Once again, the fearless truth-mongers of Fleet Street have proved that no-one is safe in the closet. Wherever gay public figures hide, the press will winkle them out.
Poor old Martina Navratilova got the treatment over her relationship with Judy Nelson. Martina makes no secret of her sexuality, but poor Judy went straight into the “we’re just good friends” attitude. “My role is a kind of therapy for her. We are not having a love affair,” says Judy in THE SUNDAY MIRROR.
In THE SUNDAY PEOPLE she says “it’s ridiculous” to say they are lovers.
Meanwhile, ancient editor of THE SUNDAY EXPRESS, Sir John Junor lost the points I awarded him last month when he told Judy she was a fool to abandon heterosexual bliss in favour of “that hatchet faced lesbian”. You’re a silly pillock, Sir John.
But wait — who is this unexpected defender of our Martina? None other than old chisel-face herself, Jean Rook. In THE DAILY EXPRESS she takes male journalists to task for ignoring Martina’s superb tennis and concentrating on her “navvy shoulders” and unconventional looks.
After complaining that the Wimbledon champ doesn’t fancy her (can’t understand why, I’m sure) Rook says: “I object to the Oscar Wildean witch-hunt of this unusual and lonely figure, who doesn’t please men.” If Rook hadn’t spent so much time harassing gay people in the past, this might not ring quite so hollow.
And, much as they try to snipe at her, our Martina glides from triumph to triumph. And that’s something none of the bastards can take away from her.
Then THE SUN (“You scum,” Martina calls them — game, set and match Navratilova) caught up with Bill Buckley, star of the That’s Life TV show. Some disgruntled girl had shopped Bill to THE SCUM because he’d been “sleeping with” her boyfriend James. This was page one “news”.
After that we were treated to, the unedifying spectacle of Su (Hi-de-Hi) Pollard’s new husband being prised out of the closet in a rather sordid court case. “My Gay Love for Su’s Man” screeched the DAILY STAR on its front page.
There can be little doubt that the editors of the tabloid newspapers in this country are all on high-fibre diets. How else would they be able to produce a daily pile of shit with such monotonous regularity?
An interesting development in America was reported in THE GUARDIAN. The latest thing for male gay couples in the super-rich state of California is to “buy” a baby in Guatamala and smuggle it back to the United States. Such is their desperation to be parents that they are prepared to risk everything to have a child of their own. All the established methods of adoption are closed to gay couples.
The description of the risks they took reads like a rather unlikely novel, and the article was very sympathetic. “In his neat little jump suit in his baby chair, the baby had fallen asleep, just like any other much-loved baby anywhere in the world.” Everybody say “aah”.
A lovely feature in THE TIMES describes the exhibition at the Berlin Historical Museum documenting gay history in the Weimar Period. Before Hitler started sending the gay men and lesbians to concentration camps, there was a flourishing “scene” in the German capital.
Of course, there was opposition to the exhibition but this had the effect of making the organisers more determined to go ahead. “The museum itself, originally lukewarm about the project, said it became fully committed only when it experienced at first hand “the abuse and vehemence of anti-homosexual feeling.”
Can you imagine the British Museum organising something like this? That’ll be the day.
LONDON readers will hardly have been able to avoid the ubiquitous posters advertising the Argentinian God-shouter, Luis Palau.
This wanna-be Billy Graham (who is also wending his vulgar way around the country) hired the QPR football ground to tell those who already believe it that Jesus Saves. The hoardings show Mr Palau sitting on a throne-like chair, apparently floating in the clouds. No doubt practising to be God.
Anyway, according to THE EALING GAZETTE, our Luis tells his hysterical audience, (to the strains of the traitorous Cliff Richard) that “the blood of Jesus cleanses homosexuality, criminality and drug addiction.” The posters on the tube said simply “Bring your doubts”. Some wag had written underneath “and have them confirmed”.
I never thought I’d be joining in the cry of “Send them back where they came from” — but in the case of Luis Palau and Billy Graham, I’ll make an exception.
A frightening report in the SUNDAY EXPRESS tells of the blatantly racist French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen who is peddling the old “pure race” ideas. “He considers homosexuality a scandal and a threat to the birth-rate”, the article says. And Le Pen wants more and more “babies born of good French stock” and that means no foreigners and no homosexuals who delay the process of producing this Gallic master race.
Like all the other mental cases who’ve pushed these ideas before him, Le Pen is full of hatred, and seems to have unlimited venom for the minorities he has chosen as scapegoats.
Unlike our own National Front, who don’t seem to, be able to make much impression at all, Le Pen’s French National Front managed to poll eleven per cent of the votes in the recent European election. That represents an awful lot of foolish Frenchmen — with apparently very short memories.
The present strong gay influence on rock and pop music is now the talk of the tabloids. Several months after they were spotted by this magazine, THE SUN carried a feature on the amazing Frankie Goes to Hollywood. One of the group’s members Paul Rutherford says: “In fact it’s only Holly Johnson and I who are gay… There are far more important things to worry about than the fact some people go with blokes rather than women.” Whilst in THE DAILY EXPRESS, Bronski Beat (you could have read it in HIM months ago) – were featured with the comment: “There are so many clubs featuring gay nights that the boystown chart has been established to register the leading dance records.”
The British press has declared war on homosexuals. “The renewed open season on gays” was how Susan Hemmings described it in a letter to THE GUARDIAN, and it has gone well beyond the spiteful sniping we are used to. This month has seen one of the most concerted, sustained and vindictive attacks ever launched on our community.
Day after day the Big Guns have been firing off volleys of misinformation and distortion on the subject of AIDS. With apparent glee, papers like THE SUN and DAILY STAR have been allotting acres of space to bigots who seem to have been waiting patiently in the wings for this opportunity.
And by using this device (“Vicar says AIDS is the wrath of God”) the papers can publish the crudest and most despicable slanders without shouldering any of the responsibility: “We didn’t say it—we just quoted the vicar”.
THE SUN gave us a prime example when it afforded large prominence to a Liverpool publican who had banned gays from his pubs. “AIDS is a real threat to the moral fabric of society,” he was allowed to say. “A lot of ordinary people are going to catch something from beer glasses. We don’t want gays on the premises. Let’s face it, they’re the ones who causes it.”
Just the worthless opinion of some ignorant landlord, maybe, but it was given the front page treatment. It also gave The SUN the opportunity to headline: “Beer mugs may spread the disease”.
If all this sounds like superstitious clap, trap, you ain’t seen nothing yet, for it takes the media’s “intellectuals” to give the wrath of God Theory credence. With the contorted logic much-favoured by propagandists who can’t make a real case, Peregrine Worsthorne in The SUNDAY TELEGRAPH wrote: “The public’s first reaction to this new danger will be to look for a scapegoat—a search which, in this case, presents no difficulty at all, the male homosexual being the obvious candidate. Not that scapegoat is quite the right word, it carries with.it the suggestion— wholly inappropriate in the case of, AIDS – of some innocent person or group being forced to bear the undeserved burden… In the case of Aids, male homosexuals undoubtedly are responsible. According to Mr Worsthorne, then, homosexuals have had it coming for some time and now they’re going to get it – the only thing missing from his piece was “praise the Lord.”
But who, in Peregrine Worsthorne’s reckoning, is “innocent” and who “guilty”? All I know is that if he’d used the world Jew or black instead of homosexual he would have been hauled up under the Race Relations Act.
