Tag Archives: homophobia

Aggressive homosexuals vs aggressive heterosexuals

This morning I created an image and posted it to Facebook, Twitter and Google+. Here’s the tweet:

For context: the phrase “aggressive homosexuals” comes from a speech yesterday in the House of Commons by Sir Gerald Howarth MP (Conservative, Aldershot) during the Report stage debate of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill. Sir Gerald is the current chairman of Conservative Way Forward and was Minister for International Security Strategy in the coalition government until September 2012 (according to his page on Wikipedia). Here’s where the phrase appeared in the speech:

“There are plenty in the aggressive homosexual community who see this [same-sex marriage] is as but a stepping stone to something even further.” (Hansard — no idea how persistent that link will be though.)

Sir Gerald doesn’t elaborate on exactly who the aggressive homosexual community are, or where he thinks the big gay stepping stone leads. As Hansard shows, a number of MPs tried to intervene at that point — perhaps to press him on this issue — but he declined to give way, as is his right.

It is difficult not to conclude that Sir Gerald sees pinks under the beds. He’s worked himself up into a froth about The Gays and believes that we, or at least a significant and influential slice thereof, subscribe to some kind of Gay Agenda to… I don’t know. Insinuate our way into marriage, and then what: use it to destroy the established church? I think the church is doing a perfectly good job of that itself over both gay people and women. Perhaps, looking at the context of the speech, he thinks our goal is to turn children to homosexuality by ensuring its mention in classrooms during discussions about marriage. Just as, presumably, teaching them about different religions converts them to all of those religions, or teaching them about contour lines turns them into a hill.

Back to the image.

The response has been fascinating. A steady stream of retweets throughout the day — perhaps not surprising, as it makes a strong statement on a topical, politically charged subject — and a few responses. Here are the negative replies so far:

“You do realise that despite your intentions, you’re labelling people with stereotypes.”

“That is way more offensive and way less clever than you think.”

“No. Aggressive homophobes.”

“What’s the intended goal of this? This seems to just further divide people (and straw-man the ‘other side’).”

“This is heterophobia.”

“Yeah a bit discriminatory. Ronnie Kray was a violent homosexual as was Richard the Lionheart. And let us not forget Dennis Nilsen. Violent people are of both persuasions.  Nothing to do with their sexuality.”

“Please be careful with that big stereotyping brush of yours eh?”

I haven’t replied to anyone, at least not yet. I probably won’t — it’s impossible to have meaningful debates in 140 characters. Perhaps some of them were unaware of Sir Gerald’s speech. Of course I’m stereotyping: so was Sir Gerald. Of course sexuality doesn’t determine whether you’re violent or not (but if you have to go back eight centuries for a counterexample — when sexuality was viewed very differently to today, incidentally — then you’re already on shaky ground).

The image is deliberately exaggerated, deliberately stereotypical. But it’s also showing an incontrovertible truth. You don’t, as a rule, see gay people demonstrating against straight people — Pride marches are positive in tone, not negative — but there are demonstrations by straight people against gay people, trying to deny us the rights they enjoy. There was a demonstration against equal marriage outside Parliament during the debate yesterday. And people like those shown in the image are beaten for no other reason than their sexuality. One of the men pictured was attacked last weekend with his boyfriend. Even 45 years after homosexuality was decriminalised in England and Wales it is still not safe for two men, breaking no law, to show affection wherever they wish in the way that a man and a woman can.

This is why the phrase aggressive homosexual community is so offensive. Gay people have suffered at the hands of the aggressive heterosexual community, indeed often through state-sponsored aggression, for several hundred years. We suffer still: religious leaders preach hate, political leaders deny us equality, and in some countries being open about our sexuality means a death sentence. And this is why I make no apology for the image, stereotypes and all.

But Sir Gerald Howarth is right on one point: we in the aggressive homosexual community do want equal marriage to be a stepping stone to something. We want it to be a stepping stone to the end of discrimination. To universal acceptance. To normality.


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The Gove-Santorum axis of immorality

Michael Gove is the antichrist, isn’t he? Surely? Or is it Rick Santorum? It’s got to be one of them. Maybe it’s both? Maybe they’re two halves of the antichrist, two snap-together segments. The Lego antichrist. And in the nightmare scenario, the antichrist-enabler Cameron is toppled by Gove’s satanic helpers (prop. R. Murdoch) — who then install their dark lord as PM and scoot across to the US to engage in a holy fiddle to rig the election for Santorum.

