it’s possible to get. Now that they are no longer outlawed, gays have turned out to be “salutary emblems of domesticity and civilization to the straight world.”

And so, another myth is born. Our purpose in life is to make straight men and women understand each other and to demonstrate to straight men how civilized human beings should behave.

What a burden to hang around our necks.

As Johann Hari says in his Independent piece: “At university I got to know a very butch, very male, very hairy rugby player. I’ll call him Mark. He was the least camp person I have ever known. He drank a pint of real ale over breakfast and burped, it seemed, at 15-minute intervals. The closest he got to elegance and style was when he vomited in the bin instead of on the carpet. Yet I discovered, gradually, that he was gay.”

Perhaps it’s time for some TV production company to make a few programmes about the Marks of this world. That would be truly innovative. I could point them in the direction of quite a few, not a thousand miles from my own doorstep.

GAY TIMES August 2004

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

The papers paid more attention to Pride this year than they usually do, perhaps because it now has the official designation of being “a parade” rather than just a protest march. Jason Pollock, chairman of Pride London, revealed: “Ken Livingstone wants us to build it up to compare to the Sydney Mardi Gras and we are working with Visit London to promote it as a major tourist attraction, which is a quantum leap.”

The usual confusion reigned about how many were actually there. The Sunday Times thought 30,000; The London Evening Standard thought 40,000 on one page and 100,000 on another; The Independent on Sunday said 50,000; while the following day its sister paper, The Independent, estimated 60,000.

Whatever the number, the question remains: what is Pride for these days? Jason Pollock explained to The Independent that in the early days of gay liberation it was a protest march pure and simple. “People would boo from the pavements and you could be arrested at the drop of a hat. Now it is a party by the gay community for everyone.”

Philip Hensher in The Independent on Sunday, on the other hand, thought the whole affair “a fake celebration that diminishes us all” because, although we’ve made progress in law reform, we have failed to challenge the “thinly veiled contempt” that society still reserves for us, and which is expressed in TV shows like Queer Eye. The Pride parade simply reinforces the idea that we are there to entertain heterosexuals with our campery and foolishness.

This confusion over the purpose of Pride encapsulates in many ways the wider debate within the gay community about whether it’s OK to relax now, or whether we need renewed vigilance against the creeping resurgence of our enemies on the right.

This year there was an attempt to put at least a bit of politics back into the day; after the “parade” there was a rally in Trafalgar Square at which luminaries made uplifting speeches. But as The London Evening Standard pointed out in its Londoner’s Diary, there was significantly no word from the supposedly gay friendly Tories or their fickle leader, Michael Howard: “How quickly the political landscape can change,” said ‘Londoner’. “Just a few weeks ago London politicians of every hue went flat out to attract the ‘pink vote’, even attending a special hustings event on the eve of the mayoral elections. Strange, then, that no senior member of any party [bar Mr Livingstone] could be bothered to join the 100,000 partygoers for Saturday’s Big Gay Out in Finsbury Park.”

Another sceptic is Mark Simpson, who wrote in his account of the day in the Independent on Sunday: “When it began in the early seventies, Pride was about visibility, radical politics and an antidote to shame and oppression – which involved running a gauntlet of abuse from some passers-by. Today they’re more likely to ask for styling tips”.

Simpson noted that the concert in Finsbury Park had been dedicated to the murdered Jamaican gay activist Brian Williamson. “Depending on your point of view,” he opined, “this is either a sign of international solidarity or of the desperation of some British gays to identify themselves as victims in a society that is no longer terribly interested in victimising them.”

But Pride gave the press an excuse to explore a few gay issues that they would otherwise not bother with. For instance, we discovered from The Independent that “The Metropolitan Police has established an enquiry to examine whether past prejudice among officers influenced its investigation of anti-gay murders.”

The Met intends to study six gay murders, going back to 1990, to decide whether those investigations were “compromised” by the homophobia of the officers involved, and if so, what lessons can be learned for the future.

The Sunday Times looked at the emergence of out and proud police and fire officers on the parade. “For the first time,” the paper said, “all the Scottish police forces gave leave to their officers to march in uniform.” Scotland Yard, British transport police, Devon and Cornwall constabulary and West Midlands police all had staff recruitment stalls in the park. However, Surrey police officers, who were given permission to wear their uniform on the march last year, were ‘strongly discouraged’ from doing so this year. Other forces have always refused. Naming and shaming them, Superintendent Steve Deehan, projects officer for the Gay Police Association, jibed: “We say in Hertfordshire and Hampshire homosexuals hardly ever happen”.

The Sunday Times also told us that the fire brigade was much more accommodating. “Ken Knight, fire brigade commissioner for London, gave his gay officers a champagne breakfast and organised coaches to take them to the start of the march in Hyde Park.”

