GAY TIMES 95, August 1986

We have another wonderful parade of prejudice, spite and bigotry this month from the pages of our delightful press. So, take a deep breath everyone, get the sick bags to the ready and we begin with that dear but troubled soul, Auberon Waugh. Writing in THE SPECTATOR on the subject of Martina Navratilova, lesbianism and ugly women (one and the same thing according to the egg-headed Bron) he says he has no trouble in explaining why the crowd don’t like Martina. “Perhaps she would have been able to grasp the reason if she had been able to see herself play as himself. He then goes on about lesbianism and mentions an article which appeared in THE TIMES defending attempts at challenging heterosexism in schools, written by Rosalind Stott. “Poor woman,” says Waugh, “one wonders how she came into the world and how she was reared.”

One could ask the same of Auberon Waugh, of course, and justifiably say that whatever mode of family produced an abomination such as he should be stamped out immediately.


Mary Kenny (not ugly at all—not on the outside anyway) does her bit most weeks in THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH to reinforce the association in the popular mind between socialism and homosexuality. She tells how she overheard a “group of mums” talking about a deputy head who they perceived to be gay – “a raver: a nancy-boy” said one mum. “Caddie Fan” said a Welsh lady, this being apparently the expression used in Wales to describe an effeminate man.” Ms Kenny tells us that this man taught his pupils to sing the songs of Noel Coward and eschewed the little boys “rough ways and gang games.” She concludes that “Bernie Grant … the black radical who proposes that children should be taught about homosexuality from an early age” will be disappointed that gays won’t always deliver the socialist message he would desire.

In fact, Mary Kenny’s article read like the crudest, most insulting kind of propaganda. She produces no evidence to support her rather convenient anecdote and, for those who have primed themselves to see, it is an obvious attempt to reinforce the idea that socialism and have somehow combined in an unholy alliance to undermine everything that is precious to cosy “groups of mums”, as though they were the only people in the world.

Mrs Thatcher’s personal P.R. couldn’t have done a better job.


First the good news: ghastly old duffer “Sir” John Junor has retired as editor of the obscene SUNDAY EXPRESS. The bad news is that he will continue to write that hate-filled column of his each week. His gratuitous abuse aimed not only at our community but at individuals within it, is familiar to us all and will, no doubt, continue. However, you have to credit him with a spark of originality in his own bigotry for he has many admirers and imitators. One of them popped up in THE WORTHING GUARDIAN using the pseudonym Hawkeye. “Some newspapers have got themselves into a fine lather,” says Hawkeye, “because a disco run by Richard Branson is selling a “sex drug” to heighten sensation. But what bothers me is that the press has not seen fit to comment on the fact that this disco is for homosexuals. It is a pick-up joint where the promiscuous meet each other for unspeakable purposes. But so used have we become to accepting perversion that it doesn’t even rate a comment—even when Mrs Thatcher’s ‘Mr Clean’ is profiting from it.”

This ignores the fact that the paper that broke the “story” in the first place, the MIRROR, made great play of the fact that Heaven is a gay disco. But anyway, Hawkeye was a little late with his tirade as J J had written almost precisely the same thing the previous week but substituting the word “poofter” for homosexual. And hadn’t J J also written of his hatred for Martina Navratilova because she “wears Y-fronts instead of frilly knickers and aftershave instead of perfume”? And hadn’t he also written about Cecil (“sexually as straight as a corkscrew”) Beaton’s portrait of Mick Jagger’s bottom, saying that “no-one but a poofter would want to have it in his drawing room.”?


The OBSERVER tells us that Junor is to offer his services to the Conservative Party to tell them “how to get the message over effectively”. I would think he means his “continuing services”—his whole journalistic career has been spent in the service of the Tories, and it is openly acknowledged that his knighthood was bestowed by Mrs T. for services in this respect. Oh aren’t you just thrilled that we have such a free and impartial press in Britain?


