GAY TIMES January 2005

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

Are British newspapers totally amoral? Do they not care at all about the effects their stories have on innocent people?

I ask these questions in connection with the story carried both by The News of the World and The Mail on Sunday (and subsequently by just about every newspaper in the world) about the young man who was alleged to have “cured himself of AIDS”. I can imagine the surge of hope that went through the minds of all those millions of people – gay and straight, black and white – who are infected with this virus. At last, a glimmer of hope. A straw to clutch at.

But was it? Or was it just a young man on the make and newspapers desperate for a sensational headline?

Andrew Stimpson’s story is unusual, but in the history of medical testing, not unique. He is an openly gay man with a partner who is HIV positive. He says that he first went for a test in April 2002 after a condom that he and his partner were using split. He tested positive, but it was too early to be certain. He tested again in August that year and got another positive result.

The Daily Mirror informed us that “although he knew there was no cure, he took a daily cocktail of vitamin supplements”. He was being tested regularly, and in October 2003 his test came back HIV negative. He was convinced there was a mistake, and he got his local health Authority, Chelsea and Westminster, to test him twice more, and twice more the tests came back negative.

Andrew then threatened to sue the Healthcare Trust for negligence. There is no doubt that he suffered severe stress after the positive result – as everyone who receives one must.

It was all over the papers now. “Is this the man who holds the secret of an AIDS cure?” In African newspapers the news spread like wildfire. People who have no access to proper treatment must have leapt for joy at the prospect of a non-drug cure.

But within days, the doubts started to kick in. Some papers reported that Andrew was refusing to return to the hospital for more tests, while others were quoting him as saying he couldn’t wait to get back. He wanted to be the cause of a world-shaking medical breakthrough.

The Guardian’s Ian Sample explained: “HIV tests, like any other, can produce false positives, incorrectly indicating that someone has the virus. But in this case it seems unlikely: after testing positive for antibodies to the virus, Mr Stimpson had a second test to examine the amount of virus in his bloodstream. This was also positive, although the viral count was exceptionally low. Two false positives can occur in tandem, but the chances are low.”

Mr Sample said there might be rare genetic mutations that confer immunity on some people, but, again, this was unconfirmed.

Then The Daily Mirror informed its readers: “The clinic that told Andrew Stimpson he had cured himself of the HIV virus yesterday said he may never have had it after all. Chelsea and Westminster NHS Trust said: ‘It is probable there was never any evidence of him having the virus.’ But it admitted later: ‘We don’t know exactly what has happened’.”

Then The Irish Examiner’s Terry Prone cast even more doubt on the whole business. “The hospital believe Andrew may have encountered an HIV virus or two and had a lively immune response that triggered a positive test, but actually infected? Not likely. Certainly not proven. Andrew Stimpson’s 15 minutes of fame constitutes a lot more than a disappointment. It contributes to a watering-down, in the public mind, of the threat of the HIV virus. The head of one of the major AIDS charities in Britain likened the damaging effect of the media coverage of Andrew’s ‘cure’ to the bad outcome of earlier stories promising that a new HIV vaccination was on the way. ‘They led people to believe that a cure was just around the corner,’ she said, ‘when, in reality, vaccine development is at least ten to 15 years away.’”

Mr Prone’s opinion was that Mr Stimpson’s story – sold by him for considerable amounts of cash to the Sunday papers – was irresponsibly handled. It raised not only false expectations among the desperate but had the potential to create lethal complacency among those who are likely to need little persuasion that unsafe sex is OK these days. After all, they reason, a cure is on the way. Maybe only months away.

But a new report from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) shows that the number of people in the UK living with HIV is now around 58,300 – an increase of 5,000 in a year. The agency also recorded a steep increase in other sexually transmitted diseases, such as syphilis and chlamydia.

Nick Partridge, Chief Executive of sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust, stated: “It will be the same story year after year unless prevention efforts improve and the recent Government funding to improve sexual health services is spent wisely. We’re at a crossroads – if we don’t concentrate on prevention and access to services for communities now, we will continue to have ever-increasing rates of HIV and the worst sexual health in Western Europe.”

Have the media helped this situation by rushing into print with Mr Stimpson’s unlikely and unchecked story? Or is the British media totally exempt from any moral responsibility?

Usually it is immigrants or people from minority religions who are the subjects of the tabloids’ regular fits of outrage at “political correctness gone mad”. But recently, gay people were on the receiving end when it was discovered that Liverpool register office had removed a painting of Romeo and Juliet and replaced it with a Victorian landscape – apparently so as not to deter gay couples using the office to register their marriages.

The Sun tracked down an old friend from whom we have not heard in yonks – the swivel-eyed rentagob Dr Adrian Rogers. Dr Rogers, described as “ex-director of the Conservative Family Institute” (a deeply influential organisation he used to run from his front room). Dr Rogers delivered his soundbite in time-honoured fashion: “This is ludicrous and the worst example of political correctness. This is an insult to every heterosexual couple that has ever been married at Liverpool register office.”

Call me sentimental, but I think Dr Rogers should put himself up for re-election to the Conservative Family Institute. It hasn’t been the same without him.

There seems to have been a bit of a joust between our two leading agony aunts over the last few weeks to see who can include most gay “problems”.

Dear Deirdre (Sanders) at The Sun and Dear Miriam (Stoppard) at The Mirror have had loads of people writing in with all kinds of complications over sexuality. One day Deirdre had “Hubby has a gay secret” which was from a woman who had discovered that her husband had been having “phone sex” – but with other men, not women.

Over at Miriam’s gaff, an 18-year old lad wrote that he was in love with his brother’s 21-year old flatmate (“I’ve worshipped him from afar for years”). Anyway, in this instance dreams came true and when he caught the flatmate alone one day, they had “fantastic sex on the sofa”. So, what’s the problem? He’s worried his brother might not approve.

Another worried woman wrote to Miriam, saying that her boyfriend of two months “got a bit drunk” and said he once thought he was gay and had even had a same-sex relationship. This, understandably, left her feeling insecure. Miriam’s advice? He might be going through an “experimental phase”, but “if you’re the first woman he’s ever gone out with, you may have justifiable cause for concern.” (I hope this gentleman isn’t sharing a flat with someone who has a gay brother).

Then in The Sun, Deirdre heard from a lady who had landed her “dream job” as a receptionist. Her female colleague was helpful and then invited her out for a drink. They both got tipsy and, as the colleague’s husband was away, they went back to her house and, well – in the immortal words of all letters to agony aunts – “one thing led to another”. Soon they were having “crazy, mind-blowing sex”. The colleague wants to continue seeing our heroine, but there are those pesky husbands to think of. Deirdre advises her not to risk her marriage and “turn your attention to your husband”. She suggests that the woman should read a book called “How to have Great Sex for the Rest of Your Life”. I would think that was simple – keep shagging the colleague.

Miriam has more teenage angst, as a 17-year old tells of his pain at having a secret crush on his best friend. “If I tell him, it could ruin our friendship and I couldn’t bear it if he never spoke to me again. Should I give in to my feelings or bury them?”

Miriam sensibly advises him not to risk it, but to “decide what qualities in him you most admire and go looking elsewhere for a relationship with somebody similar.” That’s sound, but oh, the agony.

Just when you think you’ve got people pigeon-holed, they go and muddy the water. I thought the matter of Michael (Polly) Portillo had been settled. He eventually admitted he’d had gay experiences, but that was “all behind him”. We all thought, yeah, right – Polly should compare notes with Kevin Spacey.

Now The Sunday Mirror has done a hidden camera jobbie on him and leads the front page with the incredulous headline: “Portillo cheating on wife – with a woman!”

Maybe Miriam or Deirdre can offer some assistance.


“Let’s put it this way – Enrique’s mouth appears to be the only big, fat thing he’s got”, – (Ross von Metzke, gossip columnist, after hearing Enrique Iglesias was promoting a line of condoms for the ‘smaller man’)

Gay Times, February 2005

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

In the early days of the gay movement, there was a campaign to “reclaim” figures from history as gay. Shakespeare, Edward II, Michelangelo, Walt Whitman, Tchaikovsky, Cicero, various Roman emperors and Greek philosophers – the list is endless. 

Sometimes there can be an element of wishful thinking in this. I once saw a suggestion that Jane Austen was gay because she slept with her sister (which seemed to completely overlook the fact that it was bloody cold in those big houses before the advent of central heating). 

This is the problem in trying to sort out who was gay and who wasn’t at times when the modern concept of “gay” was unheard of. We need to take into account the conventions of the times- when affection between men tended to be more overt but less sexual. Nowadays, two men writing passionate declarations of love to each other would be regarded as prima facie evidence of homosexuality, but in the early 19th century conventions were different – and they were different again in earlier eras. 

Even so, the whole issue of “outing” figures from history has surfaced again, with a new book claiming that Abraham Lincoln was gay. The sexuality of the 16th President of the United States has been the subject of speculation for a long time, but the debate has been revived in a book called The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln by C A Tripp. 

It would seem a legitimate subject for historical research, but these days in America there is another agenda at work, as exemplified by Dr Ruth Reisman of the Institute for Media Education, which is described in The Sunday Times as “an anti-pornography think tank”. 

She is reported as saying: “They want to claim that everyone you have heard of in history, from Jesus Christ onwards, was secretly gay or something similar. This is patently untrue.” 