According to Stuart Brown, a Glaswegian firefighter who heads a 250-strong support network for gay men and lesbians in the fire service, “The amount of people coming from the gay community to join the fire service is astronomical.” He said that half of the 38 female firefighters in the Lothian and the Borders region were openly lesbian.

The Independent told us that “for some on the parade, remembrance remained important. James Murphy, 24, marching alongside his rugby club team-mates, felt today’s generation of gays owed a debt of gratitude to their ‘forefathers’.”

The paper quoted James as saying: “Because of them, younger people like me can feel a better sense of equality than they experienced.”

To help us understand just how long and arduous the battle of our predecessors really was, Tania Branigan of The Guardian wrote about gay life in London in the 1920s and 30s and discovered that it was remarkably vibrant in some areas. She interviewed Matt Houlbrook, a lecturer in history at Liverpool University, who told her: “What’s remarkable about the 20s and 30s was how open and widespread [homosexuality] was in some places. In some circumstances it was very, very visible and strong and vibrant and rich.”

While researching for his book, Mr Holbrook had uncovered evidence of a wonderful world of weekly drag balls that were attended by between 50 and 100 men. While looking into legal cases against homosexuals – court records being just about the only places where our lives are recorded pre-1967 – he had pulled out of one old box an ‘Exhibit A’ which turned out to be a “carmine-pink sparkly kimono top” which had figured in a case against “Lady Austin’s Camp Boys”.

This case had gripped the nation in 1933, when police had raided a private ballroom in Holland Park Avenue and discovered 60 men dancing together, kissing and having sex in make-up and women’s clothes. “Despite facing a lengthy prison term and disgrace, the organiser, ‘Lady Austin’ defiantly told officers: ‘There is nothing wrong in who we are… You call us nancies and bum boys but… before long our cult will be allowed in the country.” All the same, 27 of the men arrested that night were jailed for between three and 20 months.

“Lady Austin” was one of the tens of thousands of our ‘forefathers’ who had to fight and make incredible personal sacrifices in order for society to progress. I wonder if her ghost was marching along with the other feather-bedecked and glittery drag queens at Pride?

GAY TIMES September 2004

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

The Archbishop of York, Dr David Hope, he of the “grey sexuality” has decided to downshift. He’s vacating his splendid palace (surely fit for a queen?) and going to live in a modest little vicarage in Ilkley, where he will surely feel at home as his new abode looks like something straight out of a fairy tale. (Announcing this momentous event, the papers couldn’t resist the headline: “On Ilkley Moor baht mitre.”)

Could it be that the wise Archbishop has decided to jump ship before the catastrophe that is heading the way of the Anglican Church actually hits? Does he sense that his own sexuality might become an issue if he hangs around and lets the homophobes attack? After all, poor old Jeffrey John in St Albans has been persecuted to hell for being a “celibate gay man”, while Dr Hope has become the second most influential figure in the Anglican communion with hardly a murmur – so far.

This is despite the best efforts of Peter Tatchell, of course, who has made several attempts to “out” Dr Hope (known affectionately by fellow students at his seminary as “Ena the Cruel”).

Remarking on Dr Hope’s resignation, The Guardian’s religious affairs correspondent, Stephen Bates said that the worst time of Dr Hope’s term was when Mr Tatchell was “bullying” him to tell the truth.

Some of us, of course, are surprised that a man who purports to be a moral leader needs to be “bullied” in order to be truthful about something as fundamental as his sexuality. And even under pressure he refused to go any further than saying his sexuality was a “grey area”, although Peter Tatchell purported to have spoken to friends of Dr Hope who confirmed that there was nothing uncertain about it.

Anyway, the Lambeth Commission, the latest committee created by the Church to look at the “homosexual issue”, will report back with its findings in the autumn. The evangelical monsters are waiting breathlessly for the verdict, because if it is not suitably condemnatory of gays, they will carry out their threat to smash the Church to pieces.

The Lambeth Commission was established – like so many others before it – to buy time. But it will fail in its effort to take the heat out of this debate. As Bishop Gregory Venables told The Independent, that when the Lambeth Commission publishes its much-anticipated report, it will be a fudge, everyone will groan because it will say nothing of substance and might even recommend the formation of yet another commission to look again at the “homosexual question”. After all, this tactic has staved off disaster for years.

But not this time. The bigots – sorry, I should say the Evangelicals – who are trying to use homosexuality as a means of taking over the Church will make their move. They will call on all parishes that have fellow bigots… er, I mean, evangelical clergy… to withhold payment of their contributions to the central body of the Church. This will cost the Church of England – always pleading poverty, even though it has £4 billion in the bank – millions of pounds a year.

They’ve already been successful in persuading a number of parishes, some of which are already sending the money they would have otherwise have sent to the Church of England’s central funds to “gay cure” outfits like The Courage Trust.

