GAY TIMES November 2005

Did you know that gay men and paedophiles are the same thing? That gay people cannot be trusted to tell the truth and are incapable of sympathising with people who feel differently to themselves? Did you know that gay men simply cannot obey rules and have absolutely no control over their disordered sexual impulses?

It’s true. How do I know it’s true? Because the pope told me so, and he’s infallible. Who says he’s infallible? Why, he does, so it must be true.

The pope has a direct line to God, you see (the only person outside of an asylum who has) and knows precisely what our Saviour wants. Which, by some amazing coincidence, always seems to be the same as what pope Ratpoison wants.

Now, it seems, Our Heavenly Father has told Ratpoison personally that he wants all gay men expelled from the Catholic priesthood, and so Il Papa is sending his Inquisition heavies round to the seminaries (these are the colleges where misguided young men are trained to throw their lives away in the service of an institution that hates them) to root them out. The “apostolic visitations” as these witch hunts are called will attempt to identify the closet cases and make a note of the liberated – and then shown them the door.

These victims should count themselves lucky; a few centuries ago the Church would have gladly introduced them to other faggots – wooden ones that would have made a nice big bonfire underneath them.

The gay boys are not wanted in the Church any more. Or, as leader of the Catholic League said so charmingly on Fox News recently: “Too many sexually active gays have been in the priesthood, and it’s about time they were routed out.”

Innocent or guilty, sexually active or celibate, loyal or questioning, it’s all the same to Ratpoison. He just wants someone to be punished for what, in effect, are his own failings. Or, as William Saletan put it in Slate magazine: “The one thing everyone knows about the Roman Catholic Church is that you’re supposed to confess your sins. Everybody, that is, except the church’s leaders. First they failed to come clean about sexual abuse by priests. Then they failed to come clean about having covered up the abuse. Every time they assured the public that nothing else would come out, something else came out.”

News of the persecution plans had been circulating for years, but now the Vatican is said to have prepared a document to be used as the witch finders make their progress around the 229 seminaries in the United States. The New York Times obtained a copy of this document, which has not yet been officially approved by the Vatican. There is a suspicion that it was leaked to the NYT in order to test public reaction to it.

Among the 96 questions in the 12-page manual are “Is there a clear process for removing from the seminary faculty members who dissent from the teachings of the church?” “Is there evidence of homosexuality in the seminary? Are there signs of “particular friendships?”

The prelate overseeing the American pogrom (the Witch Finder General, I suppose), Archbishop Edwin O’Brien told the National Catholic Register that “men with strong homosexual inclinations” should not be enrolled in seminaries even if they have been celibate for years.

O’Brien did not make clear how the “strength” of gay “inclinations” is to be measured. Is there an official Vatican “gayometer”, perhaps?

Debbie Weill, executive director of the gay and lesbian Catholic group DignityUSA said the bishops were “scapegoating” gay people. “For the Catholic Church to now suddenly ban gay priests, it would be a very foolish decision and harmful to the church overall,” she said. (So, it might have some positive side effects, then.)

Estimates of the numbers of gay priests in the USA range from 10% to 60%. Imagine if the latter were to be the true number, and vengeful Ratpoison kicked them all out. The Church is already desperately short of priests to carry out its arcane practices – imagine if it now had to get rid of more than half of the remainder. The Church in the West would die. (I’m suddenly warming to this whole thing).

In an effort to reassure those liberal Catholic appalled by developments, the Vatican Correspondent of the National Catholic Reporter, John L. Allen, wrote in the New York Times that the Vatican didn’t always mean what it said. “Although it is difficult for many Anglo-Saxons to grasp, when the Vatican makes statements like ‘no gays in the priesthood’ it doesn’t actually mean ‘no gays in the priesthood’. It means ‘As a general rule, this is not a good idea, but we all know there will be exceptions’.” Mr Allen argues for the acceptance of a spot of hypocrisy to oil the Vatican’s wheels. The Holy See may present a stern face to the world, but in real life it’s a cuddly bunny, he seems to be saying.