This year’s Lesbian and Gay Pride Festival might well have been wet but the spirits of those who attended weren’t dampened. Coverage in the papers was not entirely absent this year, but it was sparse and very mixed.

The communist MORNING STAR reported the festival sympathetically: “The 8,000 strong Lesbian and Gay Pride parade made its cheerful way noisily from Hyde Park to Kennington Park, their banners telling the story of the width of the gay community.” They also carried a preview of the event explaining the Gay’s the Word triumph. [Note: Gay’s the Word bookshop was taken to court by HM Customs and Excise, charged with importing indecent material. The Court threw the case out and HM Customs dropped the charges after a large-scale campaign of protest.]

But in the mainstream press it was the usual menu of abuse or indifference. With one exception, and you can put this down as a red-letter day. Yes, a national daily newspaper actually said something sympathetic about gays. TODAY carried an opinion piece by Sarah Gibbings headed “Gays deserve better than this.” Ms Gibbings wrote: “They came from all over Britain to show that they refuse to be victims or to be seen as public health threats, and to assert their right to belong to the human race. Most important of all they marched to remind all of us that an appalling disease has been unwittingly brought into our society and to encourage all of us to find a cure.” It. would be carping to tell Ms Gibbings that we weren’t really marching to ask for a place “in the human race” but to tell those bigots who are trying to ostracise us that they ought to try being human themselves, I’m sure they’d find a novel experience.

But we mustn’t get the idea that TODAY is suddenly going to show the other papers a new humanity, for in the very next issue we read: “What is appalling is that classified advertisements in some newspapers and magazines carry ads for new gay partners. As this kind of promiscuous homosexual activity is reported to be largely responsible for the spread of this scourge, surely a ban should be placed on them.”

The LONDON STANDARD gave us their good wishes during Pride Week with a story headlined: “Festival of shame by London gays.” This referred to Hackney council’s contribution to the festivities. The paper’s usual technique of finding the single dissenting voice and giving it major prominence was used. The honours this time go to Councillor Joe Lobenstein, Tory opposition leader in Hackney: “This is the most shameful exercise the council has organised for years,” he ranted. “To highlight the lives of people who live an unnatural and sinful life is to my mind the greatest shame that this borough can embark upon.”

The DAILY MAIL was more than pleased to carry the story the following day, and so was the EXPRESS, embroidering it a little with an earth-shattering revelation that not only was money being given to gays to educate themselves about Aids but that it was ‘proposed’ to give gays priority in the housing queue. It was a proposal that was not part of council policy and never likely to be, but it provided THE EXPRESS with the headline they’d been looking for: “A gay way to jump the housing queue—give them extra points.”

Finally, THE SUN didn’t mention the British Pride march but it managed a paragraph on the American one, telling its (no doubt very amused) readers that the parade was led by a group called “Dykes on Bikes.” Little do they realise that the joke is on them.


Paul Johnson, writing in THE SPECTATOR, wheeled out that corny old point about homosexuals ‘stealing’ the word “gay” and corrupting it. He calls it “a monstrous piece of verbal larceny”. He says that “nothing has done more to turn people against homosexuals than this impudent hijack, and in their own interests they ought to switch to another. Some people, I hear, now call themselves ‘Gaids’, but this is obviously offensive. My solution … is simply to reverse the terms and call them ‘yags’. But what say readers?”

Well, this reader says that Paul Johnson seems to be stuck in some kind of time-warp dated about 1953. I don’t want to think of a new word to describe my sexuality thank you, but I can think of a new word for Paul Johnson. Unfortunately, the libel laws do not allow me to tell you what it is.


The whole of the front page of The Star was taken up by a headline reading “Gay lovers on Royal Yacht—shock as Fergie and Andrew plan honeymoon.” This gave a new twist to those interminable stories about the dreary Royal wedding. It also hounded a man out of his job, but that’s the unfortunate price that gays have to pay in order to provide copy for those great loyalists in Fleet Street. “Navy set to boot out gay Britannia sailor” crooned The Sun, picking the story up when it had reached a satisfactorily tragic conclusion for them.