So how are we, the guilty ones, going to be punished? Well, to start with they can take our jobs away. That’s the idea of fat-arsed, thick-headed Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens who, according to THE DAILY EXRESS urged the Government to tighten up on local authorities who “encourage” homosexual teachers.
Expanding on this theme, THE EXPRESS editorialised: “Why was the Reverend Gregory Richards, a homosexual, employed as a chaplain in the prison service? ‘God knows how many people he has infected with the disease. Equal rights for homosexuals cannot operate in sensitive appointments when such risks as AIDS exist.”
And never missing an opportunity to kick a man when he’s dead, the emetic editor of THE SUNDAY EXPRESS, John Junor, wrote: “Shouldn’t there be a post mortem on how Rev Gregory Richards, a known homosexual, came to be given and allowed to keep for so long, a prison service job in an institution for teenage offenders.”
And isn’t it time there was a post mortem on Sir John Junor – preferably a real one.
THE SUN’S infinitely questionable editorial voice settled for prison sentences. “We believe that all would-be blood donors should be asked to declare that they are not practising homosexuals. If it was discovered that they had lied, then an automatic jail sentence should be imposed.”
But which jails would all these convicted blood donors be sent to? Very few, it seems, for those tough prison screws turn out to be just like those silly people who stand on chairs and scream when they see a mouse. AIDS is not a mouse, I agree, but there is no need for this overreaction.
The same ludicrous panic seems to have spread to firemen who have decided that they won’t use the kiss-of-life any more even though “it saves about 1000 lives a year by reviving victims of fires, road crashes and other tragedies,” said THE SUNDAY PEOPLE. The paper seemed oblivious to the fact that their mad three-inch headlines about the disease might have something to do with creating the firemen’s fear.
Meanwhile the lead story of the same edition (“Scandal of AIDS cover-up on QE2”) was about Cunard not making a big fuss about an AIDS victim (“a homosexual millionaire”) being taken off their flagship. “Astonishing” said THE PEOPLE — which presumably would have preferred the passengers to abandon ship in mid-Pacific.
People who behave rationally and with compassion in dealing with AIDS victims are being increasingly vilified. Like Dr John Newman, the BBC’s medical officer who allowed a man (“a homosexual in his 30s) according to THE SUNDAY MIRROR to work at TV Centre until he died of pneumonia. “I knew this man had AIDS but I felt it was safe for him to carry on working.” “BBC let AIDS man keep on working,” screeched THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH.
It would be a mortal shame if this kind of exaggerated reaction discouraged people from acting sensibly for fear of being persecuted by the press.
To be fair there have been a few voices raised within the media’s ranks, trying to bring a bit of balance. But they have been few, and far from prominent.
Alix Palmer, a columnist on THE DAILY STAR, attacked Peregrine Worsthorne as “a morality-monger” and said the Rev Owen (“homosexuals should repent”) Leigh-Williams was “riddled with superstition and not much common sense.” Whilst John Smith in THE SUNDAY PEOPLE said that the opportunist vicar was “talking through his dog-collar”. Smith also wrote: “It would be disastrous if this lead to the kind of hysteria which gripped the United States where people feared they might catch the disease simply by being served by a homosexual waiter or handling change from a homosexual bus conductor.” Disastrous indeed. Perhaps Mr Smith should have a word with his editor about that.
THE GUARDIAN commented: “Practical steps might beneficially be accompanied by a wider recognition that male homosexuals who are bearing the main brunt of this cruel and dreadful disease need all the support and understanding a supposedly caring society can provide.
THE DAILY MIRROR wrote an editorial that pinpointed the dangers. “It is homosexuals who are at risk most of all. If the present scare continues they will be treated as lepers, socially and politically, as well as medically. The Ministry of Health must publicise clearly and honestly what the dangers are. Making ADS a notifiable disease must not be an excuse for a witch hunt against homosexuals, but part of a campaign to stop it spreading.”
Perhaps Mr Maxwell could take some of his own advice and use The Daily Mirror as a publicity tool to put the record straight, and some of his money to stop the tidal wave of terror.
But the low point, the very pits, came from The DAILY STAR: “Do homosexual lawyers get legal AIDS? Do gay orange growers get marmalAIDS and do teetotallers get lemon AIDS?” Hilarious isn’t it? But here’s an even funnier one that will appeal to the Fleet Street wags. Did you hear about THE DAILY STAR journalist who had a stroke and was paralysed all down one side until he died in agony a few days later? Thought that one would tickle you.
So how do we protect ourselves from this relentless press onslaught? What can we do in our own defence?
First, we have to somehow get over to people the knowledge that AIDS is not a “plague” — gay or otherwise. It is not highly contagious. Unfortunately, this is the myth the press are most determined to foster. They surreptitiously suggest you can get AIDS from a beer glass or from a church cup or from even being in the same room as gays. You do not get AIDS like you get the ‘flu and people must be made to understand this.
Here are a few things we can all do, and if you think of others, please write to Gay Times and share them:
Blitz the editors and journalists of the offending newspapers with letters and phone calls. It might be that the reporters just don’t understand the issues. If this is the case, we have to make them understand. Letters to correspondence columns can help redress the balance of distorted reporting; this is particularly true of the regional press which is much more likely to print letters from readers. The newspapers are tireless in their efforts to discredit and defame us—we must be equally vigorous in our own defence. Make a habit of writing protest letters—by the score if necessary.
Write to your MP explaining your disquiet over newspaper coverage. Tell him or her that it is time the Government took stronger measures to disseminate the truth. You could hammer home the need for more money to be allocated to AIDS research.
Put friends, family and colleagues in the picture as much as possible. Explain that the media is not giving a clear picture of what is happening—then tell them the known facts. You can help yourself in this task by obtaining a supply of leaflets about AIDS from the Health Education Council, 13-39 Standard Road, London NW10 6HD. The printed word undoubtedly has more authority than the spoken one—a fact the press use to their advantage.
If you are a member of the National Union of Journalists (or you know someone who is) raise the matter of the disgraceful incitement to panic at chapel meetings. Remind your fellow members of the NUJ guidelines detailing how AIDS should be reported, which were issued last August and which have been flagrantly disregarded.
Individual members of the public can make complaints to the National Union of Journalists as an alternative to the totally ineffective Press Council. Offending journalists can be brought before their chapels and disciplined if the offence is serious enough.
Make a donation to The Terrence Higgins Trust. This is the only organisation trying to counter the panic and hysteria with hard facts and authoritative comments. We must ensure that the Trust survives and their work expands as it becomes more and more vital to all of us.
We are all worried about AIDS—not only about the disease but about the reactions to it and the implications for gay people. We must support each other and unite for a fight back. Discuss AIDS with your friends and make sure you are aware of the facts. Talk about your fears and let’s think seriously about the changes we can make in our lifestyles to ensure the disease is checked. People who are on their own and worried about what is happening should not remain isolated—get in touch with a gay helpline and talk through your fears.
We’ve been well represented on telly this month starting with a modest little American documentary called Greetings from Washington (C4), a simple record of the 1979 Gay Pride march there. Then we were given a chilling glance of what life was like for gays in pre-1967 Britain in the Dirk Bogarde film Victim (C4). It is difficult to believe that only twenty years separates us from those terrible times.
