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Richard Rooney, Liverpool John Moores University
Abstract This paper investigates the coverage of male homosexuality by the British press. It concentrates on three periods of significance to homosexuals: the Wolfenden Committee on prostitution and homosexuality of 1954-7, the Sexual Offences Act of 1967, and the separate emergence of gay civil rights and the Aids crisis in the 1970s and 1980s. A survey of the press across six decades concludes that all newspapers had the tendency to ignore homosexuals. Such coverage as there was identifies homosexuals as either inverts or perverts. This not only taught non-homosexuals to view homosexuals as a social menace, but also had the potential to teach homosexuals themselves of their own worthlessness. The paper demonstrates that newspapers assume that everyone is heterosexual and this is the only natural, normal, decent way to be. Throughout the six decades there is an almost total lack of recognition of the gay viewpoint and experience. Newspapers discourage homosexuality as a political movement and frame all discussion in terms of morality rather than politics. Introduction The history of the homosexual is a hidden history. The documentary evidence that exists about the lives of homosexuals tends to centre on scandals or the memoirs and biographies of literary homosexuals. This is no surprise since ordinary homosexuals, in a period when homosexuality was illegal, were adept at keeping separate their public and private lives. Understandable though this is it does mean that our understanding of how ordinary homosexuals lived is flawed (it is also debatable whether the situation has changed significantly as we enter the twenty-first century). Male homosexuals have been forced to build their lives surrounded by prejudice, ignorance and social hostility. (Porter and Weeks, 1991. Weeks, 1977). For most of the time most news media (and this is not just the situation with print news media) ignores homosexuals and homosexuality. Indeed, at all times in the past 50 years the Press's concern has been
less with homosexuality as such, or with homosexuals, than the shockability of its readers. Interest is generally expressed only when events forced the subject on newspapers. (Weeks, 1977, p.162). This paper explores the Press coverage of homosexuality from the 1950s until the late 1980s. It looks at three distinct periods of importance in homosexual history: the 1950s and the first stirrings of law reform; the 1967 Sexual Offences Act that decriminalised certain types of homosexual behaviour; and the early days of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s that threatened to undo the social advances made in the previous thirty years. It ought to be recognised that although the above events generated a lot of column inches in the Press, coverage of homosexuality has been spasmodic over the years. Between the high points discussed here there were many times when the subject remained unreported. Even when homosexuality forced itself onto the (mainly) political agenda, at times in which Parliament was debating law reform, for example, coverage was by no means universal among all sections of the Press. The popular (as in high circulation) newspapers tended to ignore the subject even then. Today there is more coverage of homosexuality than at any other time in history, but this should not be equated with an increase in acceptance of homosexuality. Press coverage continues to reinforce homosexual stereotypes and objectify homosexuals, turning them, into less than human beings. (Weeks, 1977, p.162). The Press stereotypes homosexuals and this stereotyping becomes ideological when it becomes a vehicle for values. Social attitudes to homosexuality reflect deeply imbued fear and hatred of homosexuality. Oppression of homosexuals is legitimized by the Press, politicians, the Church and (especially in the 1950s and 1960s) by medical opinion. The dominant position of these organisations is to repress homosexual behaviour. Even in the rare cases when favourable stories are written they tend to praise homosexuals who live like heterosexuals in stable relationships and conform to some notion of what men are supposed to be like (hard working, monogamous, part of an ideal nu22 Association for Journalism Education Conference Papers 2000
