Gossip columnists obviously have a hard time filling their columns. Much of their material is weak in the extreme and their ‘wit’ for the most part embarrassing. And nowadays it seems only homosexuality is scandalous enough to raise eyebrows. There are few other subjects ‘gossips’ can sneer at and get away with it.
They’ve had a field day with poor old Elton John. But then, Elton does seem to ask for it. Not happy with just quietly getting married he has to give journalists all the ammunition they need to shoot him down. [Note: Elton John married German recording engineer Renate Blauel on 14 February 1984].
“Straight talking John Smith” in The Sunday People started his item with the hilariously witty and original “Oh my goodness, what a gay day”, and to prove what a wag he is he included the phrase “good on yer, yer pommy poofter”.
William Hickey in THE DAILY EXPRESS headed his tribute “Elton and The Boys He Leaves Behind-which managed to avoid the libelous while leaving little of Elton’s past gay life unexplored.
From other sections of the papers the overwhelming message to Elton was: “We knew you were really one of us all the time. Nice to know you’re normal.”
When, er, I mean if,the marriage ends, Elton is going to reap a nasty harvest from the sick publicity machine he is courting.
Another favourite target for the columnists is Peter Tatchell. Described in THE DAILY MIRROR by the execrable Peter Tory as “an admitted homosexual”.
Tatchell found himself in the limelight again because it is exactly a year since his notorious Bermondsey debacle.
That’s enough for the papers to rake it all over again and throw any residual mud at Tony Benn. Peter Tory, the MIRROR’s ‘gossip’ seemed positively gleeful in reporting that Tatchell had almost been shoved under a bus and threatened with several kinds of death.
Meanwhile, William Hickey again, this time reporting that Gay News has taken a poll in gay circles and found Neil Kinnock to be “man of the year” (a fact which the publisher of GN, raving right-winger Nigel Ostrer wasn’t pleased about). [Note: Nigel Ostrer bought the title Gay News from Denis Lemon after the original folded, but the new version did not last long and the title was sold on to Millivres and was incorporated into Gay Times].
According to Hickey, Neil Kinnock’s reaction on hearing the news was “That’s all I need right now”. There is evidence to suggest that Kinnock is a homophobe — but I still resent Hickey trying to use homosexuality as a chisel to chip away at the Labour leader’s reputation. It seems to be an increasing habit in the press — associate your worst enemy with homosexuality (however vaguely) and hope that his popularity will plummet. The evidence seems to suggest that it doesn’t work anyway.
One person who can’t be caught in that particular trap is Christopher Isherwood. THE STANDARD Diary reports that Isherwood recently met Bob Fosse, the man who turned the book Goodbye to Berlin into the film Cabaret.
Isherwood hated the film because it suggested that there was more to his relationship with the singer Sally Bowles than mere friendship. The irate Isherwood said: “I never slept with a woman in my life.” Hard for THE STANDARD to make innuendo out of anything as plain as that.
THE SUNDAY EXPRESS gossip column, however, carried a cleverly-worded piece about Rock Hudson and his manager Tom Clarke.
Although nothing was said directly, there was enough suggestion and insinuation to get the message over loud and clear.
THE DAILY MIRROR and THE SUN carried the story of the lesbian couple who had been allocated a flat by Hereford Council. THE MIRROR said: “the women are jumping the queue because they are being treated as a married couple.”
But as lesbians can’t get married, there would be no hope of them ever being housed if the MIRROR’s criterion were applied. Never mind, I thought, the councillors in Hereford have their hearts in the right place, and the women have their flat in which to live happily ever after.
But then THE GUARDIAN reported that there was to be a “rethink”. The publicity has been so hysterical that the anti-gay feeling in the Council (orchestrated by a Coun. Bert Evans) resulted in the women being “hounded remorselessly”.
Mr Evans said: “If this goes through we could see an invasion of sexual deviants which would mean that normal people would never get rehoused.”
If Mr Evans thinks Hereford is about to become another San Francisco he can rest in peace. Not many gay people would want to breathe the same air as such a bigoted burgher as he.
LIKE a lot of gay people, I have a great affection for Kenneth Williams. In the closeted sixties, his outrageous Julian and Sandy sketches in Round the Horne were like a lifeline to those of us isolated and alone. We seemed to share with Williams a naughty secret joke that straights could never hope to understand.
You can imagine my horror, therefore, on picking up the NEWS OF THE WORLD colour magazine and seeing our Kenny quoted as saying: “Man is made for woman and anybody who pretends that two men can live together happily like man and wife is talking a load of rubbish. Let’s not kid ourselves, there would no life in that kind of relationship.”
At the beginning of the interview, Mr Williams proclaims: “I am a cult” although I’m not sure he’s spelt it right
And like a vision from heaven to prove Kenneth Williams wrong, Sir Angus Wilson and Tony Garrett, his lover of 32 years, put their relationship in front of the TV cameras in THE OTHER HALF (BBC1). It turned out to be a loving, giving partnership with lots of humour and a good deal of quiet contentment.