But this won’t do. Another New York Times report was about a woman called Brenda Oliver, who was “depressed and desperate for spiritual sustenance”. She visited a church near her home in Brooklyn. She was OK until the priest started talking about “the men of Sodom”. What he didn’t know is that Ms Oliver is a lesbian lady. She revealed: “The preacher said that if a bunch of gays went to his house, he’d start shooting and killing them”.

And this surely the problem with the “it’s all just bluster” argument. When a world figure such as Ratpoison persistently issues defamatory and condemnatory statements against a minority, it is bound to unleash violent feelings among his followers, feeling that would otherwise be kept under control. We need to ask, how many others are watching this anti-gay hatemongering and beginning to feel that it’s OK to shoot gays – after all, dear Papa Ratpoison hates them, and he literally cannot be wrong.

Andrew Sullivan, the gay Republican apologist and Catholic commentator, put it this way on his blog: “What does this document say to the gay laity? It says: you’re so sick in the head you cannot lead moral lives. God may be able to forgive you but our job is to protect every other Catholic from your disorder.”

Sullivan is of the opinion that the pope’s actions are “evil” and “will become accepted, as Benedict’s church continues to retreat from modernity into the superstitions and bigotries of earlier times… As every beleaguered politician has found, bigotry works. It may well work as a strategy for Benedict, especially in the Third World, where hatred of homosexuals is more common. But to rebuild a church on the basis of hate is a truly odious strategy.”

But what of the gay priests themselves? The New York Times tracked a few down and asked for their reaction. All demanded to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions. “I do think about leaving,” said one Franciscan seminarian, “It’s hard to lead a duplicitous life, and for me it is hard not to speak out against injustice. And that’s what this is.”

Another commented: “I find I am becoming more and more angry. This is the church I’ve given my life to and believe in. I look at every person I come in contact with as someone who’s created in the image and likeness of God, and I expect that from the Church I am a part of. But I always feel like I’m ‘less than’.”

Another said he felt like a Jew in Nazi Germany and was thinking of donning a pink triangle badge in protest.

But the Reverend John Trigilio, president of the Fraternity of Catholic Clergy welcomed the clear-out. He said the ban on gays would be rather like the previous ban on epileptics. “It’s pretty much the same thing,” the raving Reverend said. “The work and ministry of the priesthood is going to be too demanding and will put a strain on them. He’s going to have to spend five to eight years in a seminary where he’s going to be with men.”

Andrew Sullivan has also carried photographs on his blog of Father Mychal Judge, a pastor for New York City firefighters, an openly gay priest who died with those he served in the rubble of the World Trade Centre on 9/11. “According to the new pope, Father Judge should never have been ordained,” Mr Sullivan notes. “The idea that gay priests somehow cannot serve straight congregants, when you have this priest working with one of the most stereotypically macho organisations – and he gave his life to them – captures some of the cruelty and bigotry we see in the Vatican now.”

Father Judge was – and indeed still is – one of the most loved Catholic Priests of recent history. Indeed, there is a campaign afoot to have him canonised ( ) and the leader of that campaign, Burt Kearns, told the New York Times: “If you look at the life of Mychal Judge, this is a man who should be on the recruiting poster for Catholic priests. He was a great priest.”

Pope Ratpoison has, indeed, painted himself into a corner with his, and we all know what cornered rats do.

However, the stupidity of his hatemongering was pointed out nicely in a letter to the International Herald Tribune from Rey Buono in Kuala Lumpur: “I hope Pope Benedict will complete his exorcism of gays from the Vatican by sandblasting Michelangelo’s blatantly homoerotic ‘Creation of Adam’ from the Sistine Chapel ceiling.”

GAY TIMES December 2005

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

We are living in a society in transition. The new values are beginning to overtake the old at a rapid rate, and not everyone is happy about it.

