The “swirling cesspit”—which, if I’m not mistaken, is located somewhere in Greater Manchester Police Headquarters—has unleashed the backlash we’ve all been anticipating. Those of us who’ve been hoping that reason would prevail have seen our hopes vanishing down the plug-hole. Ayatollah Anderton has rained fire and brimstone upon us. [Note:James Anderton was Chief Constable of Greater Manchester from 1975 to 1991. He was also an evangelical Christian prone to making outrageously reactionary remarks. At a national police conference on how the police should deal with people with Aids, he said: “Everywhere I go I see evidence of people swirling around in the cesspool of their own making. Why do homosexuals freely engage in sodomy and other obnoxious sexual practices knowing the dangers involved?”]
His words were ludicrous, unrealistic, over-the-top and dangerous. They were the words of ignorance and fear and they were the very words which THE SUN and the denizens of another cesspit had been waiting for. “Perverts are to blame for the killer plague,” was THE SUN’s headline (12 Dec), one which they’ve had on ice for some time now, waiting for the right moment. “Why do homosexuals continue to share each other’s beds?” asked The Sun’s leader writer, “Their defiling the act of love is not only unnatural but in today’s Aids-hit world it is LETHAL … The Sun hopes Mr Anderton will treat these perverts with the contempt they deserve.”
You think it can’t get any worse than that? Look at the DAILY EXPRESS (13 Dec) “The homosexuals who have brought this plague upon us should be locked up,” said one of their readers. “Burning is too good for them. Bury them in a pit and pour on quick lime.”
“In leading a moral crusade against the decadent sexual attitude of a society that condones homosexuality and prostitution and thereby fosters the spread of Aids, Mr Anderton is articulating a deep-rooted feeling in Britain,” said an editorial in The LONDON STANDARD (12 Dec) and this seemed to be borne out by a telephone poll on LBC radio (12 Dec) which showed 74 percent in favour of Mr Anderton’s views. The Manchester police claimed 99 percent support for their chief from the “hundreds” of calls they said they had received.
And yet criticism for Mr Anderton’s speech came from unlikely sources. The Government being one of them. Minister’s involved in the Aids education campaign were quick to jump on the outrageous remarks. TODAY newspaper (13 Dec) opined that: “Policemen, it is said, have big feet, James Anderton has a big mouth, too … His outburst … will do nothing to stem the growing hysteria over this disease.” And even THE STAR managed to say: “When the deeply religious Mr Anderton attends church tomorrow, we suggest he reflects on two words of criticism from the Terrence Higgins Trust … unchristian and uncaring.”
But on Sunday (14 Dec) the right-wing press were once more on the bandwagon, causing it to roll even faster. “Mr Anderton’s remarks will strike an answering chord in the breasts of many men and women in the pew who cannot be described as stupid or intolerant.” wrote the Rev. William Oddie in THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH, “the tragedy that follows disobeying God’s instructions was not surprising.”
“James Anderton is right,” editorialised THE SUNDAY EXPRESS. “He talks more sense than all the Government propaganda we have had so far.”
“Aids should be made a notifiable disease and buggery, almost certainly the main way of transmitting it, should once more become a criminal offence,” was the predictable response of George Gale in THE SUNDAY MIRROR. And finally, THE SUNDAY TIMES warned: “Anderton has served notice. The Moral Majority is stirring.”
Anderton’s speech has certainly lit the sparks of intolerance, hatred and violence, and now the fascists of the press are anxious for those sparks to be fanned into a conflagration. For if this raw incitement to violence comes from the police, then who will gays turn to for protection from this ghastly threat? The “moral majority” have stirred before within living memory, in Germany. There “morality” was that of the murderer and the beast. They were equally convinced that what they were doing was right and “necessary” to protect their beloved country. Is the same mistake going to be made again?
The next General Election will, according to Joe Ashton MP (writing in THE STAR) be fought on the issue of “Aids, homos, lesbians, Loony Left, race and barmy councils.” The groundwork is already being laid by the Tory tabloids droning on endlessly about local authorities and gay rights. Aids has come along just at the right time to add fuel to this fire. And despite Norman Fowler’s plea that Aids not be used as a party-political weapon, we have sad spectacle of it becoming just that.