The other nice thing about this programme was that it explored the texture and workings of a gay relationship rather than presenting another heavy tract on the nature and tragedy of homosexuality.
Sir Angus said he didn’t feel the need to wear a badge saying “I’m homosexual.”
He went one better and declared it on prime time television. In doing so he rendered a great service to the gay community.
In Mary Kenny’s attempted hatchet job on The National Council for Civil Liberties [Note: Now called simply “Liberty”] in THE DAIL MAIL she said the NCCL had been greeted on its 50th birthday by the Campaign for Homosexual Equality and other “frankly lunatic causes”. She contended that by Mrs Thatcher declining to give her support it must be proof (if any were needed as far as MAIL readers go) that the NCCL is just another group of left-wing, gay-loving maniacs. Ms Kenny says she will believe in the NCCL when it “champions, everybody’s rights”.
This apparently, includes The National Front, Ku Klux Klan and others with murder in their hearts. Ms Kenny wants freedom for “racists to be racists” — as long as they are peaceful. Yes, the National Front is noted for its peacefulness, isn’t it?
The NCCL has consistently championed gay rights and maintained a justified watch on the police. It is an essential organisation in these times of rapidly diminishing personal liberty.
Peter Adamson, ex-Len Fairclough of Coronation Street, wrote a series of exposés in THE NEWS OF THE WORLD telling earth-shattering “secrets” of life backstage at Granada. There was an awful lot of schoolboy-type sniggering about tits, bums, lavatories and rather childish horseplay.
His memories of Peter Dudley, who played Bert Tilsley, were hardly surprising. He reveals that Peter was a “cottager” and a “harmless homosexual.”
A more tawdry set of memoirs would be difficult to imagine.
Homosexuality has definitely been flavour-of-the month as far as the media is concerned. And, in the main, it has been sympathetic coverage.
The Keith Hampson affair, coinciding as it did with a parliamentary debate on the subject, ensured maximum exposure for the ugly ‘pretty police’.
But did all this attention really make any difference to the situation? Well, perhaps the promise from the Metropolitan Police to “tighten up the rules” is pretty meaningless, but, as far as public opinion goes, I think we have made major inroads.
It was interesting to see how various papers treated the issue. According to THE SUNDAY MIRROR: “Police deny claims often made in clubs that they act as decoys to trap gays.” Whilst on the same day in THE OBSERVER: “Police sources said the decision to use agent provocateurs was taken at a very high level.”
The commentators were unanimously favourable in their support for an end to entrapment. It was as though someone had, at last, shouted foul! and all the media gurus joined in the call for fair play.
Lynda Lee-Potter in THE DAILY MAIL said: “If the destruction of Dr Keith Hampson MP’s career results in ending the vendetta against homosexuals which the police have been conducting for years, possibly one iota of good will emerge from this sad and sorry case.”
John Vincent in THE SUN wrote: “As the police know full well, the real crime that worries the public is out on the streets. For most people safety on public transport and in their homes comes before private morals.” Even the ghastly Woodrow Wyatt in THE NEWS OF THE WORLD managed to admit that he had “no room to cast stones” and ruminated on how the sex drive can “make worthy and sensible men behave like lunatics.”
THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH carried a large and sympathetic piece entitled Law, Liberty and the Homosexual in which Paul Williams explored the gay world and its reaction to police activities.
Ken Livingstone was reported in the LONDON EVENING STANDARD as saying: “I think it is absolutely monstrous that in a city where mugging, burglary and rape are the main concern, we have police officers wasting their time around gay bars, waiting for someone to pinch their bums.”
And even the normally vituperative SCOTSMAN managed to say: “Just as in the era before homosexual law reform, the blackmailer was generally regarded with greater detestation than his homosexual victim, so in today’s different moral climate the police agent provocateur might be more generally disliked than the homosexual he arrests.”
I hate to return to the distasteful subject of DAILY EXPRESS gossip William Hickey, but his recent spiteful anti-gay tirades have been too much to ignore.
First, he set about trying to destroy the Conservative Group for Homosexual Equality. He did this by publishing the names of those Tory MPs brave enough to offer themselves as vice-presidents of the group. This was supposed to be some sort “expose”, but the story amounted to nothing but spite, malice and ill-intention.
But he went one better a few days later by calling on Sir Peter Hayman, the elderly diplomat recently fined for cottaging, to surrender his knighthood. Or better still — in Hickey’s book — the Queen should take it away from him.
It took a pretty heartless bastard to write, as Hickey did: “After treachery one might suppose that fiddling about in public lavatories is only one down the scale in bringing dishonour to honours.”
He wrote this about an old man who has given most of his life to the faultless service of his country.
If Hickey knows what shame is, I hope he’s hanging his head at this very moment.
REPORTING that Tory MP Richard Alexander had resigned from the Conservative Group for Homosexual Equality (see previous item) THE SUNDAY MIRROR says: “Mr Alexander stressed that he did not practise the group’s activities.”
Eh? Can we just have a re-run of that? …”he did not practise the group’s activities.”
Like what — licking envelopes? Organising meetings? Lobbying parliament?
Or does the CGHE have livelier ‘activities’ than we know about?