This is a classic example of pure malice and irresponsibility of the tabloid press when it comes to gay issues. For not only have they managed to ruin this man’s career they have also managed to reinforce the idea that gays should automatically be victimised when they are ‘found out’ by crummy journalists.

GAY TIMES 104, May 1987

Elton John didn’t cross my palm with silver three years ago when he got married, but all the same I made a prediction in this very column (Gay Times 68) saying: “When … the marriage ends, Elton is going to reap a nasty harvest from the sick publicity machine he is courting.” Well, lo and behold, the marriage is ended and right on cue the frighteningly vindictive SUN moves in for the kill. “Elton Ends Sham Marriage” was the front page on 27th March, while inside a two-page spread (“Marriage Built on Lies”) dragged up the dirt from a “dossier” that the brave hacks of Wapping had cobbled together “going back to the early seventies”. Even multi-millionaires are helpless in the face of Murdoch’s unstoppable spite machine.

The Star (27 March) was a little less vicious, but the tone of its story was in equally bad taste—and it managed to score a double. Not only did it repeatedly point out Elton’s gayness, but also suggested that his wife Renate was having a lesbian relationship, too. “Many said it was the perfect marriage of convenience,” said The Star. “HE preferred the company of men. SHE preferred the company of women.”

Meanwhile the same paper was carrying excerpts from Lee Everett Alkin’s book Kinds of Loving (March 24-27), describing her marriage to Kenny Everett. It chronicled a classic case of a gay man trying to run away from the truth of his sexuality, only to find it eventually catching up with him again. Kenny Everett was lucky to have chosen Lee as his partner for she was more accommodating than many women would have been in that situation, and even though their marriage is ended she obviously still loves her “Ev”.

And now we extend a warm welcome to Tina Turner as the latest addition to Murdoch’s ever-growing list of dragged-out public figures. It was the rock star’s turn for The Sun treatment on 31st March, when the front page was taken up with the headline: “Gay Loves of Tina Turner.”

Meanwhile that other diseased Murdoch organ, The News of the World (22 March) was tittle-tattling to its readers about Matthew Parris, TV presenter and ex Tory MP, being gay. This is no great news to regular readers of Gay Times, but seems to be of abiding interest to NoW readers. “I am an active homosexual and I do have a lover,” is the bald quote from Mr Parris, and three cheers for it. It seems Mr Parris has found the answer to the salacious exposés practised by the tabloids—honesty. When asked about the problems his gayness caused in parliament he says: “MPs told me I’d do well to keep quiet,” but to his credit he didn’t and “revealed that the work he was most proud of as an MP was his involvement with homosexual law reform and gay rights.” He also says: “Before I left parliament I raised the matter of homosexual equality with Mrs Thatcher, but she was” (surprise! surprise!) “non-committal”.

It would be very difficult for even the News of the World to make a ‘scandal’ out of such disarming truth-telling.


The Mail on Sunday (29 March) and Daily Express (31 March) both carried features on the subject of “curing” homosexuality. “Forget the dolls, it’s better to be macho” said the headline in The Express over an unconvincing piece of wishful thinking. I almost expected them to conclude that it would be better to be The Yorkshire Ripper than gay—at least he was ‘normal’ right?

The Mail on Sunday was more worrying with its “Masters and Johnson ‘cure for gays’ shock.” In it the “sex gurus” claim that they have perfected a “therapy” which has “cured” 70 percent of their homosexual clients who were “highly motivated” to become heterosexual. This is not new, of course. Masters and Johnson have always alleged that homosexuals who wanted it badly enough could become heterosexual—it’s the 70 percent claim that has set up the shock waves.

What the feature didn’t tell us was how long this “cure” was supposed to last. Most of us know “highly motivated” homosexuals who have tried their hardest to be straight. They’ve married and had children, but the truth can always run faster than lies and it has always caught up with them in the end.

