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.
Once again, the fearless truth-mongers of Fleet Street have proved that no-one is safe in the closet. Wherever gay public figures hide, the press will winkle them out.
Poor old Martina Navratilova got the treatment over her relationship with Judy Nelson. Martina makes no secret of her sexuality, but poor Judy went straight into the “we’re just good friends” attitude. “My role is a kind of therapy for her. We are not having a love affair,” says Judy in THE SUNDAY MIRROR.
In THE SUNDAY PEOPLE she says “it’s ridiculous” to say they are lovers.
Meanwhile, ancient editor of THE SUNDAY EXPRESS, Sir John Junor lost the points I awarded him last month when he told Judy she was a fool to abandon heterosexual bliss in favour of “that hatchet faced lesbian”. You’re a silly pillock, Sir John.
But wait — who is this unexpected defender of our Martina? None other than old chisel-face herself, Jean Rook. In THE DAILY EXPRESS she takes male journalists to task for ignoring Martina’s superb tennis and concentrating on her “navvy shoulders” and unconventional looks.
After complaining that the Wimbledon champ doesn’t fancy her (can’t understand why, I’m sure) Rook says: “I object to the Oscar Wildean witch-hunt of this unusual and lonely figure, who doesn’t please men.” If Rook hadn’t spent so much time harassing gay people in the past, this might not ring quite so hollow.
And, much as they try to snipe at her, our Martina glides from triumph to triumph. And that’s something none of the bastards can take away from her.
Then THE SUN (“You scum,” Martina calls them — game, set and match Navratilova) caught up with Bill Buckley, star of the That’s Life TV show. Some disgruntled girl had shopped Bill to THE SCUM because he’d been “sleeping with” her boyfriend James. This was page one “news”.
After that we were treated to, the unedifying spectacle of Su (Hi-de-Hi) Pollard’s new husband being prised out of the closet in a rather sordid court case. “My Gay Love for Su’s Man” screeched the DAILY STAR on its front page.
There can be little doubt that the editors of the tabloid newspapers in this country are all on high-fibre diets. How else would they be able to produce a daily pile of shit with such monotonous regularity?
An interesting development in America was reported in THE GUARDIAN. The latest thing for male gay couples in the super-rich state of California is to “buy” a baby in Guatamala and smuggle it back to the United States. Such is their desperation to be parents that they are prepared to risk everything to have a child of their own. All the established methods of adoption are closed to gay couples.
The description of the risks they took reads like a rather unlikely novel, and the article was very sympathetic. “In his neat little jump suit in his baby chair, the baby had fallen asleep, just like any other much-loved baby anywhere in the world.” Everybody say “aah”.
A lovely feature in THE TIMES describes the exhibition at the Berlin Historical Museum documenting gay history in the Weimar Period. Before Hitler started sending the gay men and lesbians to concentration camps, there was a flourishing “scene” in the German capital.
Of course, there was opposition to the exhibition but this had the effect of making the organisers more determined to go ahead. “The museum itself, originally lukewarm about the project, said it became fully committed only when it experienced at first hand “the abuse and vehemence of anti-homosexual feeling.”
Can you imagine the British Museum organising something like this? That’ll be the day.
LONDON readers will hardly have been able to avoid the ubiquitous posters advertising the Argentinian God-shouter, Luis Palau.
This wanna-be Billy Graham (who is also wending his vulgar way around the country) hired the QPR football ground to tell those who already believe it that Jesus Saves. The hoardings show Mr Palau sitting on a throne-like chair, apparently floating in the clouds. No doubt practising to be God.
Anyway, according to THE EALING GAZETTE, our Luis tells his hysterical audience, (to the strains of the traitorous Cliff Richard) that “the blood of Jesus cleanses homosexuality, criminality and drug addiction.” The posters on the tube said simply “Bring your doubts”. Some wag had written underneath “and have them confirmed”.
I never thought I’d be joining in the cry of “Send them back where they came from” — but in the case of Luis Palau and Billy Graham, I’ll make an exception.
A frightening report in the SUNDAY EXPRESS tells of the blatantly racist French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen who is peddling the old “pure race” ideas. “He considers homosexuality a scandal and a threat to the birth-rate”, the article says. And Le Pen wants more and more “babies born of good French stock” and that means no foreigners and no homosexuals who delay the process of producing this Gallic master race.
Like all the other mental cases who’ve pushed these ideas before him, Le Pen is full of hatred, and seems to have unlimited venom for the minorities he has chosen as scapegoats.
Unlike our own National Front, who don’t seem to, be able to make much impression at all, Le Pen’s French National Front managed to poll eleven per cent of the votes in the recent European election. That represents an awful lot of foolish Frenchmen — with apparently very short memories.
The present strong gay influence on rock and pop music is now the talk of the tabloids. Several months after they were spotted by this magazine, THE SUN carried a feature on the amazing Frankie Goes to Hollywood. One of the group’s members Paul Rutherford says: “In fact it’s only Holly Johnson and I who are gay… There are far more important things to worry about than the fact some people go with blokes rather than women.” Whilst in THE DAILY EXPRESS, Bronski Beat (you could have read it in HIM months ago) – were featured with the comment: “There are so many clubs featuring gay nights that the boystown chart has been established to register the leading dance records.”
The British press has declared war on homosexuals. “The renewed open season on gays” was how Susan Hemmings described it in a letter to THE GUARDIAN, and it has gone well beyond the spiteful sniping we are used to. This month has seen one of the most concerted, sustained and vindictive attacks ever launched on our community.
Day after day the Big Guns have been firing off volleys of misinformation and distortion on the subject of AIDS. With apparent glee, papers like THE SUN and DAILY STAR have been allotting acres of space to bigots who seem to have been waiting patiently in the wings for this opportunity.
And by using this device (“Vicar says AIDS is the wrath of God”) the papers can publish the crudest and most despicable slanders without shouldering any of the responsibility: “We didn’t say it—we just quoted the vicar”.
THE SUN gave us a prime example when it afforded large prominence to a Liverpool publican who had banned gays from his pubs. “AIDS is a real threat to the moral fabric of society,” he was allowed to say. “A lot of ordinary people are going to catch something from beer glasses. We don’t want gays on the premises. Let’s face it, they’re the ones who causes it.”