Reform, the evangelical group at the forefront of this agitation has, according to the Daily Telegraph, sent out instructions to its 1,700 members to test whether their bishop is orthodox (i.e. anti-gay), and, if he is not, to reject his authority. These parishes will declare themselves “out of communion” with their liberal bishops and refuse to recognise them. The worldwide Anglican communion will begin to disintegrate as the African bishops, with their insulting talk of gays being lower than dogs, reign triumphant. (“Why has no-one told Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria that he is a bigot?” asks Stephen Bates. “Is it because he is black?”)

David Hope, I suspect, sees all this coming and wants to take shelter in Ilkley in his bomb proof vicarage. Rowan Williams has no such option and must stand before the Reform blitzkrieg with only his courage to defend him (so, not much protection there, then).

Paul Vallely in The Independent, like so many of us, is mystified as to why the Church continues to pull itself apart over an issue that affects so few of its members. “Why has the Church embraced change on a raft of issues once held to be biblically unquestionable – slavery, borrowing at interest, hellfire, the ordination of women, divorce – and yet unable to agree on homosexuality?” He proposes one reason being “visceral prejudice” and another that the evangelicals want the Church to be “a certain voice in an uncertain world” (which I take to mean a return to authoritarianism).

The result of this, Mr Vallely says, is that “a church once characterised by its broad-mindedness… is becoming characterised by narrowness. It is gripped by a culture of fear which ‘seems to take us back to the burnings of the Reformation’ in which those holding different opinions must recant.”

Damian Thompson in the Sunday Telegraph says the death of the Anglican communion is “not the big deal that it sounds”. He says the Church of England is held together because it is the established church, but the worldwide communion is simply a legacy of colonialism. It is “programmed to fall apart” he says, but “the sad thing for the 77 million members is that the causus bellishould have been a subject so tangential to most of their lives as gay sex.”

He reserves special criticism for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and his craven handling of the Jeffrey John affair. He says that John was on the “banned list” of the previous Archbishop, Carey, but was taken off it when Williams took up the office.

Twice Williams approved the nomination of Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading, but then the evangelicals started their hate campaign against him. Instead of resisting this real bullying, Rowan Williams asked Jeffrey John to withdraw, which he did. Then he changed his mind, but it was too late. As Damian Thompson puts it: “Rowan Williams laid down his friend for his life, and his moral authority has suffered accordingly.”

To the unconcerned outsider this might all seem like a lot of silly queens trying to scratch each other’s eyes out, but let us not forget that the Church of England has 26 bishops in the House of Lords, and some of them were complicit in Lady O’Cathain’s ambush of the Civil Partnership Bill there. If the Church lurches further and further to the right, the bishops will become more and more politicised and they will exploit their privileged position in Parliament to our disadvantage.

The Church of England’s debate may seem arcane to many of us, but the outcome could have a big effect on our lives in the future.

GAY TIMES October 2004

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

Richard (“I’m not anti-gay”) Littlejohn made the following “joke” in his column in The Sun: “All sorts of wackos and weirdos took to the streets of Manhattan to demonstrate against the Republicans. What unites them, apart from hatred of Bush, is a total lack of humour. My favourites were a bunch of lesbians wearing T-shirts bearing the slogan DYKES AGAINST BUSH. Isn’t that a contradiction in terms? I can’t help wondering if I missed an affiliated group of homosexuals protesting about the Vice-President Cheney: GAYS AGAINST DICK.”

Now, as jokes go, it isn’t bad, I suppose. If it were told with affection, I might even laugh. But somehow it just isn’t funny when Richard Littlejohn tells it, because when he says it, it’s riddled with sneering contempt and is intended to humiliate.

So what should our reaction be? Be contemptuous right back? Ignore it entirely? Or complain to the Press Complaints Commission that it is ‘offensive’?

I ask this question, because last month some gay people complained to the television regulator, Ofcom, about a remark by Richard Madeley (of Richard and Judy fame), after he used the term “dyke” about one of his guests.

Now, Richard and Judy are just about the least homophobic people you could meet. They give a lot of space, airtime and sympathy to gay people on their show. Richard said he thought he was being “hip” by using the term, but others didn’t agree. Even though he apologised the following day, there were still some who would have liked his scalp – Kilroy-Silk style.

This sparked a lively debate about just what can and can’t be said about gay people by people who aren’t themselves gay. It kicked off in the Daily Mail, which helpfully gave us a brief history of the word “dyke”. “It is not clear where it originated,” the paper said, “but one theory is that it was derived from the name of the Celtic queen Boudicca (Bou-dyke-ah).”

