GAY TIMES January 2007

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

Elton John is a true superstar, an international phenomenon, a filler of stadiums and concert halls. He never seems to go out of fashion. It is natural, therefore, that people will be interested in what he does and says. For instance, on his recent Australian tour, he had a dicky tummy during one of his concerts and had to leave the stage momentarily for a bit of a barf. He returned refreshed and relieved and completed his post-chunder performance to the satisfaction of the assembled multitude. This incident was duly reported in the world’s media. Even when Elton spews, the world listens.

It also listens when he gobs off about religion and gay rights, as he did in the special gay edition of The Observer Music magazine. “I think religion has always tried to turn hatred towards gay people,” he said, in a free-flowing conversation with Jake Spears of Scissor Sisters. “Religion promotes the hatred and spite against gays.” Elton thinks that religion turns people into “hateful lemmings”.

Even though he admires some things about religion, he still thinks it gives a rotten deal to gay people and should be “banned”. Banned? That’s a big ambition, Elton, but not a very liberal one. Every effort so far to “ban” religion has resulted in it getting stronger and stronger. Far better to think it out of your head once and for all.

But, of course, Elton is right about religion hating gay people. Some Christians will try to convince us that it’s just the extremists, the fundamentalists, the wackos who are to blame. But looking at reports of religious attacks on gay people this month (and there are some scary examples in this month’s news section), I don’t see them coming only from the fringes of religion, but also directly from the centre.

Take the current campaign being waged against the new regulations to ban discrimination against gays in the provision of goods and services. Religious bodies are demanding big opt outs. They want to retain the right to reject and discriminate against gay people. “Gay groups meeting in our church hall? Over our dead bodies!” is the message.

These new regulations (which were originally supposed to be put into place last October, but have now been postponed until next April because of religious objections) are being rejected from right across the religious spectrum from the happy-clappy evangelicals to the mainstream Christian establishment.

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham, Vincent Nichols, told The Daily Mail that the guidelines represented the imposition of an unacceptable morality. In a scathing sermon in St Chad’s Cathedral, the Archbishop said: “The Government must realise that it is not possible to seek co-operation with us [the Catholic Church] while at the same time trying to impose on us conditions which contradict our moral values. It is simply unacceptable to suggest that the resources of faith communities, whether in schools, adoption agencies, welfare programmes, halls and shelters can work in co-operation with public authorities only if the faith communities accept not simply a legal framework but also the moral standards at present being touted by the government.”

Nichols said that “an inversion of morality” was being forced on them by these regulations.

So, there you have it. If you’re gay, the church doesn’t want to provide you with any services at all. It wants the right to turn you away from its shelters if you are homeless, to refuse to deal with you if you are seeking to adopt a disadvantaged child, to turn your children away from its schools or deny you a job as a teacher in them. This is despite the fact that most of these services are provided with taxpayers’ money. Yes, that’s right – we can pay for the services, but we can’t have them unless we somehow renounce our innate sexuality. This is the “morality” that the Archbishop thinks is so superior.

So now to Sheffield, where a “Christian magistrate”, Andrew McClintock – who worked in a family court – has launched a legal challenge against the Government after he was “forced” to resign (according to The Daily Mail) because the introduction of civil partnerships meant he might have to permit gay couples to adopt. He told The Yorkshire Post: “I have a problem with putting a child in a same-sex household because of my moral position.”

There will be an employment tribunal in January to decide on Mr McClintock’s stand. I sincerely hope that they make clear to Mr McClintock that is a magistrate’s job to apply the law that is made by a democratically elected parliament and not by the Holy Fathers. If he doesn’t agree, then he shouldn’t have been in the job in the first place.

And in Scotland, Catholic Cardinal Keith O’Brien and Archbishop Mario Conti have been publicly rebuked by a third bishop, Joseph Devine, who does not think they take a hard enough line on homosexuality. Devine was furious that the Scottish Executive had passed a law permitting gay couples to adopt and said that the other two clerics had failed to speak out against it, and had embarked on a policy of “appeasement”. Devine’s seething hatred of gay people is spurring him into more and more extreme statements on the topic.