Well, we can put Dr Ruth right on one point straight off – our claims for gay historical figures start long before Jesus Christ. In fact, let’s begin with Alexander the Great, who has been much in the news lately because of Oliver Stone’s film starring Colin Farrell as the bisexual hero. The film got off to a bad start when a group of misguided academics in Greece threatened to sue Warner Brothers for suggesting that Alexander swung both ways. How they thought they would achieve this – what witnesses they would bring, what evidence they would produce – is still a mystery. They say they dropped their action because the film wasn’t as explicit as they thought it was going to be. 

What piffle – there isn’t a court anywhere in the world (except perhaps in the Deep South of the US) that would entertain such a stupid case. 

But, by then, word was out that the film was all about Alexander’s relationship with his (male) friend Hephaestion and so, naturally, the Religious Right swung into action. 

On the ghastly Christian website WorldNet Daily, Benjamin Shapiro wrote: “A large part of Alexander’s downfall is attributable to the moral distastefulness of the subject matter…. During the course of the movie Farrell kisses a eunuch full on the mouth and exchanges numerous lingering glances with boyhood chum and grown-up love Hephaestion (played by eyeliner-wearing Jared Leto). Anthony Hopkins, playing Ptolemy, intones: ‘It was said… that Alexander was never defeated, except by Hephaestion’s thighs’.” 

The director of the film, Oliver Stone, was exasperated by this wilful misrepresentation of his work. He told Reuters: “The homosexuality thing was a buzz word and got all around. It was a hot-button issue and it got overblown. ‘Alexander the Gay’ – I mean, it’s ridiculous.” That, he says, is what kept the punters away from his expensive floperooni. 

Allan Massie in The Independent tried to get to the… erm, bottom of Alexander’s true sexual nature. He wrote-. “There is no doubt they were close, and that Alexander was wretched when Hephaestion died in 324BC, but whatever they had been as youths, it is highly improbable that they remained lovers when grown up. Greeks disapproved of sexual relations between adult men and despised those who practised them. Although, as a Macedonian, Alexander was not a pukka Greek, this was not a convention that he was likely to flout. It was another thing for a soldier to be a paideka (which Robin Lane Fox translates as ‘sex-boy’). That was quite acceptable. Relations with a boy, such as the Persian eunuch, narrator of Mary Renault’s novel The Persian Boy. where he is the paideka of Darius and then Alexander, are far more probable than with an equal such as Hephaestion.” 

Having sorted out Alexander, let’s get back to Abe Lincoln, the man who fought the American Civil War and was instrumental in abolishing slavery. He’s a hero we would definitely like in our gallery. 

C A Tripp – who, incidentally, was a prominent gay writer – died at the age of 83 a couple of weeks after finishing his book on Lincoln. He is reported in the New York Times to have “subjected almost every word ever written by and about Lincoln to minute analysis” in order to reach the conclusion that the iconic president was indeed gay. 

Besides those already identified as possible same-sex partners for Lincoln – including a youthful Joshua Speed, a neighbour with whom he shared a bed for four years – Tripp now points to the Captain of his bodyguard, David Derickson. An excerpt from the regimental history of the guards reveals: “Captain Derickson in particular advanced so far in the president’s confidence and esteem that, in Mrs Lincoln’s absence, he frequently slept in the same bed with him, making use of His Excellency’s night-shirt!” 

In Washington of the 1860s this made excellent gossip. The diary of an officer’s wife says: “Oh, there is a soldier devoted to the president, drives with him and when Mrs L is not at home, sleeps with him. What stuff!” 

Now much of this rests on how you read that last exclamation, is she clapping her hands in glee at such a juicy titbit, or is she huffing her disapproval of such nonsense? 

Harvard professor David Herbert Donald, another biographer of Lincoln, told The Sunday Times: “Victorian men often shared beds and used flowery language in an asexual fashion. If Lincoln were having affairs, he would have hidden them better.” 

But, of course, it isn’t only real historical figures who create speculation – now we have a new film of The Merchant of Venice, starring Al Pacino, which contains a gay kissing scene between two of the fictional characters, Bassanio (played by Joseph Fiennes) and Antonio (Jeremy Irons). There has been speculation whether this kiss should be read as gay or just friendship. The director of the film Michael Radford told Reuters it was important to emphasise Antonio’s love for Bassanio because of the play’s final act, in which Antonio’s feelings for Bassanio and Portia are tested.” 

One character from recent history who was definitely real, and whose sexuality we don’t have to doubt, was Radclyffe Hall, the lesbian whose book, The Well of Loneliness, was banned in 1928. Newly released official papers show that the Government’s advice was that the book needed to be prosecuted for obscenity because it would lead to “a social and national disaster”. How so? It would encourage women – who would never have thought of such a thing for themselves to become lesbians. 

According to The Observer, the raciest line in the book reads: “She kissed her full on the lips, like a lover”. Nevertheless, Stanley Baldwin the Mint Minister and his Chancellor, Winston Churchill, went to extreme lengths to suppress the book. The Observer revealed: “Documents show that Archibald Bodkin, Director of Public Prosecutions, feared that the publishers would mobilise eminent writers to defend the book. He wrote to several doctors asking for a clinical analysis of what he called ‘homo-sexualists’“.

In a letter to one of these doctors. (the Dickensianly named Sir Farquhar Buzzard), he wrote: “I want to be able to call some gentleman of undoubted knowledge, experience and position who could inform the court of the results to those unfortunate women {as I deem them) who have proclivities towards lesbianism or those wicked women (as I deem them) who voluntarily indulge in these practices – results destructive morally, physically and even perhaps mentally” (sic). 

Old Radclyffe herself turned up to court looking superb (as I deem it) in a leather driving coat and Spanish riding hat. The book was, as expected, banned and all copies pulped, and it didn’t see publication until 1949, after Ms Hall’s death. 

Whatever America’s Religious Right says about whether it’s legitimate to look at the sex lives of historical figures (and to claim them if they are ours), it’s reassuring to know that gay people have been around a lot longer than their religion has, and we’ll still be here long after it has gone.

GAY TIMES March 2005

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

Chris Smith’s decision to come out as HIV-positive after quietly living with the virus for 17 years made headlines around the world. The immediate reaction was admiration for his action,  as exemplified by an editorial in The London Evening Standard, which lauded Mr Smith’s “act of courage”, and hoped that it represented “a landmark in people’s attitudes to those with HIV and AIDS… We hope that his example helps draw attention to the considerable difficulties still experienced by HIV/AIDS sufferers, and wins them greater public understanding.”

But then the doubts started to emerge.

Chris Smith says that he was inspired by what Nelson Mandela said at the funeral of his son who recently died from AIDS: “Let us give publicity to HIV/Aids and not hide it, because the only way to make it appear like normal illness like TB, like cancer, is always to come out and to say somebody has died because of HIV/Aids”.

Mr Smith told The Sunday Times: “Let’s take a lead from Mandela and face the injustice, and ignorance and prejudice that give rise to it, head on.”

But Peter Tatchell was less happy. He pointed out in an article in The Independent that Mandela has not always practised what he preaches. “On HIV, President Mandela let down his own people,” Tatchell wrote. “He ignored the pleas of HIV-positive activists, many of whom were members of his African National Congress (ANC). They survived the bullets and beatings of the apartheid regime, only to be, in effect, sentenced to death by the inaction of their own ANC government.”

Then, Private Eye, claimed that Chris Smith had been pushed into making the admission when he discovered that the Mail on Sunday was about reveal his health status.

In a classic spoiler tactic, Chris decided to pre-empt the tabloid exposé and do the deed on his own terms. But that begs the question: would he still be in the HIV closet if The Mail on Sunday hadn’t knocked on the door?

Certainly there was an element of bitterness from The Mail when it reported the story “Brave or just a cynical ploy by a grey man who craves praise?” its headline asked, and then laying on the spite with a trowel.

Peter McKay, the paper’s relentlessly homophobic commentator, wrote: “Mr Smith didn’t tell voters he was a homosexual when he stood for parliament in 1983. (He announced it afterwards.) Neither did he mention that he was HIV-positive when he was offered a seat in the Cabinet. He announces it after deciding he’s not standing for parliament again.”

McKay says that what he imagines Nelson Mandela had in mind with his plea was that “those with HIV and AIDS should say so even when it’s inconvenient to them. By waiting until he has nothing to lose, Mr Smith emphasis rather than removes the stigma of HIV.”

Deborah Orr, however, in The Independent, took issue with this line of thinking. She says that Smith’s declaration has probably made him “the most senior politician in the world to have declared himself HIV positive” which is, in itself, an achievement. But then she asked what would have been achieved by coming out at a time of raging AIDS-fuelled homophobia.

“Firstly,” Ms Orr says, “he would have been under even greater pressure to become what he did not want to become – a single-issue politician. As a gay politician, anyway, Smith had plenty of opportunity to be involved in shaping policy on AIDS, and in fact served on the all-party Aids Parliamentary Group from 1987 until he became culture minister in 1997. Had he been openly HIV [positive] all of that work would have taken on a personal emphasis that might have been counterproductive.”

But if it did nothing else, Mr Smith’s announcement got AIDS back on to the front pages for a brief while. And boy, oh boy, does it need to be on the front page.