Kenny Everett, Elton John, Tina Turner … the list of those who’ve tried to please other people by pretending to be something they weren’t is endless. The only result is misery and shattered lives—not only for the gay person but for those who have become caught in the sham—the wives, husbands and children. I understand why gays do it—pressure from peers, family and society in general is almost irresistible—but the result is almost always the same.


Psychiatrists have always moved with the tide. In the fifties when homosexuality was heavily persecuted they invented cruel “aversion therapies” and psychoanalysed people in the hope of “curing” them. Then when the climate changed in the sixties and seventies to a more tolerant stance, the behaviourists started saying that the best answer was to let gay people express themselves in the manner that was natural for them. Now we’ve gone back to an anti-sex era and the psychologists obligingly start the old “cure” business again. The problem is that Masters and Johnson are so influential in their field that their findings will be taken seriously all over the world.

Malevolent politicos will embrace them as “proof” that “now there is a cure” no-one need be homosexual any more, and anybody who persists in the practice (and therefore ‘wilfully spreads Aids’) will be persecuted unmercifully. In many ways these “gurus” could be much more dangerous to our safety than any of the crazy Tory back-benchers or their fanatical religious supporters. In the end it is their intolerance that will have to be cured—not homosexuality.


Hold onto your hats, I’ve got some astounding news! There has been a spate of sympathetic newspaper coverage of gay matters in the past month. Congratulations to The Deptford and Peckham Mercury for devoting two recent front pages to supporting gay people in the area. The local religious loonies, The Ichthus Christian Fellowship, had distributed a nasty anti-gay leaflet and the paper ran a strong front-page editorial condemning the church and calling for equal treatment for gay men and lesbians.

Then on 2nd April the front page was taken up with a statement from ten local clergymen who also supported the rights of gay people. “Bless ’em all” was the headline. I had a lump in my throat as I read it.

Then Today’s TV critic, Sally Vincent, laid into the insidiously dishonest Larry Grayson (1 April): “Real, larky, outrageous camp parodies, stale institutions and rigid gender role observances. I don’t care how effeminate a master of camp dares to be, as long as the heart of his humour is in the right place and there is vitality to his mockery …Grayson’s chosen stance is to shelter behind the acceptable face of good, old honest camp, in order to put across what I can only describe as a one-man homophobe’s cheer-leading stunt … Should we become addicted to the Grayson touch, we might as well bring back the Black and White Minstrel Show, so we can remember what funny, jumping-up-and-down, palm-shimmering, sub-humans black people used to be. Well, it would make a change from playing gays, wouldn’t it?”

Pretty sophisticated thinking for a tabloid journo.


The Independent constructively explored the Labour party’s confusion over gay rights (9 April) and then allowed Peter Campbell of the Conservative Group for Homosexual Equality space to put his case. If only more Tories were as sensible as Peter Campbell I’d rest easier!


The new London Daily News (blessed relief from the insufferable Evening Standard) published an article (10 April) by Bryan Derbyshire, editor of National Gay, explaining “why London’s gay community will not retreat despite Aids and increased violence.”

Does this indicate cracks in the until-now united anti-gay stance of the British pop press?


Last month it was the massively inflated Geoffrey Dickens who was acting the part of bogeyman for gay people with his pompous talk of “recriminalising” homosexuality. I found his performance strangely reassuring, for he came over not so much as a statesman, more of a rather objectionable nut case.

And so it is with Peter Bruinvels, the other inadequate rentagob Tory who is one of the prime movers behind the Conservative Family Campaign and their efforts to get gay sex outlawed again. Polly Toynbee did a wonderfully sharp hatchet job on this mindless jerk in The Guardian (30 March). “Who is this ogre, this populist Titan, self-styled leader the moral majority?” she asks. “He is a tiny chubby fellow with damp hands and pouchy cheeks that have earned him the soubriquet ‘The Talking Hamster’. When he gets up in the House to speak, Labour back-benchers shout ‘Stand up!’ as he is if shortest MP … He is affable, chattery and as dim a one-watt bulb. He runs away at the mouth, words spilling out in a pool of contradictory nonsense … If he is the worst the ‘moral majoritarians’ can come up with, there is little to fear.”