Then at their first meeting, the first Gove-Santorum swivel-in, the two shake damp hands and a spark and a purple flash herald the apocalypse. Jagged cracks bubble with lava, flying monkeys with little matching purple hats flock and swoop and snatch up children and animals, and the Daily Express worries about the effect on house prices, blames the BBC, and pins its hopes on a large photograph of Princess Diana.

I mean, how is it conceivable in the modern world, with all its facts and actual knowledge and stuff, that these two dangerous idiots aren’t simply guffawed off the stage?

It is said that a mere touch from the former Senator from Pennsylvania audibly and visibly leeches the intelligence from your bones; and that cameras watching him pass through a crowd are steered away to avoid spotting the desiccated husks crumbling into neat piles of dust in his wake.

And Gove, poor Gove, his grey face never far from confused over-tired tears, is busily thrusting Britain’s education system forward into the 1950s, ensuring institutionalised faith-based homophobia, and sucking up to his once and future boss Murdoch like the Tories of Thatcher.

I despair.

You know, I thought you were supposed to get more conservative as you age: shifting from denim to the elasticated waistbands of M&S and all the comforts of traditional bigotry such as the Daily Mail. Instead I find I’m becoming more militant: I am intolerant of intolerance, of ignorance, of idiocy, of demagoguery. I might be a Grumpy Not-So-Old Man. Or, more likely, one of those militant homosexual atheists everyone is allegedly so afraid of. I fear I am in grave danger of buying a pair of co-op hemp dungarees and selling Socialist Worker on street corners, and muttering fascist under my breath at anyone with a newer iPhone than me.

The irony, I suppose, is that what jiggles my frosting about Gove and Santorum and, in fact, most politicians, is their sheer immorality.

Gove, supposedly working for us as Education Secretary, but meeting every five minutes with Murdoch — who, coincidentally, wants to make lots of money out of education. And good lord: the first “free school” to sign a funding agreement with Gove was co-founded by Toby Young, who is now a political columnist with Murdoch’s Sun on Sunday and whose first column tipped Gove as a future prime minister.

Santorum, misty-eyed wobbly-lipped defender of the Constitution of the United States of God Bless America, who says “I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state are absolute” and that such a separation was “not the founders’ vision”. OK, let’s hear from Thomas Jefferson, actual founding father and actual principal author of the actual Declaration of Independence. On New Year’s Day 1802, when he was actual US President, he wrote: “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and State.”


Like giving your corporate chums free labour and calling it voluntary work experience while threatening to withhold benefits from the slaves if they don’t comply. That’s immorality.

Like insisting that your right to marry is determined not by your character or your devotion or your behaviour, but by your chromosomes. That’s immorality.

There surely comes a time at which the immorality of those in and around power — which includes politicians, the journalists that cravenly support them, and the corrupt police — finally turns upon itself. This immoral triangle of power, rusting and crumbling. That day might be closer than we think.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to buy some dungarees and possibly a small cave in the Lake District.


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Someone has to be second

At last, a professional footballer has come out: Anton Hysén, son of eighties mulleted Kop legend Glenn. OK, he plays in the fourth tier of Swedish football – unlikely to hear the siren call of Abramovich gold or to wear his country’s cap any time soon – but he’s a professional footballer, he’s out, and he’s proud. And it has to start somewhere. Well, start againJustin Fashanu was first, twenty years ago.

Hysén emerges blinking into the rainbow just a few weeks after England cricketer Steven Davies. Both still young, eligible and non-munty, both hopefully with long careers to come, neither willing to sacrifice their personal happiness to the bigotry and intolerance of a dwindling minority of thugs and churchgoers.

The received wisdom is that Davies will have an easier time of it from spectators than Hysén. If your IQ is high enough to appreciate the rules and nuance of cricket, I suspect the theory goes, you won’t stampede to the exit in a froth of green-inked indignation whenever Davies adjusts his box.

Conversely, football is watched by walking tattoos: illiterate, innumerate, unthinking yobs judging sexuality by the chunkiness of a scarf’s knit and the heft of a fatty overhang.