Perhaps this is no better illustrated than in the approach to gay people in this country. On the one hand we are about to be given something that I never thought we would see in my lifetime – gay marriage. On the other hand, we have a rising tide of violence and hate being directed at us by a section of the community that simply cannot come to terms with us.

As some gay people prepare to celebrate and enshrine in law their precious relationships, others are being beaten to death with such ferocity that even their own mothers can’t identify them.

We may be approaching equality in the law, but will we ever be free from the violence directed at us by the hate/booze/drug-fuelled Neanderthals?

Maybe not, but more generally things are going our way. The queues are forming at register offices up and down the country in anticipation of December 21. Touching stories are emerging in the local press, such as the one in the Oldham Advertiser which concerned Judith Tomlinson and Mary Harrison who, by serendipitous coincidence, discovered that their 31st anniversary as a couple will fall on 21 December. They will tie the knot on that significant date. Mary said: “We are happy. Neither of us wants to be without the other – we can’t function without each other.”

Judith added: “There has been nothing keeping us together all these years other than the fact that it’s what we want and I can’t see it changing. The only thing that will change will be legal rights the partnership gives us.”

But it is the celebrity weddings that the papers are rubbing their hands about. The parliamentary gays are in the forefront. According to The Sunday Times, South Ribble MP David Borrow says that he and his partner will be taking advantage of the new law “at some time in the future”, while Ben Bradshaw told The Evening Standard that he intends to do the deed with his boyfriend, Neal Dalgleish. Chris Smith and Dorian Jabri are “thinking about it”

Perhaps the granddaddy of all the gay nuptials will be that of Elton John and David Furnish. Although they haven’t officially announced their intentions yet, there is plenty of speculation that they will opt for a ceremony that’s as over-the-top as so many of their widely-reported parties are.

Kathryn Knight in the Daily Mail purported to have the inside track on Grandma Elton’s plans. She wrote: “The date has been reserved in the most A-list diaries. The venue for the nuptials has been lovingly prepared. Elizabeth Hurley and Victoria Beckham are to be bridesmaids, and while the exact specifications for the flowers and wedding cake have not been finalised, the happy couple have settled on a figurine of two Action Men decorated with Swarovski crystals for their table decorations. It will not, it is safe to say, be the most modest or conventional wedding. But then, ‘The Eltons’ are not known for their unassuming tastes.”

There is talk of negotiations with Hello magazine and that the guest list will include “the usual suspects” – Lulu, Sting and his wife Trudi, the Osbornes, Naomi Campbell, Sam Taylor-Wood and, of course, the Beckhams.

I don’t envy their task of having to buy presents for the man who has everything – three times over.

The inexorable spread of gay marriage is going to lead to all kinds of whacky situations because some people are bringing with them an awful lot of baggage – such as the detritus from a previous heterosexual marriage. In Belgium, for instance (where they didn’t mess about with this “civil partnership” lark and got straight on with proper marriage for gays), a divorced woman is to be a “best woman” at the gay wedding of her ex-husband. (Take a moment to work that out). Pink News reported that Tanya Van Rysselberghe will play a prominent role as her former hubby, Guy, gets married to her hairdresser Dany. Ms Van Rysselberghe explains that at first she was furious with Guy but she came to terms with the situation. “I would have been more ashamed if he had fallen in love with another woman. I saw how happy he and Dany were. They were like Yin and Yang. That’s why I want to be at his wedding as the best woman.”

Let’s hope Guy and Dany are not planning to go on a honeymoon to North Devon, where they might happen upon the Pine Lodge guest house, where – according to a report in the Independent on Sunday – landlady Mrs Davies doesn’t want gay couples as customers. In fact, she turned David Allard and Bryn Hughes away because she said their presence would “upset” her other guests. She, and others like her, are still allowed to get away with this sort of thing at the moment, but that may change if the government keeps to its promise to outlaw discrimination against gays and lesbians in the receipt of goods and services. Mrs Davies and her pursed lips might have come along at just the right time as a solid illustration of how unpleasant and mean-minded anti-gay prejudice can be.