clear family). Homosexual dissidents (those who proselytize for law reform or seek a number of sexual partners, for example) are excluded from the arena of debate. The Press labels homosexuals 'bad' because they are not like 'us'. Newspapers assume that with sexuality there are oaly two polarities - the heterosexual, and the homosexual and people are reduced to one of other of these groups. Newspapers use a language of exclusion, nearly always assuming that their readers are heterosexual and that homosexuals are members of some group that exists away from their readers' personal experience. As Richard Dyer says these stereotypes exist 'to make visible the invisible, so that there is no danger of it creeping up on us unawares, and to make fast firm and separate what is in reality much closer to the norm than the dominant value system cares to admit.' (Cited in Medhurst, 1998, p.285) The news media use a process of selection, magnification and reduction to create stereotypes of the homosexual. It takes one perceived attribute of a social group, boils it down until it comes to stand for that group. By the 1950s the stereotype of the homosexual was firmly fixed. It has changed remarkably little since. Homosexuals are divided into two types: the invert and the pervert. Inverts are the 'good' homosexuals. These are people who are freaks of nature or accidents of some terrible environment, usually the product of a strong or dominant mothers and weak and absent fathers. This 'genuine' homosexual is easily identified by his effeminate way of acting and is a small minority of those men indulging in homosexual practices The pervert is the danger and causes all the problems. The pervert is really a heterosexual who has lost his way. The pervert is not a homosexual: but a heterosexual, who engages in homosexual practices. All perverts are addicted to homosexual sex. Some seek this activity for an additional experience while others find it exciting to do something forbidden. Others have been corrupted in early youth. It is this element of corruption that makes the pervert a menace to society. He is a danger because, unlike the invert, he can not be detected. (Higgins, 1996, Pp.21-22). Homosexual men are only distinguished from other men by their sexual desires. The homosexual's life is seen to resolve around sexual desire since it is only that desire that separates the homosexual from the heterosexual (with this position fixed it becomes difficult to move from this framework to discuss the political dimensions of homosexuality, the structure of family life and so on). Press stories set a distinction between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. (Porter and Weeks pi). 'Unacceptable' behaviour is confined to a small
and alien group. Those who are non-homosexual are reassured of their non-problematic membership of the dominant sex and class. As Simon Shepherd says Press hysteria helps to produce 'disavowals of homosexuality'. The disavowal works not only to closet individual but also to create barriers of non-recognition between homosexuals. (Shepherd, 1989, Pp.220-223).
The 1950s: the stirrings of homosexual law reform You do not have to be a conspiracy theorist to feel that news about homosexuals was deliberately kept out of the Press in the period up to the mid 1950s. In 1953 the Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir John Nott-Bower issued instructions that police officers should attempt to smash homosexuality in London. To do this there was to be a concerted attempt to increase the number of arrests. None of this was reported in the British Press. You had to read the Sydney Sunday Telegraph to find out what was happening in our own capital city. When homosexuality was mentioned in newspapers it was always with disapproval and most usually concerned court trials of homosexual sex crime so that homosexuality became to tally unmentionable in any context other than abuse or condemnation (Sanderson, 1995, Pp.5-6. Higgins, 1996, Pp.179230). In the 1950s some newspapers, most notably the Sunday Pictorial and the Daily Mirror, began to expose what editor-in-chief Hugh Cudlipp called the 'spreading fungus' of homosexuality. Cudlipp's contribution, as we shall see below, was to vilify homosexuality by making it indistinguishable from paedophilia in the public mind. (Cudlipp, 1962, P.317) Press coverage of homosexuality increased dramatically in the 1950s. Patrick Higgins notes that there had been more written in the British Press about homosexuality in the six month period beginning October 1953 than at any time since Oscar Wilde's trials in 1895. (Higgins, 1996, P.5). In the 1950s an increasing amount of space was being devoted to coverage of court cases involving homosexuality. In 1954 the Cabinet was so concerned about this that it discussed the possibility of encouraging a private member's bill to restrict newspaper reporting of court cases involving homosexuality. It realised that it could not get away with this so instead set up a Home Office departmental committee of inquiry into homosexuality and how it might be contained (a Royal Commission was ruled out because this would have to take evidence in public). At the same time the government wanted to clear prostitutes (male and female) from the streets of large cities. It was particularly concerned to protect what it saw as public decency, fully expecting prostitution to be taken off the streets but to continue behind closed doors from flats, as had been the