The Scotsman reported that a record number of positive tests last year now brought the total number of people living with HIV in Scotland to something like 2,800. The numbers throughout the rest of the country are also rising at an alarming pace.

Consultant Professor David Goldberg, said: “The message that people should not have causal unprotected sex has never been more important.”

Yet, strangely, that message has never been less visible. And this is perhaps a much more important negative effect from Chris Smith’s coming out. He has been kept well by the use of combination therapies. He wants everyone to know that HIV is a manageable condition – you don’t have to die from it any more. That’s OK then, why bother with condoms when you can take a pill to keep you well?

But the reality of living with HIV, with its relentless regime of extremely powerful drugs, is not being spelled out sufficiently. Because Chris Smith looks so well, and dismisses his condition so lightly, he may be inadvertently sending the signal to youngsters that infection with HIV is not serious.

Writing in The Guardian, Colin Richardson, an NHS health promotion worker and former editor of Gay Times, gave some idea of the truth. “A typical comment on Chris Smith’s self-outing was ‘It just goes to show that an HIV diagnosis is not a death sentence.’ Indeed, and nor is diabetes, another incurable but manageable condition. But who on earth would be happy to have diabetes? Infection with the human immunodeficiency virus, even in the era of anti-HIV drugs, is not without consequences. The virus itself, even when kept in check by medication, can damage the body, making HIV-positive people more susceptible to certain cancers, for example. Almost as problematic at the very drugs used to combat the virus. Everyone who takes anti-HIV drugs experiences side effects, most of which pass in time, but some can linger or be so unpleasant that people abandon their medication altogether. HIV-positive people are as likely to be hospitalised because of bad reactions to their medication as they are from HIV-related illness. In the rush to congratulate Chris Smith, we are in danger of overlooking the reality of HIV in the UK.”

I don’t suppose we’ll be hearing about Mr Smith’s problems with drug regimes or side effects, but others are more forthcoming. In The London Evening Standard, Gus Cairns told of his experiences living with HIV for the past 19 years.

“It was only when I became seriously ill in 1996 that I thought I would die. I got an awful AIDS-related illness called MAI, which is related to tuberculosis. I even went to see my mum’s vicar to talk about a funeral.”

He was put on a combination drug therapy which revived him, although he still suffered side effects – extreme tiredness and nausea, and eventually anaemia which required blood transfusions. Now he takes four drugs a day.

Gus doesn’t recommend coming out at work, and says he isn’t surprised Chris Smith took so long to take the plunge. “In an ideal world everyone should feel free to tell people they have HIV but you can suffer a lot of prejudice.”

So, perhaps Chris Smith was right – on purely pragmatic grounds – to keep his status quiet all those years. He has achieved much more by being silent than if he had “done the right thing” in those times of panic and blind prejudice. His career would almost certainly have ended overnight. In his place, I would almost certainly have done the same thing.

But now he has the opportunity to really make his decision count. He can make clear to the upcoming generation of young gay people that any notion they may have harbour that getting HIV is “no big deal any more” is simply not true. He may have lived with HIV for seventeen years, but what has been going on behind the scenes for those 17 years?

Chris Smith has big plans for the future. And, of course, telling the world that not only do you have HIV, but that it – and the drugs you take to control it – make you ill from time to time, will be no recommendation to potential employers.

But if no-one ever challenges that, when will the prejudice and discrimination ever end?

Also in the news…

GAY TIMES April 2005

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

So, the vanguard happy couples will be throwing their confetti (registrar permitting, and not many of them do) on 21 December this year. That’s the first date on which it will be feasible to register a same-sex civil partnership in Britain. The law actually comes into effect on 5 December, but there is a fifteen-day notice period. After that you can sign an official document in front of the registrar and two witnesses and then enjoy all the rights and privileges that we have fought for over the past three decades.

If you can’t wait that long to make a start, you can always announce your intentions. If you’ve got the requisite consenting boyfriend, you can get engaged right now, this very minute. That’s what Mark Jones and John O’Connor have done, going fully traditional and announcing it in The Times. The Times, in its turn, made a big number out of it, with a prominent feature about how this was the first same-sex “forthcoming marriage” that had been announced in its columns in the whole of the paper’s 220-year history.

The ad rather grandly reads: “A period of engagement is announced between Mr John Christopher O’Connor and Dr Mark Bryan Jones, both of Islington, London. Following the enactment of the Civil Partnership legislation expected later this year, the couple will announce the time and location of both the civil union and subsequent church blessing ceremonies to interested parties.”

Coincidentally, Dr Jones had already made another announcement in the Times – in 2002 he had promised himself to a woman, but then John came along and… well, the rest is history.

It seems that register offices in Brighton, Newcastle, Liverpool, Birmingham and Camden, north London have already had enquiries from gay couples.

Of course, as far as the tabloids are concerned, it’s celebrity gay weddings they’ll be looking for – especially that of Elton John and David Furnish. These two indicated some time ago that they intend to take advantage of the new law, but all of a sudden there are clouds on the horizon.

For some reason, David Furnish felt it necessary to make a statement on the celebrity website Popbitch that all was well between him and the Rocket Man. Cynical hacks immediately took this to mean that everything was far from well.

Kathryn Knight in The Daily Mail gave voice to the “new rumours” of “tantrums, rows and estrangements” and even that “Sir Elton, famously volatile, had told Furnish to move his things out of the houses in Windsor and London.”

It seems that David is fed up of the long periods of separation that their lifestyles dictate and has been “socialising” rather too freely for Sir Elton’s taste. The pair denied the rumours to The Daily Mail, and I for one hope that all is well between them, and they manage to get through to December to do the deed.

Not, of course, that being civilly partnered is a guarantee that you’ll find enduring happiness or be together till death you do part. In Switzerland, 215 gay and 54 heterosexual couples have taken advantage of the partnership law set up by the canton of Geneva in 2001. About seven per cent of those have now “divorced”.

The Geneva law is mostly symbolic, though, carrying few rights and is open to gay and straight couples alike. It follows that getting separated under the Swiss law is rather simpler than the British version. All that is necessary is that both parties send a letter to the chancellery saying they want to end it, and bob’s your uncle, ariverderci mon amour. It won’t be like that here. As the government repeatedly tells us, with rights come responsibilities, and the separation process under our new law will be very similar to heterosexual divorce.

So, there are no guarantees, but it seems that gay people all around the world are anxious to take the plunge and accept the attendant risks, both emotional and fiscal.

The almighty scrap in the USA about whether gay marriage should be permitted is extremely complicated, with the battles being fought state by state. There are currently 21 states seeking to change their constitutions to make gay marriage impossible. But it isn’t all bad news. An opinion poll from New York showed that 51 per cent of the electorate were in favour of permitting it.

In Canada, the march towards legalising gay marriage seems unstoppable. In Brazil a young lawyer is trying to use a constitutional anomaly to push the Government into granting equal marriage rights to gays, although he anticipates that it could take up to ten years to complete the process.

And in Europe, the Czech government recently rejected – by one vote – a package somewhat similar to the one we are to enjoy in Britain. Its proponents say they will keep trying until they succeed. In Greece, the Government is about to consider – in the face of hysterical religious objections – proposals for a partnership arrangement.

The German government is also looking to extend the partnership scheme that is already in place there – once more in the face of religious resistance. And Spain has promised its gay population that it will get the full Monty – gay marriage – even though the pope has just published a book saying that such arrangements are part of “the ideology of evil”.

In all these places, the fly in the ointment is the church. In Britain, though, there has been an extraordinary complication that has alarmed traditionalists and cheered liberals in the Church of England.

At the Church of England General Synod there had been all kinds of mutterings about homosexuality and the Windsor report. But then it had to be admitted that some gay clergymen may try to take advantage of the civil partnership register and then demand that their partners are recognised by the church.

Certainly, the Reverend Stephen Coles told the Radio 4 religious magazine Sunday that he might enter into a civil partnership and was prepared to go to the European Court of Human Rights if the Church tried to evade its responsibilities to his partner.

The House of Bishops has revealed that it has received a raft of questions about where gay clergy stand in the light of this new legislation, and they will issue a statement later in the year “clarifying” the position.

But nothing is going to be clear about this particular situation. As Andrew Carey wrote in the Church of England Newspaper: “We have a situation whereby in future it will be almost impossible to regard the small number of openly gay relationships amongst the clergy as anomalous and going against official church teaching. Instead, those relationships will have to be officially accepted by the Church of England and supported financially and in other benefits.”

It seems that the civil partnership will solve the Church’s problems for it and the African bishops, with their voodoo-version of Christianity, won’t be able to do a thing about it – except perhaps stick pins in dolls of Tony Blair and Rowan Williams.

And, of course, the Simpsons will not be left out of the equation. If there’s a controversy, you can be sure that Homer and co will send it up.

In an episode to be shown on Sky One in May, entitled “There’s Something about Marrying” Homer becomes an ordained minister through a dubious website. Then Springfield unilaterally legalises same-sex marriage in order to increase tourism, and Homer finds that he can make serious money from officiating at gay nuptials.

When the episode was shown in the USA it caused the usual outcry from the religious right. L. Brent Bozell III, president of the Parents Television Council blasted the Simpsons for tackling the issue of gay marriage. “At a time when the public mood is overwhelmingly against gay marriage, any show that promotes gay marriage is deliberately bucking the public mood. You’ve got a show watched by millions of children. Do children need to have gay marriage thrust in their faces as an issue? Why can’t we just entertain them?”