Just the worthless opinion of some ignorant landlord, maybe, but it was given the front page treatment. It also gave The SUN the opportunity to headline: “Beer mugs may spread the disease”.
If all this sounds like superstitious clap, trap, you ain’t seen nothing yet, for it takes the media’s “intellectuals” to give the wrath of God Theory credence. With the contorted logic much-favoured by propagandists who can’t make a real case, Peregrine Worsthorne in The SUNDAY TELEGRAPH wrote: “The public’s first reaction to this new danger will be to look for a scapegoat—a search which, in this case, presents no difficulty at all, the male homosexual being the obvious candidate. Not that scapegoat is quite the right word, it carries with.it the suggestion— wholly inappropriate in the case of, AIDS – of some innocent person or group being forced to bear the undeserved burden… In the case of Aids, male homosexuals undoubtedly are responsible. According to Mr Worsthorne, then, homosexuals have had it coming for some time and now they’re going to get it – the only thing missing from his piece was “praise the Lord.”
But who, in Peregrine Worsthorne’s reckoning, is “innocent” and who “guilty”? All I know is that if he’d used the world Jew or black instead of homosexual he would have been hauled up under the Race Relations Act.
So how are we, the guilty ones, going to be punished? Well, to start with they can take our jobs away. That’s the idea of fat-arsed, thick-headed Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens who, according to THE DAILY EXRESS urged the Government to tighten up on local authorities who “encourage” homosexual teachers.
Expanding on this theme, THE EXPRESS editorialised: “Why was the Reverend Gregory Richards, a homosexual, employed as a chaplain in the prison service? ‘God knows how many people he has infected with the disease. Equal rights for homosexuals cannot operate in sensitive appointments when such risks as AIDS exist.”
And never missing an opportunity to kick a man when he’s dead, the emetic editor of THE SUNDAY EXPRESS, John Junor, wrote: “Shouldn’t there be a post mortem on how Rev Gregory Richards, a known homosexual, came to be given and allowed to keep for so long, a prison service job in an institution for teenage offenders.”
And isn’t it time there was a post mortem on Sir John Junor – preferably a real one.
THE SUN’S infinitely questionable editorial voice settled for prison sentences. “We believe that all would-be blood donors should be asked to declare that they are not practising homosexuals. If it was discovered that they had lied, then an automatic jail sentence should be imposed.”
But which jails would all these convicted blood donors be sent to? Very few, it seems, for those tough prison screws turn out to be just like those silly people who stand on chairs and scream when they see a mouse. AIDS is not a mouse, I agree, but there is no need for this overreaction.
The same ludicrous panic seems to have spread to firemen who have decided that they won’t use the kiss-of-life any more even though “it saves about 1000 lives a year by reviving victims of fires, road crashes and other tragedies,” said THE SUNDAY PEOPLE. The paper seemed oblivious to the fact that their mad three-inch headlines about the disease might have something to do with creating the firemen’s fear.
Meanwhile the lead story of the same edition (“Scandal of AIDS cover-up on QE2”) was about Cunard not making a big fuss about an AIDS victim (“a homosexual millionaire”) being taken off their flagship. “Astonishing” said THE PEOPLE — which presumably would have preferred the passengers to abandon ship in mid-Pacific.
People who behave rationally and with compassion in dealing with AIDS victims are being increasingly vilified. Like Dr John Newman, the BBC’s medical officer who allowed a man (“a homosexual in his 30s) according to THE SUNDAY MIRROR to work at TV Centre until he died of pneumonia. “I knew this man had AIDS but I felt it was safe for him to carry on working.” “BBC let AIDS man keep on working,” screeched THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH.
It would be a mortal shame if this kind of exaggerated reaction discouraged people from acting sensibly for fear of being persecuted by the press.
To be fair there have been a few voices raised within the media’s ranks, trying to bring a bit of balance. But they have been few, and far from prominent.
Alix Palmer, a columnist on THE DAILY STAR, attacked Peregrine Worsthorne as “a morality-monger” and said the Rev Owen (“homosexuals should repent”) Leigh-Williams was “riddled with superstition and not much common sense.” Whilst John Smith in THE SUNDAY PEOPLE said that the opportunist vicar was “talking through his dog-collar”. Smith also wrote: “It would be disastrous if this lead to the kind of hysteria which gripped the United States where people feared they might catch the disease simply by being served by a homosexual waiter or handling change from a homosexual bus conductor.” Disastrous indeed. Perhaps Mr Smith should have a word with his editor about that.
THE GUARDIAN commented: “Practical steps might beneficially be accompanied by a wider recognition that male homosexuals who are bearing the main brunt of this cruel and dreadful disease need all the support and understanding a supposedly caring society can provide.
THE DAILY MIRROR wrote an editorial that pinpointed the dangers. “It is homosexuals who are at risk most of all. If the present scare continues they will be treated as lepers, socially and politically, as well as medically. The Ministry of Health must publicise clearly and honestly what the dangers are. Making ADS a notifiable disease must not be an excuse for a witch hunt against homosexuals, but part of a campaign to stop it spreading.”
Perhaps Mr Maxwell could take some of his own advice and use The Daily Mirror as a publicity tool to put the record straight, and some of his money to stop the tidal wave of terror.
But the low point, the very pits, came from The DAILY STAR: “Do homosexual lawyers get legal AIDS? Do gay orange growers get marmalAIDS and do teetotallers get lemon AIDS?” Hilarious isn’t it? But here’s an even funnier one that will appeal to the Fleet Street wags. Did you hear about THE DAILY STAR journalist who had a stroke and was paralysed all down one side until he died in agony a few days later? Thought that one would tickle you.
So how do we protect ourselves from this relentless press onslaught? What can we do in our own defence?
First, we have to somehow get over to people the knowledge that AIDS is not a “plague” — gay or otherwise. It is not highly contagious. Unfortunately, this is the myth the press are most determined to foster. They surreptitiously suggest you can get AIDS from a beer glass or from a church cup or from even being in the same room as gays. You do not get AIDS like you get the ‘flu and people must be made to understand this.