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experience in many US cities when similar measures had been introduced. (Higgins, 1996. Weeks, Coming 1977) The Wolfenden Committee, which resulted, sat from 1954-1957. Its main recommendations as far as homosexuality was concerned was that homosexual behaviour between consenting adults over the age of 21 in private should be no longer a criminal offence and that questions relating to 'consent' and 'in private' be decided by the same criteria as apply in the case of heterosexual acts. (Wolfenden, 1957, par 355) The Wolfenden report placed the topic of homosexuality high on the news agenda, but not for long. During most of 1957 the Daily Mirror never mentioned homosexuality at all. After the publication of the Wolfenden report in September it devoted 963 column inches to the subject in two weeks. The following week, interest dropped to 43 inches, and thereafter to practically nil. In the 1950s the Sunday Pictorial systematically set out to dehumanise homosexuals and to undermine moves towards law reform. In November 1953 when Sir David Maxwell Fyfe was appointed Home Secretary the Sunday Pictorial ran a campaign urging him to be tough on vice. In particukr, it demanded that he force magistrates to use their full power to deal with homosexuals and soliciting by prostitutes of both sexes. (1 November 1953). The campaign was vicious, even by the standards of the time. It might be no coincidence that the following month Sir David told the House of Commons, 'Homosexuals in general are exhibitionists and proselytizers and are a danger to others, especially the young. So long as I hold the office of Home Secretary 1 shall give no countenance to the view that they should not be prevented from being such a danger.' (3 December 1953. Cited in David, 1997,p.l77). The Pictorial's other major contribution to dehumanising homosexuals came with a series of three articles under the collective title 'Evil Men', published in the summer of 1952. Hugh Cudlipp, in his memoirs, described this series as 'a sincere attempt to get to the root of a spreading fungus, but the taboo was still strong; so absolute in fact, that nothing practical was done to solve the worst aspects of the problem-the protection of children from perverts.' (Cudlipp, 1962, p.317). The series is especially remarkable because it encourages every misconception of the homosexual that popular prejudice could muster. One point that the Pictorial was determined to emphasise was that 'If homosexuals are tolerated here, Britain would rapidly become decadent'. (25 May 1952). Issues of social order were at stake. Newspapers assumed that homosexuality was a moral, argument rather than a political one, so arguments tended to framed in terms of morality and family values.
The articles by Douglas Wrath told his readers that homosexuals were conspiring against the natural order of Britain. He implied that upper class perverts were corrupting decent working class boys. Parents had to be vigilant; you could never tell who was a pervert. 'Few of them [homosexuals] look obviously effeminate - that is why people so often remain in ignorance of the danger. Many who have never been brought to book, are listed in secret police records as "suspects".' Wrath went on: 'There is a freemasonry among them which brings the rich, pampered degenerate into touch with the "rough" who acquired his unnatural habits from some corrupting youth club leader.' The young were in danger so drastic measures were needed save the nation, 'so many normal people have been corrupted and, in turn, corrupt others'. The use of expert testimony was an important way in which the Press built its case against homosexuals. Experts gave scientific validity to prejudice. The Pictorial quoted 'the great psychiatrist Clifford Alien, the accepted medical authority on the subject'. (Wolfenden called him to give evidence) Newspapers were so intent on demonising homosexuals that they never questioned the obvious quackery of some medical opinion. Alien told the Pictorial that homosexuals tended to be more intelligent than non-homosexuals. 'It must be admitted that sexual abnormalities do, in the main, occur in the more intellectual and artistic types whose abilities are so worth preserving in the future representatives of the race.' There was 'a terrific amount of biological waste' because 'many intelligent types fail to reproduce'. The Pictorial called for medical camps to be set up to experiment on. homosexuals until a cure for their mental illness could be found. Wrath wrote, 'To treat these corrupters of youth as mere invalids would be as sensible as sending a baby .murderer to a convalescent home.' Sending homosexuals to prison was also a danger (Wrath reminds his readers that homosexuality was rife in prisons). 'What is needed is a new establishment for them Like Broadmoor. It should be a clinic rather than a prison, and these men should be sent there and kept there until they are cured.' Wrath accepted that medical science did not know how to cure homosexuality but 'a Broadmoor for homosexuals will enable the medical man to do the research that is needed. 'And, if any pervert there failed to respond to treatment at least society would know that he was not at large spreading his poison and the misery that accompanies it.' So there you. have it. The thorough dehumanisation of the homosexual. The right place for him, according to the Pictorial, was in a medical experi-