Those intervening two decades are supposed to have been the “permissive” era and in Twenty Years On (ITV), David Frost chaired a lively, if superficial, discussion about the whole thing, including contributions from Denis Lemon, Richard Kirker and Germaine Greer. There was cheering news that a Gallup poll revealed that 82% of the British public thought that “homosexuals have rights”.
What seemed to be emerging was that people don’t feel happy with ‘movements’—be they gay or women’s—but they have no trouble accommodating individual people’s needs and feelings.
Germaine Greer popped up again presenting a religious programme called Choices (BBC1) in which sexuality—and particularly homosexuality-was discussed from a ‘spiritual aspect.’ Instead of the usual stereotyped responses from the fundamentalists, we had a rational (as far as reason can enter into religion) debate which came down firmly in favour of progress. Perhaps, though, this had something to do with the composition of the participating panel than a real change of heart amongst orthodox religionists.
The most pervasive image in the papers last month was that picture of Rock Hudson—gaunt and enfeebled. Day after day the same sunken-eyed, hollow-cheeked face looked out from headlines which ranged from “Rock Hudson Dying of Cancer” (SUN) to—when Aids was confirmed—”I saw Rock Wed Man” (NEWS OF THE WORLD), and the floodgates opened once more.
Poor Rock Hudson. The vultures have swooped in to pick at his bones before he’s even dead. “Our gay nights out with AIDS victim Rock” gloated THE SUN whilst THE STAR ran a three-day series purporting to be “the truth about Rock Hudson” which told us nothing but that Rock Hudson is gay and dying from Aids.
All the old clichés were wheeled out “Living a lie”, “secret torment” “bizarre lifestyle” and so on. Oh how they wallowed in it. John Junor in THE SUNDAY EXPRESS said: “There is rightly much public sympathy for Mr Hudson. Might there not have been more if when suspecting, as he must have done, the nature of the ailment from which he was suffering, he had not gone out of his way, as do homosexuals who offer blood, to place other and innocent people in danger.”
Innocent? What is Rock Hudson supposed to be guilty of? As far as the vile Junor is concerned he is guilty simply of being gay.
But who will be the next victim for them to “expose”? The rush to deny gayness has been rather undignified. Burt Reynolds is the hot favourite—he is reported to be suffering from some unnamed illness but insists it is not you-know-what. And the sneaky William Hickey in THE DAILY EXPRESS carried a little piece about Rudolph Nureyev. Apparently, the ballet star has had pleurisy and pneumonia. “He just overworked himself so was vulnerable,” his London agent Tony Barlow was quick to point out. But we got Sickey’s message.
Also, anxious for the world to know that they are not gay are George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley of Wham. “Gay? I’ve never been in love says George” in THE STAR. THE SUNDAY MIRROR carried much the same kind of thing from Wayne Sleep “Don’t Call Me Gay—why bachelor Wayne sleeps alone.” THE MIRROR said that Boy George had a “secret lover”—none other than Jon Moss, drummer of Culture Club. But what does Jon have to say about this? Very little, but his spokesman says: “This is so ridiculous.” Thanks a bundle you guys.
But back to Aids and how is this for five-star hypocrisy? THE DAILY TELEGRAPH carried an editorial that chided newspapers for, “a tendency to hysteria and myth”. It then goes on to say: “Moreover the scarcely concealed glee in some quarters about divine retribution for perversion is at best lacking in any Christian compassion, and at worst morally repugnant.” But wasn’t it this same newspaper that only recently wrote about the temptation to “gloat over the sufferings of homosexuals”? Now they say: “Homosexuals are seen as carriers of a deadly disease, and a threat to society at large. In this climate, a typical response … is for the gay community to retrench even further into a stereotyped politicised minority. Nothing could be more detrimental to better understanding nor be guaranteed to bring this controversy to a more bitter and fruitless end.”
Isn’t this rich coming as it does from Fleet Street which has consistently ignored the real needs of homosexuals and continues to present us as “bizarre” and “weird”. I think it’s what’s called a no-win situation.
Take THE SUN which carried this gem: “The sickest joke among America’s 12 million gays goes like this. Son: Mom, I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is I’m gay. The good news is I’m dying.” I would stake my arm that such a “joke” did not emanate from the gay community—more likely from the sick minds festering in the Sun offices.
Meanwhile, THE DAILY MAIL tells us that “Aids is spreading through Europe as rapidly as in America, says the World Health Organisation.” Does the Government listen? “The country is sitting back waiting for half a million people to be infected, instead of the 10,000 or so that we have at present,” said Professor Julian Peto in THE OBSERVER. “We are heading inexorably towards an Aids crisis like the one in America today.”
To demonstrate this Government’s strange priorities, I quote Dr Richard Tedder, consultant virologist at the Middlesex Hospital in the same OBSERVER feature: “We are planning to spend £10 million a year screening all the blood in the transfusion service, which will prevent about 50-100 patients from receiving affected blood. Why are we not spending £100 million on trying to prevent the 10,000 infected people from spreading the disease by sexual contact and other means?” Dr Jon Weber of St Mary’s Hospital said the Government was showing “incredible complacency.”
Maybe the first shot in a gigantic threat to us all was fired in THE TIMES. Dr John Griffin said that there should be “compulsory” screening of male and female prostitutes and “Laws aimed at trying to ensure that Aids sufferers do not pass on the infection are being considered in Sweden”. Then he says: “If the morbidity and mortality due to Aids is to be contained, it could well be necessary to take swift action in a number of controversial areas.”
What these “controversial areas” might be is not clear, but it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to know what our enemies would like to see. The Government, which is starving researchers and educators of funds, is no friend of gays. We are vulnerable and our only hope is responsibility and a united voice in the face of hostility.
William Hickey reports that Lord Snowdon “chose author Charles Castle to write the first biography of his bachelor uncle Oliver Messel” but told him that he must not mention the interior decorator and stage designer’s homosexuality.
Well, that’s one little volume I won’t be soiling my hands with.
THE LONDON STANDARD says, “A million people who work with children are to be subject to new police vetting to make sure they do not have records of sex offences, Home Secretary Leon Brittan announced today.”
That sounds like bad news for all those gays who work in “sensitive” jobs with young people. For my personal experience is that you don’t have to have a criminal record to find yourself on the police computer listed as gay.
The reporting of Aids continues at screaming pitch. The treatment given to the subject varies enormously and as you’d expect it was THE SUN that scraped the floor of the sewer. “I’d shoot my son if he had Aids,” was the headline over one of the most malevolently mischievous pieces of “journalism” I’ve yet seen. Given the criticism there has been over the deliberate panic created in the press over Aids, there can be no justification for giving three-quarters of a page to the opinion of some crazy clergyman to say (in large quotes): “If it continues, it will be like the Black Plague. It could wipe out Britain. Family will be against family. Nobody will trust anyone else and gun law will prevail.”
These are the words of Rev Robert Simpson of Barmston, Humberside. How THE SUN managed to find such a lunatic and why they decided to give such prominence to his opinions can only be put down to an evil desire to add to the hysteria. It was journalism of the most base and irresponsible kind, and there is nothing we can do about it—the Sun sails on impervious to criticism.
THE STAR, in its turn, ran one of those brave editorials saying: “Above all, the public must have a great deal more information about Aids, its effects and the risks of infection. Too many people are relying on rumour and stage door gossip about show-biz stars.” Which is rendered laughable by the fact that on the front page of the same issue is a story headed “Terror in Tinsel Town” which quotes from well-known medical experts like Linda Evans, Cher and pig-ignorant Joan Rivers, who seems to have little knowledge of the subject but an awful lot to say about it. “I have friends with Aids,” she screeches, “But I can tell you, there’s no kissing, no touches.” I wish she’d do us all a favour and shut her cavernous trap for a while.