Here are a few things we can all do, and if you think of others, please write to Gay Times and share them:
Blitz the editors and journalists of the offending newspapers with letters and phone calls. It might be that the reporters just don’t understand the issues. If this is the case, we have to make them understand. Letters to correspondence columns can help redress the balance of distorted reporting; this is particularly true of the regional press which is much more likely to print letters from readers. The newspapers are tireless in their efforts to discredit and defame us—we must be equally vigorous in our own defence. Make a habit of writing protest letters—by the score if necessary.
Write to your MP explaining your disquiet over newspaper coverage. Tell him or her that it is time the Government took stronger measures to disseminate the truth. You could hammer home the need for more money to be allocated to AIDS research.
Put friends, family and colleagues in the picture as much as possible. Explain that the media is not giving a clear picture of what is happening—then tell them the known facts. You can help yourself in this task by obtaining a supply of leaflets about AIDS from the Health Education Council, 13-39 Standard Road, London NW10 6HD. The printed word undoubtedly has more authority than the spoken one—a fact the press use to their advantage.
If you are a member of the National Union of Journalists (or you know someone who is) raise the matter of the disgraceful incitement to panic at chapel meetings. Remind your fellow members of the NUJ guidelines detailing how AIDS should be reported, which were issued last August and which have been flagrantly disregarded.
Individual members of the public can make complaints to the National Union of Journalists as an alternative to the totally ineffective Press Council. Offending journalists can be brought before their chapels and disciplined if the offence is serious enough.
Make a donation to The Terrence Higgins Trust. This is the only organisation trying to counter the panic and hysteria with hard facts and authoritative comments. We must ensure that the Trust survives and their work expands as it becomes more and more vital to all of us.
We are all worried about AIDS—not only about the disease but about the reactions to it and the implications for gay people. We must support each other and unite for a fight back. Discuss AIDS with your friends and make sure you are aware of the facts. Talk about your fears and let’s think seriously about the changes we can make in our lifestyles to ensure the disease is checked. People who are on their own and worried about what is happening should not remain isolated—get in touch with a gay helpline and talk through your fears.
We’ve been well represented on telly this month starting with a modest little American documentary called Greetings from Washington (C4), a simple record of the 1979 Gay Pride march there. Then we were given a chilling glance of what life was like for gays in pre-1967 Britain in the Dirk Bogarde film Victim (C4). It is difficult to believe that only twenty years separates us from those terrible times.
Those intervening two decades are supposed to have been the “permissive” era and in Twenty Years On (ITV), David Frost chaired a lively, if superficial, discussion about the whole thing, including contributions from Denis Lemon, Richard Kirker and Germaine Greer. There was cheering news that a Gallup poll revealed that 82% of the British public thought that “homosexuals have rights”.
What seemed to be emerging was that people don’t feel happy with ‘movements’—be they gay or women’s—but they have no trouble accommodating individual people’s needs and feelings.
Germaine Greer popped up again presenting a religious programme called Choices (BBC1) in which sexuality—and particularly homosexuality-was discussed from a ‘spiritual aspect.’ Instead of the usual stereotyped responses from the fundamentalists, we had a rational (as far as reason can enter into religion) debate which came down firmly in favour of progress. Perhaps, though, this had something to do with the composition of the participating panel than a real change of heart amongst orthodox religionists.
The most pervasive image in the papers last month was that picture of Rock Hudson—gaunt and enfeebled. Day after day the same sunken-eyed, hollow-cheeked face looked out from headlines which ranged from “Rock Hudson Dying of Cancer” (SUN) to—when Aids was confirmed—”I saw Rock Wed Man” (NEWS OF THE WORLD), and the floodgates opened once more.
Poor Rock Hudson. The vultures have swooped in to pick at his bones before he’s even dead. “Our gay nights out with AIDS victim Rock” gloated THE SUN whilst THE STAR ran a three-day series purporting to be “the truth about Rock Hudson” which told us nothing but that Rock Hudson is gay and dying from Aids.
All the old clichés were wheeled out “Living a lie”, “secret torment” “bizarre lifestyle” and so on. Oh how they wallowed in it. John Junor in THE SUNDAY EXPRESS said: “There is rightly much public sympathy for Mr Hudson. Might there not have been more if when suspecting, as he must have done, the nature of the ailment from which he was suffering, he had not gone out of his way, as do homosexuals who offer blood, to place other and innocent people in danger.”
Innocent? What is Rock Hudson supposed to be guilty of? As far as the vile Junor is concerned he is guilty simply of being gay.
But who will be the next victim for them to “expose”? The rush to deny gayness has been rather undignified. Burt Reynolds is the hot favourite—he is reported to be suffering from some unnamed illness but insists it is not you-know-what. And the sneaky William Hickey in THE DAILY EXPRESS carried a little piece about Rudolph Nureyev. Apparently, the ballet star has had pleurisy and pneumonia. “He just overworked himself so was vulnerable,” his London agent Tony Barlow was quick to point out. But we got Sickey’s message.
Also, anxious for the world to know that they are not gay are George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley of Wham. “Gay? I’ve never been in love says George” in THE STAR. THE SUNDAY MIRROR carried much the same kind of thing from Wayne Sleep “Don’t Call Me Gay—why bachelor Wayne sleeps alone.” THE MIRROR said that Boy George had a “secret lover”—none other than Jon Moss, drummer of Culture Club. But what does Jon have to say about this? Very little, but his spokesman says: “This is so ridiculous.” Thanks a bundle you guys.
But back to Aids and how is this for five-star hypocrisy? THE DAILY TELEGRAPH carried an editorial that chided newspapers for, “a tendency to hysteria and myth”. It then goes on to say: “Moreover the scarcely concealed glee in some quarters about divine retribution for perversion is at best lacking in any Christian compassion, and at worst morally repugnant.” But wasn’t it this same newspaper that only recently wrote about the temptation to “gloat over the sufferings of homosexuals”? Now they say: “Homosexuals are seen as carriers of a deadly disease, and a threat to society at large. In this climate, a typical response … is for the gay community to retrench even further into a stereotyped politicised minority. Nothing could be more detrimental to better understanding nor be guaranteed to bring this controversy to a more bitter and fruitless end.”