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ment camp. And if he would not go there of his own free will, he would be forcibly removed. (From this distance, this series of articles might look shocking, but some of these sentiments surfaced again In the Press In the 1980s In the early days of the AIDS crisis, when homosexuals were being demonised as carriers of disease). It is useful at this stage to consider what the generally considered medical view of homosexuality was in the 1950s and 1960s. It was accepted by all sections of the Press (and society in general as far as one can tell from documents of the time) that homosexuality was a disease and that it could be cured. The only matter for debate was what was the most humane way to do this. At its heart the medical model states that homosexuality is a symptom of a lack of development in the individual, it is a deviance or perversion and therefore has its causes and has to be expkined (no one asks for an explanation for the 'causes' of heterosexuality). A respected figure C. G. Learoyd wrote in the Practitioner journal in 1954 'As one would expect with their essential lack of mental control, many [homosexuals] exhibit other sexual abnormalities, masochism, sadism, exhibitionism, transvestitism, and all the dog-like interests in excretion and excretory products. They are also often criminal. [...] The idea that a practising homosexual can be perfectly highminded in other respects is a carefully fostered illusion.' (Learoyd, 1954, p360). Homosexual men were compared quite regularly to walking time bombs waiting to explode, and the language of sickness and sexuality, disease and deviance has become inextricably intertwined. This 'medical model' gave homosexuals a deep sense of inferiority and inadequacy. (Weeks, 1977, Pp.27-31. Moran, 1989, p. 187. Ellis and Heritage, 1989, p.39). The Pictorial was determined to equate homosexuality with child molestation. Even in a laudable campaign against a man calling himself Father Ingram who set up his own private school, and then molested a number of boys in his care. The Pictorial chased Father Ingram through its columns for three years. Eventually, as the Pictorial reported on 16 May 1.954, Father Ingram was arrested in the company of a 17-year-old former pupil. He was jailed for 10 years. Once Ingram was safely behind bars Pictorial editor Colin Valdar summed up the lessons to be learned from the episode. Headlined, 'If You Love Children This Is The Urgent Lesson of the Evil "Father" Ingram'. The lesson according to Valdarwas "... howmany private schools, without effective supervision, are exposing children to the 'care' of known homosexuals?' (18 July 1954). Even newspapers that believed they had a tolerant approach to homosexuality accepted the medical model without question. Reynold's News, a left
of centre popular Sunday newspaper, asked its resident doctor Brian Welbeck to write on 'homosexuality - a topic that no other newspaper has dared to deal with along such objective Hues'. (11 April 1954). Welbeck's case was that up to 55 per cent of the population 'have at some time indulged in a mild form of homosexual activity'but adult homosexuality does not progress from the adolescent phase 'not for moral or physical reasons but because of emotional conditions in childhood'. Homosexuality is not a vice nor a sign of deep moral degradation. 'These men are from, a clinical point of view suffering from a genuine mental illness which can in many cases be treated successfully provided help is obtained for them early enough.' To demonstrate to readers the validity of its argument the newspaper included a separate report 'I WAS AN OUTCAST, By a man who found new hope, was cured and is now happily married.' As suggested earlier one of the great difficulties of historical research into homosexuality is the lack of contemporaneous accounts of the lives of ordinary homosexuals. In the 1950s homosexuals were socially isolated and one suspects particularly vulnerable to 'expert' opinion such as this. It is quite likely that homosexuals suffered from a self-fulfilling stereotype. If you tell people often enough that they are inferior they will come to believe it. Reynold's News published a number of letters in response to Welbeck's article. These offer valuable insights into the terror homosexuals and their family must have faced as social outcasts. People believed what they read in the newspapers. Is it too fanciful to suggest that in the absence of any other source of information on homosexuality the newspaper campaigns quite directly ruined many lives? The stereotypes portrayed in. the Press certainly had the potential to make homosexuals doubt themselves and share the general contempt for sexual inverts. One man wrote about 'my secret longings which for years I have shamefully suppressed until now I know I. am on the verge of a breakdown.' The letter continues, 'I have always known. I was different. I have loved sincerely and with all my heart quite a number of my friends. 'Twice it became more than friendship but the remorse was too much for me. I saw neither of them again. 'I used to be a boys' club leader, and there in my craving for affection found an outlet in service of others. But I have given it up in case I should find myself too interested in them. 'I lavish affection on my several dogs, but that is not enough. But what can I do? To whom can I turn for help? I am not an evil person, I know.' (Reynold's News 4 April 1954) Association for Journalism Education Conference Papers 2000 25