In an astonishing about-face, Sir John Junor, editor of THE SUNDAY EXPRESS and long-time critic of gay rights, has actually admitted that gays are often treated unjustly.
He was commenting upon the case of Richard Longstaff, who emigrated from England to the USA in 1966 and has now been denied American citizenship because he failed to declare his homosexuality on his original visa application all those years ago. “I hardly go singing and dancing in the streets in favour of the Gay Liberation movement,” writes JJ, “But isn’t it a little tough that someone who cannot be blamed for having been born the way he is should be victimised for not having had the courage to give a truthful answer to a humiliating question put to him when he was little more than a child?”
You’re making progress, Sir John. But hasn’t it dawned on you yet that America isn’t the only country that persecutes homosexuals?
Why not drop a line to your friend Margaret Thatcher. She can give you all the details.
According to THE SUN, ITV has sold The Benny Hill show to Russia. But the Soviets insist that all references to homosexuality be deleted from the shows.
It would be nice to think that the Russians didn’t want to insult the sensibilities of their gay citizens by exposing them to Hill’s vulgar and unfunny jibes. But the truth is more likely to be that they want to keep alive the myth that homosexuality does not exist in the USSR.
Whatever the benefits the revolution brought to the people of the Soviet Union, gays were, as they are everywhere else, excluded from enjoying them.
That haven of tolerance and love, Belfast, has, according to THE SUNDAY NEWS, been up in arms at the idea of Man Around’s gay holidays being made available to Ulster homosexuals.
“DUP leaders lashed out at the ‘filthy’ holidays,” the paper says, and with unusual restraint Assemblyman Wesley Pentland said: “Package holidays for homosexuals are dirty, deplorable, filthy, anti-God and unscriptural.”
Whereas East Belfast MP Peter Robinson said: “I’d like to send perverts and degenerates on a one-way trip to gay resorts.”
Believe me, if I lived in Belfast, I’d be the first one knocking on Mr Robinson’s door begging for that one-way ticket. Anything to get away from the poisoned minds and soiled mouths of these ga-ga men of god.
“Straight Talking John Smith” in THE SUNDAY PEOPLE chides the homosexual community for “hijacking another perfectly decent English word.” He refers to ‘pink’, telling readers that there is a ‘pink’ economy. And the money spent in this twilight world is known as the ‘pink pound’.
“Thus tainted,” he says, “the word pink will take on a simpering new significance far removed from its original intent.”
Well, as you’re so fond of straight talking, why don’t you take back all the words you and your wonderful kind have lumbered us with in the past? To start with you can have “queer” and “puff” and “fairy” and “nancy” and all the other perfectly innocent words you’ve corrupted in your sickening attempts to insult and belittle us.
THE acquittal of Keith Hampson brought favourable comment from many of the Fleet Street commentators. [Note: Keith Hampson was a Conservative MP who was arrested in May 1984 at a gay theatre club in Soho after being accused of touching the thigh of what turned out to be an undercover policeman. The subsequent court case against him was dropped, but it ended his parliamentary career.]
“Police constables’ time is surely better spent than hanging around Soho clubs in tight jeans, necklaces and training shoes,” said THE GUARDIAN, whilst THE DAILY MAIL said: “Where there is no suggestion of corruption of youth or any other criminal activity, many people may well wonder why charges of this kind are brought against citizens — prominent or not. Surely the police and courts have better things to do.”
Alexander Chancellor in THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH chided PC Stuart Marshall for his “off-duty” clothes: “He possibly looks very nice in them, but might they not, I wonder, convey a slightly misleading impression if worn in a homosexual club? They would not, at any rate, appear the ideal attire for a policeman intent on avoiding the embarrassment of any indecent interest being directed towards himself.”
The sympathies were the same, but the expression offensive, as you’d expect, from John Smith in THE SUNDAY PEOPLE: “One wonders whether PC Marshall went there looking like a proper poof in the hope that he would be treated like one.”
So, will all this mean anything or is it just – again – empty cant?
THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH reveals that Sir Kenneth Newman, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner “has ordered that all uniformed policemen and women assigned to plain clothes duties must be properly briefed by a senior officer against acting as agents provocateurs.”
The order was made on October 12th and is contained in the Metropolitan Police General Orders, the “two-volume Bible” of the force. How seriously can we take this? Well, a letter from Scotland Yard, dated 30th March 1984 (reported in POLICING LONDON) said: “Guidance on entrapment is contained in paragraph 1.92 of Home Office consolidation circular … that no member of the police force should counsel, invite or procure the commission of a crime.”
This was just over a month before the arrest of Keith Hampson. Or, as Larry Gostin, General Secretary of The National Council for Civil Liberties said in a letter to THE GUARDIAN: “Policing the morals of the community of the kind illustrated in these cases will continue unabated. The only thing that will change now that the Hampson case is over is that the subject will be eased out of the news while the police practices carry on as before.”
According to THE SUNDAY TIMES book review of the New Longman Dictionary, a note in the lexicon declares: “Gay is the preferred word used by homosexuals of themselves and this has become such an important sense of the word that one may be misunderstood if one uses it simply to mean ‘cheerful’.” At last — the word is officially ours!