THE DAILY MAIL carried a ghastly piece about American hysteria. It wasn’t so much an ‘objective report’ as a cover for the anti-gay feelings of the author, George Gordon. “America is gripped with fear, loathing and hysteria over the relentless increase of the killer disease Aids. What is terrifying its leaders is that the national mood is only a twitch away from focusing that hysteria on a human target—the millions of openly homosexual men who until now flaunted their gayness before the straight society.”
He goes on carping about the progress made by gays but is cheered to know that this is all being rapidly reversed. Then he says: “America is a deeply religious country, in which the fear of fire and brimstone is never far from the sophisticated surface”.” This, it seems. gives the born-again maniacs carte blanche to go on the rampage against those they see as the ‘originators’ of Aids. “The tolerant society is fast disappearing,” says Gordon, “Women, children and heterosexual men are catching Aids, and whether it is from contaminated blood or contact, it comes down to two primary sources—junkies using dirty needles and homosexuals.”
He tells us that Rock Hudson’s death, far from creating sympathy for gays has “aroused an awareness and revulsion that has swept the country.” George Gordon’s article ends: “The gay parades are over. So too is public tolerance of a society that paraded its sexual deviation and demanded rights. The public is demanding to live disease-free with the prime carriers in isolation.”
Now just a moment —let’s just look at what this man is saying. “Disease-free lives”? Humanity has never been free from disease and it never will be. What he means is gay-free. And that has implications that don’t bear thinking about.
NEW SOCIETY summed it up when they said that the Aids story is really one of “selfishness and fear”—which brings me on to the arch-practitioner of those two vices, John Junor, editor of THE SUNDAY EXPRESS. “Curious isn’t it,” he said of Rock Hudson, “the way he is being turned into some kind of folk hero? Elizabeth Taylor gushes about how much she loves him … others take their hats off and lower their eyes to the ground and talk about his courage … Mr Hudson may have had many qualities. In my view neither courage nor decency was amongst them.”
There are other human values too, like compassion and sympathy, I’d say Junor had them in about the same measure as a hyena.
At the more sensible end of the scale, NEW SOCIETY carried a large piece about what they called “the worst public health problem since polio and TB were defeated.” The author said, after looking calmly but not very hopefully at the state of research: “There is only one way to stop this disease from decimating the gay population, and possibly killing thousands of heterosexuals too: by altering people’s sexual behaviour.” The article is worth looking up and reading in full—it was in the issue dated 18th October.
THE latest gay play ‘Torch Song Trilogy’ had rather extreme love-it-or-hate-it reviews. Jack Tinker in THE DAILY MAIL loved it: “A triumph which packs its punches far and wide”. John Barber in THE DAILY TELEGRAPH agreed, saying he thought the play “the funniest as well as the most exuberant and perceptive and painful for years about sexuality, inversion and the disorders of modern love.” Irving Wardle in THE TIMES thought it “a revelation”.
But THE SUNDAY TIMES’ John Peter thought it “an entertainment for consenting adolescents. A long run might push homosexuality back into the ghetto from which it had a lot of trouble emerging in the past decade or two.” Michael Billington in THE GUARDIAN said it was “rather like Neil Simon re-written by Barbara Cartland.” Milton Shulman in THE LONDON STANDARD: “Such a soppy ending would have been derided as sentimental bathos had anyone dared write it about a romantically besotted heterosexual.”
Whatever the critics thought about it—and they’ve been wrong many times before—the preview audience on the night I was there were on their feet clapping and cheering riotously.
The Labour Party passed its gay rights resolution. The DAILY EXPRESS, SUN and MIRROR all quoted the single opposing speaker to the exclusion of everyone else. Meanwhile the SUNDAY TELEGRAPH told of the “increased commitment” to gay rights of 10 of the 32 London Boroughs and a growing number of Northern councils, like Manchester. “Council officers say the spread of the deadly disease Aids… has sharpened rather than undermined their commitment to helping the homosexual community.”
The LONDON STANDARD reported the issue of the GLC’s “Charter for lesbian and gay rights”. It quotes Ken Livingstone as saying: “Any statement about our grant for the gay and lesbian community was taken up by the gutter press who systematically tried to distort and twist what we were doing.”
THE DAILY MAIL is angered that Hackney council is giving gays “the same rights as married couples over council homes”. “The risk of encouraging people to claim homosexual relationships was obvious” it quotes. All these authorities just happen to be Labour-controlled. So, just to demonstrate that I am not biased I can report that THE DAILY EXPRESS told us of the Government’s contribution to the welfare of gays: “Government secretary Kenneth Baker is pledged to cut grants. Schemes thrown back include the GLC’s Lesbian and Gay Centre … Lord Elton promised that the clampdown would not affect genuine (sic) voluntary groups.”
Thanks a bundle Mrs T.
Some favourite gay films have found their way on to the telly in the past few weeks: ‘Victor/ Victoria’ and ‘La Cage aux Folles’ gave an exuberant portrait of the funny side of gay life, whereas ‘Fox and His Friends’ and ‘Nighthawks’ could easily depress the hell out of anyone. According to THE SUNDAY TIMES, Channel 4 has relented on its ban on Derek Jarman’s ‘Sebastiane’ and will broadcast it after all with only one minor cut.
Sarah Kennedy led a heated debate on gay rights in her ‘Daytime’ programme (Thames TV) in which the literally hysterical homophobes in the audience humiliated themselves with an incredible show of hatred and irrationality.
An ‘Open Space’ slot on BBC2 entitled ‘Plague on you’ was given over to an attack on Fleet Street’s coverage of AIDS. Ex-Fleet Street editor Derek Jameson and that puffed-up windbag George Gale of the Express condemned themselves with their own words. Jameson came over as a coarse, vulgar and thoughtless chump, as you’d expect, and Gale turned out to be an intellectual of the Adrian Mole variety, with about as much depth as a pancake. Lovely stuff.
Robert Baldock did a report on the Hippodrome’s gay night for NEW SOCIETY. It read rather like an anthropologist’s description of some newly-discovered tribe. I suppose this is explained by the conclusion he reaches about the ghettoisation of gays for profit. “The fact that there needs to be a ‘gay night’ at all indicates how hollow has been the social integration of the homosexual,” he writes, “… what 2000 years of homophobia did not succeed in doing, several years of freedom (under surveillance) have achieved: the domestication of the gay and the consignment of gay life and culture into a gilded cage … Sexual liberation has liberated people to make money out of sex. Gay separatism is a profitable business. The Hippodrome, despite the air of tolerance, is no welfare centre. ‘Tolerance is intolerable’, says Jack Land, the French, Minister of Culture, it is only a subtle, unadmitted form of racism.
“Vile book in school!” screamed the front-page headline in THE SUN “Pupils see pictures of gay lovers,” was the sub-heading on this so-called “Exclusive” story. It concerned a book called ‘Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin’ published by Gay Men’s Press. It has been available for three years but The Sun managed to discover it the day before the elections for the Labour-controlled Inner London Education Authority, who have made the book available to their teachers.