Not true, of course. Gays watch and play football. Bigots watch and play cricket. The lazy stereotypes of the footballing thug and the TMS-addicted, bespectacled connoisseur of cricket are just as prevalent as that of the mincing, bitchy, promiscuous, diseased, cottaging queen. They exist: but are they the norm? Which way lies the trend?

It’s entirely possible that Hysén will receive no abuse from crowds, and that Davies will. Next time England play the West Indies in Jamaica, I virtually guarantee it.

However, just as we have the wisdom of crowds, we have the dumb predictability of crowds: past performance is a good indicator of future performance. The chances are that Hysén will receive more stick than Davies, though my hunch is that Swedish football crowds are more tolerant than English or Scottish ones – and vastly more tolerant than those of some other countries like Croatia or Russia.

I confess I am fascinated by how this will play out. How will the men themselves react to any grief they receive? How will their teammates and opponents respond? Or the stewards, or the police, or the rest of the crowd?

This is a social experiment being conducted in football for the first time in a generation, and in cricket for the first time ever. When rugby’s Gareth Thomas came out not long ago there was abuse from one crowd in one match – and the club and the authorities came down hard. Sadly there’s no guarantee that football and cricket would follow suit.

And Hysén’s experiences in tier four of Swedish football, whatever they are, might not transfer unchanged to the Emirates or Old Trafford, or even to Greenhous Meadow of League Two’s Shrewsbury Town, the rough equivalent of Hysén’s current club Utsiktens BK. Davies, though, is an international cricketer already and was part of the recent England tour of Australia. You can be sure that other gay footballers, other gay cricketers, and other gay people in other sports are watching this experiment with a wary eye. It could open the big gay floodgates, or bolt the closet door shut for another generation – or both.

Let’s assume that Hysén has the strength and character to play on despite any heckling and that Davies continues his Surrey and England careers untroubled by the vein-popping rage of Disgusteds of Tunbridge Wells. What then?

Would an English or Scottish football club – in any division – buy Hysén? (Dear journos: please ask them. Any answer you get, even no answer – especially no answer – is illuminating.)

Will the tabloids – and the tabloidesque broadsheets – publish the standard falling-out-of-a-club-at-5am-shocka story, or the kiss-and-tell exclusive, and treat them identically to straight sportsmen?

And my favourite: what will happen when either man finds a boyfriend? This will be a story, make no mistake; while the men might wish for privacy the media is unlikely to allow it. Undoubtedly the Littlejohns and Widdecombes and Phillipses and Moirs and Greens will be temporarily defrosted from their 1970s lives to be intolerant for money, or to selectively quote a poor translation of an old book of short stories, or to spout the usual guff about soap’n’showers, marriage and paedophilia.

But this is news only while it is novel. Nobody remembers the second million-pound footballer.

So who’s next?


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A knock at the door

(April 2013 note: I used some of the ideas from the short story below in my novel Disunited, written as Anthony Camber.)  


“Come in.”

The door opened, wafting sparkles of dust between the slices of pale December light struggling through the blinds. He approached nervously, like a schoolboy summoned to the Head’s office. But I was the scruffy one, in a training kit smeared with the day’s mud, and he was wearing a designer suit. Too much bling.

“Sit down, son,” I said, tossing some unfinished paperwork onto the desk, with all the rest.

“Cheers boss.” He perched. I hate it when they perch, it means trouble. At his age he should be strutting and sprawling, I thought, flashing back to when I was eighteen. A different world. Back then I didn’t have his salary, that’s for sure. Or his talent.

“Well?” I was still the boss.

An awkward pause. Please, not a transfer request.

“I need to tell you something.” Like I said, he was perching.

“OK.” Keep it light. “Don’t worry, I’ve got Max Clifford on speed dial.”

That forced a weak smile, no more. He stared at his shoes and fiddled with a ring. Fine: the day’s schedule disintegrated in my head, which at least meant the paperwork could be forgotten for another few hours.

“It’s just…”

“Come on lad. What is it? A fight? Paps caught you in a nightclub? Got some girl up the wossname?”


“Drugs? Listen, we’ve all done a little–”

“It’s not drugs. I’m not stupid.”

“A sex tape, then.”

“I haven’t done anything wrong.” His eyes blazed, the passion the fans loved him for, the passion that sparked into genius on the pitch. And now I knew there was trouble.