Not noted for its radicalism, THE BOOKSELLER (organ of the book trade) managed an angry editorial about the Customs action against Gay’s The Word. Noting the techniques so far employed, THE BOOKSELLER observes: “If many of the titles are not believed by Customs to be indecent or obscene but are held to weaken the trading position of the shop, and to increase the cost of preparing a defence, many will see the tactics of the Customs and Excise as a clear abuse of power.”
They are perfectly right, of course. There can no longer be any shadow of doubt that this is not an attempt to keep “obscenity” out of the country, but a direct attempt to destroy Gay’s The Word.
And that is why it is the duty of all of us to hasten to the shop’s defence. If the authorities succeed in this endeavour —what next?
I don’t know whether to laugh or cry over a letter which was published in the Portsmouth SOUTHERN EVENING ECHO. It was from an idiot called Stuart Wallace, who informed readers about the meaning of the term “street dog”. He says it’s well known gay terminology (obviously I’ve led a sheltered life, never having heard it before). “Street dogs are those who roam and tramp the street and ‘cottages’ (public toilets) seeking out male prostitutes or willing partners.” He then goes into great detail about Portsmouth’s cottages — surely none but a regular could have such a comprehensive knowledge. Finally (and you can almost see the slobber running down his lips) he informs his horrified audience that he has “rubbed shoulders” with “these fermenting fruits”.
It goes on like some kind of diseased sex fantasy until Mr Wally (er … I mean, Wallace) tells us he had to leave the crew of the QE2 because “it was so rife” and he was afraid it would become “compulsory”. Daft as a brush, as my old mother would say.
THAT’S FAMILY LIFE (BBC1 TV) dealt with gay teenagers and their coming out problems at home. A young man called Keith spoke movingly about his homosexuality and how afraid and isolated it had made him feel. His mother, in turn, described her shock of first hearing the news (“I cried non-stop for three days”) and his stepfather described the profound change in his own attitudes when Keith came clean about his sexuality. “To be honest, before I knew about Keith, the idea of homosexuality made my flesh creep. I didn’t want to be anywhere near them.” “And now?” probed Esther Rantzen. “We still love Keith very dearly and we want him to be happy in his own way.”
I hope a lot of families with gay children were watching this programme —it would have inspired and reassured them and provided proof that parents can understand, even though, on the surface, they might seem completely anti-gay.
On the day President Reagan was celebrating his re-election by saying (for the twentieth time) “You ain’t seen nothing yet”, there was another celebration going on in the U.S. of A. to prove him right. A report in THE STANDARD says the Los Angeles suburb of West Hollywood has declared itself to be America’s first homosexually-control-led city. The 36,000 inhabitants voted two-to-one to create the new city and install lesbian activist Valerie Terrigno as the new mayor.
So, you see, geriatric religious maniacs are not the only ones who can manage a landslide victory in the madness that is America.
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.
I suppose we have to accept that during the silly season newspapers will fill their pages with drivel is even more puerile than usual and journalists obviously imagine that the gay community is an easy source for such material. Yes, it’s been another gay old month in the press (and a lesbian old month, too, come to that).
Acres of space were given over to the “lesbian jealousy” court case, ensuring that the words “gay” and “lesbian” appeared repeatedly in a negative context day after day.
The other hot story was the old sex education chestnut—will homosexuality be included in the sex education lessons and if so should parents be able to absent their children from such classes? The Sun brought the two articles neatly together in a sly front-page headline (August 15th) LESBIAN TEACHER HORROR. Just take those three words and conjure with them. Put them together with some of the Ealing Recorder (July 18th) and you have a nasty little case of I-told-you-so.
But we mustn’t run away with the idea that The Sun is anti-gay. Oh no. Didn’t they also carry another front-page splash (August 13th) announcing EASTBENDERS—a reference to the fact that the BBC soap opera EastEnders is to introduce gay characters. Leaving the headline aside, the report was neutral and the editorial comment was “Oh well, that’s life,” —and in the same issue was a report about “Two gay youths who kissed passionately for six seconds in a busy street” and were arrested for it. The Sun helpfully ended their story with a quote from a lawyer who wrote: “It is not an offence for homosexuals to kiss in the street, but any such act could lead to a breach of the peace and even insulting behaviour if it offends passers-by.”
The Sunday Times(August 3rd) revealed that a new virus has been identified “currently named the Delta Agent …which attacks those already infected with hepatitis B causing severe and usually fatal liver damage.” Although this isn’t a major hazard yet, there is already a “reservoir” of the virus waiting to spread in the same alarming way as Aids. Gay men are particularly vulnerable.
So,what far-sighted action is our wonderful Government taking? Well, according to The Guardian (July 31st) “Hospital doctors are being told they must not vaccinate gay men against the incurable liver disease hepatitis B because the NHS can’t afford it.” The Guardian says that as many as half the male homosexual population of Britain has been infected with hepatitis B. It isn’t clear where such a figure came from, but according to Professor Michael Adler, it means that a “£4 million immunisation programme might save £20 million in the cost of treating victims.” That would seem like a sensible course of action—but you have to bear in mind that we are governed by people who allow their prejudices to overcome their common sense.