The explanation for Mr Bruinvels’ rather sad attention-seeking is the fact that his majority at last election was only 933. If the voters of Leicester East have any sense they’ll ditch the squirt at the first opportunity and get themselves a real politician.


It seems that liberalism and tolerance are dirty words these days. Anyone espousing anything but the authoritarian philosophy of the Tories is seen as a “threat to society”. The gay couple in EastEnders were the final straw for those who favour only one kind sex for everyone (within marriage and preferably the missionary position with the lights off.)

Mary Kenny in The Daily Mail (9 April) is a classic example of this tight-arsed new morality which seeks to impose old-time religion on an unwilling population. Attacking EastEnders (as her part in the propaganda campaign to get television brought under the control of the Obscene Publications Act) she wrote of the programme: “Recently an underage homosexual man… was bemoaning the fact that he had to wait until his 21st birthday to have anal intercourse legally.” I saw the scene she was referring to and nobody mentioned anal intercourse or sodomy – but truth is not the issue with Ms Kenny when there is “moral” legislation to get through.

Kenny says that television is imposing a morality of “health-conscious secular materialism”. What she’d prefer, of course, is the “morality” of the religious fanatic – a morality that refuses to face up to life as it is and which is wickedly repressive and dictatorial.

What her article demonstrates most clearly, though, is that if the legislation gets through (and there is every likelihood if parliamentary time can be found for it), the mention of homosexuality on television in anything but critical terms will be out of the question.

However, despite the Whitehouse/Kenny axis, The Times (11 April) was able to report a Mori poll which indicated that “tolerance of homosexuality” had risen from 45 per cent in January to 50 per cent in February.


The Church of England certainly has no problem in producing gasbags. This was amply demonstrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury (Times 30 March) when he repeated his assertion that homosexuals are “handicapped” and blathered on interminably about “erotic homosexual genital processes”. This was after he had admitted: “I have seen homosexual couples in a stable relationship and actually providing in terms of simple human generosity, hospitality, artistic achievement and flair, what I can’t gainsay as human good.” Perhaps it would be better for the Archbishop to keep his peace until he knew what he really wanted to say.

And the same goes for the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Rev John Baker, who was reported in The Independent (2 April) as “condemning” gay sex. “He suggests that one can properly deduce a morality from the design of the world, which God intended. Thus, the homosexually inclined could find physical expression of their feelings ‘only in ways for which our nature is intended.’ They should not indulge in what the Bishop calls “pseudo-intercourse”, nor in actions that lead up to it …”

We know that God moves in mysterious ways, but do his representatives have to speak in similar fashion? Reassuring to know, though, that such men as these make up the very foundations of our society.

What you might call Pillocks of the Establishment


Last month’s Aids statistics prompted one of THE SUN’s filthier editorials (11 April): “They [people with Aids] have only themselves to blame for their terrible plight. But now gay campaigners are trying to turn the argument the other way round and make the whole community bear some of the guilt. This is nonsense. The term Gay Plague upsets some people but that, effectively, is exactly what it is.”

And so it goes on, citing the “innocent victims” and the “guilty” ones. It ends with a “stark message to every gay in the land”: “Homosexual intercourse spreads a killer disease. Lay off before it is too late.”

There is no mention in The Sun of the dramatic evidence that gay men have changed their sexual habits in a big way. There is no acknowledgment of the fact that the majority of Aids cases that are showing themselves now were contracted years ago before anyone even knew that HIV existed. The Sun isn’t interested in this, its only concern is scapegoating and persecution.