I was leaning forward – being confrontational, as usual. Bad idea. I forced myself to sit back, the leather chair creaking and crackling into the silence.

Calmly, despite my rocketing heart rate: “So tell me why you’re here.” I breathed slowly, deliberately, remembering penalties scored and missed, mine and others.

He hesitated. Mouth open and shut. A decision. Eye contact. “I’m gay.”

Freeze-frame for a second, or five. “I’m not in the mood for jokes.”

Another second. “No joke.”

“Because if this is a wind-up, I’ll–” I was forward again, agitated, visions of hidden cameras, Noel Edmonds, stupid gold-plated laugh-at-the-idiot-footballer trophies.

“Boss. I promise, no wind-up. On my mother’s life.” A pause, another choice made. “I’m not ashamed of it. It’s not a phase. And I’m not gonna hide it.”

I made a noise, some kind of neigh, as the air escaped my lungs. They didn’t cover this at the coaching academy.

Deep breath. Big sigh. I took in the room, not very fancy as these things go: desk, sofa, certificates, all seen better days. And photos of those better days, of a younger, clear-eyed me – shimmying round a defender, that look on his face; the cup-winning team, all scarves and smiles. Jeez, shorts were short then.

And here and now: a boy, no more than that, albeit a hugely talented, highly paid, coiffed and tailored one, perching – still perching – before me. A dust mote flashed in the light and I followed it, carefree, immortal, until it vanished in the shadows. I felt suddenly very old.

“No,” I said.

“Boss, I’m not joking.” I was quite sure of it.

“I don’t care. I will not allow it.”

“You can’t stop me.”

“No. I can’t stop you. I can’t stop you drinking, smoking, clubbing, and all those other things lads your age do. But when it affects your performance, the team’s performance, I can drop you.”

“You wouldn’t drop me.” Standard teenage arrogance.

“Try me.” His next line was knee-jerk, obvious.

“Then I’ll quit.”

This wasn’t getting us anywhere. Time for a different approach.

“Listen, son. There are no gay footballers. There’s a reason for that.”

“I’ve read all about it. Justin Fashanu, he was gay. He played at the top level.”

“One player. One. Who was abused, transferred. Cloughy knew what he got up to, kicked him out. He ended up killing himself, you know that?”

“It doesn’t have to be like that!” He was angry now. I should have tried to calm it down, but…

“That’s just the way it is, kiddo. Get used to it. Get a girlfriend. Get on with your life, forget all this gay nonsense.” Stoking the fire. I regretted it instantly, expected a barrage of abuse in return.

Instead he just laughed, the bitter laugh of a future denied. My head throbbed. I rubbed my temples, filling time, as no words came.

Quietly, he broke the silence. “It’s the twenty-first century, man. I just want to live my life.”

“I know.”

“Gareth Thomas, the rugby guy. He came out, no problems.”

“There was a bit of trouble, but… I know. But rugby’s a different sport, a different crowd.”

“Football’s not so different.”

My turn to laugh bitterly. “You’ve never played at Millwall.”

He grinned. The tension evaporated. Sunshine striped across his jacket, contours of light over his face.

I stood and adjusted the blinds. “You realise the first black players had bananas thrown at them,” I said. “They still do sometimes, despite everything. You still hear monkey chants.”

“People are afraid of difference. But difference is nothing to be ashamed of. No reason to hide away. The more black footballers, the better it got. The more gay footballers, the better it will get.”

“But to be first – it’s bound to affect your game. And the rest of the team.”

He shrugged. “Someone has to be first. I’ll sort the team out. I can do the tabloids, the TV, talk to the fans, get them behind me.”

“It’s not our fans you should be worried about.”

“Sure. But if Viv Anderson could do it, and Brendan Batson, and Laurie Cunningham, and Cyrille Regis, and all the others, including Fashanu, I can do it.”

“They couldn’t hide being black.”

“Damn right. And they didn’t want to either. They weren’t ashamed of being black, and I’m not ashamed of being gay.”

I had to admire his determination, and he knew his footballing history. He was full of surprises, this boy. But he was so young. Could he deal with the abuse when it undoubtedly came? The barracking, the filth, even the death threats? He was so young.

“Why now?”

“You telling me there’s a good time?”