The Sun described the book as “a shocking schoolbook showing a little girl in bed with her homosexual father and his naked lover.” A more outrageous piece of distortion would be hard to imagine. It is, in fact, a friendly and reassuring attempt to help the children of gay parents understand their situation better. The Sun typically makes it sound like a sordid piece of porn all wrapped up in incest and child exploitation.
And as for “exclusive” —the book was ‘exposed’ by THE NEWS OF THE WORLD several years ago, and the week before The Sun’s story, THE ISLINGTON GAZETTE was using it to get at the Labour-controlled council there. And only the weekend before that wheezing old windbag George Gale (who has moved from the EXPRESS to the SUNDAY MIRROR) was on about the same book: “I don’t mind what homosexuals get up to so long as they don’t frighten the horses or spread Aids,” he says magnanimously, “But like the great majority of people who lead normal and natural sex lives rather than abnormal and unnatural ones, I get fed up with the gay lobby. The idea that homosexuals form an oppressed minority is nonsense. The notion that they are entitled to propagate their peculiar practises at the public’s expense is preposterous.”
Can you believe the arrogance of this man? Not only does he pat himself on the back for his “normality” he’s got the almighty conceit to suggest that anyone who isn’t exactly like him is “unnatural”.
Not wanting to be left out of this free-for-all gay bashing, that tiresome old toss-pot John Junor in THE SUNDAY EXPRESS put his size twelve in. “Which porn shop is peddling this filth?” he demands. (He’s talking about the book, by the way, not his newspaper.) “No porn shop … the Inner London Education Authority.” You’ll be pleased to know that Sir John’s long-overdue retirement is imminent, thank gawd.
The opinion polls had forewarned the Tory press that Thatcher was going to take a pasting, so they pulled out all the stops in their dirty tricks campaign prior to the recent elections. “Row over call for gay education in schools,” lied THE MAIL, whipping up a “storm” over a leaflet distributed by the Campaign for Homosexual equality to all candidates in the ILEA elections. All the leaflet said was that candidates should try to remember that not everyone is heterosexual. That simple message somehow became “children should be taught that relationships between men and women are not necessarily normal” in the hands of the Mail’s Home Affairs Correspondent Anthony Doran.
Meanwhile, Mr Shah’s tatty excuse for a newspaper, TODAY, proved that despite all its claims to be ‘different’ it is really just more of the same. It went on about a feminist group in Haringey, North London who were campaigning against racism and sexism. With the deftness of a practised liar, the Today hack transformed it into: “A feminist group in a left wing borough has been attacked for trying to turn people into homosexuals.” It’s so ludicrous it’s laughable.
And THE MAIL couldn’t let this story pass, either. They said the group was “urging Haringey council to publicise lesbians as loving, caring, perfectly normal women with special teaching on the subject in the borough’s schools plus the promotion of books like The Joy of Lesbian Sex in local libraries.” The DAILY TELEGRAPH told us of Islington Council’s “Job priority plan for homosexuals.”
Local papers, too, went to town on the “gays-under-the-Labour-bed” routine. THE EALING GAZETTE created a non-story about a local Labour candidate (who also happens to be a priest) after he vaguely spoke in favour of gay rights in a private letter. It didn’t work. The Tories lost control of Ealing along with many other councils.
But has this taught the newspapers the lesson that the more lies you tell, the less notice people take of you? I doubt it. In the run-up to the general election we can expect to see our lives used as a political weapon more and more. I just hope the Labour Party and the Alliance won’t allow this tactic to scare them away from their commitment to gay rights.
Television event of the month was the screening of ‘An Early Frost’, a TV movie about Aids and the effect on a middle-class American family when they discover their son has the disease. The subject was sensitively handled, although it was constrained by the conventions of the TV movie genre. It is reported that the script had to be rewritten thirteen times before production was authorised by the network censors.
On the whole it was well-intentioned and had moments of real emotion and compassion but, strangely, the gay lovers never touched each other, not even in the privacy of their own home. When they were eventually reunited after a long and painful separation they didn’t even shake hands.
By the end, all the homophobes had seen the error of their ways and the whole family was hugging each other and crying, which seems to be the mandatory conclusion to all American TV movies.
However, given the present right-wing mood, we should be grateful to see that American TV can still find time for thoughtful, liberal drama. ‘An Early Frost’ will have helped a lot of people understand something that is still being deliberately misrepresented by other sections of the media.
Much further down the telly scale comes ‘Trapper John’ (Thames TV), an American series which is a sort of cross between ‘Dr Kildare’ and `Starsky and Hutch’. It is shown very late at night for, I suspect, those who need an aid to sleep. A recent episode concerned itself with the attempted assassination of a gay policeman in the San Francisco force. As the injured rookie recovered in the hospital where the series is set, his bigoted father turned up and went bananas when he discovered that his son was a “fag”. Before the programme was over, of course, they were hugging each other, crying and saying, “I love you, pop” and “I love you, too, son”. Zzzzzzz.
Bernard Levin, scab journalist at THE TIMES, wrote an interesting piece headlined “Why gays must not create a new ghetto”. His thoughts had been prompted by a visit to Larry Kramer’s play ‘The Normal Heart’ (Albery Theatre). Mr Levin told us that he fully sympathises with our plight and can see the impatience we feel over the lack of political interest in Aids because it is perceived as ‘the gay plague’. “After decades of brutal incomprehension and indeed persecution, the homosexuals’ desire to assert their nature positively rather than defensively is fully understandable. But to assert it in terms of an entirely separate nature is to risk exchanging one kind of ghetto for another,” So what does Levin see as the answer? “Perhaps we should not think in terms of ‘homosexuals’ at all, much less of a ‘homosexual community’ …But impatience and anger will be wasted (as well as resisted) if they lead to claims for a separate status, let alone a special one.”
There may be some truth in what Levin says. In the end we can’t all live lives apart from the majority, and few of us would want to. But in the face of tyrants like his own paymaster and an establishment that doesn’t just drag its feet over change but actively tries to push us back into the closet, can it be wrong to want to unite and fight? The ‘gay community’ is a political rather than a social or religious grouping. We are so diverse in our opinions, backgrounds and priorities that we could never form a discernible ‘community’ in the same way as the Jews or the ethnic minorities do. Dennis Altman got nearest to it in his book ‘Aids and the New Puritanism’ (Pluto Press) when he used the term ‘gay constituency’.
But whatever we choose to call ourselves, we won’t be pushed back into the bad old days, not by AIDS or Murdoch or Tebbit. We’re here and we’re staying here.
‘La Cage Aux Folles’ opened at the London Palladium to predictably ecstatic reviews. A couple of the ‘liberal’ papers tried some political analysis of the first Broadway musical with a gay theme. Michael Billington in THE GUARDIAN thought it “about as daring as a Sunday school outing”. He makes the point that the gay ‘marriage’ at the centre of the show is too bland and placid to be real. “The show’s trick is to pander to an audience’s liberalism without ever testing it,” he says. Michael Ratcliff in The OBSERVER quotes one line from the show: “In the minds of the masses a lush is more acceptable than a fruit” and then says, “the audience titters because it is true and most of them agree.”
The only thing that offended me about ‘La Cage’ was the hype that preceded it. The male ‘chorus girls’ couldn’t wait to tell TODAY that they weren’t gay. “I’m married,” said one, “And I’ve got a steady girlfriend, let’s get it straight,” says another. THE MAIL said the star of the show, George Hearn, “would like it to be known that he is a three-times married heterosexual father of one, who likes pretty dresses but likes them best on women.”