Still on a medical theme, there was an interesting item in a magazine called GP (July 25th) which is delivered free to all Britain’s family doctors. Written by an anonymous contributor “Week in Surgery” told how “a young man of 32 … came to see me complaining he felt unwell. Except for a few cervical glands on the right of his neck, I could find nothing else amiss.” However, further tests revealed that the man had Aids. “He has been living with his regular boyfriend for 15 years, but admits to having had two or three affairs over the past five years. Three friends of his have died of Aids recently. Apparently both he and his regular boyfriend were screened for HTLV-3 earlier this year and were both negative.”
When this young man came back to hear the result, the doctor had a trainee with him. The trainee rebuked the young man for not revealing that he was in a “high risk category” and had “put several people at risk from a health and safety point of view.” The doctor wrote: “I will obviously have to increase my levels of suspicion when seeing young, single, male patients … I was brought up in the ethos that the sexual activities or deviations of patients was their own concern but this no longer holds true.”
Gay Times reader Paul Bailey, himself a doctor, wrote to the editor of GP saying that he found the “confrontation which took place with the sick man most distasteful, and shows a surprising lack of insight; given that three of the patients’ friends had recently died of Aids, it is quite understandable that the patient himself, consciously or unconsciously, should avoid contemplating that he might suffer similarly. To say ‘he knew jolly well what could be going on’ is crass and insulting …”
Crass and insulting, indeed. For it seems that the medical profession needs to be educated not only in the recognition and diagnosis of Aids and related conditions, but also in the sensitivity with which the people affected need to be handled. The Mail on Sunday (August 17th) reported that “innocent” victims of Aids (mainly haemophiliacs) are going to sue local health authorities for millions of pounds. Apparently, they aren’t just worried about having the disease but also about the “social consequences of being tainted by the so-called ‘gay plague’.” Leaving aside the grossly offensive idea that some people are “innocent” victims of Aids whilst other are, somehow, culpable, we’ll concentrate on the other issue. Surely the wrong people are being sued in this case, because if there are “social consequences” and “taints” then they have been created almost entirely by newspapers like The Sun, The Star and The News of the World. If the lawyers who represent the unfortunate “innocents” want to sue on grounds of “taint” then it is the callous Fleet Street hacks who have made money out of tragedy and suffering who should be in the dock.
We have two new columnists to welcome to the ranks of those already spreading the word. The first is a familiar face who we thought (hoped?) had faded into obscurity when he retired from editorship of Private Eye. Yes, it’s your friend and mine Richard Ingrams. His first effort for The Sunday Telegraph(August 17th) re-iterated a point made by Mary Whitehouse earlier. He says that presentation on television of homosexuality as normal is increasing the spread of Aids. “To put it crudely,” he writes, “many are dead and will die thanks to the modern permissive approach to homosexuality that they (BBC & Channel 4) have helped to promote.”
Mr Ingrams fails to tell us in this piece of propaganda just how much he, personally, hates homosexuals. He has said many times in the past that homosexuality makes him feel sick, so why should we imagine that anything he writes about it is motivated by logic or reason or concern? His real motivation is a strange sickness over which he obviously has no control—it is called homophobia. Mr Ingrams is the one who should fear for his health—his neuroses are showing.
Then, in The Sun, we have a new writer called Dave Banks, who looks like something they’ve just dragged off the football terraces and writes accordingly. “When I was a kid we worried about The Bomb and Red Menace. Forget it. The new apocalyptic nightmare is drugs and the Aids epidemic which are sweeping our decadent society like twin Biblical scourges.” And on and on. When are they going to employ a columnist that has something fresh and, perhaps, a bit less obvious to say?
Another “one of the boys” is Joe Ashton MP, who writes in The Starwith all the phoney working-class bonhomie of a practised politician. In his column (August 11th) he was ranting about how seeing gays outside Heaven nightclub made him feel uncomfortable and how “too much of a gay thing is asking for ridicule.” “No wonder there was such a big fuss about the Royal Wedding,” he says, “I was beginning to think that they were the only people in London under 30 who weren’t kinky. Which is not true. But it is true that the old 1967 joke ‘no need to worry it will not be compulsory’ which was cracked when parliament stopped it being illegal, is beginning not to look so daft.”
And so he goes on, saying how he “has nothing against” etc. etc. and then heaping ridicule upon us. Mr Ashton is a classic example of a white, heterosexual male who is frightened out of his wits at the merest whiff of a challenge to his assumed superiority. He is petrified at the prospect of having to concede ground to those he has been brought up to despise, and so he gets ridiculously aggressive.
I think what we have here is a case of pinch the pig and hear it squeal.