This push by religious interests against gay rights is also apparent in countries around the globe. In America, of course, they’ve got it down to a fine art. The agitation against gay marriage has set back gay rights in the States by years. The religious Right’s campaigns have been dishonest and, not to put too fine a point on it, plain wicked. And it’s not all coming from the likes of Fred (God Hates Fags) Phelps, but directly from the White House.

The Gay Pride march in Israel was curtailed because of an unprecedented unity among raving Christians, Jews and Muslims who forced the parade off the streets of Jerusalem with threats of violence and intimidation. And when a follower of the religion of peace threatens violence, you have to take it seriously.

Most of the time these extremists like to kill each other, but on this occasion they could lay their communal hatred aside and come together in hatred of homosexuals.

In America, the Vatican has started its witch hunt for gay priests in its seminaries. According to Generation Q website, “The Vatican has started its investigation of America’s 229 seminaries to root out gays. The Human Rights Campaign spokesman, Joe Solmonese said: “When the Church makes gay men the scapegoat for paedophiles, it ignores one problem and creates another. It does nothing to keep children safe or punish criminals.”

It is even worse in the theocratic Islamic Republic of Iran where Iran Focus reported that “A gay man was hanged in public on Tuesday in the western city of Kermanshan on the charge of sodomy. Shahab Darvishi was charged “lavat” which means in Islamic law homosexual sex.” 200 people watched with glee as the execution was carried out by pious clerics.

Meanwhile, in the United States, the Vatican has issued new guidelines about “gay outreach” which are supposed to be “friendly” and “welcoming”. They demand that gay Catholics remain celibate and to accept that their sexuality is “disordered”. The document “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination” was adopted 194-37 at the Catholic Bishops conference.

The guidelines say that it is not sinful to feel homosexual attraction – only to act on those feelings. Priests are instructed help Catholics avoid “the lifestyle and values of ‘gay subculture’” Gays are also discouraged from coming out.

Francisco DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, an independent outreach to Catholic gays that has already drawn disapproval from some church leaders, says the guidelines “do not reflect good science, good theology or human reality. This document proposed that lesbian and gay people be viewed not in the entirety of their lives, but in one dimension only – the sexual dimension. No other group in church is singled out in this way.”

The Catholic Church’s almost psychotic hatred of gay people is damaging not only to Catholics but to everyone who listens to these priests and imagines that their words carry some kind of special authority.

So, it seems, Elton John does have a point. The religious rabble-rousing is getting louder and more strident. The determination and increasingly

The grotesque hypocrisy of these holy joes who claim moral superiority for themselves while behaving in the most appalling ways needs to be challenged.

Time for getting the gloves off is surely overdue.


“There are still a lot of life experiences to be gone through before anyone can deal with the problems of coming out in what is a relatively hostile environment” – Tom Watkins, manager of pop acts such as Bros, Pet Shop Boys and East 17.

“In our day and time, no other sin marches so defiantly across our national landscape as homosexuality,” Mark Harris, at the Baptist Convention in the USA

“The human race is undergoing a massive cultural mutation. The meaning of sexuality is being transformed as biology revolutionises reproduction. Women are demanding equality across the globe. Men are being forced to re-imagine their familial and social roles. Gays and lesbians are at the centre of these changes. Their refusal to be silent and invisible is one of the era’s great resources, a magnificent sign of hope.” James Carroll, Boston Globe.

“I love his lack of shame and his refusal to apologise: it’s a lesson for all of us,” Alan Cumming on George Michael.

GAY TIMES February 2007

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

Mediawatch has been a fixture in Gay Times since the very first issue (and for a few issues before, in its predecessor Him International). But nothing is forever, and this is the last Mediawatch I will be writing. But fear not (or restrain the cheering – whichever is your preference), it will be replaced next month by a new column, “Faith Watch”.

Why this change? Well, the battle front has moved. In the twenty-odd years that Mediawatch has been monitoring the press in Britain, life for gay people has changed dramatically for the better. What we have now was, back in the early eighties, only a distant dream, a barely credible ambition.