Fair point. “But in a couple of seasons, when you’re more mature…”

“Boss. I’ve read the bio. You were married at 21, kid at 22, and no saint before that. I don’t want to hide away, skulk around in the shadows, spend the best years of my life afraid of being recognised or, worse, not getting any. It was different for you.”

I had to agree.

“And…” he hesitated. “In four years, there’s Brazil. I want to be in the squad. And I want my boyfriend there too, if I have one. One of the WAGs.”

I laughed at that. Footballers are always footballers. But he had more.

“And then in Russia in ’18, I might be married. And captain.”

“Christ, you’re nothing if not ambitious.”

“How do you think I got here, fancy clothes, flash car? I’d never have kicked a ball if I didn’t believe I could do it.”

“So what about 2022? With your attitude you might still be in the team at thirty. But you can’t be gay in Qatar. It’s illegal. You heard Blatter, he says gays should refrain from…” I waved my hand, he knew what I meant.

A look, a defiant smile. “That’s why I’m doing this.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Blatter doesn’t matter. He’s an old man. Old thinking, old ways. We make the world we want to see. If I come out now, be the first, stand up and be counted, be successful, others will follow. They won’t be afraid. It’ll take a few years, but by ’22 there’ll be dozens of us – out, international players. Whether I’m playing or not, I’ll be in Qatar. With a husband, and kids maybe. And I won’t be the only one.”

“It might still be illegal.”

“What are they gonna do? Flog us all? Kick us out?”

I looked at him, the man-boy, the heart of the team, the fire of youth. He wasn’t perching any more. He was right, damn him. He was too young, he was naive, he was hopelessly, recklessly optimistic, but he was right. At some point you have to make a stand. At some point you have to do what you know is right, regardless of consequences.

“OK,” I said finally, slowly, a plan forming. “OK. I’ll talk to people. Max Clifford won’t like it, though.”

“He can get stuffed.”

“Just… don’t say anything yet. Let me arrange things, get the timing right. You – you tell whoever needs to know before it all gets out.”

A grunt. “My family, my mates, they’ve always known. They’re like, whatever.”

I should have expected that by now. “Good. Right. Clear off. Keep quiet. Get ready.”

“I’m ready. Cheers boss. I’m ready.” He stood, face in the light again, as it always was, as it always would be. We shook hands with a smile and he left, flashes of dust billowing again in the echo of the closing door.

I drank in the silence, the room, the discarded paperwork. The rollercoaster of life. Still time to jump off. I picked up the office phone, hesitating over the keypad. A deep breath; time for penalties. I dialled the number.

“Hi darling,” I said. “It’s time for me to come out.”

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Old men, cretins and elephants

If ever further proof were needed that football is run by old men and cretins, I give you two recent items of news. And I’m not going to even mention John Terry.

First, the Confederation of African Football (Caf) bans Togo for two tournaments for the heinous crime of being ambushed by gunmen while travelling between venues at the recent Africa Cup of Nations. This ridiculous punishment was imposed because, apparently, the Togolese government “interfered” with the team: it told them to pull out of the tournament as a result of the attack.

Government interference in sport is, of course, a bad thing and not uncommon. But this letter-of-the-law kneejerk by the Caftwats betrays a bumbling level of crass insensitivity rivalled only by Kay “the entire eastern seaboard of the United States has been decimated by a terrorist attack” Burley on Sky News. It’d be like the International Olympic Committee kicking out Israel for trashing their rooms in Munich in 1972.

Second, the vague wafting of arthritic hands that supposedly constitutes action against homophobia by the Football Association. A campaign has been in development for two years. Two years. What are they doing, breeding elephants? Two years is about 49 different owners for Portsmouth. How much money has the FA spent in two years generating, approximately, FA?

Ah. The budget was ten grand. Take that, homoph- too late, all gone, spent. Ten grand is approximately half a day’s hard-earned for that fine, upstanding, former England captain John Terry (whoops, I did mention him after all). Roman Abramovich could drop ten grand on a platinum-iridium toothpick, and then drop the toothpick.

And what have those many, many thousands of pounds bought? A “hard-hitting” video – intended to go viral rather than actually, you know, get shown anywhere, because that would cost money – that the FA intended to launch this Thursday at Wembley. This launch has now been cancelled: apparently the FA wants to consult more widely and talk to focus groups before releasing it. In other words it’s got cold feet and wants to pretend the video never happened.