THE August 10th issue of The Sunday People was almost completely devoted to gay issues. Such a restrained and balanced approach, too: “SOCIETY GAY AND DRUG PROBE” was the front-page headline, relating to the death of Vikki de Lambray. This ran over to page 4. Later on, ‘Straight talking’ John Smith regaled us with “Too tough on this sad victim of a dirty old man”—which said that an 18-year old youth who had slashed the face of a 74-year old man because he had “tried to interfere” with the “tipsy teenager” had been unjustly sentenced to eight months youth custody. Mr Smith would have us believe that the youth ‘accidentally’ found himself naked in bed with the older man before the incident happened. I’m not interested in the whys and wherefores of this case, but Mr Smith comes out firmly on the side of the knife-wielder who, if we’re to believe the columnist, was totally innocent and only recently departed from his mother’s knee. “Fred is behind bars while a perverted old poofter … is free to chat up any unsuspecting youngster who catches his lustful eye.”
So, what does Mr Smith advocate—free pardons, perhaps, for those who lead gays on and then, when it comes to the crunch, turn violent? With the increasing acceptance in courts of the “homosexual panic” plea such a concept seems to be well on the way.
But if we don’t like what Mr Smith is saying, we can always turn the page and read the latest from the “lesbian love triangle” case. If that doesn’t suit you, then you can read insinuations that bean-spilling royal valet Stephen Barry (already ‘exposed’ as gay in a previous issue) has Aids. There are horrendous before and after pictures for good measure.
On page 29 we have Larry Grayson telling us about “The Moment I Decided Not to Marry”. Apparently, it was because he had promised his dying father that he would look after his sister. Phew! For a moment I thought he was going to say it was because he was gay, but seemingly he isn’t.
And neither is Hilda Ogden. Actress Jean Alexander told Woman’s Own that she was still a virgin at the age of 60 and this was picked up by most of the tabloids who repeated her words of wisdom. The Mirror (August 11th) reported Jean as saying, “I like men—I’m not funny or anything like that.” She maintains that sex is not dirty but just ‘overrated.’ And I’m not the first one to ask: how on earth would she know?
Whilst we’re on the subject of who isn’t gay, we turn to The Sun (August 15th). “I am not a lesbian says Beryl Reid.” But who suggested she was? Well, nobody except The Sun. So, what was the point of the story? You might as well ask: what’s the point of The Sun.
You open our morning paper and are horrified by some outrageously anti-gay item. Surely, you think, they can’t get away with this? You don’t want to let it pass so what can you do? The first thing that most people would think of is the Press Council. This “newspaper watchdog is supposed to be our protection against the excesses of Fleet Street, isn’t it?
But what exactly can the Press Council do? And if you decide to take your grievance to them can you expect a fair deal? The first thing you have to bear in mind is that the Press Council is financed by the newspapers themselves and cynics would say that the newspapers are happy to have such a “self-regulating body because it discourages the government of the day introducing any more stringent and effective means of recourse when journalists overstep the mark.
Why bother with legislation to curb the newspapers’ bad behaviour when you already have the Press Council—or so the argument goes.
Membership of the Press Council is made up of people from the newspaper industry and members of the general public, in about equal measure. There is no representation from the National Union of Journalists, however—they decided in 1980 that the Press Council was “wholly ineffective” and boycotted it.
To see what kind of reception complaints from gay people get, we can take a look at a few instances from the past month.
You might remember the outrageous’ front page story in THE SUN last May about the children’s book Jenny Lives with Eric and Martin. “Vile Book in Schools” screamed the headline. David Northmore of North London decided to complain and on February 3rd, nine months after the event, the Press Council upheld his complaint saying that The Sun’s story was “exaggerated and misleading”.
But you would never have guessed that the judgment had gone against them from reading The Sun’s own version of the report, which began: “The Press Council has upheld The Sun’s right to report criticism of a shocking children’s book showing a little girl in bed with her homosexual father and his naked male lover.”
As is usual with Press Council reports, it was featured at the very bottom of the final news page in extremely small print. The Sun, as usual, laughs at its critics and flaunts its lies with impunity.
Then the same Mr Northmore complained about The Sunday Mirror which had carried a story about a holiday being organised by the Lesbian and Gay Youth Movement. The Sunday Mirror alleged that “children and young people were being lured into a sinister web of gay sex” by the proposed holiday. Mr Northmore maintained that the Lesbian and Gay Youth Movement was a “credible and respectable” organisation. The complaint was rejected.
Next, our old friend “Mills” of The Star attracted a complaint from T P Murphy of the Wimbledon Area Gay Society. This followed a particularly vicious attack on gays which “Mills” had couched in extreme and violent language. The Press Council agreed that the article was “crude and abusive” but accepted the paper’s explanation that the “opinions expressed in the Mills column were those of a fictitious man whose thoughts resembled those of many readers based on thousands of letters received each week.” The Council rejected the complaint saying that the article had not been “irresponsible”.
Interestingly, in its report the Press Council chose to put inverted commas around the term ‘gay community’ but left the word ‘woofter’ undecorated. This might reveal something of the thinking of the people who reached the ridiculous conclusion that Mills’ article was not meant to incite violence and hatred against gays.
