GAY TIMES 101, February 1987

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.

GAY TIMES 103, April 1987

“Look out, look out, wherever you are – Rupert’s coming to find you.”

That’s the message to gays who think they’re safe in the closet—and you don’t have to be a celebrity to find yourself on the end of the tabloid exposé machine. This month’s list runs from Elton John through Harvey Proctor, Russell Harty and even a vicar from Peterborough. Rentboys, agents provocateurs and sneaking, slimy journos have been colluding this month to ruin the lives of honest citizens.

There have been a record number of front pages over the past few weeks in THE SUN, THE STAR and DAILY MIRROR, devoted to “Naked Arab Boys”, “Gay Mag Boys”, “Rent Boy Riddles” and “Elton’s Mock Wedding to a Man”. The grotesque thing about the sickos who run these rags is that if they miss the story themselves, they moralise about the other papers who beat them to it. “Even if the stories are true,” says Alix Palmer in The Star (4 March) about Russell Harty, “why should they alter our judgement of someone who, from time to time, occupies our television screen? Either he entertains us or he doesn’t.”

Fine words—except that I haven’t the slightest doubt that if The Star had been offered the dirt by the greedy little git who went to the News of the World first, they’d have snapped it up.

The Daily Mirror (4 March) said: “He [Harty] sticks in my mind as the most charming, wonderfully amusing and genuinely interesting star I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.” Once again it’s good to see the Maxwell mob decrying the News of the World’s penchant for paying rent boy sneaks for the sordid details. But wasn’t it only one day later that THE MIRROR carried the front-page headline: “Naked Arab under MPs Bed”, exposing Harvey Proctor’s holiday fling with a Moroccan youth?”


Peter MacKay explored the whole phenomenon of these latest revelations in The London Evening Standard (2 March). “The rotten little creeps who have been parading through newspaper offices are unfit for any kind of work that does not involve self-absorbed acting out of tedious fantasies about themselves. An appallingly hypocritical theme has been developed which is designed to cast sympathy on the rent boy and greater odium on his alleged client. This is the old ‘fallen woman’ gambit. Having spouted the details (no doubt for gain) the rent boy suggests that male prostitution was his only way of making ends meet (so to speak) in the cruel Thatcher economic climate. The News of the World said of their latest squealing, pig-tailed rent boy: ‘Dean is now unemployed and has given up his life of vice.’”

The Star (March 5) offered, a different explanation: “If you have been wondering why these verminous rent boys have been emerging from their lairs to tell their stories, it is because business is at a standstill. Aids has deprived them of a living, so they have been making a buck by selling their sordid kiss-and-tell memoirs—or should that read spank-and-tell?”

Perhaps the whole thing was best summed up by Derek Jameson in Today (7 March): “The shame falls not on the head of those betrayed but rather on those who open their purses to these scavengers. I feel more guilty than most. I once edited the News of the World.”

Less understandable was The Guardian’s decision to run a court report (4 March) about a cottaging incident: “A vicar tried to solicit a plain clothes police officer for immoral purposes in a public lavatory.” The unfortunate clergyman’s full name and address was published. The Guardian is supposed to be the champion of liberal values, and yet it acted in concert with the police to make the victim of this entrapment suffer even more. What The Guardian failed to ask was what a plainclothes policeman was doing, hanging around in a public lavatory, if he wasn’t acting as an agent provocateur. Nor did they ask whether setting out to destroy the lives of good citizens is the best use of police resources at a time when there is an explosion of violent and murderous crime.


It was Francis Williams who said: “Newspapers indicate more plainly than anything else the climate of the societies to which they belong.”

Which is bad news for gay men, because if what appears in newspapers is genuinely a reflection of society’s attitudes to us, we are in for a very rough time indeed. The News of the World invited its oh-so well-informed readers to say what they thought about Aids, and apparently half those that replied thought that “homosexuality should be made an illegal offence” (sic). But the majority also said that carriers should be sterilised and given treatment to curb their sexual appetite, and pregnant women who have the virus should be compelled to have abortions.”

Anyone who took even two minutes to think about these questions would realise how stupid and dangerous they are. What on earth do these polls of pathetically ignorant people, compiled by alarmingly unenlightened journalists signify? All they tell us is that the British population is grotesquely ill-informed and their lack of knowledge is being encouraged by these mischievous newspapers

Where it all may lead was explored in a feature in Today (24 Feb) headed “Big Brother Aids”. This article faced up to the prospect that I imagine has played a part in the nightmares of many gay people, of enforced isolation for those carrying the virus and, eventually, others in the “high risk groups”. Today says that the social consequences of such action would be “colossal”. “Huge numbers of people from every level of society would simply vanish from their jobs. Those who refused to be isolated would be criminals, hunted by specially formed Aids squads, and a fugitive underground would develop. The material cost of implementing this plan is incalculable, but the social cost is quite clear. It would mean, quite simply, that Britain would become a police state.”