Eventually Dennis Quilley, the co-star, told THE STANDARD “I am tired of having to answer questions about how a straight man could play the role of a gay club owner in France.” Just so long as we all know—nobody, but nobody who has anything to do with ‘La Cage Aux Folles’ is gay. OK?
A POLL in the DAILY EXPRESS conducted amongst single women between the ages of 16-30 showed that “29% thought homosexual relations between consenting adults were morally wrong”.
Does that mean that 71% thought they were perfectly OK?
We have another wonderful parade of prejudice, spite and bigotry this month from the pages of our delightful press. So, take a deep breath everyone, get the sick bags to the ready and we begin with that dear but troubled soul, Auberon Waugh. Writing in THE SPECTATOR on the subject of Martina Navratilova, lesbianism and ugly women (one and the same thing according to the egg-headed Bron) he says he has no trouble in explaining why the crowd don’t like Martina. “Perhaps she would have been able to grasp the reason if she had been able to see herself play as himself. He then goes on about lesbianism and mentions an article which appeared in THE TIMES defending attempts at challenging heterosexism in schools, written by Rosalind Stott. “Poor woman,” says Waugh, “one wonders how she came into the world and how she was reared.”
One could ask the same of Auberon Waugh, of course, and justifiably say that whatever mode of family produced an abomination such as he should be stamped out immediately.
Mary Kenny (not ugly at all—not on the outside anyway) does her bit most weeks in THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH to reinforce the association in the popular mind between socialism and homosexuality. She tells how she overheard a “group of mums” talking about a deputy head who they perceived to be gay – “a raver: a nancy-boy” said one mum. “Caddie Fan” said a Welsh lady, this being apparently the expression used in Wales to describe an effeminate man.” Ms Kenny tells us that this man taught his pupils to sing the songs of Noel Coward and eschewed the little boys “rough ways and gang games.” She concludes that “Bernie Grant … the black radical who proposes that children should be taught about homosexuality from an early age” will be disappointed that gays won’t always deliver the socialist message he would desire.
In fact, Mary Kenny’s article read like the crudest, most insulting kind of propaganda. She produces no evidence to support her rather convenient anecdote and, for those who have primed themselves to see, it is an obvious attempt to reinforce the idea that socialism and have somehow combined in an unholy alliance to undermine everything that is precious to cosy “groups of mums”, as though they were the only people in the world.
Mrs Thatcher’s personal P.R. couldn’t have done a better job.
First the good news: ghastly old duffer “Sir” John Junor has retired as editor of the obscene SUNDAY EXPRESS. The bad news is that he will continue to write that hate-filled column of his each week. His gratuitous abuse aimed not only at our community but at individuals within it, is familiar to us all and will, no doubt, continue. However, you have to credit him with a spark of originality in his own bigotry for he has many admirers and imitators. One of them popped up in THE WORTHING GUARDIAN using the pseudonym Hawkeye. “Some newspapers have got themselves into a fine lather,” says Hawkeye, “because a disco run by Richard Branson is selling a “sex drug” to heighten sensation. But what bothers me is that the press has not seen fit to comment on the fact that this disco is for homosexuals. It is a pick-up joint where the promiscuous meet each other for unspeakable purposes. But so used have we become to accepting perversion that it doesn’t even rate a comment—even when Mrs Thatcher’s ‘Mr Clean’ is profiting from it.”
This ignores the fact that the paper that broke the “story” in the first place, the MIRROR, made great play of the fact that Heaven is a gay disco. But anyway, Hawkeye was a little late with his tirade as J J had written almost precisely the same thing the previous week but substituting the word “poofter” for homosexual. And hadn’t J J also written of his hatred for Martina Navratilova because she “wears Y-fronts instead of frilly knickers and aftershave instead of perfume”? And hadn’t he also written about Cecil (“sexually as straight as a corkscrew”) Beaton’s portrait of Mick Jagger’s bottom, saying that “no-one but a poofter would want to have it in his drawing room.”?
The OBSERVER tells us that Junor is to offer his services to the Conservative Party to tell them “how to get the message over effectively”. I would think he means his “continuing services”—his whole journalistic career has been spent in the service of the Tories, and it is openly acknowledged that his knighthood was bestowed by Mrs T. for services in this respect. Oh aren’t you just thrilled that we have such a free and impartial press in Britain?
This year’s Lesbian and Gay Pride Festival might well have been wet but the spirits of those who attended weren’t dampened. Coverage in the papers was not entirely absent this year, but it was sparse and very mixed.
The communist MORNING STAR reported the festival sympathetically: “The 8,000 strong Lesbian and Gay Pride parade made its cheerful way noisily from Hyde Park to Kennington Park, their banners telling the story of the width of the gay community.” They also carried a preview of the event explaining the Gay’s the Word triumph. [Note: Gay’s the Word bookshop was taken to court by HM Customs and Excise, charged with importing indecent material. The Court threw the case out and HM Customs dropped the charges after a large-scale campaign of protest.]
But in the mainstream press it was the usual menu of abuse or indifference. With one exception, and you can put this down as a red-letter day. Yes, a national daily newspaper actually said something sympathetic about gays. TODAY carried an opinion piece by Sarah Gibbings headed “Gays deserve better than this.” Ms Gibbings wrote: “They came from all over Britain to show that they refuse to be victims or to be seen as public health threats, and to assert their right to belong to the human race. Most important of all they marched to remind all of us that an appalling disease has been unwittingly brought into our society and to encourage all of us to find a cure.” It. would be carping to tell Ms Gibbings that we weren’t really marching to ask for a place “in the human race” but to tell those bigots who are trying to ostracise us that they ought to try being human themselves, I’m sure they’d find a novel experience.
But we mustn’t get the idea that TODAY is suddenly going to show the other papers a new humanity, for in the very next issue we read: “What is appalling is that classified advertisements in some newspapers and magazines carry ads for new gay partners. As this kind of promiscuous homosexual activity is reported to be largely responsible for the spread of this scourge, surely a ban should be placed on them.”
The LONDON STANDARD gave us their good wishes during Pride Week with a story headlined: “Festival of shame by London gays.” This referred to Hackney council’s contribution to the festivities. The paper’s usual technique of finding the single dissenting voice and giving it major prominence was used. The honours this time go to Councillor Joe Lobenstein, Tory opposition leader in Hackney: “This is the most shameful exercise the council has organised for years,” he ranted. “To highlight the lives of people who live an unnatural and sinful life is to my mind the greatest shame that this borough can embark upon.”
The DAILY MAIL was more than pleased to carry the story the following day, and so was the EXPRESS, embroidering it a little with an earth-shattering revelation that not only was money being given to gays to educate themselves about Aids but that it was ‘proposed’ to give gays priority in the housing queue. It was a proposal that was not part of council policy and never likely to be, but it provided THE EXPRESS with the headline they’d been looking for: “A gay way to jump the housing queue—give them extra points.”
Finally, THE SUN didn’t mention the British Pride march but it managed a paragraph on the American one, telling its (no doubt very amused) readers that the parade was led by a group called “Dykes on Bikes.” Little do they realise that the joke is on them.
Paul Johnson, writing in THE SPECTATOR, wheeled out that corny old point about homosexuals ‘stealing’ the word “gay” and corrupting it. He calls it “a monstrous piece of verbal larceny”. He says that “nothing has done more to turn people against homosexuals than this impudent hijack, and in their own interests they ought to switch to another. Some people, I hear, now call themselves ‘Gaids’, but this is obviously offensive. My solution … is simply to reverse the terms and call them ‘yags’. But what say readers?”