If that doesn’t convince, then the paper offers: “Others surmise that it comes from the use of the word dyke as barrier and was used by men to describe women who did not want a relationship with men. The term has tended to be seen as offensive and is usually used in a derogatory way but it has recently become more acceptable as the gay community has started to use it.”

Ben Summerskill of Stonewall told the paper about the etiquette of using a word like dyke. “In some senses among people who are gay it can be appropriate and is used a bit like the term of affection ‘darling’. But if it is used by a stranger to someone who is homosexual then it could be seen as very derogatory and could cause offence.”

Angie Jezard expanded on the theme in a letter to The Independent: “As a dyke/gay woman/lady homosexual/lesbian/queer… I often don’t know how to refer to myself and friends never know what’s ‘in’ among the out. However, the reclaiming of words like ‘dyke’ and ‘queer’ by the gay community is similar to blacks using ‘nigger’ to turn a derogatory word on its head.”

Well, poor old straights, they don’t know which way to turn, trying to be right-on and simply putting the people they’re trying to connect with right off.

But Carol Sarler in The Daily Express doesn’t like this little game. She came to Richard Madeley’s defence. “His reportedly offensive remark happened in the same week that Diva, a new magazine for lesbians, is launched – with ‘dykes’ splashed across the cover in clearly clubbable appeal to potential readers… Integration of race, caste and sexuality is an admirable aim. But I have no time for those who protest against exclusion on the one hand while demanding exclusivity on the other. In language or anything else.”

(By the way, Carol, just for information, ‘new’ Diva has just passed the 100th issue mark.)

In The Independent, Martin Kelner was sympathising with Richard Madeley’s old geezerish attempts to connect with a younger generation that is rapidly disappearing into the distance.

Mr Kelner tells of the time that he was hauled in front of the Broadcasting Standards Council for saying the word “bugger” on air. In the North, where he comes from, he says bugger is a term of affection (in such phrases as “you daft bugger” for instance), but he was still made to justify his use of the word because some “pathetic, humourless loser” had complained about it. Eventually, after many wasted hours, the complaint was dismissed (just as it had been in the Madeley case). “I thought then,” wrote Mr Kelner, “that the way to get round this problem [of ‘piffling’ complaints] is simply for Ofcom and all the other regulatory bodies to employ someone specifically to tell all such complainants, irrespective of race, creed, disability, body shape or sexual inclination, to go boil their head (in those exact words).”

On the BBC News website, Jonathan Duffy was trying to make sense of terminology, what’s in, what’s out, what you can say and what you can’t. He first gives us a little glossary of lesbian-connected terms: Boy/boi – is a boyish gay man or boyish lesbian; Heteroflexible – is a straight person with a ‘gay’ mindset; Hasbian – is a lesbian who’s gone straight, and so on.

Mr Duffy explains that: “At the heart of these disputed words is what’s known as a lexical gap – where the official language has failed to keep pace with real life. Slang and sterile, academic words sit either end of the spectrum, with nothing in the middle.”

He quoted Tony Thorne, editor of the Bloomsbury Dictionary of Contemporary Slang. “These are contentious issues which have only started to be discussed in the last thirty years – not long enough in our culture for language to find fitting words.”

Some words have succeeded better than others at crossing over into the mainstream. “Gay” for instance in now almost universally used for homosexual, but some people still blanch when they hear the word “queer”.

Tony Thorne thinks that “dyke” has such a long history of “negative connotations” that it will fail to make the transition into everyday language. For lesbians in New York, says Mr Thorne, the term ‘dyke’ is already passé – the preferred term among them is “boys”.

So should we – as the members of the gay community – relax now, and stop getting upset about straight people using “our” words about us? Have we come far enough for it not to matter if a straight TV presenter – who, let’s face it, has a fag hag for a wife – says ‘dyke’ or ‘queer’ in order to seem (God help us) ‘hip’?

Perhaps the answer is given in an article in The Times by Patrick Neate, who was commenting on the present hoo-ha over dancehall singers singing homo-hating lyrics. Everyone thinks it’s terrible – or at least they do when gay activists point out to them that it is terrible. If Outrage! hadn’t drawn attention to these incitements to murder, most straight people would simply have accepted them without demur.

Mr Neate says that: “I’m guessing here, but … while I would swear it’s true that most British people don’t believe in attacking homosexuals, I would also swear that a huge number (perhaps even a majority) are more or less homophobic.”

Mr Neate says he is intrigued by the way a ‘perceived consensus’ may not be the majority opinion at all but that of a ‘cabal’ of successful pressure groups. Therefore, whatever people may say when under pressure to be politically correct, the fact is that “taunts like ‘poof’ and ‘queer’ are still in the playground top ten.”

So, perhaps words are important after all. But perhaps we should cut a bit of slack to our well-meaning straight friends – like Richard Madeley – while continuing to give Beenie Man and his murderous mates hell.