An unexpected and consistently enlightened source of information on the Aids situation is The Financial Times. In its issue of 13 March it carried a guardedly optimistic piece which seemed to suggest that perhaps the dreadful predictions aren’t all going to come true. Statistics from America show that the rate of spread of the disease is slowing. In January 1982 it took five months for the number of cases to double. In December 1986 it was taking 13 months for the cases to double. This still represents tens of thousands of people, though, and the carnage will continue, so there is certainly no cause for complacency.

Another difference between the American experience of Aids and the British one is the attitude of agony aunts. In this country the advice-givers are by far the most liberal aspect of the press. They are well-informed and sympathetic to the problems of gay people. Contrast this with a woman called “Dear Dotti” who wrote in America’s Weekly World News (20 Jan). “Dear Dotti: I am a gay man and I’ve just learned that I have Aids … I’m so depressed I’ve seriously thought about blowing my brains out. I don’t care whether I live or die.”—Dotti replies: “Neither do I.” Yuch!


Now, it seems that even scummy, crummy, lowlife magazines like Titbit (Feb issue) feel that they are in a position to slag off the gay community. In a two-page lead article headed “Poofter’s Paradise” this outdated, smelly pile of garbage trotted out all the myths, distortions and political manipulations that we’ve grown tired of hearing over the past few years. Written by some money-grabbing creep called Jill Bedford, the article consisted of column after column of Mills-type abuse which we’ve become inured to and which I refuse to reproduce here. The author cites one lying newspaper article after another as justification for her rant but, in the end, says nothing that hasn’t already been said a hundred times before.

The editor of Titbits stands accused of allowing this kind of unjustifiable language into his columns without granting a right of reply to those who have been attacked. He should be ashamed of jumping on the sordid bandwagon that is inexorably leading to violence and prejudice against innocent gay people.


How on earth do sensible people remain loyal to certifiably insane churches? What is it that makes ordinarily intelligent individuals give credence to the ravings of crackpots? In The Sunday Express(1 March) we have The Rev. John Banner of Tunbridge Wells opining that “homosexuality and rising crime are due to women’s lack of control over children.” The raving Rev claims that women belong “at the kitchen sink” and says: “Children used to women refuse to would not react to men and this could lead to homosexuality.” Can you make sense of such bilge?

Then we have Cardinal Basil Hume, spouting off to an “audience of parents” in Greenford, Middlesex. According to The Ealing Gazette (20 Feb): “When parents asked him to take a strong stand against the teaching of homosexuality in Ealing schools he replied: ‘The Catholic stand on this is clear. Sexual relationships are only permitted in marriage. Tolerance is not the accepting of what we know to be wrong but showing sympathy and understanding for those who live differently.’” In other words, the silly old duffer doesn’t know what the devil he thinks.

At the same meeting, the waffling of the Cardinal was put into deep shade by Professor Anthony Pinching, an Aids specialist who condemned anti-gay prejudice in no uncertain terms, calling it “a most un-Christian way of encouraging the belief the killer virus was always someone else’s problem.” That will have ruffled the cosy complacency of the intolerant “parents” who had obviously gone along to the meeting for a spot of genteel gay-bashing, and whose depth of selfishness is sometimes quite breath-taking.

Catholic reactions to the Aids crisis in America have been brought to a head by the revelation that as many as “20 percent of Catholic priests are gay and half of them sexually active”. The Sunday Times (22 Feb) told of how the Catholic Church puts its much-vaunted ‘compassion’ into practice. “In Houston, a doctor who has treated eight priests with the disease says that ‘three of them were ejected, just told to leave’ when they informed their superiors of their illness. Four others had decided to leave the Church quietly … Increasingly the Roman Catholic church appears to be closing its doors on Dignity, an organisation which attempts to keep homosexuals within the church, although there is still room for another organisation, Courage, which attempts to counsel homosexuals either to lead a chaste life (in the case of priests) or become heterosexual.”


It was Charles Moore, writing in The Daily Express (6 March) who said: “Labour is the pro-homosexual party. Until recently its preoccupation with ‘gay rights’ was considered a bit of a joke. Now it’s beginning to stir up real rage.”

But is it really gay rights that is stirring up the rage or is it the relentless newspaper campaign of disinformation?

Let’s face it, there have been an unprecedented number of anti-gay headlines over the past couple of years and it is difficult to know who has the real preoccupation—the Labour Party or the newspapers. There is irrefutable evidence that most of the coverage of Labour’s support for gay rights has been either wild exaggeration or simple lies. The Association of Labour Authorities even went so far as to issue a list of examples, from national newspapers, of “loony left” stories showing each one of them to be outright invention.

Strange, isn’t it, how this report hasn’t been mentioned in any of the tabloid newspapers?

Now Labour—and many of its staunchest supporters—are left in a dilemma. Is the party, as some would have us believe, really distancing itself from its commitment to helping gay people, or is it just another Tory plot to cause in-fighting and bitterness within the ranks? The right-wing press are laughing up their sleeves at all this soul-searching, happy in the knowledge that they are almost entirely responsible for it.

GAY TIMES February 2007

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….