So, we have to accept that, in the main, gay complaints are unlikely to get a sympathetic hearing and are only likely to be upheld if there is a factual inaccuracy in the story being complained about. If you decide to make a complaint to the Press Council on a gay-related issue, not only will you be involved in a long and time-consuming investigation (one complaint that I made took nine months to adjudicate and involved me in writing over twenty-five letters) but, in the end, there is no guarantee that the offending paper will do anything at all about it.
Permission seems to have been granted by the Press Council for Fleet Street and Wapping to abuse gay people and the gay community in whatever ways it pleases, however offensive. Dehumanising terms like “poofter”, “queer” and “lezzie” are common currency in tabloid newspapers these days.
There is also the danger of finding yourself on the receiving end of the fury and spite of papers like The Sun. This is what happened to a man called Terry McCabe who dared to complain to the Press Council about the way that paper had done a very nasty hatchet job on him after he had refused to cross the Wapping picket line.
The Press Council found that The Sun had “cobbled the story together” on very flimsy evidence in order to revenge itself on Mr McCabe. On the day that the Council’s judgment was published (9 Feb) The Sun did a further full-page character assassination on Mr McCabe, not only repeating the original allegations but elaborating on them. So, as you can see, there are definite dangers in upsetting the editor of The Sun.
So, is there anything at all we can do about it? The answer is: not much. You can try a letter to the editor or a phone call to the paper, but most people who’ve tried this approach have found it a waste of time. One other possibility is the National Union of Journalists “ethics council” which looks into breaches of journalistic ethics. They will consider complaints from members of the public. In serious cases they have the power to discipline or even expel offenders. I have a complaint pending against Ray (Biffo) Mills of The Star, which will be heard later this month. I’ll let you know how it goes, and whether this avenue will be of any more use than the Press Council.
Last month in Gay Times, the Conservative Group for Homosexual Equality were anxious for us to know that Mrs Thatcher had been appalled by the infamous “gas the queers” remarks of the equally infamous Councillor Brownhill of South Staffordshire District Council. This month, however, the press wanted us to know that Mrs Thatcher supported the ‘swirling cesspit’ views of James Anderton.
The Daily Express (24 Jan) said: “Standing up for the silent moral majority, Mrs Thatcher applauded the Manchester chief constable and others who have publicised their views on the issue.” So, who are we to believe? For surely Councillor Brownhill was one of those “publicising their views on the issue.”
Harder to pin down are the opinions of Neil Kinnock. Yes, he’s sent messages of support to Gay Pride demos, but he’s hardly been in the forefront of his party’s support for gay rights. However, a glimmer of hope shone briefly in The Independent (13 Feb), when it published extracts from a private letter which had been written by the Labour leader to a party member living in his own home borough of Ealing, West London. In the letter, Mr Kinnock “vigorously defended his local council” (including its pro-gay policies) against attacks made on it by Tory MPs and the press. He said that the sex education policy (which encourages “respect” for gay relationships) had been “hideously misrepresented” so as to alarm parents. He said that there had been a lot of “prejudice-mongering”.
Can we take it from this that Neil really does believe in what his radical party colleagues are doing to help gays, but doesn’t want to play into the hands of Fleet Street by being too up-front about it in an election year?
I think I could forgive him for that, if it means we get rid of that woman and all her dubious supporters. Speaking of which, we had a taste of the Tory party of the future when the blood-curdling Young Conservatives at their conference debated whether homosexuality should be recriminalized.
If you thought the Tories under Thatcher were frightening, you should tremble at the prospect of what is to come if this bunch of young proto-fascists is the face of Toryism in the future.
The Sun had it in for Jimmy Somerville last month (and apologies to Jimmy if I gave the impression that he had granted an interview to that paper. I accept that he didn’t—they just made it look that way). This month they’ve gone to town on The Housemartins. Not satisfied with “exposing” the fact that the group doesn’t all originate from Hull as they had claimed, it then (31 Jan) went on to reveal that “the top pop stars are hiding a sad sex secret—three of the group are gay.” What the adjective “sad” is doing there is a secret known only to the journalist who wrote it. Indeed, the whole piece is peppered with similar weasel words, suggesting that the group’s gay members consider their sexuality to be some kind of tragedy, which I’m sure is not true.
Then on Feb 14, The Sun returned to the attack, criticising the group for having used a photograph of an old man on a record cover without first seeking his permission. But given The Sun’s own reputation for snoop photography and some of the despicable stunts it has pulled in that line, the burst of self-righteous anger seems laughable—or perhaps pathetic would be a better word.
Back to the execrable Mills in The Star. He continues to dispense his weekly dose of anti-gay bile. On February 27 he chided “woofter apologists” for suggesting he might be gay himself. “If Mills is such a ferocious critic of their sexual habits then he must per se and QED practice them himself. Or if he doesn’t practise them, then these tendencies must be lying dormant and his, in fact, a latent woofter himself… but the repugnant mechanics of sodomite sex fill Mills with disgust.”
Yes, yes, yes, Biffo, we’ve heard all this before. But can I remind you of the case of Roy Cohn, who was right-hand man to the ghastly Senator McCarthy in America during the fifties. You will remember that these two gents were responsible for hounding hundreds of homosexuals out of their jobs in the US Government maintaining that homosexuality was a “threat to the nation’s security” and so on. Mr Cohn was a fanatical persecutor of gays. Last year, he died of Aids contracted from one of his male lovers.