I sometimes wonder about the sanity of these people. They seem almost infantile in the triviality of the targets they choose – last month Spongebob Squarepants, this month the Simpsons. Aren’t there any serious issues they can concern themselves with – like the war in Iraq or world poverty and starvation?

GAY TIMES May 2005

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

Did you realise how important you are to politicians, psephologically speaking? In the desperate fight for votes in what is predicted to be a closely-run general election, you have been de-individualised and become, instead a member of “the gay community”. As such, you can be targeted, appealed to and – as the spin doctors put it – “reached.”

Evidence of this comes in the interviews and articles given by party leaders to the gay press recently. I have never seen all three party leaders so enthusiastic to get themselves looking good in gay magazines.

There are other demographic groups, of course, who like “the gays” (and, perhaps “the Borg”) are perceived to have but one mind between them, which can be persuaded with rash promises.

“The Muslims” are another demographic that politicians imagine are unable to think for themselves and always slavishly do what their “leaders” tell them. And so, the Muslim Council of Britain announces that it will instruct “the Muslims” not to vote for Labour, and Cardinal Murphy O’Connor tells us that “the Catholics” will vote for whichever party offers the hardest line on abortion.

But, of course it’s all tosh. “The Gays”, like “the Muslims”, and “the Catholics” are in fact a group of individuals with minds of their own, and often they vote in ways that are unpredictable and seemingly against their own interests. Look at the number of gay men who supported Thatcher, for instance. It drove some of us mad, but it goes to show that the “gay vote” cannot be corralled.

It has never been more true than it is this time. All three parties are offering “the gays” a whole raft of goodies, so let’s stop for a moment and see just what each has told the media it can do for “the gays” of Britain.

The Labour Party says that it has done wonderful things for gay rights in this country. And, indeed, it has. But mostly it had to be pushed into it. The age of consent has been lowered, yes, but only after a long and acrimonious battle in the European Court of Human Rights (remember the Euan Sutherland and Chris Morris cases?).

Yes, gays can now openly join the military – but once again, it was not given willingly. As Christopher Anton put it in The Independent: “Despite Mr Blair’s supposed pride at the ending of the ban on gays in the military, his government spent its first two years fighting tooth and nail to retain this ban through the European Court of Human Rights. It was only when the court found against them that they had a change of heart.”

Yes, Labour gave us protection from discrimination at work, but only when a European Directive ordered them to do so. And even then, they took the heart out of it by granting ridiculous religious exemptions.

Yes, Labour repealed many of the discriminatory laws that governed gay sexual activity, but once again it was only because of pressure from Europe.

To be fair, they took a political risk to eventually rid us of Section 28 and they voluntarily gave us civil partnerships, but even that was less than equality (unlike the Governments of  Belgium and Holland that gave their gay citizens full marriage).

And Labour is promising a single equality body that will include the rights of gay people for the first time. The problem is that the legislation to go with this new body will give legal protection from discrimination in the provision of goods and services to people on the grounds of race, gender, disability and religion – but there will be no legal protection for gay people, only advice and encouragement.

The Mail on Sunday also reports that New Labour is “drawing up an offence of incitement to homophobic hatred” which would carry a penalty of up to seven years in jail. Labour may think it is doing us a favour with this, but I am deeply worried about the effects it – together with the “incitement to religious hatred” proposals – will have on open debate and free expression in this country.

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems are heartened by polls among gay people showing that the majority of us are going to vote for them this time. tells us that the Lib Dems even have a “pink manifesto”. This includes “The scrapping of provisions within the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act which restricts fertilisation treatment to male/female couples only”; a promise to make “homophobic incitement” a crime, and to increase “sexual education to include diversity and HIV issues”.

The Tories, in the meantime, are trying desperately to shake off their image as a party of blue-haired bigots and frothing homophobes. They face an uphill struggle, though, because they are lumbered with Michael Howard as their leader, a man with not only the most irritating speech impediment in the whole country, but also a history of parliamentary homophobia second to none. It was he, after all, who pushed through Section 28 when he was Home Secretary to Mrs Thatcher.

However, according to the Independent, Mr Howard is repentant about his nefarious past. When the paper’s Johann Hari interviewed him, Howard said: “I’ve changed my mind on that. I was wrong.”

Mr Hari wrote of his encounter: ““What about the core idea contained in Section 28 – that it is possible to actually promote homosexuality? Wasn’t that always bizarre? ‘Well,’ Howard said, ‘I think there are some people who could be influenced. Who could go either way. I think there is a question about the extent to which people can be influenced.’ And, if they could, would it be better to stop them becoming gay? ‘It would be better not to…’ He paused. ‘When you’re talking about very young children, I thought it was wrong to expose them to that sort of literature and those kinds of issues.’”

Mr Hari can’t help wondering after his encounter just how reconstructed Michael Howard really is.

Well, I think we must be cautious. A little story in The Times gives a small indication that the Tories haven’t really changed their spots. It concerned the lottery fund, and its apparent effrontery in making grants to “politically correct” organisations (i.e. anything not approved of by The Daily Mail). The Tory Shadow Arts Minister, Hugo Swire, said the lottery fund had “got so far away from people” by daring to give grants to organisations other than churches and sports groups.

Well, we all know what that means. Although Mr Swire did not mention gay support groups specifically, the point has been driven home often enough in the tabloids. The truth is that gay groups hardly benefit at all from the lottery, but even that is too much for many Conservatives.

Meanwhile, according to The Guardian, Stonewall has issued a voting record of MPs on gay issues and, surprise, surprise, Tory MPs come right at the bottom. Stonewall chose seven parliamentary votes on issues such as adoption rights, Section 28 and civil partnerships.

So, let’s name and shame the 13 MPs who failed to support a single one of the gay issues: Christopher Chope (Con), Patrick Cormack (Con), Michael Fallon (Con), Adrian Flook (Con), Nick Hawkins (Con), Gerald Howarth (Con), Edward Leigh (Con), Andrew Robathan (Con), Laurence Robertson (Con), Andrew Turner (Con), Angela Watkinson (Con) and David Wilshire (Con).

Least gay-friendly Labour MP is Jim Dobbin and least friendly Lib Dem is Colin Breed.

There were 119 MPs with 100% record – 16 of whom were Liberal Democrats, one Plaid Cymru (Adam Price) and all the others Labour.

If you’re pissed off by all three of the main parties and are looking for somewhere a little more radical to put your X, then maybe the Green Party would fit the bill. In London, its representative on the Greater London Authority is the openly gay Darren Johnson. He makes much of the Green’s impeccable pro-gay credentials. You can’t go wrong voting Green as far as gay rights are concerned.

At the other end of the scale, for those of a fascistic disposition, there was an extraordinary letter in The Sunday Telegraph from a leader of the National Front, which said that it wished to distance itself from the British National Party because it was not racist enough. The BNP, said the National Front with hardly concealed distaste, was even inviting open homosexuals to join and had a prominent Sikh in its hierarchy. However, I expect (or, I certainly hope) that few, if any, Gay Times readers will be looking to support the tin pot Hitlers of either the BNP or NF.

This election for gay people is one of the most extraordinary ever. None of the parties is conducting a homophobic campaign as in the past – in fact, quite the reverse, they are falling over themselves to court us.

Compare and contrast this election with the one conducted last year in the United States, when gay marriage was worked up into a make-or-break issue for candidates. Where religion dictated the agenda and consequently gay rights were set back decades.

Here religion has been put firmly in its place. The Catholics made a stab at getting abortion on to the agenda but has had few takers. Mr Blair openly said in a speech to an evangelical organisation that he did not favour mixing party politics and religion (although he does it all the time in his covert way).

So, we are safe. As Johann Hari put it in The Independent: “All three leaders agreed: there’s no going back. Gay rights are banked and secure. This is a remarkable moment. I don’t think we are in Kansas anymore, Toto.”

GAY TIMES June 2005

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

I’ve just finished reading the press cuttings about the new pope and I’m fuming. So please, if you’re one of those Catholic gay boys who gets upset when people are rude about your church, stop reading now – because if you continue, you’re going to be really, really put out.

When it was announced that Cardinal Joseph Ratpoison (as Private Eye has so appropriately dubbed him) had been elected, my heart sank with disappointment. But, at the same time, it also fluttered with pleasure. It sank at the prospect of an unreconstructed, insulting, relentless fundamentalist bigot taking charge of the largest Church on earth, but it soared at the prospect of the damage he would inflict on that corrupt institution.

Ratzinger’s track record of persecution and defamation of gay people is well chronicled. It was he who wrote the condemnations of us as “intrinsically evil” and “objectively disordered” that were put out in the name of that other monster, John Paul (George and Ringo) II. It was he who described gay marriages as “the legalisation of evil”.

But as he came out on to the balcony – having assumed the rather camp stage name ‘Benedict’ – to acknowledge the cheers of the thousands of willing dupes in St Peter’s Square, there were already people on hand to say: “Well, he might be different now that he’s not the enforcer. Let’s give him a chance to show how lovely he is.”

Oh please. Someone who has stated categorically that the Church cannot change its teachings – one of which is that homosexuality is evil and must be opposed – is not suddenly going to become a gay-friendly nice guy.