Well, this reader says that Paul Johnson seems to be stuck in some kind of time-warp dated about 1953. I don’t want to think of a new word to describe my sexuality thank you, but I can think of a new word for Paul Johnson. Unfortunately, the libel laws do not allow me to tell you what it is.
The whole of the front page of The Star was taken up by a headline reading “Gay lovers on Royal Yacht—shock as Fergie and Andrew plan honeymoon.” This gave a new twist to those interminable stories about the dreary Royal wedding. It also hounded a man out of his job, but that’s the unfortunate price that gays have to pay in order to provide copy for those great loyalists in Fleet Street. “Navy set to boot out gay Britannia sailor” crooned The Sun, picking the story up when it had reached a satisfactorily tragic conclusion for them.
This is a classic example of pure malice and irresponsibility of the tabloid press when it comes to gay issues. For not only have they managed to ruin this man’s career they have also managed to reinforce the idea that gays should automatically be victimised when they are ‘found out’ by crummy journalists.
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?
There can be little doubt that The Sun now has a settled and co-ordinated anti-gay campaign under way. Their coverage of gay issues is so relentless, so grindingly negative that no-one can avoid the conclusion that at some stage the reporters must have been briefed to dig as much gay dirt as they can. And if they can’t find any dirt, then they should soil the truth. Let’s look at some of this month’s offerings from the pages of that ghastly rag. To start with, I have mixed feelings about the question-and-answer interview with Jimmy Somerville which appeared in THE SUN (22 Dec). One half of me says it’s good that Jimmy should be asked questions which some of his fans must long to know the answers to. (“How bothered are you about Aids”, “Have you ever made love to a woman?” “Have you ever dressed up in women’s clothes?”). But the other half of me wonders what the purpose of these prurient questions were. Do they raise consciousness or do they just reinforce misunderstandings and misconceptions? I don’t know, but I couldn’t help feeling uncomfortable about it. Especially given some of the other stories that the Sun has carried over the past month.
For instance, Rock Hudson’s house was the star of another of another of the Sun’s Aids misinformation pieces. Apparently the dead actor’s house is still up for sale and no-one will by it. Hudson’s butler is quoted as saying: “They seem petrified of touching any of Rock’s belongings. They won’t even have a glass of water or a cup of tea because they have to drink from Rock’s glasses or crockery…” The whole tone of the story gives credence to the superstition that Aids somehow something more than just a disease that it has supernatural powers that allow it to linger in wait for the unwary. Some hope for the Government’s weedy education campaign in the face of such powerful misinformation.
29 December and THE SUN treated us to quotes from “tough guy” rock singer Gary Moore. “I don’t know how people can like the Communards. That guy Somerville has done for gays what Sam Fox did for feminism. He’s not exactly the acceptable face of gayness, is he? If anyone was undecided in their attitude to homosexuals, Jimmy Somerville would make your mind up for you – against them. He’s an ugly, no-talent creep.”
On 30 December, Jimmy was in THE SUN again, this time chiding The Pet Shop Boys for not coming out of the closet. “They have to be more upfront. It’s their duty to other gays. I don’t associate myself with the Pet Shop Boys because they still won’t publicly admit they’re gay. It really annoys me that they call their album Disco but don’t admit its relationship to gayness.”
On 6 January The Sun treated us to “What Fowler will see in Gay City where one in 15 has Aids”. The story by classic scab journo Neil Wallis began: “Health Secretary Norman Fowler is going on an Aids fact-finding mission to San Francisco later this month.” What Mr Fowler will see is a Sun reader’s nightmare come true. “Gays wear one of 14 different coloured handkerchiefs in the back pocket of their Levis. That signals to the world the particular perversion they prefer… It’s claimed that promiscuity among gays has stopped, but it’s only a claim! ,,, In Frisco today freak means old-fashioned, long-haired hippies advocating love between the sexes. It doesn’t mean out-of-the-ordinary. Well, it couldn’t, could it?”
And so it goes on. I’d just like Mr Wallis to know that if he goes to San Franciso and the powerful gay community gets to hear about it, he’s likely to leave more than his heart there.
On 12 Jan we were regaled with a silly (even by The Sun’s standards) non-story about a group of very minor TV stars going out for a “night on the town” in Manchester and ending up in Napoleon’s gay club. “Burley telly Sergeant Major Windsor Davies didn’t care much for the company of “the lovely boys” and did “a quick about turn”. The Sun tells us that the rest of them “brazened it out for a while. If The Sun is trying to tell us that these showbiz innocent had “accidentally” went to Napoleon’s with no previous knowledge of its style, they can go and tell it to the Marines.
More worrying though is the nasty twisting of a story about a gay group in Cambridge (18 Jan.) advising its members not to be tested for HIV infection. Anyone who has heard the whole story will know that this is sound advice, but in the hands of The Sun leader writer gay groups become “an evil force in the land” and gay activists “deserve to be treated as pariahs. They deserve to be locked away where they can do no more harm.”
On another page in the same issue there was a story about a police swoop on a cottage in Victoria Station in which, according to THE SUN, “police have arrested 68 gays in a massive anti-vice swoop.” An un-named “commuter” was quoted as saying: “It was a degrading sight to see evil middle aged men preying on young boys.”
The Sun has also told us over the past month that nasty lesbians are tormenting poor, innocent drug-pusher Rosie Johnston in prison, they also called for the shooting of the Barlinnie jail protestors and asserted that the National Union of Journalists was trying to create a totalitarian state for daring to fine their wonderful reporters. Talk about seeing the world through a looking glass—it seems The Sun has this wonderful facility for turning everything inside out and making it into the opposite of what it really is.
But who are the people behind The Sun? I ask this question because I am genuinely curious to know what sort of men they are. Are they really as nasty, greedy, violent, treacherous and downright rotten as their writings suggest?
Over the past few months The Sun has pursued the gay community and gay individuals with the ferocity of a shark in a feeding frenzy. Their editorial condemnations of us become more and more extreme—whether it be exhortations to James Anderton to “treat the perverts with the contempt they deserve” or calling for the locking up of gay rights activists because they are an “evil threat to society.” Some of their news items wouldn’t disgrace the pages of the National Front’s organ Bulldog.
They are very fond of calling anyone in public life who is vaguely ‘liberal’ “enemies of the nation” and “fifth columnists”. Indeed, anyone to the left of Mussolini is considered a communist infiltrator. And although The Sun has become something of a music hall joke, it is far from funny for those who are its victims. It won’t do any more to write it off as a silly comic not to be taken seriously. Four million people in this country take it seriously enough to shell out good money day after day to read the filth that mad Murdoch’s running dogs churn out. The Sun is a serious threat not only to the quality of our lives but now to our very existence, because the Sun’s baleful influence extends far beyond its own pages. Its complete lack of ethical standards has ensured that the other papers have had to follow it down into the gutter in order to survive the vicious circulation war.
I am not alone in my fear of the uncheckable abuses perpetrated by The Sun and its imitators. Jeremy Seabrook wrote in THE GUARDIAN (22 Dec) of the sinister purposes behind The Sun’s apparently cheerful populism. “What we are living through is a sustained attempt to resurrect the mob. The newspapers and the junk videos portray people, in the language of The Sun, as dirty rats and filthy swine, as animals and beasts; a vast human bestiary has been reinvented which systematically represents people as corrupt, treacherous and venal in contrast to whom, in this simple Manichean world, the good is represented by money.”