The Prime Minister has fired her first volley, so we know it is serious. According to THE STAR (3 Dec) “she said she hoped for a reversal of recent trends which have made homosexuality and drug taking socially accepted.” This allowed The Star to headline its report: “Maggie’s Rap for Gay Out-casts—Aids threat makes them unacceptable.” But is this what Mrs Thatcher really said or just the Star’s interpretation? For the answer to that we have to turn to THE GUARDIAN (3 Dec) to find out that she was answering questions from Tory MP John Townend who “asked her to agree that the spread of the disease could be greatly reduced if ‘there was a change in public attitudes, and in particular if indulging in homosexual activities and drug taking were once again to become morally unacceptable.’ The Prime Minister replied: ‘I’m sure that attitudes are changing in the light of information about Aids … and then I think that much of the behaviour that has been going on will be unacceptable for many and various reasons.” Ominous enough, I agree, but hardly The Star’s contention that she has called for gays to be made “outcasts.” Wishful thinking on their part, I suppose.
The Sun journalist with the highest hate-rating amongst “loony left” students is Professor John Vincent. He wrote in 3rd Dec issue of that rag: “This autumn’s Labour Conference voted … for a public campaign for gay rights … absurd though this is. For gay rights today are much the same as anyone else’s, and are not under any obvious threat.” (Where has this man been for the past three months?). “There is not much sign of a public campaign from Labour’s National Executive. Presumably being sensible men, they realise that there are few more uphill tasks than promoting gay rights in the middle of the Aids plague.”
Despite the glaring contradictions in this short piece, Prof. Vincent is probably right about the Labour Party. But I don’t see that the Tories really have any reasoned argument for going to the opposite extreme and trying to take rights away from gay people. Indeed, their bluff was called as THE DAILY EXPRESS (6 Dec) reported: “An allegation about Tory gays in ‘high places’ shocked the Commons yesterday during a Conservative attack on Labour council policies. Angered by Tory complaints about gay teachers in Labour authorities, the party’s front-bencher Mr Jack Straw claimed there are some in high places in the Conservative hierarchy who have homosexual tendencies … He said gays holding senior posts in the Conservative party deserve the same tolerance that Labour Councillors are trying to give in their own areas. He added: “Members better put up or shut up on this because if they are saying it is wrong for homosexuals to teach in schools, are they also saying it is also wrong to seek leadership of this country and to seek prominent position within the Tory party and in this House?”
It seems like a reasonable point at first sight, but THE SUN (6 Dec) wasn’t long in turning the whole thing on its head. “Power-hungry gays have infiltrated the top ranks of the Tory party”, and you see how easily the whole thing turns into a witch-hunt within the Tory party, and how this would add to the growing paranoia and hatred of gays in general.
Indeed, there are signs of it happening already. The SUNDAY MIRROR (7 Dec) revealed that “would-be Conservative candidates were sent on a weekend of intensive interviews by Tory Central Office.” They were told that if they wanted to get ahead, they must get a wife. “All the bachelors in this group were taken aside and told that they had ‘little chance’ unless they got married. The MIRROR says that when bachelor ex-PM Ted Heath was asked about the ban he retorted “It sounds like nonsense”. Another unmarried Tory, Charles Irving said: “It’s a typical Conservative attitude from the Victorian era.” But aren’t the Tories into Victorian values? Perhaps Mr Irving had better watch his seat (if you’ll pardon the expression), along with a lot of ambitious, but closeted, Tory politicians.
Faint hope comes in a quote from a spokesman for Norman Tebbit (THE SUN 6 Dec): “Mr Tebbit knows homosexuals” (not in the biblical sense one assumes) “and has a high regard for some of them.” But then, Norman Tebbit is lower than a snake’s belly, so who’d trust anything he said anyway?
More from the crazy world of Aids reporting. The good news is that some papers have tried to look at the issues sanely, rationally and calmly. Full marks to TODAY (Nov 19/20) for an informed four-page special. Much of the credit for the realistic tone of the piece must surely go to gay journalist Harry Coen. The DAILY TELEGRAPH (Dec 1/2) also tackled the issue satisfactorily with a two-day feature by Lesley Garner. The GUARDIAN continued to be sensible and restrained with several excellent features and letters.