Ask Sister Jeanine Gramick. She found herself on the wrong side of scary old Ratpoison when she, together with her collaborator Fr. Robert Nugent, were running a support agency for gay and lesbian people called New Ways Ministry. When Ratpoison – who was Grand Inquisitor at the time – found out about it he issued an order forbidding her, or Nugent, ever to minister to gay people again, unless they were prepared to do it his way.

Gramick told her story to The Tablet magazine, and still somehow she seemed anxious not to upset the new pope. “Both he and I are working in an institution that we believe in and where we have common goals, which is the spreading of God’s love,” she said. “I think we all have to give others the benefit of the doubt, to be able to walk in their shoes. It’s easy to demonise people.”

But Ratpoison doesn’t give gay people the benefit of the doubt, he makes no effort whatsoever to walk in the shoes of gay people. And he finds it very easy to demonise us.

Let us remind ourselves of what he wrote in his letter “On the Pastoral Care of Homosexuals” in 1986 (which marked the start of his anti-gay crusade). The letter warned of the “deceitful propaganda” of gay groups before referring to homosexuality as “an intrinsic moral evil”. At the same time, he began a campaign to censure or remove any Catholic Church leader who either accepted, or failed adequately to condemn, gays. Gramick and Nugent were only two of the victims of that. Another was the Archbishop of Seattle, Raymond Hunthausen, whose work with gay people Ratpoison also put a stop to.

And there is no sign that he is going to halt this persecution.

Almost as soon as he had taken up office, the Vatican threw down a challenge to the Spanish government, which has taken the first steps towards permitting gay marriage (it isn’t there yet, and despite newspaper reports, it has a long way to go and severe obstacles to overcome before it becomes law).

The pope’s placeman, Cardinal Alfonso Trujillo (the man who made the wacky claim that HIV could pass through the rubber of condoms) immediately went into that curious hate-speak that the Vatican specialises in. He said that the Spanish had “changed and falsified the very definition of marriage” and said that permitting same-sex couples to adopt children represented “moral violence” against them.

Not content with vilifying gay couples, he called on civil servants in Spain not to co-operate with the law, in fact to actively undermine it. “Christians, even if they are state employees, are asked to become conscientious objectors because the laws we are speaking of are deeply offensive to morality.”

Although the Vatican knows nothing about democracy, it is an old hand at interfering with the laws of democratic states. The attempts to undermine Spain’s elected government should set alarm bells ringing for anyone who treasures government by the people for the people, and who despises governments run by cruel, unelected, unaccountable clerics.

But that is not the only new piece of papal homophobia. There is a renewal of Ratpoison’s campaign to “purge” gay people from Catholic seminaries so that none will find their way into the hierarchy of the Church. The message is clear: the gigantic child abuse scandal that has had such an impact on the Roman Church is all the fault of gay people and taking them out of the picture at an early stage will stop that.

So, the Vatican is conducting an “evaluation” of seminarians. The New York Times reported: “Church officials conducting the review will inevitably take up complaints that gays are enrolling in large numbers in the seminaries and their sexual activities are tolerated at the schools… Some contend an atmosphere of sexual permissiveness – for straight and gay seminarians – was a factor in the child abuse crisis, which has led to more than 11,000 abuse claims in the last five decades.”

The paper reports that the “exact number of gay seminarians is not known. Estimates vary dramatically from one quarter to more than half of all priest-candidates.”

This blaming of gay priests for the sex abuse scandal was most plainly put by J. Grant Swank Jnr on the fundamentalist Christian website “There is a righteous contingent within Roman Catholicism that has been utterly embarrassed and disheartened at the practicing homosexual presence within their own clergy. They have been sickened by children abused by such ordained priests. The Voice of the Faithful in particular has been in the front of the cleansing request, exposing especially child molestation cases nationwide. Voice of the Faithful has been particularly vocal in wanting sexual dysfunction, that is, sexual orientations not in keeping with Scriptures, to be dealt with promptly.”

Mr Swank Jr. says “It could be known as the ‘Homosexual Cleansing.’”

On another conservative Christian website, WorldNetDaily, a report tells us that the reason that there are so many homosexuals in the Catholic hierarchy is because the previous Pope “refused to believe reports that potential clergy held that orientation – a mistake that will not be repeated by Pope Benedict XVI”.

Apparently, “Whenever Vatican investigators brought the results of their vetting process regarding an individual’s candidacy for bishop, cardinal or other office, and they revealed he was a homosexual, John Paul II would refuse to believe it. He did so because accusing someone of homosexuality was a standard practice of the Communist government in his native Poland regarding anyone it regarded as an enemy of the state… Karol Wojtyla witnessed this personal destruction repeatedly. So traumatised, he summarily dismissed such accusations as pope, and would approve the elevation of anyone so approved.” That”, according to the author Jack Wheeler, “is why the Church is riddled with homosexuals today.”

But Ratpoison is inconsistent in his approach to child abuse. He has played his part in trying to suppress investigation into it. He even tried to blame the media for the crisis, saying: “I am personally convinced that the constant presence in the press of sins of Catholic priests, especially in the United States, is a planned campaign, as the percentage of these offences among priests is not higher than in other categories, and perhaps it is even lower.”

Oh, so that makes it alright, does it?

But now The New York Times reports that Ratpoison has re-opened an investigation that he had previously stamped on into the founder of a Mexican Catholic order who is alleged to have molested many boys under his care. The Rev Marciel Maciel Degollando, now 85, founded the influential Legionaries of Christ.

The original accusations were dismissed by Ratpoison because “Father Maciel was a person very loved by the pope and had done so much good for the church.”

But as John Paul II lay on his death bed, Ratpoison suddenly reactivated the case and sent out investigators to interview the men who had made the accusations.

Nobody knows why he suddenly changed his mind. But it seems pretty obvious that for someone as ambitious as him, the prospect of having this sleazy cover-up hanging over him would do nothing for the prospects of his election as pope. And where is his statement of concern for the victims of this crime – or for any other victim of the crimes of the Catholic Church?

Ratpoison is a man who will do his damnedest to hurt and damage gay people all around the world. He will damage not only Catholics, but all of us who have to constantly justify ourselves and see our hard-won legal and civil rights under attack from an institution that purports to be holy but is as corrupt and conniving as it could possibly be.

The Vatican has declared war on gay people. It’s time for us to stop being respectful and get out the big guns to fire back at Pope Benedict the Evil.

GAY TIMES July 2005

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

When you put the patients in charge of the asylum – as has happened with the American government – you get an awful lot of irrational actions and decisions.

The man in charge of this mayhem, George W. Bush, made the issue of gay marriage into a central plank of his election strategy. The idea behind this was to bribe the other nutcases who had, hitherto, been kept under control by the rules and regulations, (known as the Constitution of the United States). These rules and regulations, that were originally designed to protect the vulnerable and keep the mighty in check, are now being challenged – particularly the one that separates religion from the state.

You see, many of the American psychos presently running the asylum are suffering from religious mania and its accompanying delusions. They believe in angels, demons, Armageddon – but mostly they believe that gay people are the wilful spawn of the devil and must be punished.

This mental illness is, it seems, infectious and hatred of gay people is growing in America. Discrimination and acts of petty prejudice are becoming commonplace. It seems that the loonies have been freed from any self-restraint in this respect by their great leader, who’s every word and deed suggests that it is OK to make life miserable for gay people, to insult them, take their rights away and generally blame them for all the ills of society.

Looking at the American press, it’s clear that up and down that enormous land, nasty, spiteful, petty discrimination is burgeoning. Every tin pot religious fruitcake now feels empowered to heap abuse on gay people.

One of the larger organisations that it is hyperactive in its homophobia is the American Family Association. The AFA has demanded that the food manufacturer Kraft drop its corporate sponsorship of the Gay Games in Chicago.

Kathryn Hooks, AFA’s “director of media” said: “We believe that many of Kraft’s customers would be offended to know a portion of their finances from Kraft purchases is being used to sponsor something they oppose, and we also believe Kraft Corporation would also want to hear from its customers.” The AFA is calling on all its claimed 500,000 members to make a personal call to Kraft and “tell them to pull their financial support from the 2006 Gay Games.”

The AFA regularly calls for boycotts on companies that show even the slightest bit of gay-friendliness. (The latest is the Ford Motor Company which has spousal benefits for gay employees). It harasses companies that advertise on such shows as Will and Grace and Desperate Housewives.

Fortunately, Kraft are standing firm (at the time of writing) with its sponsorship of the games.

In Buffalo, New York, meanwhile, The Jewish Review newspaper refuses to carry ads for the local Gay Men’s Chorus because “it might influence young people to experiment with a sexual lifestyle that could be harmful to their health.”

Jewish Review editor, Rita Weiss, told The Buffalo News: “On a very practical basis, there is the possibility of influencing some young people whose sexual development is not yet complete. They could get AIDS. They could try out a lifestyle that is life-threatening.”

Meanwhile, in Congress, the right-wingers are busy thinking up ever-new and more outrageous legislation aimed at restricting gay rights and defaming gay people. With echoes of Section 28, The Hill newspaper reported that Republican Representative Walter Jones has launched proposals for a law that would restrict access to children’s books that feature gay characters.