This video, according to John Amaechi who’s seen it, consists of 90 seconds of unchallenged homophobic bigotry in an office and at a football match, with the tagline: “This behaviour is unacceptable here [in the workplace]. So why should it be acceptable here [at the match]?”. And that, my friends, is what ten grand buys you these days. Dialogue the bigots would gleefully recite verbatim to hur-hurs from their thicko mates, and a tagline the length of Brighton pier that doesn’t even have the balls to tell people to stop doing it.

Football: where old men and cretins give peanuts to idiots to make counter-productive videos that nobody will see anyway. Ah, the beautiful game.

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The invisible revolution

People generally notice that they’re taking part in a revolution. Barbarians-at-the-gates revolutions with Bolshevik oiks toppling Romanov nobs and their imperialist haemophiliac ways are self-evident thanks to the bodies in the streets and the widespread clampdown on interesting haberdashery. But we’re in the middle of a revolution now, a revolution most people aren’t even barely aware of.

Two skirmishes in this revolution have taken place in the last week. They’re not the first and won’t be the last, but they’re a classic demonstration of cluelessness from the Old Guard.

The first can be summarised in one word: Trafigura. You, like me, had probably not heard the name before this week. The first inkling I had of a percolating story was a tweet from Ben Goldacre suggesting that the Guardian had been gagged from reporting Parliament. The bare facts emerged pretty quickly: this tweet revealed all to me a short time later. What followed, and the story behind it, is well documented so I shan’t bother here. The salient point to make is: welcome to a different world. In this world, sufficient eyeballs routes around censorship. Maybe not immediately, but ultimately.

The second skirmish involves the Daily Mail and is ongoing. One of its columnists, Jan Moir, wrote a hateful story that appeared on Friday morning entitled Why there was nothing “natural” about Stephen Gately’s death. As with Trafigura an immediate twitstorm ensured that the bigotry was well publicised. Comments on a Daily Mail article are usually of the string-em-up, ship-em-back variety, but not on this one: the writer’s views were soundly condemned. The Daily Mail changed the story’s headline (but not its content) in an attempt to paper over the cracks, and the article’s author has issued a non-apology apology. But more importantly for the paper, companies have pulled their adverts from the story.

People power again, yes; big deal, nothing new. But it’s yet another demonstration of the crucial difference between the bolshies and the nobs. What Trafigura’s legal team Carter-Ruck and the Daily Mail’s journalists don’t get is that people – more people every day – now realise that power, real power, is bottom-up not top-down. That’s at the core of this revolution.

Jan Moir complains in her non-apology that there is “clearly a heavily orchestrated internet campaign” to accuse her of homophobia. Excuse me while I point and laugh at the deluded woman. The Daily Mail is itself massively guilty of orchestrating campaigns in a traditional top-down approach: it was the Daily Mail that hyped up the Russell Brand/Jonathan Ross story, encouraging its readers to complain en masse to the relevant authorities about something they hadn’t themselves heard. That’s orchestration. Top-down.

Moir’s story about Gately offended individuals, who commented or tweeted or blogged to make their opinions known to others. Those others read the article themselves, made up their own minds, and communicated likewise. The network effect ensured that, pretty soon, word spread to connectors (to use Gladwell’s term from The Tipping Point) like Stephen Fry, Graham Linehan, Charlie Brooker and Derren Brown who have thousands of followers. Bottom-up. (I’m not using the word viral because that makes me think of marketing, and this is more fundamental.)

The same effect a few days earlier ensured everyone knew about Trafigura and its “super-injunction” gagging order on the media, even if they hadn’t read the Guardian and put two-and-two together. People also soon learned that Wikileaks held a copy of the Minton report, which says that Trafigura’s oil waste, dumped in west Africa, was potentially toxic. Meanwhile traditional media couldn’t even mention the report’s existence. Last night Trafigura caved again, since the ants had well and truly unstitched the bag to let out the potentially toxic pussy, and the Guardian became free to publish the report. Trafigura and Carter-Ruck bodged this up in as bodgy a way as it is possible to bodge, and questions are now being asked about how, on earth, could a judge issue such a super-injunction in the first place. And why do we have super-injunctions anyway?