Isn’t this rich coming as it does from Fleet Street which has consistently ignored the real needs of homosexuals and continues to present us as “bizarre” and “weird”. I think it’s what’s called a no-win situation.
Take THE SUN which carried this gem: “The sickest joke among America’s 12 million gays goes like this. Son: Mom, I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is I’m gay. The good news is I’m dying.” I would stake my arm that such a “joke” did not emanate from the gay community—more likely from the sick minds festering in the Sun offices.
Meanwhile, THE DAILY MAIL tells us that “Aids is spreading through Europe as rapidly as in America, says the World Health Organisation.” Does the Government listen? “The country is sitting back waiting for half a million people to be infected, instead of the 10,000 or so that we have at present,” said Professor Julian Peto in THE OBSERVER. “We are heading inexorably towards an Aids crisis like the one in America today.”
To demonstrate this Government’s strange priorities, I quote Dr Richard Tedder, consultant virologist at the Middlesex Hospital in the same OBSERVER feature: “We are planning to spend £10 million a year screening all the blood in the transfusion service, which will prevent about 50-100 patients from receiving affected blood. Why are we not spending £100 million on trying to prevent the 10,000 infected people from spreading the disease by sexual contact and other means?” Dr Jon Weber of St Mary’s Hospital said the Government was showing “incredible complacency.”
Maybe the first shot in a gigantic threat to us all was fired in THE TIMES. Dr John Griffin said that there should be “compulsory” screening of male and female prostitutes and “Laws aimed at trying to ensure that Aids sufferers do not pass on the infection are being considered in Sweden”. Then he says: “If the morbidity and mortality due to Aids is to be contained, it could well be necessary to take swift action in a number of controversial areas.”
What these “controversial areas” might be is not clear, but it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to know what our enemies would like to see. The Government, which is starving researchers and educators of funds, is no friend of gays. We are vulnerable and our only hope is responsibility and a united voice in the face of hostility.
William Hickey reports that Lord Snowdon “chose author Charles Castle to write the first biography of his bachelor uncle Oliver Messel” but told him that he must not mention the interior decorator and stage designer’s homosexuality.
Well, that’s one little volume I won’t be soiling my hands with.
THE LONDON STANDARD says, “A million people who work with children are to be subject to new police vetting to make sure they do not have records of sex offences, Home Secretary Leon Brittan announced today.”
That sounds like bad news for all those gays who work in “sensitive” jobs with young people. For my personal experience is that you don’t have to have a criminal record to find yourself on the police computer listed as gay.
Greta Schiller’s documentary film BEFORE STONEWALL (distributed by The Other Cinema if you want to request your local film society or alternative cinema to screen it) was well-received by those papers that deigned to review it. It tells of what life was like for gay people in America before the days of gay liberation. One of the speakers describes how difficult it was to Come Out to parents in the 50s. You could expect all kinds of extreme reactions, he said.
Unfortunately, things don’t seem to have changed much during the intervening 30 years. Not for readers of THE SUN, anyway. They were invited, if they had a gay child, to tell agony aunt Deirdre Sanders how they coped. This is a sample of the response: “Mary discovered her son David was homosexual … from a phone call from one of the boy’s ex-lovers. She says: ‘I didn’t want to touch David. After he’d gone I sterilised every cup, plate and piece of cutlery he’d used. I wish he’d got killed when he fought in the Falklands war. At least he would have died with honour.” And there is a whole page of similar reactions from perplexed parents. One father hasn’t spoken to his gay son for seven years.
Nowhere in this catalogue of misery is a positive reaction described. There is no account of the parents who have accepted and enthusiastically embraced their gay children, even though we know such people exist and are probably in the majority.
Nowhere does the article suggest that perhaps it is the parents who are over-reacting and being unreasonable. The blame for the unhappiness is placed squarely with the children.
I can’t help wondering, though, whether the fact that all the parents are regular readers of The Sun has anything to do with their dismay. If these distressed people have only The Sun’s version of what gay life is like to inform them, it’s no wonder they’re hysterical.
The Sun also reaps a rich harvest from its own campaign of misinformation in another article “My misery posing as an AIDS victim”. Leaving aside questions about the value of such a piece, we are invited to follow “Sun man” Peter Cliff around the country as he tells all and sundry that he has Aids. It hardly needs saying that taxis refused his fare, hotels closed their doors on him, restaurants declined to serve him and barbers wouldn’t cut his hair.
Once again you have to ask where the hysteria arose. How did people get such exaggerated fears in the first place? Much of the blame must lie with those yobbish journalists who presently hide behind a barbed wire fence in the east of London—the Wapping liars. “Media-bashing” they call it now when people criticise their rotten ways. I call it credit where it’s due.
THE front page of the DAILY EXPRESS for February 3rd carried the headline: “£140m spree on the rates.” The story said: “A Daily Express investigation has revealed details of plans to heap money on dozens of way-out organisations set up during Mr Livingstone’s five-year reign of chaos. They include groups for gays and lesbians, anti-police ‘research’ groups and ‘arts organisations’”
Page five of the same issue. “The GLC plans to hand out a colossal £100 million to wind up five chaotic years of Labour rule. The cash will go to gays and lesbians, police ‘research’ teams… etc, etc.” And the page after that: “A short-list of some of the recipients of the GLC’s largesse … London Lesbian Line, Black Lesbian and Gay Centre, Greenwich Black Women’s Collective …” and so on ad nauseum.
Have you got the message yet? That’s right —the DAILY EXPRESS is a toilet roll.
A new and worryingly nasty breed of Aids stories is beginning to emerge in the press. THE SUNDAY MIRROR tells us that “Kissogram girls have packed in pecking the punters—because they are terrified of catching Aids”. THE SUNDAY PEOPLE followed up its scandalous Bernard Manning interview with an even more slanderous attack on gays.
They report “panic” in Trinidad after “Homosexuals, some suffering from the deadly disease, jabbed contaminated syringes into carnival revellers.” The paper says that gays were seen to draw blood from themselves and then jab it into people at random in the crowd. And who is supposed to have seen this happen? Well, “a woman,” apparently, and a “customs official.” No names, no pack drill. The “woman witness” is quoted as saying: “Some of the gays are boasting all over town that they want to spread Aids around so that ‘straights’ will know what it is like to die slowly.”