The paper reports: “After reading news articles about a 7-year old girl borrowing a children’s book from her school library about two men marrying, Rep, Jones began to craft legislation that would give parents a significant role in reviewing literature before it can be accessed by young people.”

The book that caused the fuss was called King and King, which starts out with a queen urging her son to marry and ends with the prince tying the knot with another prince. The book, which is advertised as for 4-8 year olds, shows two men kissing, their lips hidden behind a heart.

The book also triggered a fanatical reaction in Oklahoma, where the state Legislature threatened to withhold funding for libraries if they did not remove books about gay people from the children’s shelves. Republican Representative Sally Kern said: “Restricting children’s access to books is common sense. It doesn’t risk unconstitutional infringement of free speech and still respects the rights of parents and families.” (But try restricting access to other dangerous books like, say, The Bible and see what the reaction would be.)

In Massachusetts – the only state to have gay marriage – an outfit called The Article 8 Alliance claimed that “schools have become more active in pushing homosexuality with students”. The group claims that criticism of homosexuals has been made just about impossible by the politically correct authorities, although Brian Camenker, the director of the group, had no problem getting his own opinion into the public arena – including that “Our Legislature and governor continue to support gay clubs in our public schools, which draw young people into this dangerous and destructive lifestyle.”

In Washington, Catholic colleges and universities were under fire from the ultra-right Cardinal Newman Society for “giving honorary degrees to and inviting pro-gay and pro-women’s rights advocates to speak.”

One of those dissenters who upset the Newman gang was a liberal theologian called Sister Margaret Farley, who teaches at Yale University Divinity School. She delivered the commencement address at Saint Xavier University in Illinois. She was immediately denounced by the Cardinal Newman thugs. “Farley has attacked Catholic teaching on sexual ethics, asserting that homosexuality is not disordered, homosexual and heterosexual relations that are not open to procreation can be ethical, and homosexual marriage should be allowed. She has misled Catholics and caused scandal by claiming support for her arguments within Catholic teaching despite her clear dissent from the Vatican and the bishops.”

Also on the Newman hit list was former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. “As mayor of New York and later as US Senate candidate, Giuliani was very public about his support for abortion rights and special rights for homosexuals. He endorsed domestic partnerships and took steps to extend special benefits to gay and lesbian couples employed by New York.”

In Kansas (and no, Dorothy doesn’t live there any more – in fact, she wouldn’t be welcome, what with her dubious friends and all), the dreaded religious nutcase Rev Fred Phelps has created a storm by objecting to a local school awarding a prize to a child who wrote an essay about the gay comedienne Ellen DeGeneres. A flier produced by the Rev Fred’s whacky Westboro Baptist Church denounces the school – Englesby Intermediate School – as “a homo-fascist regime”. And that’s one of the less extreme pieces of invective on the leaflet. The school awaits with dread Phelps’s threatened visit. He has also threatened to picket the Lexington High School’s graduation day because, he said, the school recognised such groups as the Gay-Straight Alliance.

Over in Dayton, Ohio, the Gay People’s Chronicle reported on a spate of “pretty police” style agent provocateur arrests of gay people. Gay men are also reportedly “pulled over” if they have rainbow stickers on their cars. The paper says: “A complaint filed with Metro Park police by Dale Rogers says that he and his partner, John Adams, were pulled over by park ranger Erich Witterich and ‘detained for 45 minutes to an hour’ and harassed because of gay pride and anti-Bush stickers on their car.” The police officer told them: “The bumpers stickers have got to come off.”

In Maryland, the Advocate reports that “Christian and conservative activists are pushing to overturn four bills that broaden gay rights”. The first two bills – to establish domestic partnership registration and to grant tax exemption to gay couples who make their partners co-owners of property – have already been vetoed by the right-wing governor, Robert Ehrlich, but the other two – extending hate-crimes legislation to gays and another requiring schools to report bullying incidents – have passed the first stages. The religious opponents now have to gather 51,000 signatures in order to have these laws put to a referendum, effectively putting them into mothballs for a long time. The Republicans made clear that “we cannot and will not let up”, and nor will they until the measures are thrown out.

Then there was the Catholic priest in St Paul, Minnesota who, according to The Billings Gazette, “denied communion to 100 people, saying they could not receive the sacrament because they wore rainbow-coloured sashes to show their support for gay Catholics… Last year, some conservative groups in St Paul kneeled in church aisles to block sash-wearers from receiving communion.”

Mind you, if you ask me, the loonies are doing gay Catholics a favour by kicking them out of the club. Who wants to be a member of an organisation that hates you?

This is just a small sample of recent displays of the pure, unadulterated homophobia that Bush has unleashed with his irresponsible election campaign.

Thankfully this isn’t the whole story. America is a much-divided nation, and there is still a sizeable rump of liberalism in some parts of the country.

But what the American experience illustrates very clearly is that gay rights are fragile. We cannot take them for granted. Our gay brothers and sisters over the water thought that progress to complete equality was inevitable and unstoppable. They have been disabused of that idea in a very unpleasant way.

We should always bear that in mind for ourselves.

GAY TIMES August 2005

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

Barring any last-minute glitches, Canada, Spain and New Zealand will, by the time you read this, have joined the growing band of nations that are offering their gay citizens marriage – or some version of marriage.

No doubt Pope Ratpoison is hopping up and down in his bunker at the Vatican because his “children” aren’t doing precisely what he tells them. And no doubt his Evilness will be waging a ceaseless behind-the-scenes campaign to have this legislation repealed at the earliest opportunity.

Indeed, in New Zealand it has started already. When the NZ ambassador to the ‘Holy See’ (the fake state created by the Vatican to get it political influence) was presented to the pope, Ratpoison told him that NZ must get rid of “secular distortions of marriage” immediately. Only traditional models of the institution could possibly “protect women from exploitation”.

But fortunately Ratpoison is not without his critics, even within the Catholic Church. Bernard Ratigan wrote, in a letter to the Catholic magazine The Tablet: “Does Benedict really think that recognising same-sex relationships diminishes heterosexual marriage? Has he met many, or any, Catholic gay couples? I think if he had sustained contact and saw the sheer ordinariness of their lives he would never come out with such hurtful words as ‘anarchy’, ‘libertinism’ and ‘pseudo-freedom’. Such language does a disservice to empirical reality and, I would argue, demonstrates not the fruits of his anthropology and theology but of prejudice.”

The Church of England, too, has got itself into a right twist over the issue. Not only has the Anglican Communion sent the American churches with gay bishops to stand in the corner until further notice, they have also had to come to terms with the Britain’s “Civil Partnership” legislation as it affects its own numerous gay priests.

Here’s the story so far. The Anglican Church’s official policy is that hard core gay relationships are forbidden to members of its clergy. They’re OK if they remain soft-core, with only flaccid genitals, air kisses and the purest thoughts of unsoiled friendship. Any involvement of the nether regions in a vicar’s gay marriage will immediately incur… well, that’s the problem, you see. What will it incur?

The CofE’s Archbishops’ Council has now reportedly been forced to promise guidelines saying that it will be OK for its vicars to enter into a (perfectly legal) Civil Partnership, but they will have to visit their bishop and sign on the dotted line that there will be no hanky-panky.

Picture the scene. “You may be married to your boyfriend now, my lad,” the bishop will say sternly, “But you must sign this form to promise that you will not bum him or suck him off or even give him a little J. Arthur. Nor will he do any of the aforementioned genital activities to you. Now, how about a nice sherry?”

Of course, what will happen in reality is that the blushing bishop will say: “Do you promise to observe church teaching?” and the vicar – who will still have the confetti in his hair – will say “Of course.” And then go out and say to his waiting spouse: “I read the Bible differently to him, so as far as I’m concerned it’s OK for us to enjoy a few conubials.” They will then pop off to Gran Canaria for their honeymoon which might involve a threesome if they’re lucky.

In the same vein, in the Church Times, the Revd. David Rogers said: “My heart sinks at the thought of the stiff and embarrassing atmosphere that will pervade the episcopal interview. It will be as if the quality, longevity and uniqueness of the same-sex relationship, in all its beauty and passion, were as nothing, and the detail of sexual activity will be everything. Were marriage preparation conducted with such an imbalance, the interviewer would be thought of as unhealthily obsessed… If I were a diocesan bishop, I should be more concerned to know why my lesbian and gay clergy didn’t avail themselves of the Civil Partnership Act.”

Andrew Carey, son of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, was quick to latch on to the ludicrousness of all this. “Our capacity for self-deception in the Church is unrivalled,” he wrote in the Church of England Newspaper. “In reality, anything but an absolute ban on civil partnerships for clergy will introduce homosexual marriage to the Church of England without any proper theological discussion and debate in the Councils of the Church whatsoever…. In future the Church of England will have effectively changed its policy and teaching on marriage without even admitting it.”

However, outside the deluded churches, many gay couples are now finding that they have a security and a status that they could never have imagined, even five years ago. The Methodists have even (however patronisingly) voted to consider “blessing” gay unions in some way. Hip, hip hooray!

But wait. There are other people, besides the religious bigots, who aren’t entirely happy with these developments.