Publicity about Moir’s article ensured the Press Complaints Commission web site was hammered out of existence for a time. But the PCC won’t do anything of consequence: it’s a toothless body, controlled by the newspapers themselves, that exists as a sop to politicans afraid to regulate an industry that knows all about their cupboard-based body parts. In any case its policy is to “normally accept complaints only from those who are directly affected by the matters about which they are complaining.” Which is handy.

The way to deal with the Daily Mail is, I hope by now, obvious: bottom-up. Continue to publicise its bigotry and hatred. Make its advertisers pull out.

The two incidents I’ve highlighted aren’t isolated cases. Earlier in the year a single tweet by Graham Linehan started off a “we love the NHS” campaign on Twitter to fight back against uninformed or deceitful comments from those on the side of private health insurers in the US healthcare debate. Many right-wingers in the UK proved they Just Didn’t Get It by claiming this was a Labour party campaign: nope. Bottom-up, not top-down.

Perhaps I’m being idealistic. Perhaps this is merely a Prague Spring of freedom before the tanks roll in. But I don’t think so. People may not be brandishing pitchforks but change is afoot and the world will be a very different place in ten years or so. At the moment we’re still clanking our way to the summit of the rollercoaster, and don’t have the faintest idea what’ll happen on the way down.


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Small things, big difference

You know what I’ve never done? I’ve never walked down the street holding someone’s hand.

It’s a little thing. Something you see couples doing all the time. And yet in all my many, many years on this planet this tiny, innocent, unconscious pleasure has been absent.

OK, mostly because I’m permasingle.

And OK, strictly speaking I have done so once or twice, but usually (a) late at night and (b) after one or two drinkies, and they (c) don’t count.

But setting aside my personal foibles, and by jeebus I wish I could, you don’t see same-sex couples thusly entwined that often – even in liberal, academic, geeky, absent-minded Cambridge. The section of my memory devoted to people-watching has only a small shelf devoted to such sightings, in a lonely corner of the barely used east wing (which does, however, benefit from a southerly aspect and could be converted to luxury apartments for the buy-to-let market).

Occasionally while pottering through town I spot two men exchanging a glance or briefly touching in a way that to the trained eye telegraphs GAYS!, and so pleased am I at recognising this ping on my gaydar I often have to stop myself bellowing the word out loud. To the unknowing crowds barrelling along with their 2.4s to their 4x4s, this momentary intimacy is invisible.

Like wizards, gays are subtle and quick to anger. But long beards are right out.

What’s stopping more of us from showing affection in public? Habit I guess. The fear of prejudice. Is that fear real? Not in the centre of Cambridge, in daylight. When I have seen gay couples hand in hand in town on a Saturday afternoon – often tourists – nobody has batted an eyelid let alone brandished a baseball bat.

But in the same location at night when the pubs muck out? Or further out of town, say in the wilds of Arbury? Not so easy to answer. “Better safe than sorry” seems a wise approach. The fact is that despite plenty of evidence to the contrary some people still think we’re an unnatural abomination (possibly because their imaginary friend said so, or at least a man claiming to represent their imaginary friend said so).

I wish more people would refuse to be lectured to about sexuality by an organisation that covers up known paedophiles in its ranks rather than exposes them. Or, for that matter, that prays for the poor while exhibiting in its museums (with an entry fee) the priceless riches it has gathered and hoarded over the centuries.

Gordon Brown’s recent apology to Alan Turing and to all those similarly abused by the law and the misguided thinking of earlier generations is long overdue (and, I think, honest albeit with a dash of politics). However, despite Brown’s fine words we don’t have true equality under the law today. We have an equivalence, but not equality. While a few men in robes preaching selected lines from ancient, poorly translated story books have a veto on our freedoms, saying – in effect – that we are not worthy, that we are to be pitied – then thugs and morons are given licence to prejudge.

The reality is that people are still beaten and killed for being gay, even in this country, even when homosexuality is legal, even when two men or two women can be all-but married, even when openly gay men and women are virtually in charge of the country (Mandelson) and ever-present in the media (Barrowman).

Last Friday night, apparently, smokers outside the Bird in Hand received homophobic abuse from some passing twats in a taxi. Knowing some of those smokers I’m sure they gave as good as they got. But a few months ago one of them was spat on – in the mouth, delightfully – by someone pretending to ask for directions. And around the same time the ladybouncer decided that one particular threat was sufficiently worrying to convince the landlord to shut the pub early. (Why yes, a fair was in town. Funny that.)

