HIM 64, December 1983

There can be no doubt that homosexuality played a part in the life of Dennis Nilsen and in the deaths of his victims. [Note: Dennis Nilsen was a notorious serial killer who murdered at least 12 young gay men between 1978 and 1983 in London].

But, my, oh my, what a squalid picture the papers painted of gay lie in London following Nilsen’s trial.

Those without knowledge of the gay scene would be alarmed and sickened by the images created in the press. The media would have us believe the scene consisted entirely of innocent young boys from the provinces being preyed on by evil men in the capital. “There are middle-aged homosexual sharks, who know that to homeless young lads, seduction might seem a small price to pay for a few nights in a warm bed,” wrote Jeremy Sandford in THE DAILY MAIL.

Nobody is trying to pretend that this sort of thing doesn’t happen. Nilsen has illustrated that it does. But it goes on much less than they imply and the consequences are rarely so horrendous.

And anyway, whose fault is it if there are so many vulnerable young people walking the streets of London with no home, no money and few prospects?

No indication was given in the media that there is another gay scene — vibrant, lively and perfectly innocent — existing in London. The picture that emerged was relentlessly sordid.

And then there was the constant harping on the fact that Nilsen was homosexual/bisexual/ transvestite/necrophiliac (depending on which paper you read). The repeated connection made between homosexuality and dangerous madness (“The homosexual mass-killer” —DAILY EXPRESS; “Gay lovers macabre tale” —SUN) was alarming, if predictable.

As in the Brighton-PIE case, when it was assumed that all gay men are child-molesters, the Nilsen incident implied we were all potential mass killers or pathetic, inadequate drifters inhabiting, a squalid world of “seedy pubs” and doss-houses.

Perhaps the worst example of sensationalism at our expense was in The Daily Star: “Wearing heavy make-up, skirts and high heels, he would prowl the notorious Soho gay bars and clubs,” it leered. Then it went on to make a tenuous connection between Nilsen and David Martin. [Note: David Martin was a notorious criminal who reputedly carried out burglaries dressed in women’s clothes.]

According to The Daily Star Nilsen was ‘in love’ with Martin, even though they met only momentarily whilst on remand and then under the scrutiny of jailers. (“They were never alone, they met under the watchful eyes of prison officers.”) However, the paper manages to suggest that somehow the two men had a sexual relationship.

The ‘posh’ papers resisted the appeal of easy thrills and concentrated mainly on the contradictory psychiatric evidence.

Only the communist Morning Star turned the tables and repeatedly referred to “ex-probationary policeman Nilsen”.

Maybe it would be nearer the truth to suggest that Nilsen’s time in the army and police force did more to prepare him for his callous murders than did his gayness.

Homosexuality is not the culprit in this depressing case any more than heterosexuality was for The Yorkshire Ripper. But did you ever see Peter Sutcliffe referred to as the heterosexual serial killer? No, neither did I.


The usual way for the posh Sunday papers to review gay books is with an irritating tone of world-weary patronisation. How refreshing, therefore, to read Paul Bailey’s crit of ‘Mae West is Dead’ in The Observer.

Not only does he give the book a studied and comprehensive analysis, he also tells us why he is qualified to do so: “Thirty years ago, when I was coming to terms with the fact that I was ‘one of those’ nobody … talked openly about homosexuality.”

Nice one, Paul, I’ll even go out and buy the book.

I will not, however, be bothering with ‘Three Literary Friendships’ reviewed in The Sunday Times. Here the know-it-all-seen-it-all attitude re-surfaces, and as if to reassure us how sophisticated he is, critic Peter Ackroyd wallows in all the negative aspects of the friendships. This is particularly true of the section on the love affair between the poets Verlaine and Rimbaud. Ackroyd says of them: “If their destiny was the gutter that was because the gutter was the place they felt most at ease.”

Makes you want to puke, doesn’t it?


The deaths of two gay actors last month got much media coverage.

The inquest on Peter Arne, murdered by one of his casual pickups, ensured that the lurid details of his private life were dragged up. Poor Peter did not make a dignified final exit, and the papers ensured that everyone knew about it.

Peter Dudley (Bert Tilsley from Coronation Street), on the other hand, was accorded a fond farewell. THE SUN carried several photographs of the funeral, including one of a grief-stricken young man described as ‘a friend’ being comforted by Cheryl Murray (Suzy Birchal in The Street). THE SUN managed to mention Peter’s cottaging conviction only once, which for them must have been quite an effort.


D.B. LINE of Ashford, Kent wrote a letter to The Police Review attacking the idea of gay men as police officers: “May the service be ‘merry’ but not ‘gay’ and remain a service that can be respected by all walks of life. Gone, perhaps, is the Dock Green image of Jack Warner, but please don’t taint our image further.”

I don’t think the police need gay men to taint their image, D.B. Line, they are making a pretty good job of it themselves.


More and more medical staff are refusing to handle the bodies of AIDS victims in case they get “the gay plague” (as several newspapers continue to call it).

The latest horror is the refusal of a pathologist, Professor Keith Simpson, to carry out a post-mortem on Stewart Thompson-Neill who died at Whipps Cross, Hospital, London.