As part of the rapid social changes that we’ve seen, the alarming hostility of the press has eased off. Of course, we will never completely eliminate homophobic impulses from some elements of the tabloids any more than we will from the population at large, but we have come to a sort of accord with them. They can fulminate for the chronically homophobic, but they have found that for many people such crude ranting simply invokes revulsion.

Although occasionally they will revert to type and publish something breathtakingly anti-gay, they will follow up the next day with something completely sympathetic. For every attack on George Michael for his unapologetic cruising and cottaging, there will be a sycophantic report of Elton and David’s domestic life that makes everyone go “aah”. Every time The Daily Mail uses us as a tool in its never-ending campaign to impose right-wing values on Britain, it will be balanced by a feature about how women came to love their husbands all over again when they came out as gay.

To give some idea of how far attitudes in the press have come in those twenty years, here is what the commentator Bernard Levin wrote in The Times in 1987: “Homosexuals are being portrayed – portrayed literally as well as metaphorically – as creatures scarcely human; they are being abused in not just the old mocking way but in the foulest terms, meant with deadly seriousness; they are experiencing an increasing discrimination over a wide range of situations; already voices are being raised demanding the ‘cleansing’ of schools as they have been for the purging of the church.”

And he wasn’t exaggerating.

We were, of course, in the midst of the initial AIDS crisis, when panic-mongering and hate-mongering walked hand-in-hand through our daily tabloids. Kelvin McKenzie, who was editor of The Sun during this period, still stands convicted of spreading lies, fear, distortions and ignorance about AIDS at a time when calm heads were needed to challenge the horror. I will never forgive that man for what he did at a time when, under his editorship, The Sun poured scorn and hatred on a group of people who were victims of a new and little-understood disease that, at the time, had no treatment. McKenzie is my all-time media villain.

But to give a flavour of what Bernard Levin was talking about, here are a few choice comments from tabloid papers during one of the darkest periods for gay people in this country in recent times.

Commenting on Camden Council’s newly-established Lesbian and Gay Unit, Ray Mills of The Daily Star wrote: “These filthy degenerates should be kicked up their much-abused backsides and locked up in their closets”. John Junor wrote in The Sunday Express: “Once again, the London Borough of Ealing is advertising for a child care officer, saying Ealing’s new council will welcome applications from ‘lesbians and gay men’. Isn’t this akin to setting alcoholics free in a liquor shop?”

Mr Mills opined in another edition of The Star: “Insidiously, almost imperceptibly, the perverts have got the heterosexual majority with their backs against the wall (the safest place actually). The freaks proclaim their twisted morality nightly on TV. Where will it ever end? Where it may end, of course, is by natural causes. The woofters have had a dreadful plague visited on them, which we call AIDS, and which threatens to decimate their ranks. Since the perverts offend the laws of God and nature, is it fanciful to suppose that one or both is striking back? Little queers or big queers, Mills has had enough of them all – the lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals, the hermaphrodites and the catamites and the gender benders who brazenly flaunt their sexual failings to the disgust and grave offence of the silent majority. A blight on them all”.

An ex-Fleet Street editor, Derek Jameson, told the BBC: “I’ll tell you straight. Fleet Street takes the view that homosexuality is abnormal, unnatural, a bit evil because it’s wrong and so on. The editors are not going to come out and say ‘Be gay, it’s wonderful and isn’t it great?’ They are going to say that gays are not normal, natural people.”

And that is exactly what they said.

When television – which has always been more progressive in its attitudes to gays – started to feature sympathetic gay characters in soap operas and other programmes, the tabloids went a bit berserk. Every time there was any display of same-sex affection on TV, there would be huge headlines on the front pages of red tops.

In 1987 when Michael Cashman, who played Eastenders first gay character, Colin, was to kiss his boyfriend Barry, The Sun renamed the programme Bentenders and Eastbenders. “Colin and Barry seem like a couple of nice lads,” wrote one commentator, “and I hope they live happily ever after. But I won’t have any of their homosexual hanky-panky in my living room. Gay lib has become gay fib – that homosexual behaviour is natural and normal. Well, it’s not. It’s still not a fit subject for prime-time early-evening TV soap.”