Homophobia happens even in Cambridge. Liberal, academic, geeky, absent-minded Cambridge.

But this is homophobia-lite, paling in comparison to the treatment literally and figuratively given to Turing, or to gay people in Iraq post-Saddam (hey, thanks W!), or to gay people in Jamaica, or to Matthew Shepard in the US. We have it easy by comparison.

There’s no time for complacency, however. Despite great progress across society, much of it thanks to Tony Blair’s government, some parents still throw out and disown their children on discovering their sexuality. Some employers still find a way to discriminate – the church has legal permission to do so. Some current MPs voted for, or against the repeal of, Section 28 (David Cameron PR MP now apologises for this). Some current MPs voted against an equal age of consent (hello David Blunkett and John Redwood), a law finally enacted only when the government used the Parliament Acts to force it through after the House of Lords rejected it too often. And some broadcasters (such as Chris Moyles) can get away with just a rap on the knuckles after making jokes about sexuality that, had they been about race, would have resulted in instant dismissal. (Reminder to broadcasting companies: you don’t tolerate Jim Davidson’s 1970s routines any more.)

I don’t believe I’ve experienced any direct prejudice. But then, I’ve never walked down the street holding someone’s hand. My sexuality is effectively invisible. Yeah, tell me about it.

Visibility is, I’m convinced, key to changing attitudes. As many have said – but often just in the context of new technology – through the eyes of a child, everything is normal. Segregate children by race or by religion and they see those barriers as normality: and myths and divisions and prejudice perpetuate for another depressing generation. It is only by talking, by integrating, by demonstrating that gays and straights can be equally exciting, talented, tedious, clever, arrogant, funny, shy, loud and camp, and all the other wondrous adjectives that can describe this lucky species of ours, that the prejudice that remains will begin to evaporate.

It’s happening. There are high-ranking, confident, visible gays everywhere in people’s lives: much more so than in previous generations. In the technology world sexuality appears entirely irrelevant; a gaytopia, the Emerald City that many of Dorothy’s closest friends seek. In my current and previous jobs I was certainly not the only gay in the office – and both relatively small offices too.

That barometer of British attitudes The Sun has gone from shock-horror “EastBenders” twenty-odd years ago to tolerant and jokey “Elton Takes David Up The Aisle”. The Daily Mail is a little behind, still reeling from the onslaught of Elvis and pop music, and probably needs another couple of decades (if it’s still around).

One huge, yawning gap remains: sport. There were only two openly gay men at the Beijing Olympics: Matthew Mitcham and Mathew Helm. There are no openly gay Premier League footballers, and while football retains its thuggish reputation it’s unlikely that gay footballers would be willing to come out and endure the vitriol from crowds that would undoubtedly result (look at what happened to Sol Campbell).

But change is happening in sport too. Next year’s Winter Olympics in Vancouver is making an effort, albeit a slightly bonkers one. You can bet that London 2012 will take things further, Boris and the ancient ones of the IOC permitting. The FA? Don’t hold your breath; I think they’re still in two minds about the whole “referee” thing.

I give it another ten years or so. By 2020 there’ll be at least one openly gay footballer in the Premier League, or whatever daft name it’ll have by then. He’ll be abused but it’ll be no different to the abuse players receive now when they switch clubs – abuse that mysteriously disappears as soon as they put on England shirts. He’ll be a shirt-lifter but when he scores goals he’ll be their shirt-lifter.

True homophobia won’t be eliminated – there’ll still be a Pope, after all. But it’ll follow the pattern of racism: racist attitudes commonplace in the 1970s, such as monkey chants at football matches and worries about house prices when “the coloureds” move in, are now seen as breathtakingly offensive, at least in this country. So it will go with homophobia: people will gasp at the blatant bigotry and incitement to hatred seen as acceptable by some today.

To get to those big gay sunlit uplands, we start from here, helpfully. I would hold someone’s hand in the street right now, had I a someone and had he a hand. In fact, starting on September 26th, the last Saturday of each month is being designated “same-sex hand-holding Saturday“. It’s all about increasing visibility, reprogramming “normality”. I hope it gains some support: I’d love to see it succeed. And maybe, eventually, I’ll take part.


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