In its coverage of the story, The Daily Mails says starkly, “AIDS is a disease carried by homosexuals.”

If the hysteria persists (and how can it do otherwise when fuelled by such emotive press coverage), how long will it be before AIDS victims are turned away from hospitals altogether?

It’s time for a bit of calm discussion in the media about what is actually known about AIDS. Or is calling for a bit of restraint from our press just asking for too much?

HIM 66, February 1984

Dr Goebbels was Hitler’s minister for propaganda. It was his job to twist, distort and invent news and create government-approved opinion in the minds of the German people.

If he had been alive today it’s likely he would be editing the London EVENING STANDARD.

This detestable paper has such a consistent policy of misrepresenting groups it judges to be “dissident” that it must be regarded as nothing but a mouth-piece for the establishment. It operates just like Pravda in Russia, telling its readers only what the regime wants them to know.

Gays are frequent victims of the smearing campaigns — as are CND, the GLC and the Greenham Peace Women.

Recently the GLC made a grant to the London Gay Teenage Group. THE STANDARD blasted the news with three-inch headlines: “Rates Grant for Teenage Gays.” It went into detail about the objections raised by the seemingly permanently ‘outraged’ Tories on the GLC. It did not mention why the grant was given or needed.

However, a few days earlier the GLC had made a grant to a half-way house for rehabilitating mental patients back into the community: this is an area the Tories have neglected scandalously. The grant was ten times the size of the one given to the gay teenagers. THE STANDARD gave the story three paragraphs on the last news page.

It is THE STANDARD which is almost totally responsible for creating the myth that the GLC gives away half its rates to gays. Neither the Nazis nor the Kremlin would be unfamiliar with THE STANDARD’S tactics.


At last a little bit of sanity in the matter of caring for AIDS victims.

Following the hysterical refusal of a Home Office Coroner to do a post mortem on a suspected AIDS death, the Royal College of Nursing’s Margaret Lee said in the college’s newspaper: “As a profession which says nursing is exclusively our prerogative, we can’t suddenly opt out because of our taboos and fears.”

It takes people with real dedication to talk like that. Are you listening Professor Keith Simpson?


IN 1978 a man called Dan White marched into City Hall, San Francisco and murdered the Mayor George Moscone and Harvey Milk, the city’s first elected “out” gay official. White was given a seven-year jail sentence and, by the time you read this, he will have been released.

In The Observer William Scobie tells of the feelings of fury still fermenting in the Castro area of San Francisco, the famous gay ghetto. “The wounds are still fresh, still festering,” said Harry Britt, a gay activist who took over Harvey Milk’s seat on the board. “White is a walking provocation if he stays here.”

White’s derisory sentence for such a cold-blooded and calculated double-murder underlines the frightening corruption that seems endemic in American public life.

I hate retribution and feel that revenge only degrades — but if this swaggering murderer were to be picked off by some vengeful homosexual I would shed tears only for a gay brother who felt driven to such an act.


The Daily Mirror reports that Mrs Mary Whitehouse won ‘substantial’ libel damages against the Observer because it published an extract from a book which said “she was the sort of person who would have been at home in Nazi Germany.”

I, of course, have nothing to add.


In a superb feature in The New Statesman, ex-Gay News literary editor Alison Hennegan exposes the hypocrisy at work in the world of literature and literary criticism.

She tells of how, when she worked on the old Gay News, she would approach well-known writers whom she knew to be gay and ask them to contribute. Desperately afraid that their reputations would be ‘tainted’ they invariably refused.

She also tackles the old chestnut of our choice of the word ‘gay’ to describe ourselves. “‘Gay’ and ‘lesbian’ say quite clearly that sex is always political: individuals can never experience it — however passionately they may long to do — in an emotional and moral vacuum insulated from the beliefs, values and conflicts which shape the rest of society.”

Hope New Statesman readers are receptive.


JEAN ROOK (self-appointed First Lady of Fleet Street, but known to her friends as the First Twat of THE DAILY EXPRESS) used her column in THE DAILY EXPRESS to choose Christmas presents for famous people.

For Boy George she would like to give “Girl George”. And if that isn’t nauseating enough she says of Prince Charles: “A night out with the boys — to remind him that he was once one of them…”

Does the crow know something that we don’t?


TENNIS ace Billie Jean King has spoken about the consequences of her 7-year lesbian affair with hairdresser Marilyn Barnett. Unfortunately, Ms King’s only concern seems to be that she lost money by having her image ‘ruined’.

Silly Billie must join the ever-lengthening list of public figures who foolishly imagined that the closet was a safe place to be. It’s only when they’ve been dragged kicking and screaming out into the open that these unfortunate people have to acknowledge that the press is merciless in playing on their dishonesty.

Starting with Oscar Wilde and progressing through Jeremy Thorpe, Commander Tresstrail and Peter Tatchell, who all had to come clean after rather undignified denials, we have a terrifying list of ruined lives and wasted talent.

If Billie Jean and her ilk had been proud of their gayness they might have found some sort of respect for their courage. However, it would be foolish to believe that any public person at present languishing behind a barrier of lies is going to be the first to take the step.

But being up-front in the first place is the only way to rob the media of its gloating exposés.