The Daily Star led the whole of its front page on the day of the kiss with a single-word headline. “FILTH”.

And how about this, from John Macleod, in the Glasgow Herald: “There is a myth of homosexuality, a crafted image of gentleness and civility. The reality is a culture of perversion, obsession and hatred. It is murder, like that of Joe Orton, battered to death by his gay lover. It is homosexual rape… It is paedophilia… It is serial killers like Dennis Nilsen… Streets at night swarm with homosexual prostitutes… homosexuality is unnatural, anti-social and wrong. And if it is madness to say, then I delight in madness.” And just one more, from Roy Kerridge in the Spectator: “Strange are the rules of homosexual ‘love and marriage’. An older man, having persuaded a younger man to live with him, humiliates the boy by bringing ever younger teenage boys to his flat for tea and sympathy. Often the older man and his younger partner indulge voracious and voyeuristic sensations by going out together in pursuit of young boys…”

It now seems almost incredible that such vicious crap could find its way into the mainstream media, but that was only a tiny example of what we were enduring in the eighties, when journalistic gay bashing was the preferred sport of Fleet Street.

Newspapers have lost much of their clout now. Their circulations continue to plummet and many are struggling to survive. I can’t say that I’m particularly sorry. Having been a daily witness over the years to the tabloid press’s malignity, its disregard for the truth, its cruelty and its smugness, I still think British culture would not be harmed if the tabloid press disappeared completely.

We need a fourth estate (as the serious press is called) to protect democracy and to tell us a different story to the official one. And sometimes our tabloids have served the public interest well, when they have applied journalistic rigour to their investigations. But sometimes they have behaved like judge, jury and executioner – destroying lives, particularly gay lives, just for the hell of it. Just because they could.

They had power and they abused it, in a gay context they outed and tormented innocent gay people just for the sheer entertainment value. Remember Russell Harty, Kenny Everett, Gordon (‘Ello ‘Ello) Kaye, Harvey Proctor? Few of them survived their ordeal by tabloid unscathed. Some – like Russell Harty – didn’t survive at all.

Oh, I could write a book about the extraordinary events in the twenty or so years I’ve occupied this space. In fact, I did write a book – “Mediawatch – the treatment of Male and Female Homosexuality in the British Media” which is still available second-hand from Amazon if you want a full account of the disgraceful way that the press has behaved, and the way that it has, recently, reformed itself in line with the way society has moved.

And so the time comes to say farewell to this institution (to which I’ve been committed, so to speak, with the straitjacket never far away) and move on to the next theatre of war.

There is no doubt that, over the twenty years, the focus of our enemies’ attention has moved to the arena of religion. The rights that we fought for so assiduously and so successfully are now under threat not from reactionary politicians, but from reactionary clerics. Both have been aided by the press in their campaigns, and there are signs that the tabloids (particularly the relentless Daily Mail) are running with the religious torch now.

We must turn our attention seriously to this new foe because it is well-organised and increasingly sophisticated in its approach. I used to say that the kind of vicious Religious Right that batters the American gay community so hard could never happen here – we are too cynical, too sceptical, I thought. But I was wrong. It has happened here. All at once, the Church of England is not the abode of slightly bewildered liberal vicars who don’t really believe it. It is now home to fundamentalists of the Nazir Ali and Sentamu persuasion, people who are determined to take this country back to its nasty, small-minded past. We are first in line for putting in our place, and it is clear that alien imported versions of Christianity that involve screaming and shouting and falling on the floor are also gearing up to get us. There’s nothing happy about these clappies – they are dangerous and determined. Islam, too, has a new assertiveness that allows it to direct its primitive ire at homosexuals.

The gay community had better start getting its act together in the face of this new threat, or one day we’ll wake up to find that we’re going backwards instead of forwards.

So – let’s get our battle dress on and it’s forward to the front….