Indeed, as many gays have found to their cost, the most vicious opponents of homosexuals have come from within our own ranks. Mr Mills should bear that in mind.
There seems to be a widespread opinion in the press that churchmen have something useful and relevant to contribute to the Aids debate. There is a constant cry for the churches to “take a moral lead”, which seems to mean in journalese to get everybody back into chastity belts.
The Daily Mail tells us that an “anti-Aids leaflet for Roman Catholics, warning that it is wrong to use condoms, is being distributed in Scotland.” It seems these priests put their senseless dogma before the safety of their flock – or, perhaps as Mrs Currie would have it, “good Christians” have some kind of magic immunity to HIV,
Meanwhile, in Harringey, north London, where the council has the most advanced gay rights commitment in the country (and also the most virulent aggro from opponents), the extremist churches are really going to town. Not only have we got the sad spectacle of a vicar who is prepared to starve himself to death before he’ll allow other people to have a dignified life, we now have the Moonies moving in. City Limits magazine (29 Jan) reported a Moonie-front organisation called The New Patriotic Movement setting itself up. A creepier development would be hard to imagine. When asked if they thought their activities (which includes displaying banners reading “Gays = Aids = Death”) bred intolerance and intimidation of homosexuals, a spokesman for NPM said: “That is not our intention, but if it happens it is an unfortunate consequence.”
I hoped the local gay organisations in Harringey are exploiting this development for all it’s worth. “Concerned parents” should know just what sort of people are speaking on their behalf, then they might have something to genuinely worry about.
A round-up of the opinions of the mainstream religionists was reported in The Guardian (29 Jan). Responding to James Anderton’s disgusting vision of “morality”, the Bishops said their piece.
Dr John Habgood, said that “While the Church had always been clear in condemning promiscuity it had spoken with a divided voice on homosexuals in stable relationships. As a Christian I will always value stable relationships; when they are homosexual many church people not now condemn it. We shall have to work our attitudes out.”
Dr Hugh Montefiore, Bishop of Birmingham, contributed his opinion that “Mr Anderton sometimes give the impression of seeing just a wicked homosexual scene whereas the moral issue is much more complicated.”
The Bishop of Stepney, the Right Reverend James Thompson, urged: “a better understanding of the problems of homosexuals. They get pushed into cheap relationships because they have to act in secret.”
Personally, I couldn’t give a monkey’s about what the prattling prelates think of me or my style of life – their approval or disapproval is of little consequence to most gay people. But as they do seem to carry some influence in society.Perhaps they ought to use this power to make these points more widely known. If they give a stronger lead in promoting better understanding of homosexual men and women, then they might be able to avert some of the disasters which are surely coming our way. At that point I might be able to consider that they had some relevance to our lives.
The Mail on Sunday magazine sailed close to the wind with a profile of President Reagan’s son, Ron. On the cover of that edition was a photo of the man, in full theatrical make-up, embracing his mother with the headline: “Nancy’s Boy.” Of course, there have been rumours about Ron Jnr being gay for some time now – they started after he joined a ballet company. He denies the rumours and also maintains that his father is not anti-gay. But if that is so, says The Mail on Sunday, “how does one explain his alliance with fundamentalist preachers who see homosexuality as an abomination?”
“It’s a political alliance, clearly, and it’s pandering to an extent to the far right,” explains Ron Jnr.
“Scandalmongers,” says the article, “were silenced when Ron married Doria Palmieri in 1981.”
As we know, there aren’t any married homosexuals, so that’s all right. You can rest easy in your bed, Mr President.
Finally, a few quickies. An excellent article with the sub-heading “James Anderton should thank God for the gays” appeared in The New Scientist (29 Jan) and explained the invaluable service gays have done the world by being almost totally responsible for the discovery of a vaccine to prevent Hepatitis B, and how we’ll probably play a similar role in the eradication of Aids.
A poll of young people between the ages of 15 and 24 published in The Sunday Mirror (15 Feb) showed that 24 per cent agreed with the statement “Gays deserve Aids” while 60 per cent disagreed. The paper concludes that young people aren’t anti-homosexual.
John Smith wrote in The People “Recently released statistics make it plain that it is the homosexual community which is almost entirely to blame for the spread of the deadly disease. It is about time the Government faced up to this fact … instead of wrongly insinuating that Aids is something which threatens every respectable family in the land.”
Does Mr Smith know that in 1981 there were only 4 known cases of Aids among gay men? And look at the situation now. There are some 20 known cases of Aids having been caught from heterosexual sex at present – but who knows what the situation will be in four or five years if people like Mr Smith continue to encourage such dangerous complacency? The man ought to be drummed out of his job as a danger to society.
Princess Diana is reported in The People (8 Feb) to be worried at the prospect of visiting a hospital ward where people with Aids are being cared for. Whether she actually expressed these fears or whether they were an invention of the press doesn’t really matter, the damage is already done.