Seabrook tells us that papers like The Sun are creating an atmosphere that will pave the way, after Thatcherism has failed, for something far worse. He says that as the country disintegrates financially and socially the door will be open for the fascists to take over. This is where the frightening picture of life in this country presented by the popular press comes in. If Joe Public can be convinced that the country they love has become a “cesspit” of degradation then the new Fuhrer will have an easy cruise to power. Aids is providing the terrible tool for this end to be achieved. “Britain which is increasingly unrecognisable as the familiar and loved home place has become more and more like the future site of the second coming of those brutalities which we went to war to defeat less than half a century ago,” wrote Seabrook.
We have to recognise that the real enemy of the people is The Sun newspaper and all the others that aspire to be its clones. And yet we are powerless to stop this wilful distortion. The freedom of the press was once sacred, but Rupert Murdoch and his evil crew have made the concept of a free press into a sick joke. Press freedom in the hands of the seekers after wealth has become an insidious 1icence to distort, persecute, incite hatred and generally brutalise readers. If any attempt is made to stop this undemocratic abuse of their enormous power the papers instantly cry “censorship. The ruthless and unscrupulous men behind The Sun are the real fifth columnists in our country, undermining all traditions of tolerance and debate. They must be curbed—for all our sakes.
Newspaper correspondence columns are fairly predictable, each paper having its own style. THE MAIL and THE EXPRESS voice the opinion of middle-England, the retired middle-classes and the aspiring working classes. The letters pages in these papers have an unhealthy preoccupation with the death penalty, with ‘dole scroungers’ and ‘teenage layabouts’. They write in endlessly about how disastrous Labour is and how utterly heavenly they consider Maggie to be. They have simple and painless answers to all the world’s most complex problems—painless for themselves, that is. For other people it usually involves death or imprisonment.
It was not surprising, then, to find the correspondence columns filled, day after day, with letters supporting James Anderton, the only chief constable with a hotline to God. And this particular crop of letters was even more bloodthirsty than usual. So much hatred poured from them that I eventually became too depressed to read any more. It began to seem that if Margaret Thatcher were to legalise lynching for homosexuals tomorrow, her opinion poll rating would race ahead.
Then, suddenly, cracks began to appear in what had seemed almost unanimous support for the Mancunian Prophet. Even old John Junor in The SUNDAY EXPRESS (21 Dec) was moved to write, during one of his weekly diatribes against gays: “There is about him (Anderton) an unctuous self-righteousness which makes me wince. Nor do I warm to his pronouncement that he said what he did because he had received guidance from God …In view of everything that has happened, would not Manchester be a better place from a police point of view if Mr Anderton were to receive further guidance from God to hand in his resignation, too?”
Dennis Hackett, the new editor of TODAY wrote (23 Dec): “I have now begun to wonder whether it could be that Mr Anderton is not, after all, on a direct line to the Supreme Being, but is in fact talking to himself and mistaking his alter ego for the Almighty?”
Even THE NEWS OF THE WORLD (21 Dec) managed a critical editorial (although it was in unusually small print, and looked strangely out of place, as though it had wandered into the wrong paper). “The Aids and gays debate is a POLITICAL issue, not a CRIMINAL issue, except where the law of the land is broken,” said the NoW. “Parliament, in its wisdom, decides what those laws should be. If Anderton wants to talk about what offends the LAW, that is one thing. What offends HIM should be kept to himself. It is right to wonder whether the people of Greater Manchester … are best served by a chief whose behaviour is not so much eccentric as plain daft, Stalker is going, Anderton is staying. Perhaps it would be better if BOTH went.”
The Archbishop of York criticised Anderton for his unhelpfulness in the face of the crisis and even the right-wing Police Federation rebuked him for “pontificating on moral issues”. According to THE GUARDIAN (15 Jan), Tony Judge, editor of the federation’s magazine, accused Anderton of “dragging the police into a moral debate that should not concern them.”
And so, perhaps, the most cheering headline of the month was in THE INDEPENDENT (13 Jan) “Police Feeling Mounts that Anderton Must Go”.
The Bible tells us that God reserves his greatest wrath for false prophets, so if I were James Anderton, I’d be seriously thinking of fixing a lightning conductor to the roof of Greater Manchester police Headquarters.
Until now, most straight people have avoided thinking very much about gay lifestyles, preferring to consider them rather exotic and not really to do with the real world. Aids has changed all that and gays have taken centre stage. There is no way that the Government, the press or the public can remain indifferent to our presence any more.
Naturally the long-held and deep-rooted prejudices needed to be expressed – and they have been, mostly in intemperate, vulgar and abusive terms. The bigots were first on the scene with “didn’t we tell you this would happen?” Our old enemies in the press have had a field day too. But now more reasoned debate is beginning. Religious leaders and politicians have realised that the screaming hysteria doesn’t very far towards solving problems.
It was good, therefore, to see an opinion piece in THE INDEPENDENT (9 Jan) written by Christina Baron, president of the Liberal Women’s Federation. She made the point that criticising gay men for being ‘promiscuous’ was unfair given society’s disapproval of gay relationships. “It is often not easy for heterosexual couples, even when married to society’s approval, to stay together. How much harder, then, for a homosexual couple? Is a colleague’s gay or lesbian partner as welcome as a spouse at the firm’s Christmas dance, the office party or the staff room? The heterosexual community wants it both ways – promiscuity is not acceptable, stable partnerships are not acceptable. If much of our society still cannot accept a homosexual couple then we shouldn’t be surprised if it is harder for them to stay together.”
One male gay couple who managed to stay together for 27 years are Saxon Lucas and Rodney Madden. Their relationship was examined in NEW SOCIETY (2 Jan). These two men are Christians, they consider their partnership to be, to all intents and purposes, a “marriage”. What they had promised each other – total sexual fidelity – would have seemed ridiculous and unrealistic to most gay people a few short years ago. Now it seems to be something that a lot of gay couples are striving for.
The structure of their relationship (“Rod is the boss-man, what Rod says goes. And when he says ‘no’, no it is,” says Saxon) may seem questionable to many. Surely marriages – or any other ostensibly exclusive relationship – can work without these dubious power-structures. Indeed, much of what these two men espouse as essential components of a successful long-term relationship would be anathema to the majority of people, gay or straight. The two of them have, apparently, embraced all the worst aspects of “marriage” along with the good bits. Women in particular have been trying to shrug off these negative elements for years.
If gays are going to go in for marriage (and it seems like a good idea at the moment), surely we can start at an advantage by learning from the mistakes of all those thousands of straight couples who’ve failed in the past.
By the way, the Marriage Guidance Council welcomes gay people to its counselling sessions – and has done for years.
Prime hate figure Jean Rook turned up on the Terry Wogan Show (BBC1) and showed herself to be a prize arsehole. Not only did she talk a lot of snobbish, sexist twaddle, she looked like Tutankhamen’s mother with the bandages off. And this is the woman who has the cheek to criticise other people for being ‘ugly’ and gays for being ‘fanatical’.
Seeing Mrs Rook in the (rather shrivelled) flesh robs her of some of her power to annoy. I’ll never be able to take her Daily Express jibes seriously gain. Yuch! She’s enough to put you off your cocoa.
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….