But rock singer Melissa Etheridge found a way round it. She and her “domestic partner” (as gay spouses are called in California) Tammy Lynn had taken their two children on a trip in a trailer. According to a profile in The Sunday Telegraph magazine, the family arrived at a restaurant in Texas where a waitress refused to serve them. “At first, Etheridge says, you don’t want to believe it’s because you’re gay, but then you just let it go – and that’s unfortunate. Of course, the waitress who did wait on us – we gave her $100 tip. And we hope that the word spreads.”

Ms Etheridge and Tammy Lynn, like all the other gay people around the world who have formalised their relationships, haven’t been able to do it in church. But that may be about to change for some of them.

The Methodist Church in this country is considering making some kind of blessing available for civil unions. It has set up a committee to decide what it should do, but it won’t decide policy (according to Christian News Service) until its annual conference next year. So that might be a start.

In Ireland, Dr Robert McCarthy, the Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, said that his church (The Church of Ireland, not the Catholic) needed to “recognise reality”. He told The Irish Independent: “People now tend to get married when they have children and that marriage becomes the official recognition a relationship exists. In this context, it is probably right that same-sex relationships, which are perfectly natural for some people, should be recognised by the State and why not by the Church?”

In Sweden the state church is way ahead of this and has endorsed a proposal to create a liturgy for the blessing of same-sex unions very soon. To receive the blessing service a couple would have to have signed a civil partnership agreement. Sweden, like Britain, doesn’t permit same-sex marriage it has a form of civil union where couples sign an official registry – and get limited rights.

But the Swedes are thinking putting that right. The Swedish parliament has also set up a committee to examine the possibility of upgrading to full marriage rights for gay people. Which should give hope to those of us in Britain who think we’ve been short-changed with “civil partnerships”. The Swedes show progress is possible. Let’s hope Mr Blair is watching.

In this country, evangelical Christians (don’t they ever sleep?) said, according to Virtue Online that “it would be inadvisable for Christians to enter civil partnerships if only to avoid causing scandal”.

The latest group of religious maniacs to jump on this bandwagon is “Anglican Mainstream” which sent a letter to the Church of England’s House of Bishops saying they were “concerned” about the bishops’ decision to allow vicars to enter civil partnerships on the proviso they don’t have any rumpy-pumpy with their partners. They say the bishops are naïve to imagine that vicars married to their same-sex partners will “eschew sexual intimacy”. The Sheffield branch of Reform – another lot of right-wing holy joes – issues a statement calling on “all authentic Bible-believing Anglicans in the diocese not to take Holy Communion with or from clergy who register under the Civil Partnership Act.”

Other than that, all seems to be on track. Local authorities have been told by central government to promote the new law, and some have done so more enthusiastically than others. Even the old-style Tories in Bromley have backed down on their ban on ceremonies at the local register office, and now the Northern Ireland town of Lisburn (which has a similar ban) is under pressure to lift it.

But no doubt there are others who will be throwing brickbats rather than confetti. We have heard reports of po-faced registrars who say they will refuse to carry out gay registrations because of their religious convictions – although a register office is quite definitely a secular space where religion plays no part. Registrars are civil servants, not servants of the church, so no formal accommodation must be made for them to opt out.

Naturally, we don’t want some whingeing Wally casting clouds over our big day, with face that suggests he’s been licking the toilet bowl, but at the same time dissenting registrars mustn’t be let off the hook. It would be a profound insult if civil servants were permitted to be exempted from dealing with us because of their own narrow-mindedness.

All that aside – if you are doing the deed this month, I wish you every success in your future lives. But please remember – this law is not a toy to play with, it’s a binding, legal contract that is very difficult to get out of. It is something that needs to be undertaken only after a great deal of thought. Optimism on its own is not enough.