Kenji Yoshimo ruminated in the Village Voice in New York about why and how the topic of gay marriage had suddenly vaulted to the top of the gay rights agenda. After all, he said, gay Americans don’t even have a statute protecting their rights at work yet, and 87 per cent of respondents to a recent Gallup poll said they would support such a measure. Whereas, for some reason the big deal is gay marriage, which is only supported by 39 per cent. So, he says “why not start in the hiring hall rather than the banqueting hall?”

Well, says Mr Yoshimo, the gay community wants to re-write its biography, to take it out of the tragic mould – often represented by the musty closet or rampaging AIDS – and put it into the joyous mould, represented by jolly same-sex weddings and happy-ever-after contentment.

There is, he says, an idealised and a banal approach to gay marriage. The idealised approach is the one where activists demand that nothing short of marriage will suffice, that we must not be fobbed off with “marriage-lite”. Proponents of this philosophy say that civil partnership-type arrangements “deprive gays of the symbolic capital of the word ‘marriage’. It is social expectations created by the word that explain marriage’s near magical ability to create kin out of thin air, to turn passion into commitment, to make people healthier and happier.”

Another author, calling himself ‘Gay Shame San Francisco’, doesn’t like it at all. Gay Shame wrote in a recent anthology of essays on the topic that marriage is “violent, racist, homophobic – serving as one of the central institutions necessary for organising a misogynist, sexist and oppression-ridden world.” So why do we want it?

Others, like Meredith Mann argue that marriage is simply boring: “We’re Here, We’re Queer, We’re Married. Yawn.”

But Mr Yoshimo says there is something to be said for the banal approach. Rather than arguing whether marriage is a good thing or not, or whether it’s the real thing or not is beside the point. Simply getting on with it, in all its traditional banality, makes it a fait accompli. It starts to become an everyday part of life, rather than a topic for political debate or activism, and that robs the arguments of their passion.

And, indeed, on the first anniversary of the legalisation of gay marriage in the state of Massachusetts, Deb Price wrote an article in USA Today headlined: “The sky didn’t fall in.”

She found that in that first year, the number of voters prepared to accept gay marriage had rocketed from 35% to 65%. She explains this amazing turnabout by the fact that 6,000 same-sex couples had got married without incident. The apocalyptic warnings from religious fundamentalists about the collapse of Western civilisation simply didn’t come true. It was, in fact, the sheer banality of it all that convinced people that there was no threat.

Kenji Yoshimo ends by saying: “Gay rights activists should not underestimate the power of banality. I’m reminded of a friend who wrote his grandfather a 14-page, single-spaced coming-out letter. After saying all the right things, the grandfather added: ‘And by page eight, I have to say that I was thinking ‘All right, all right, I get it. You’re gay.’”

Mr Yoshimo says that coming out is now a cliché and gay marriage is headed in the same direction – and that’s something we should celebrate. “For,” he concludes, “if we cannot persuade our opponents with high-minded argument, we can still bore them into submission with wedding pictures.”

GAY TIMES September 2005

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

Elton John famously did it, and most of us have friends or acquaintances that have done it.

I’m talking about the gay guys who – on their first few forays from the closet – feel the need to assure everyone that they are not gay but, in fact, “only” bisexual. It’s a defence mechanism that permits them to test the water before taking the full coming out plunge.

Now a new study, published in America, seems to suggest that all men who claim to be bisexual are really just gay men who haven’t reached final destination yet.

The claim certainly put the cat among the pigeons when it was reported on the front page of the New York Times under the rather provocative heading: “Gay, Straight or Lying. Bisexuality revisited”.

The study was conducted by Northwestern University and Toronto’s Center for Addiction and Mental Health which recruited 101 men. Thirty-three of them said they were bisexual, 30 said they were straight and 38 said they were gay. They were each attached to a “penile plesmythograph” (a small harness that fits around the knob and detects any tiny fluctuations in its tumescence as a result of a variety of mucky stimuli). They were then shown pornographic images, straight and gay, and their arousal patterns were matched against their self-defined sexual orientation.

As expected, the straight men in the study group got aroused by images of women, and the gay guys responded to images of men. The unexpected finding was that three-quarters of the self-identified bi men responded only to images of men. This led the reporter on the NYT to conclude that bisexuality as a distinct sexual orientation doesn’t exist.

Dr Lisa Diamond, an associate professor of psychology and gender study at the University of Utah (who wasn’t involved in the study) was reported as saying that the discrepancy about what’s happening in people’s minds and what’s going on in their bodies is a puzzle. “We have assumed everyone means the same thing when they talk about desire, but now we have evidence that that is not the case.”

One danger of the study was pointed out by Dr Randall Sell, of Columbia University. “That last thing you want,” he said, “is for some therapists to see this study and start telling bisexual people that they’re wrong, that they’re really on their way to homosexuality. We don’t know nearly enough about sexual orientation and identity.”

The NYT claimed that previous studies had also been unable to find a difference between arousal patterns in men who call themselves gay and those who call themselves bisexuals. And in 1984, the gay magazine The Advocate conducted a survey that showed that 40 per cent of gay men had said they were bisexual before they admitted that their true orientation was, in fact, gay.

The gay and bisexual support and pressure groups were quick off the mark to rubbish the research. The NYT was flooded with letters from angry people of all orientations criticising the scientific validity and the methodology of the study and the bona fides of the man heading it.

In a statement, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF): said The NYT article “fails to note several serious and obvious questions about the study’s methodology and munderlying premises; fails to report the serious controversies that have plagued one of the study’s authors in the past; misstates some of the study’s conclusions and fails to reflect the views of any leaders in the bisexual community.”

On the other side of the fence was Chandler Burr, author of  “A Separate Identity: The search for the biological origins of sexual orientation”, which claims that homosexuality is genetically predetermined.

He wrote: “Some gay and bisexual advocates are condemning ‘Straight, Gay or Lying?’ regarding a study suggesting that bisexuality may not exist among human males – something those of us familiar with the scientific literature have known since, basically, forever. Compare this hysterical – and anti-science – reaction to the conservative Christians’ anti-science reaction to studies showing that homosexuality is an inborn orientation like left-handedness. They’re identical. The right hates science because the data contradict (in the case of homosexuality) Leviticus; the left because the data contradict the liberal lie that we’re environment-created, not hard-wired in any way. These particular scientific facts are making these advocates scream like members of the extreme right, though it’s they who always tells the right to let go of concepts that are contradicted by science.”

Whatever you think of Mr Burr’s analysis, the opportunistic religious gay bashers were quickly on the case. The website (“The Voice of Orthodox Anglicanism”) used the study to batter the gay Christian group Integrity (roughly equivalent to Britain’s Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement). “Integrity… is finding itself increasingly marginalised by newer scientific studies that show that sexuality preferences can not only be changed, but some sexual orientations might actually be fraudulent,” the website gloated.

VirtueOnline hates and detests gay people because our existence not only contradicts their inconsistent “Holy Book”, it also threatens to break up their beloved “Anglican Communion”. Consequently, they keep forming groups that claim to change people’s sexual orientation through prayer and brainwashing. This is their Final Solution to the Homosexual Problem – eradicate all gay people through exhortations to the bogey man in the sky.

The controversy set off debates on message boards all over the USA. On The Village Voice site, bisexuals got to speak for themselves. One wrote: “It is entirely possible that bisexual men tend to feel more attracted to one sex or the other on any given day or hour – a pattern I have observed in myself. But, hey, maybe I am just another gay man in denial.”

On the same site, ‘Girl Bi Fan’ admitted that she loved “watching straight (or marginally straight) guys kiss and fondle each other. It gets me so excited. The only reason I don’t rush off to date bi guys is because – in my experience – bi guys turn out to be just plain gay.”

‘Bisexual and Annoyed’ spoke for many when she wrote: “Bisexual is a word one often uses to define one’s sexuality when one just doesn’t fit in a gay/straight box. I also consider myself bi, because I am a woman who finds women attractive, but not most men. I am also happily married and monogamous, and I like sex with men. How can I call myself straight and then spend hours drooling over the hot girl in the sunglasses shop? How can I say I’m a lesbian when I love bonking my husband? Human sexuality is never that simple, and it would be nice if everyone could stop pretending that it is.”

In relation to all this, what are we to make of the gay men who get married and have children and then decide that they’re gay after the family structure is all in place? This can lead to dreadful agony all round. Were they bisexual men, or simply gay men who couldn’t face the pressure and decided to try to be conventional instead?

Ananova, the Press Association news site, reported that an Austrian couple with 12 children (yes, that’s twelve) have split up after the husband admitted he was gay. The wife in this scenario, Alina, said: “He told me he only had sex with me so I would get pregnant and it would give me something to do. I can’t believe we had so many children together, my whole life has been a lie.”

The Indianapolis Star carried an article about gay spouses which tried to discover why so many apparently ordinary husbands are suddenly declaring their gayness and moving on. “Gays and lesbians who perhaps felt pressured to marry are now emboldened to drop the façade and embrace their true identities,” the paper said. “The gay and lesbian rights movement has wrought major changes in American society. While social stigmas persist, the culture has become much freer for those outside the heterosexual mainstream. Today when gay and lesbian people ‘come out’, they typically find themselves wrapped in the welcoming arms of their respective communities.”

Mmm. I’m not sure there would be many ‘welcoming arms’ for a middle-aged or elderly gentleman with no experience of gay life emerging on to Old Compton Street or Canal Street. Reality would bite pretty quickly. The ‘welcoming arms’ are generally reserved for those under 25.