So, here’s a “stark message” to The Sun: why don’t you idiots learn some facts before you start shooting your mouths off?

GAY TIMES December 2000

In the Left corner we have Michael Portillo, who was once a homosexual but now assures us that he has outgrown it. In the Right corner is Ann Widdecombe, a woman who could make one believe that the alien invasion has truly begun. And in the centre we have William Hague, the only person alive who was born middle aged.

This is the modern Conservative Party, lost in the realms of the surreal and bizarre and desperately trying to convince the electorate that it isn’t just a bunch of losers, has-beens, borderline psychos and bloodthirsty old ladies.

First attempt at salvaging the wreck came at the Party conference in October. There, Michael Portillo made a speech declaring that there was a place for us all in the new, caring, inclusive Tory party. “We are a party for the people, not against the people,” he said. “We are for all Britons: black Britons, British Asians, white Britons. Britain is a country of rich diversity… We are for people whatever their sexual orientation. The Tory party isn’t merely a party of tolerance: it’s a party willing to accord every one of its citizens respect.”

This was greeted with stony silence by the gathered multitude of blue-rinsed tricoteuses who wanted blood and retribution, not lily-livered kindness. Indeed, as The Independent commented the following day: “The Conservative Party is, as those who know it and well attest, a party that can almost be described as ‘institutionally homophobic’. Anyone who witnessed the reception given at The Independent’s fringe meeting to our columnist and former Tory MP Michael Brown, who is open about his homosexuality, will be in no doubt about the ugly prejudices all too readily displayed by some Tory activists. Too few of them would agree with Mr Portillo’s view: ‘The Conservative Party looks for things that mark people out as individual and exceptional. We are for people whatever their sexual orientation.’”

Questioned next day about Mr Portillo’s call for social tolerance, Ann Widdecombe affected not to know what the words meant. “What I believe is that the state should have a preferred model, that it should promote the traditional family,” she said, with that characteristic purse of the lips.

So, what is “official” Tory party policy towards gay people? Are we in or are we out? Well, according to Steve Norris, the Party’s vice-chairman, we should be in. In fact, we should be leading from the front. In an interview with YouGov.com, which describes itself as an “e-democracy site”, Mr Norris said: “I see no reason why in the future we might not have a prime minister who was from an ethnic minority, or for that matter gay… As the party that was the first to bring you a woman prime minister… I have no doubt that the first gay prime minister will probably be a Tory.”

Sorry Steve, but I think we have already had our first gay prime minister and probably our second one, too. Perhaps what he meant is the first “out” gay prime minister. In which case, is he trying to tell us something about somebody?

Anyway, such talk didn’t please Norman Tebbit, the Tory party’s bigot-in-chief of yesteryear. He wrote, with his usual restraint, in The Sunday Telegraph: “If sodomites have a human right to marry would it not be inevitable for paedophiles to establish their right to child sex and inevitably would follow those with a taste for bestiality?”

Mr Norris retorted that: “Mr Tebbit thinks that every homosexual is a paedophile, is a closet paedophile. He is entitled to his view, but it’s not one that I or, I believe, any decent person shares.” Francis Maude, the shadow Foreign Secretary, whose brother died from Aids, is also a “tolerater”. He said: “Tolerance is not an optional addition to this party’s values: it is an absolutely vital part of it which sustains us.” The Defence spokesman Iain Duncan Smith, on the other hand, wants gays out of the army as soon as possible.

But these people are just the monkeys. It’s the organ grinder’s opinion we want. Surely the leader of the party can give us a definitive answer as to whether the Tory party is pro-gay or anti-gay?

We turn to a speech given by the great leader in Cardiff to a convention of newspaper editors. According to The Independent he “endorsed Michael Portillo’s call to show greater tolerance towards homosexuals”, and promised that the party’s new inclusive approach would not be a “one-week wonder”.