The low-life tabloids, however, persist in their campaign of wilful distortion, sensationalism and trivialisation. The SUN has been particularly nasty, as you’d expect. “Gay Santa Gets Sack—Fairy grotto bust up” said the front page of 6 Dec. They wallow and rejoice in the pain and humiliation being heaped on gay people because of Aids. They, and their sister paper, THE NEWS OF THE WORLD, have harassed and pursued Kenny Everett, almost willing Aids on the poor man. They published a cartoon by Franklin on 5 Dec which would disgust anyone with a grain of compassion.
THE LONDON STANDARD also hit rock bottom with a tasteless Jak cartoon (24 Nov). Aids is causing monumental suffering to a lot of people—and human misery and death are not the material that jokes are made from. These peddlers of hate should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.
Here’s a selection of other quotes from the past month to illustrate how serious the threat to our lives has become:
“The surest way to protect the public from Aids is to outlaw homosexuality and lock up offenders. —Desmond Swayne, prospective Conservative candidate for Pontypridd (WESTERN MAIL 22 Nov).
“Isn’t it time the Government either stopped pretending that the fairies who started this disease, and the even filthier fairies who keep spreading it, are the fairies at the bottom of the garden,” —John Junor (SUNDAY EXPRESS 30 Nov)
“It disturbs me that the growing ‘army’ of homosexuals is infiltrating the world of children’s television… We cannot allow this to continue. And more especially when studio audiences are invariably brought into contact with these persons,” (Roy Court, CHELTENHAM SOURCE 23 Oct)
“I have no sympathy with promiscuous young people and homosexuals with Aids. They’ve asked for it. If people lived as the good Lord provided, there would be no Aids,” – (Letter in DAILY MIRROR 8 Nov).
“If Saatchi and Saatchi were advising the Vatican, they could not avoid the point that the market needs a strong line on gays, not a gentler one. St Paul’s view on those who in unnatural lusts would be decidedly populist today,” – Mary Kenny (SUNDAY TELEGRAPH 30 Nov).
“I regard homosexuality as a misfortunate,” – Archbishop of York (DAILY MAIL 21 Nov).
“Homosexuals should be viewed as handicapped people,” – Archbishop of Canterbury (DAILY MAIL 22 Nov)
“Chastity will become once more a virtue… and homosexual practices – which have brought this disease upon us – a moral, legal and social offence,” – George Gale (SUNDAY MIRROR, 30 Nov).
“The inference that ‘gay’ is on a par with ‘straight’… is homosexual propaganda very cleverly done, riding on the back of public concerns about Aids,” – George Gale (DAILY MIRROR 26 Nov).
“The chief apparent object of last week’s full-page ads (‘Aids is not prejudiced’) appears to have been to protect homosexuals from ostracism… Ordinary people may be ill-informed on Aids but they are not fools. They note that councils pay full-time officials to proselytise on behalf of homosexuality… that books advocating homosexuality are circulated amongst children by local authorities, that clubs and facilities, often subsidised on the rates enable homosexuals to meet, pick up partners and so spread the disease,” – Paul Johnson (SPECTATOR 6 Dec).
“Christmas is coming and so is the Jew-baiting season,” wrote Martin Page in THE SUNDAY MIRROR (16 Nov) “Does the New Testament teach us to hate Jesus’s people? If it does, should the offending scripture be purged of the offending passages? The Right Revered Austin Baker, Bishop of Salisbury and chairman of the Church of England’s doctrinal commission answers yes on both counts. He also says: “Unselective love is central to the spiritual wisdom of Jesus.”
I see. Well, while the Right Rev has got his blue pencil out, perhaps he’d like to have a look at one two passages I could point out to him. Or is his ‘unselective’ love not quite so unselective after all? Maybe the gay Christians would like to pursue the matter with him?
One glimmer of hope is that Gavin Strang, MP for Edinburgh East is introducing a Private Members Bill into the House of Commons which will be concerned with protecting the rights of people affected by Aids. According to THE GUARDIAN (10 Dec) this will include “making it illegal for employers to sack staff who are carrying the Aids virus.”
We must all help get this Bill through, and we can start by writing to our own MPs and demanding that they support the measures when they come before the House. If you live in a Conservative area, you could point out in your letter the damage that viewing Aids as a party-political issue could cause. I would be pleased to see any replies which Gay Times readers receive to any such lobbying?
Why not write the letter now?