The article begs many questions, not least of which is how does a casual observer know who is gay, who has got Aids and who hasn’t?
The story reads rather like one of those First World War propaganda pieces about the beastly Hun who were purported to have bayonetted babies. The new enemy? Homosexuals. You and me.
It is my belief that this story cannot be supported by evidence. I have written to the editor of THE SUNDAY PEOPLE to this effect and if he doesn’t come up with a satisfactory answer, then I shall complain to the Press Council. If any Gay Times readers want to add their voice to this complaint, I can provide copies of the article.
THE DAILY TELEGRAPH told us that “Aids panic sweeps Irish jails”. On inspection it seems that, just as they did in England, the prison officers are using Aids as a means of drawing attention to the squalid and overcrowded conditions in their prisons. In the same edition we are told that “Lifeguards patrolling South Wales beaches have become the first to be given protective masks to safeguard against catching Aids during mouth-to-mouth contact.”
THE OBSERVER reports that “A recent study by NBC and the Wall Street Journal… showed that three-quarters of all Americans polled believed that Aids would spread beyond the ‘at risk’ groups … a third gave credence to the idea that it can be caught from being sneezed on, donating blood or sharing a needle.”
So how do we challenge this frightening and stubborn ignorance? GUARDIAN readers get the occasional opportunity. After carrying a feature on Aids in pregnancy, several readers wrote at length challenging some of the usual assumptions. Richard Wilding wrote: “Once again your newspaper repeats the common but erroneous statement ‘one third of all homosexuals in this country now carry the Aids virus.’ Nobody knows how many people (gay, straight, male or female) carry the Aids virus … Among gay men in this country, one third of those tested (repeat one third of those tested) have been found to be antibody positive. It does not follow from this that one third of the entire male gay population of Britain are antibody positive, let alone Aids virus carriers.”
Of course, THE GUARDIAN is virtually alone in making space for such debate. The others continue untroubled in their campaign of distortion.
To compensate for Dire Deirdre (er … that’s Dear Deirdre) THE SUN’s horrendous agony aunt, we have Marje Proops in THE MIRROR offering advice to a young lesbian. The woman was “intensely happy” with her female lover but couldn’t get satisfaction from their sex life together. Marje says: “I think you may feel some guilt about being a lesbian, but that will fade as you meet more couples like yourselves. That’s bound to be the shape of your circle of friends. Then gradually you will feel a sense of belonging to a homosexual group … Sexual responses, whether it’s between a man and woman or between gays of either gender are all to do with loving and giving and caring. You love your partner. When you have learned to trust your own sexuality, that love will make you warmly responsive.”
Isn’t that nice? I couldn’t have put it better myself. It’s good to know we have at least one friend in the newspaper business. Thanks, Marje.
This month’s award to gross disservice to British journalism goes to The Star. Step forward Lloyd Taylor editor of that detestable organ, and claim the honour of managing to achieve the impossible—becoming even more squalid than The Sun.
The scene was set by The Star’s gossip columnist Peter Tory who still subscribes to the “gay plague” interpretation of Aids and therefore considers it a suitable topic for jollity. On two days this month (3rd and 5th Sept) he made bad taste and vicious “jokes” at the expense of people who are suffering from the disease. A more despicable use of newspaper space would be difficult to imagine until you come to The Star’s new columnist “Mills”.
He was introduced to us on 2 Sept under the heading “The Angry Voice”. We were told we could expect yet another semi-fascist ranter. “Mills will often find himself sharing a political bed of nails with… the National Front … ‘patriots’ … and all those whose political philosophy is entirely encompassed by the four-point plan: ‘Hang ‘em, flog ‘em, castrate ‘em and send ‘em home.” He would, he promised us, also rail against “Wooftahs, pooftahs, nancy boys, queers, lezzies—the perverts whose moral sin is to so abuse the delightful word ‘gay’ as to render it unfit for human consumption.”
“Mills” assured us that he would be an original and refreshing voice, but from this introduction he sounded to me just like all the other raving right-wingers who pollute the pages of our press: George Gale, Jean Rook, Paul Johnson, Peregrine Worsthorne, Richard Ingrams—any of them could have described themselves as Mills did.
Needless to say, his lack of anything new to say about gays was proved in the following column (9 Sept) which was headed: “Get back in the closet!” He wrote: “Insidiously, almost imperceptibly, the perverts have got the heterosexual majority with their backs against the wall (the safest place, actually …)” (Yawn) “The freaks proclaim their twisted morality almost 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 upon 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 says Mills.”
Sound familiar? “Mills” hadn’t finished, though, and continued to cram in every cliché, myth, lie and prejudice that has ever been invented by the anti-gay lobby. At any other time I would have written all this off as a sad example of the lamentable state of our press, but taken in conjunction with the other things that are happening all around us I can only describe it as an incitement to hatred and violence. It made a mockery of the NUJ’s “Campaign for Real People”, flaunting all the union’s codes of conduct. I have complained to the NUJ’s Ethics Council, but I hold little hope that there will be any check on the way the press are orchestrating this vicious campaign of anti-gay propaganda.
Campaign for Real People? Perhaps the NUJ would be better engaged in a Campaign for Real Newspapers,
When is a disease not a disease? Answer: when it’s associated with homosexuals. Then, apparently, it becomes “a straightforward moral issue.” This is the opinion of the Scottish Health Minister, Mr John McKay as quoted in The Guardian (5 Sept). Letting us know that he “did not think the public would expect him to make extra resources available to combat Aids”, he is quoted as saying: “I’m afraid it will just have to be treated as one of the problems of the health service. The only other payround is for people who get it to pay themselves, or someone else is always going to have to pay.”
So where does the “morality” come into such an argument when human misery and suffering has to take second place to money, and gay lives have a significantly lower price than heterosexual ones. If Mrs Thatcher and her insane back benchers share these values then I fear greatly for the future.
