GAY TIMES January 2007

Elton John is a true superstar, an international phenomenon, a filler of stadiums and concert halls. He never seems to go out of fashion. It is natural, therefore, that people will be interested in what he does and says. For instance, on his recent Australian tour, he had a dicky tummy during one of his concerts and had to leave the stage momentarily for a bit of a barf. He returned refreshed and relieved and completed his post-chunder performance to the satisfaction of the assembled multitude. This incident was duly reported in the world’s media. Even when Elton spews, the world listens.

It also listens when he gobs off about religion and gay rights, as he did in the special gay edition of The Observer Music magazine. “I think religion has always tried to turn hatred towards gay people,” he said, in a free-flowing conversation with Jake Spears of Scissor Sisters. “Religion promotes the hatred and spite against gays.” Elton thinks that religion turns people into “hateful lemmings”.

Even though he admires some things about religion, he still thinks it gives a rotten deal to gay people and should be “banned”. Banned? That’s a big ambition, Elton, but not a very liberal one. Every effort so far to “ban” religion has resulted in it getting stronger and stronger. Far better to think it out of your head once and for all.

But, of course, Elton is right about religion hating gay people. Some Christians will try to convince us that it’s just the extremists, the fundamentalists, the wackos who are to blame. But looking at reports of religious attacks on gay people this month (and there are some scary examples in this month’s news section), I don’t see them coming only from the fringes of religion, but also directly from the centre.

Take the current campaign being waged against the new regulations to ban discrimination against gays in the provision of goods and services. Religious bodies are demanding big opt outs. They want to retain the right to reject and discriminate against gay people. “Gay groups meeting in our church hall? Over our dead bodies!” is the message.

These new regulations (which were originally supposed to be put into place last October, but have now been postponed until next April because of religious objections) are being rejected from right across the religious spectrum from the happy-clappy evangelicals to the mainstream Christian establishment.

The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham, Vincent Nichols, told The Daily Mail that the guidelines represented the imposition of an unacceptable morality. In a scathing sermon in St Chad’s Cathedral, the Archbishop said: “The Government must realise that it is not possible to seek co-operation with us [the Catholic Church] while at the same time trying to impose on us conditions which contradict our moral values. It is simply unacceptable to suggest that the resources of faith communities, whether in schools, adoption agencies, welfare programmes, halls and shelters can work in co-operation with public authorities only if the faith communities accept not simply a legal framework but also the moral standards at present being touted by the government.”

Nichols said that “an inversion of morality” was being forced on them by these regulations.

So, there you have it. If you’re gay, the church doesn’t want to provide you with any services at all. It wants the right to turn you away from its shelters if you are homeless, to refuse to deal with you if you are seeking to adopt a disadvantaged child, to turn your children away from its schools or deny you a job as a teacher in them. This is despite the fact that most of these services are provided with taxpayers’ money. Yes, that’s right – we can pay for the services, but we can’t have them unless we somehow renounce our innate sexuality. This is the “morality” that the Archbishop thinks is so superior.

So now to Sheffield, where a “Christian magistrate”, Andrew McClintock – who worked in a family court – has launched a legal challenge against the Government after he was “forced” to resign (according to The Daily Mail) because the introduction of civil partnerships meant he might have to permit gay couples to adopt. He told The Yorkshire Post: “I have a problem with putting a child in a same-sex household because of my moral position.”

There will be an employment tribunal in January to decide on Mr McClintock’s stand. I sincerely hope that they make clear to Mr McClintock that is a magistrate’s job to apply the law that is made by a democratically elected parliament and not by the Holy Fathers. If he doesn’t agree, then he shouldn’t have been in the job in the first place.

And in Scotland, Catholic Cardinal Keith O’Brien and Archbishop Mario Conti have been publicly rebuked by a third bishop, Joseph Devine, who does not think they take a hard enough line on homosexuality. Devine was furious that the Scottish Executive had passed a law permitting gay couples to adopt and said that the other two clerics had failed to speak out against it, and had embarked on a policy of “appeasement”. Devine’s seething hatred of gay people is spurring him into more and more extreme statements on the topic.

This push by religious interests against gay rights is also apparent in countries around the globe. In America, of course, they’ve got it down to a fine art. The agitation against gay marriage has set back gay rights in the States by years. The religious Right’s campaigns have been dishonest and, not to put too fine a point on it, plain wicked. And it’s not all coming from the likes of Fred (God Hates Fags) Phelps, but directly from the White House.

The Gay Pride march in Israel was curtailed because of an unprecedented unity among raving Christians, Jews and Muslims who forced the parade off the streets of Jerusalem with threats of violence and intimidation. And when a follower of the religion of peace threatens violence, you have to take it seriously.

Most of the time these extremists like to kill each other, but on this occasion they could lay their communal hatred aside and come together in hatred of homosexuals.

In America, the Vatican has started its witch hunt for gay priests in its seminaries. According to Generation Q website, “The Vatican has started its investigation of America’s 229 seminaries to root out gays. The Human Rights Campaign spokesman, Joe Solmonese said: “When the Church makes gay men the scapegoat for paedophiles, it ignores one problem and creates another. It does nothing to keep children safe or punish criminals.”

It is even worse in the theocratic Islamic Republic of Iran where Iran Focus reported that “A gay man was hanged in public on Tuesday in the western city of Kermanshan on the charge of sodomy. Shahab Darvishi was charged “lavat” which means in Islamic law homosexual sex.” 200 people watched with glee as the execution was carried out by pious clerics.

Meanwhile, in the United States, the Vatican has issued new guidelines about “gay outreach” which are supposed to be “friendly” and “welcoming”. They demand that gay Catholics remain celibate and to accept that their sexuality is “disordered”. The document “Ministry to Persons with a Homosexual Inclination” was adopted 194-37 at the Catholic Bishops conference.

The guidelines say that it is not sinful to feel homosexual attraction – only to act on those feelings. Priests are instructed help Catholics avoid “the lifestyle and values of ‘gay subculture’” Gays are also discouraged from coming out.

Francisco DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, an independent outreach to Catholic gays that has already drawn disapproval from some church leaders, says the guidelines “do not reflect good science, good theology or human reality. This document proposed that lesbian and gay people be viewed not in the entirety of their lives, but in one dimension only – the sexual dimension. No other group in church is singled out in this way.”

The Catholic Church’s almost psychotic hatred of gay people is damaging not only to Catholics but to everyone who listens to these priests and imagines that their words carry some kind of special authority.

So, it seems, Elton John does have a point. The religious rabble-rousing is getting louder and more strident. The determination and increasingly

The grotesque hypocrisy of these holy joes who claim moral superiority for themselves while behaving in the most appalling ways needs to be challenged.

Time for getting the gloves off is surely overdue.

QUOTES OF THE MONTH

“There are still a lot of life experiences to be gone through before anyone can deal with the problems of coming out in what is a relatively hostile environment” – Tom Watkins, manager of pop acts such as Bros, Pet Shop Boys and East 17.

“In our day and time, no other sin marches so defiantly across our national landscape as homosexuality,” Mark Harris, at the Baptist Convention in the USA

“The human race is undergoing a massive cultural mutation. The meaning of sexuality is being transformed as biology revolutionises reproduction. Women are demanding equality across the globe. Men are being forced to re-imagine their familial and social roles. Gays and lesbians are at the centre of these changes. Their refusal to be silent and invisible is one of the era’s great resources, a magnificent sign of hope.” James Carroll, Boston Globe.

“I love his lack of shame and his refusal to apologise: it’s a lesson for all of us,” Alan Cumming on George Michael.