Which brings us back to the original question: is bisexuality real, or is it simply a mechanism for avoiding the truth?

The author of the study at the heart of this hoo-ha is Gerulf Reiger. He guesses that men who are really straight, but say they are bisexual, might do so because “it’s so much easier for a male to have quick sex with another male than with a woman. But their true sexual feelings are still for women.”

The gay literary giant Christopher Isherwood once said that you knew if you were gay if you could fall in love with someone of the same sex, rather than just have sex with them.

Is this the true definition of a bisexual, then – someone who can fall in love with, as well as shag, both men and women?

As one enquirer asked of The Village Voice agony uncle: “Am I morally bound to be true to a girl I’ve been in a loving relationship with for three long years if I have bisexual curiosity? I want to see what it is like to be with a man! She would be devastated, so I can’t tell her. But I want to do this!”

The agony uncle replied: “You’re morally bound not to be a total shit. If you can’t bring yourself to tell her you want to smoke some pole, at least have the decency to break up with her. Once you’ve satisfied your curiosity, you can go running back to your girlfriend – if she’ll have you back, that is.”

I think it’s unlikely that this young man would want an emotional commitment to the guy who’s pole he smoked in the same way he would with a woman (whether his present girlfriend or not). Would he therefore be truly bisexual? Or just someone who wants to have a bit of horse-play on the side with a well-hung fuck-buddy, no questions asked, no big love deal?

The question remains open.

GAY TIMES October 2005

Who is the most appalling preacher in America? Competition is stiff these days, but in the race to be most appalling, the overall (and, some might say, the perpetual) leader has to be the Rev Fred Phelps, of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. His title as biggest gobshite of all time was momentarily in danger last month when the Rev Pat Robertson called publicly for the assassination of a democratically elected leader – the President of Venezuela, no less. Robertson was forced to pull back and apologise, but that’s not Fred’s style.

No, Fred isn’t happy with merely causing simple offence – he’s not happy until he has caused all-out unrestrained, blood boiling outrage. If there is misery for innocent bystanders, so much the better.

However, sensing that he might be upstaged by Pat Robertson, Fred has pulled out all the stops and staged some even more grotesque stunts. These included picketing the funerals of American soldiers killed in Iraq, welcoming Hurricane Katrina and subsequent inundation and loss of life in the gulf states of America, and then calling the King of Sweden a fag.

The motivation for Fred’s current crop of hatreds is prompted by the fact that “America worships at the fag altar and spits in God’s face”. (In other words, he doesn’t like the fact that some parts of America grant human rights to their homosexual citizens).

He’s got it in for King Carl Gustav of Sweden because a Swedish court ruled that a fundamentalist minister broke the country’s hate-speech laws by verbally attacking gays.

Fred Phelps and his twisted family came to prominence in 1998 when they demonstrated at the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a young man who had been beaten to death by queer bashers. The Westboro Baptist Church thought Matthew got what he deserved and announced that he would burn in hell for all eternity. Since then, Fred has made a whole career out of hating all and sundry, especially if he can make even the remotest connection between them and sympathy with homosexuals (or “fag-enabling” as he so prosaically puts it).

The Rev Fred’s OI (Outrage Index) rose to new heights when he decided that American soldiers killed in Iraq got all they deserved because they were defending a nation that had been “turned over to fags”. He and his ragbag family of misfits turned up at a funeral for two dead GI’s from the Tennessee National Guard in the town of Smyrna.

“I’m saying these parents killed their kids,” ranted Phelps, “And they want someone to go warn their loved ones to repent, lest they joined them in hell.”

The families of the dead soldiers were, understandably, horrified to see the Phelps’s were on the way. To their aid came Pamela Brown, a local woman who was determined that Phelps would not disrupt the funeral. She told the local newspaper The Leaf Chronicle, “I thought about [the dead soldier’s] 12-year old daughter. I thought it would be an awful thing during this sad day, she would have to see them and read their signs.”

Ah yes, their signs. “God hates fags, and God hates you,” was one of the more moderate ones. Ms Brown started phoning around other concerned citizens and eventually she assembled a sizeable crowd that was able to stand between the grieving family and the evil family.

It took only thirty or so of the Westboro Baptist “congregation” to generate huge amounts of publicity, and now Fred finds he can get publicity without actually doing anything. He just has to threaten to do something and he gets all the front pages he could ever dream of.

It takes a particularly perverse frame of mind to think up these stunts. I wonder how many ideas for outrage he rejects before he finds one that will cause maximum hurt to grieving people? How long can it have taken him to finally light upon America’s Achilles heel and then stick a knife in it?

Can anyone imagine anything more ghastly than burying a loved one and having to listen to a bunch of crackpots shouting that they deserved to die and that the insurgents who killed them were to be praised.

Phelps brings so much disgrace on religion that more moderate church people are anxious to denounce him and distance themselves from his message. Such is their despair at the light that Freddie throws on Christianity that one religious conservative actually thinks he might be a “gay plant”. This particular conspiracy says that Fred’s anti-gay message is so extreme, it forces people to condemn it, even though they are anti-gay themselves.

Peter LaBarbera of the Illinois Family Institute (no mean homophobe himself) told the Christian Life Site that, “Politically and culturally speaking, Phelps and his protesters serve as a crude caricature of pro-family traditionalists who oppose the normalisation of homosexuality. Fred makes an easy target for the media and secularists who are tempted (partly by their own prejudices) to paint any opposition to ‘gay rights’ as hateful. For this reason, I have sometimes wondered if Phelps and his clan are ‘gay plants’”.

Lifesite News, though, thinks there might be another explanation for Phelps’s behaviour – simply that he is “unbalanced”. They point to this statement from the website: “Thank God for the bombing of London’s subway today… wherein dozens were killed and hundreds seriously injured… Wish it was many more.”

Fred’s aberrant behaviour knows no bounds – literally, nothing is unsayable. When Hurricane Katrina struck, it was hallelujah time for Pastor Phelps. “It is entirely appropriate that these heathen, God-hating Sodomites should be flooded out of their homes, surrounded by disease, and attacked by their own bloody, lawless fellow citizens,” he said. “It is entirely appropriate that bodies are floating down the streets of New Orleans, receiving that burial which is appropriate for them, to wit ‘He shall be buried with burial of an ass’ (Jeremiah 22:19). Let us pray that God will send a more hurricanes to totally devastate the North American continent with more and more category 5 hurricanes!”

But, hey, don’t think that Fred is alone in attributing Hurricane Katrina to God’s anger – after all, we had the perfect Sodom and Gomorrah scenario here. The fact that the New Orlean’s big gay party – unfortunately called Southern Decadence – was imminent was a perfect excuse for the God’s judgment brigade to jump on the bandwagon.

Another right-wing religious group called Repent America described the annual gay event as “homosexuals engaging in sex acts in the public streets”. Its spokesman Michael Marcavage announced: “Although the loss of lives is deeply saddening, this act of God destroyed a wicked city. May it never be the same.”

It seems God is eventually getting Fred’s message and sending the fire and brimstone of which he’s so fond

Which means the King of Sweden had better watch himself because Fred is on his case, too.

Fred calls Sweden “a land of sodomy, bestiality and incest.” He first took against the country when a preacher called Ake Green, who is almost as nutty as Fred himself, was tried and convicted in Stockholm for inciting hatred against homosexuals. This prompted Fred to “celebrate” the deaths of 500 Swedes in the Boxing Day tsunami. He also charmingly opined that “The King looks like an anal copulator & his grinning kids look slutty & gay.”

Under pictures of the royal family, Mr Phelps wrote on his website: “You jackass Swedes just don’t get it. Once you have laws to chill Bible preaching, we don’t give a rat’s tutu whatever else you do or say. You are drippings from the Devil’s own penis – a veritable sperm bank for Satan’s queers.”

I’m sorry, but I laughed when I read that. A rat’s tutu? What the hell is this man talking about?

But worse was to come. The Swedish newspaper Expressen reported that Fred was on his way to Stockholm to “hunt the King down”. “It don’t make no difference where he tries to hide.”

Of course, anyone with a grain of sense knows that Fred Phelps daren’t set a foot off American soil. It is only the US constitution’s protection of free speech that keeps him from being torn limb from limb. He hasn’t got the guts to carry out his threat to go to Sweden in order to “get the King wherever he may be”. He is well aware what would happen.

The Swede’s, however, foolishly took the bait and questions were asked of the American ambassador in Stockholm, and the royals looked into launching some kind of legal action.

Fred must have been rubbing his hands with glee at the prospect of a court case with European royalty on the witness stand justifying their ‘fag enabling’ activities.

A columnist in Expressen, Lars Lindstrom, wrote: If he were a cartoon character, I’d laugh. But now I just feel ill. Phelps has eleven lawyers fighting for his constitutional rights to cast the objects of his hatred into the fires of hell. To dismiss him as the village idiot is to take the easy way out.”

But Fred Phelps is the village idiot. An offensive, attention-seeking idiot, admittedly, but an idiot all the same. And, as Lars Lindstrom said: “With friends like Fred Phelps, Ake Green doesn’t need a single enemy”.

Mr Green’s appeal will be heard in the Swedish Supreme Court in November. You can bet Fred Phelps will be threatening to picket. You can also safely bet that he’ll be a no-show.