Thelma Holt “a middle-aged, heterosexual Christian” wrote a passionate, and compassionate letter to The GuardIian (12 Sept) in reply to the Minister’s comments. She spoke of her horror at the insidious idea that gay victims of Aids should be regarded differently to others. She also made the point that Aids is no more “self-inflicted” than those diseases caused by excessive alcohol, tobacco or rich food. Indeed, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine the hoo-ha if it was suggested that lung cancer victims or those with hardened arteries should be compelled to pay for their own treatment.
“Psychiatrists,” Ms Holt wrote, “point out that those who agitated vociferously or hysterically to prevent the decriminalisation of homosexual acts in private were often fighting their own sexual proclivities; we were to understand that such a theory held good however many children such campaigners had fathered. We need to recall this theory…”
She also chided “some newspaper commentators who have for years incited the public to harry and despise: homosexuals” and reminded them that theirs was a “line of argument which Adolf Hitler pursued and took to its ghastly conclusion in the death camps.”
Is anybody listening?
The Sunday Mirror carried another of its interminably boring Royal Gossip features of 14 Sept. It started with the old story about the Queen Mother wanting a drink. “She simply shouted down to the kitchen ‘Is there an old queen down there who can bring an old Queen up here a gin and tonic?’”
In a single moment Britain’s best-loved royal had shown how many of the family feel about the known homosexuals working in their service.
Shock! Horror! Scandal! A “Gay Mafia” operating at the palace! But the royal family don’t seem unduly perturbed even though these pernicious gays have “brought the Royal Family some of its darkest moments”. Like what? “There was the time for instance,” says The Sunday Mirror, “when nine members of the Royal yacht Britannia’s crew were jailed for forming a homosexual vice ring.” Now just a minute—what the Sunday Mirror perceives as a “vice ring” ordinary people simply call “affairs” or “loving relationships.” In the bizarre world of the tabloids, of course, homosexuals are incapable of such things.
The truth of the matter is that all the “gay scandals” that have been attached to the royal family have been entirely contrived by the tabloids. Their two favourite subjects, homosexuality and royalty, can’t often be linked, but when they can… well, batten down the hatches your Majesty.
I hold no brief for royalty, but my estimation would rise if once-just once—they would repay the loyalty of their gay staff in standing by them when they are being hounded and vilified by the press.
The whole confused cocktail of Aids, homophobia, sex education and Tory “morality” was given another outing in a ludicrously contradictory editorial in The Daily Telegraph (16 Sept). While the leader writer accepted that “education” was essential to stop the spread of the virus the good old Telegraph couldn’t just say “OK get on with it” – there had to be ‘controls’. “Councils which insist on instruction on homosexuality cannot be prevented; but they can be sensibly countered… If the medical message on Aids is as serious as many believe, a campaign to instruct, to counsel and to warn – in which, dare we add, a moral undertone, would not come amiss – is the first priority.”
This gibberish is what I think is commonly known as going round in ever-decreasing circles.
The anti-gay lobby is increasing its visibility, egged on by the political strength of its right-wing sympathisers. The Tory Government has created a perfect climate in this country for the anti-sex brigade to propagate its views. The papers are more than happy to assist in the puritan backlash, and here is a selection of quotes to illustrate just how widely the views of our potential oppressors are being disseminated:
“When it comes to aggressive promoting of homosexuality, it is wrong. There is a difference between encouraging and accepting homosexuality.”—Kenneth Baker, Education Secretary, SUNDAY TELEGRAPH (14 Sept).
“I do not, of course, have anything against homosexuals and lesbians … my concern is to prevent the corruption of children who are at an impressionable age.”—Harry Greenway MP, EALING LEADER (5 Sept).
“To date there has been no public discussion about the isolation or quarantine of Aids carriers neither about recriminalisation of homosexuality … Such measures may still prove effective.”—Dr Adrian Rogers, DAILY TELEGRAPH (10 Sept).
“The only valid variety of relationship is between a man and a woman. Any other relationship is abnormality, even if – like homosexuality – it is a very common abnormality.”—Coun. Tony Young, EALING GAZETTE (12 Sept).
“If homosexuals themselves are really unashamed of their abhorrent sexuality… they should be able to emerge from behind the gaudy ‘gay’ curtain, and openly and consistently declare and confess themselves to be no more nor less than what they truly are, namely, homosexuals”.– -Dr EJ Micham, SUNDAY TELEGRAPH (7 Sept).
“Man was too highly sexed for his reproductive needs. He was out of balance with nature, so nature was killing off the most highly sexed, the promiscuous. The homosexuals were being killed off first because they were more promiscuous and now the promiscuous heterosexuals were following.”—Dr Kevin Hume, DAILY TELEGRAPH (15 Sept).
“Few health officials go so far as to educate the public that homosexuality is not only biologically illogical but spiritually a sin.”—The PLAIN TRUTH (sic) (Oct).
“What next? Can we soon look forward to special TV epics for paedophiles, necrophiliacs, pyromaniacs, sado-masochists, satanists and sundry other freaks?”—WORCESTER EVENING NEWS commenting on the Channel 4 gay season (15 Aug).
“The 1967 Sexual Offences Act sought to remove the fear of blackmail from male homosexuals but did not confer approval on homosexual lifestyles. If Parliament could have foreseen Hackney Council’s Gay Pride Week things would have been very different. But how to put the genie back in the bottle? There’s the problem. – Newsletter of the Conservative Family Campaign.
George Gale was interviewed in London listings magazine City Limits (14 Sept). The interviewer found him rather an amiable chap rather than the expected ogre.
Gale insisted that when he wrote so vituperatively about gays he was really only getting at “the lunatic antics of some left-wing councils.” But George Gale writes regularly about homosexuals being responsible for Aids, and about our promiscuity (“Just as pedarests flit from boy to boy so do homosexuals flit from one to another.”). This doesn’t sound like an attack on left wing councils to me —it sounds like straightforward homophobia.
The “swirling cesspit”—which, if I’m not mistaken, is located somewhere in Greater Manchester Police Headquarters—has unleashed the backlash we’ve all been anticipating. Those of us who’ve been hoping that reason would prevail have seen our hopes vanishing down the plug-hole. Ayatollah Anderton has rained fire and brimstone upon us. [Note:James Anderton was Chief Constable of Greater Manchester from 1975 to 1991. He was also an evangelical Christian prone to making outrageously reactionary remarks. At a national police conference on how the police should deal with people with Aids, he said: “Everywhere I go I see evidence of people swirling around in the cesspool of their own making. Why do homosexuals freely engage in sodomy and other obnoxious sexual practices knowing the dangers involved?”]