“I do not accept the false distinction that is sometimes made between respecting the lifestyle decisions of individuals and championing mainstream values,” Mr Hague explained. “Conservatives should do both, for we are neither libertarians nor authoritarians… I see no contradiction, nor do most people, in saying that we respect people of different sexual orientation, but we don’t want Section 28 repealed.”

So is that yes or no – because I certainly see a contradiction in the idea that we’re welcome but only as second-class citizens.

Having got no further with that, we then proceed to the Tory’s “Policy Forum on Britain’s Faith Communities” held in a church in Westminster. There, Mr Hague was addressing just about all the country’s religious leaders: Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and just about every other deluded sect and cult you can think of. According to The Times, the speech he made to these people was “an attempt to balance the call made by Michael Portillo, the Shadow Chancellor, at the party conference for tolerance to all sections of the community whatever their sexual orientation.”

Mr Hague said: “On the subject of the family, I would like to thank those religious leaders who are fighting to retain Section 28. I am delighted that representatives of the Christian Institute and Iqbal Sacranie of the Muslim Council of Great Britain are here with us today. Britain’s Muslims are standing tall in this campaign and millions of parents will be grateful for that.”

Ann Widdecombe was also at the “policy forum”, moving among her natural constituency of intolerant, narrow-minded fundamentalists. Would she consider converting to Islam, someone asked. She expressed her admiration for the “uncompromising” nature of Islam, bemoaning the fact that “They are like the Christian churches used to be.” And on the subject of homosexuality she said: “Tolerating other lifestyles doesn’t mean affording them equal validity.”

Indeed, The Independent reported that the whole forum had “a strong anti-homosexual odour.”

Dawvd Noibi, an Islamic consultant with the Muslim education charity IQRA Trusts, opined that the time for pussy-footing by leaders about homosexuality was clearly over. “If we don’t speak out now we’ll all be responsible before God,” he warned. There was a shout of ‘hear, hear’ and applause when Mr Noibi added that there was ‘no excuse’ for gay couples having children. Then a Ms Maqsood said there was compassion for gays, but many Muslims would like to see money invested in a ‘cure’ for the ‘abnormality’. Perhaps all that was needed was a simple injection, she said.

This rather pathetic crawling to the hard-line religious lobby horrified Matthew Parris. In The Times he chided Mr Hague for his unconvincing, new-found religiosity: “Voters in this deeply agnostic country know in their bones if not always in their heads that the world of faith comes not accompanied by love, devotion and service alone, but also with many hatreds, much censoriousness, and an insistent desire to punish. When we hear from an evangelical ‘support marriage’ we hear not only support for some, but disapproval for others.”

So, what do all these mixed messages mean? What is Mr Hague’s motivation in saying that there is a place for homosexuals in his new vision for Britain and then throwing in his lot with our bitterest and most implacable enemies?

Perhaps Alice Miles in The Times has the answer, and it is, in her words “breathtakingly cynical”.

“I asked a member of the Shadow Cabinet what was the strategy behind ‘governing for all’. It was, he explained, borrowed from this year’s Republican convention, where George W. Bush did all that public reaching out to black people. ‘It wasn’t because he thought they would vote for him,’ he said, ‘but in order to reassure floating voters who might vote Republican’ but were embarrassed by the right-wing image. The Tory leadership doesn’t expect the black and Asian communities, or the poor to vote for them. ‘Of course not, but if the people we do want to vote for us think we are uncaring, we must have inner-city policies to show that we’re not.”

So there you have it. Mr Hague is not courting the gay vote; he is courting the votes of decent people who are repelled by the Tory’s nastiness and narrow-mindedness. If he can really convince that mass of liberal, tolerant people out there that he is not really an irredeemable gay-basher, then they just might come back to the fold.

Now we see it. Mr Hague is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Ann Widdecombe is the Rottweiler guarding and reassuring the existing flock, while Michael Portillo is trying to tempt a few unsuspecting sheep from another fold with his touchy-feely, you-can-trust-me approach.

There’s only one answer. Run a mile.

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….