His words were ludicrous, unrealistic, over-the-top and dangerous. They were the words of ignorance and fear and they were the very words which THE SUN and the denizens of another cesspit had been waiting for. “Perverts are to blame for the killer plague,” was THE SUN’s headline (12 Dec), one which they’ve had on ice for some time now, waiting for the right moment. “Why do homosexuals continue to share each other’s beds?” asked The Sun’s leader writer, “Their defiling the act of love is not only unnatural but in today’s Aids-hit world it is LETHAL … The Sun hopes Mr Anderton will treat these perverts with the contempt they deserve.”
You think it can’t get any worse than that? Look at the DAILY EXPRESS (13 Dec) “The homosexuals who have brought this plague upon us should be locked up,” said one of their readers. “Burning is too good for them. Bury them in a pit and pour on quick lime.”
“In leading a moral crusade against the decadent sexual attitude of a society that condones homosexuality and prostitution and thereby fosters the spread of Aids, Mr Anderton is articulating a deep-rooted feeling in Britain,” said an editorial in The LONDON STANDARD (12 Dec) and this seemed to be borne out by a telephone poll on LBC radio (12 Dec) which showed 74 percent in favour of Mr Anderton’s views. The Manchester police claimed 99 percent support for their chief from the “hundreds” of calls they said they had received.
And yet criticism for Mr Anderton’s speech came from unlikely sources. The Government being one of them. Minister’s involved in the Aids education campaign were quick to jump on the outrageous remarks. TODAY newspaper (13 Dec) opined that: “Policemen, it is said, have big feet, James Anderton has a big mouth, too … His outburst … will do nothing to stem the growing hysteria over this disease.” And even THE STAR managed to say: “When the deeply religious Mr Anderton attends church tomorrow, we suggest he reflects on two words of criticism from the Terrence Higgins Trust … unchristian and uncaring.”
But on Sunday (14 Dec) the right-wing press were once more on the bandwagon, causing it to roll even faster. “Mr Anderton’s remarks will strike an answering chord in the breasts of many men and women in the pew who cannot be described as stupid or intolerant.” wrote the Rev. William Oddie in THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH, “the tragedy that follows disobeying God’s instructions was not surprising.”
“James Anderton is right,” editorialised THE SUNDAY EXPRESS. “He talks more sense than all the Government propaganda we have had so far.”
“Aids should be made a notifiable disease and buggery, almost certainly the main way of transmitting it, should once more become a criminal offence,” was the predictable response of George Gale in THE SUNDAY MIRROR. And finally, THE SUNDAY TIMES warned: “Anderton has served notice. The Moral Majority is stirring.”
Anderton’s speech has certainly lit the sparks of intolerance, hatred and violence, and now the fascists of the press are anxious for those sparks to be fanned into a conflagration. For if this raw incitement to violence comes from the police, then who will gays turn to for protection from this ghastly threat? The “moral majority” have stirred before within living memory, in Germany. There “morality” was that of the murderer and the beast. They were equally convinced that what they were doing was right and “necessary” to protect their beloved country. Is the same mistake going to be made again?
The next General Election will, according to Joe Ashton MP (writing in THE STAR) be fought on the issue of “Aids, homos, lesbians, Loony Left, race and barmy councils.” The groundwork is already being laid by the Tory tabloids droning on endlessly about local authorities and gay rights. Aids has come along just at the right time to add fuel to this fire. And despite Norman Fowler’s plea that Aids not be used as a party-political weapon, we have sad spectacle of it becoming just that.
The Prime Minister has fired her first volley, so we know it is serious. According to THE STAR (3 Dec) “she said she hoped for a reversal of recent trends which have made homosexuality and drug taking socially accepted.” This allowed The Star to headline its report: “Maggie’s Rap for Gay Out-casts—Aids threat makes them unacceptable.” But is this what Mrs Thatcher really said or just the Star’s interpretation? For the answer to that we have to turn to THE GUARDIAN (3 Dec) to find out that she was answering questions from Tory MP John Townend who “asked her to agree that the spread of the disease could be greatly reduced if ‘there was a change in public attitudes, and in particular if indulging in homosexual activities and drug taking were once again to become morally unacceptable.’ The Prime Minister replied: ‘I’m sure that attitudes are changing in the light of information about Aids … and then I think that much of the behaviour that has been going on will be unacceptable for many and various reasons.” Ominous enough, I agree, but hardly The Star’s contention that she has called for gays to be made “outcasts.” Wishful thinking on their part, I suppose.
The Sun journalist with the highest hate-rating amongst “loony left” students is Professor John Vincent. He wrote in 3rd Dec issue of that rag: “This autumn’s Labour Conference voted … for a public campaign for gay rights … absurd though this is. For gay rights today are much the same as anyone else’s, and are not under any obvious threat.” (Where has this man been for the past three months?). “There is not much sign of a public campaign from Labour’s National Executive. Presumably being sensible men, they realise that there are few more uphill tasks than promoting gay rights in the middle of the Aids plague.”
Despite the glaring contradictions in this short piece, Prof. Vincent is probably right about the Labour Party. But I don’t see that the Tories really have any reasoned argument for going to the opposite extreme and trying to take rights away from gay people. Indeed, their bluff was called as THE DAILY EXPRESS (6 Dec) reported: “An allegation about Tory gays in ‘high places’ shocked the Commons yesterday during a Conservative attack on Labour council policies. Angered by Tory complaints about gay teachers in Labour authorities, the party’s front-bencher Mr Jack Straw claimed there are some in high places in the Conservative hierarchy who have homosexual tendencies … He said gays holding senior posts in the Conservative party deserve the same tolerance that Labour Councillors are trying to give in their own areas. He added: “Members better put up or shut up on this because if they are saying it is wrong for homosexuals to teach in schools, are they also saying it is also wrong to seek leadership of this country and to seek prominent position within the Tory party and in this House?”
It seems like a reasonable point at first sight, but THE SUN (6 Dec) wasn’t long in turning the whole thing on its head. “Power-hungry gays have infiltrated the top ranks of the Tory party”, and you see how easily the whole thing turns into a witch-hunt within the Tory party, and how this would add to the growing paranoia and hatred of gays in general.
Indeed, there are signs of it happening already. The SUNDAY MIRROR (7 Dec) revealed that “would-be Conservative candidates were sent on a weekend of intensive interviews by Tory Central Office.” They were told that if they wanted to get ahead, they must get a wife. “All the bachelors in this group were taken aside and told that they had ‘little chance’ unless they got married. The MIRROR says that when bachelor ex-PM Ted Heath was asked about the ban he retorted “It sounds like nonsense”. Another unmarried Tory, Charles Irving said: “It’s a typical Conservative attitude from the Victorian era.” But aren’t the Tories into Victorian values? Perhaps Mr Irving had better watch his seat (if you’ll pardon the expression), along with a lot of ambitious, but closeted, Tory politicians.
Faint hope comes in a quote from a spokesman for Norman Tebbit (THE SUN 6 Dec): “Mr Tebbit knows homosexuals” (not in the biblical sense one assumes) “and has a high regard for some of them.” But then, Norman Tebbit is lower than a snake’s belly, so who’d trust anything he said anyway?
More from the crazy world of Aids reporting. The good news is that some papers have tried to look at the issues sanely, rationally and calmly. Full marks to TODAY (Nov 19/20) for an informed four-page special. Much of the credit for the realistic tone of the piece must surely go to gay journalist Harry Coen. The DAILY TELEGRAPH (Dec 1/2) also tackled the issue satisfactorily with a two-day feature by Lesley Garner. The GUARDIAN continued to be sensible and restrained with several excellent features and letters.
The low-life tabloids, however, persist in their campaign of wilful distortion, sensationalism and trivialisation. The SUN has been particularly nasty, as you’d expect. “Gay Santa Gets Sack—Fairy grotto bust up” said the front page of 6 Dec. They wallow and rejoice in the pain and humiliation being heaped on gay people because of Aids. They, and their sister paper, THE NEWS OF THE WORLD, have harassed and pursued Kenny Everett, almost willing Aids on the poor man. They published a cartoon by Franklin on 5 Dec which would disgust anyone with a grain of compassion.
THE LONDON STANDARD also hit rock bottom with a tasteless Jak cartoon (24 Nov). Aids is causing monumental suffering to a lot of people—and human misery and death are not the material that jokes are made from. These peddlers of hate should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.
Here’s a selection of other quotes from the past month to illustrate how serious the threat to our lives has become:
“The surest way to protect the public from Aids is to outlaw homosexuality and lock up offenders. —Desmond Swayne, prospective Conservative candidate for Pontypridd (WESTERN MAIL 22 Nov).
“Isn’t it time the Government either stopped pretending that the fairies who started this disease, and the even filthier fairies who keep spreading it, are the fairies at the bottom of the garden,” —John Junor (SUNDAY EXPRESS 30 Nov)
“It disturbs me that the growing ‘army’ of homosexuals is infiltrating the world of children’s television… We cannot allow this to continue. And more especially when studio audiences are invariably brought into contact with these persons,” (Roy Court, CHELTENHAM SOURCE 23 Oct)
“I have no sympathy with promiscuous young people and homosexuals with Aids. They’ve asked for it. If people lived as the good Lord provided, there would be no Aids,” – (Letter in DAILY MIRROR 8 Nov).
“If Saatchi and Saatchi were advising the Vatican, they could not avoid the point that the market needs a strong line on gays, not a gentler one. St Paul’s view on those who in unnatural lusts would be decidedly populist today,” – Mary Kenny (SUNDAY TELEGRAPH 30 Nov).
“I regard homosexuality as a misfortunate,” – Archbishop of York (DAILY MAIL 21 Nov).
“Homosexuals should be viewed as handicapped people,” – Archbishop of Canterbury (DAILY MAIL 22 Nov)
“Chastity will become once more a virtue… and homosexual practices – which have brought this disease upon us – a moral, legal and social offence,” – George Gale (SUNDAY MIRROR, 30 Nov).
“The inference that ‘gay’ is on a par with ‘straight’… is homosexual propaganda very cleverly done, riding on the back of public concerns about Aids,” – George Gale (DAILY MIRROR 26 Nov).
“The chief apparent object of last week’s full-page ads (‘Aids is not prejudiced’) appears to have been to protect homosexuals from ostracism… Ordinary people may be ill-informed on Aids but they are not fools. They note that councils pay full-time officials to proselytise on behalf of homosexuality… that books advocating homosexuality are circulated amongst children by local authorities, that clubs and facilities, often subsidised on the rates enable homosexuals to meet, pick up partners and so spread the disease,” – Paul Johnson (SPECTATOR 6 Dec).
“Christmas is coming and so is the Jew-baiting season,” wrote Martin Page in THE SUNDAY MIRROR (16 Nov) “Does the New Testament teach us to hate Jesus’s people? If it does, should the offending scripture be purged of the offending passages? The Right Revered Austin Baker, Bishop of Salisbury and chairman of the Church of England’s doctrinal commission answers yes on both counts. He also says: “Unselective love is central to the spiritual wisdom of Jesus.”
I see. Well, while the Right Rev has got his blue pencil out, perhaps he’d like to have a look at one two passages I could point out to him. Or is his ‘unselective’ love not quite so unselective after all? Maybe the gay Christians would like to pursue the matter with him?
One glimmer of hope is that Gavin Strang, MP for Edinburgh East is introducing a Private Members Bill into the House of Commons which will be concerned with protecting the rights of people affected by Aids. According to THE GUARDIAN (10 Dec) this will include “making it illegal for employers to sack staff who are carrying the Aids virus.”
We must all help get this Bill through, and we can start by writing to our own MPs and demanding that they support the measures when they come before the House. If you live in a Conservative area, you could point out in your letter the damage that viewing Aids as a party-political issue could cause. I would be pleased to see any replies which Gay Times readers receive to any such lobbying?
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.