Here is further evidence that the newspapers had a profound effect on how people viewed homosexuality. Responding to the idea that over affectionate mothers could turn their sons homosexual, a mother wrote to Reynold's News to reproach herself for making her son a homosexual. She explains how, if she were able, she would alter her previous behaviour towards him. Implicit in her testimony is that other mothers should follow her example and treat their own sons accordingly. 'I would take early note of every deviation from the normal. I would refrain from too much .molly coddling. We mothers are so afraid of pain for our children that often we rob them of valuable experience. They would become better adjusted to life if allowed to round off the rough edges naturally.' She advised mothers to consult a medical psychologist as soon as the inversion is suspected and refuse a verdict that nothing can be done. Her conclusion is that if they want to homosexuals can be normalised sufficiently to take their proper place in society. (11 April 1954) Often unconsciously homosexuals internalise the expectations that popular psychology and psychiatry have for them. It is difficult to withstand the conventional wisdom even when it contradicts your own experience. Fear of public opinion and a deep internalisation of guilt and secrecy had a corrosive affect on people's lives. Hugh David has written that without the support of a homosexual community, homosexual men very often find themselves in anomic isolation, all too ready to believe everything they read about themselves. He tells the story of a young homosexual PhD student in the 1950s who read in a Sunday paper about a doctor who claimed he could cure homosexuality. 'Nicholas' signed up for treatment and for more than a year took aversion therapy with a series of hourly injections designed to make him vomit at the thought of men. Later parts of his treatment included electric shocks and psychoanalysis. Finally the doctor prescribed doses of LSD, Doctors told Nicholas that they could make him no longer find men sexually attractive, but could not make him find women attractive. (David, 1997, Pp.182-187). This testimony exposes the medical model. Doctors, supported by the Press, wanted to stop people having homosexual urges. They did not necessarily want to turn homosexuals into heterosexuals. They sought to enforce standard heterosexual normality on homosexual patients. They sought to help homosexuals overcome social pressures rather than advocate changes to heterosexual behaviour.
The 1960s and the Sexual Offences Act During the 1950s and 1960s agitation for homosexual law reform increased. The Press ignored much of this.
Homosexual law was finally reformed by the Sexual Offences Act 1967. The Act decriminalised homosexual activities in private for adults over the age of 21. It applied only to England and Wales and did not cover the merchant navy or the armed forces. But homosexuality was not, as such, legalised. (Weeks, 1977, p.176). This reform was the result of evolution of attitudes. In the 1960s a new climate of liberalism emerged and with it a homosexual sub-culture that became a trendsetter in parts of the fashion and arts worlds. Personal liberation and sexual liberation went hand in hand. Publicly acceptable behaviour, including the sexual, helped to increase the visibility of homosexuality. Although newspapers were generally hostile to homosexuality, television influenced a new openness on the subject. In 1964 the This Week documentary series compared the situation of British homosexuals with those in the more liberal Netherlands. In the previous year the drama series Z Cars had featured a storyline involving two homosexuals who were being blackmailed. (Jeffrey-Poulter 43-44). The 1960s was also a decade of increasing sexual freedom for women and patterns of family life moved away from the nuclear model. It was becoming increasingly more difficult to exclude homosexuals from changes that recognised sexual pleasure as a desirable goal in itself. (Jeffrey-Poulter, 1991, Pp.43-44. Hobsbawm, 1995, Pp 323-333). It was becoming increasingly evident that the law relating to homosexuality did not work so it was best to change it. In 1965 a National Opinion Poll suggested that 63 per cent of respondents were in favour of decriminalising homosexual acts between consenting adults. In Parliament those in favour of law reform avoided moral arguments and instead tried to ensure debate was rational and moderate as possible, believing that emotion and prejudice would ruin chances of success. (Weeks, 1977, Pp. 1.74-175) As Les Moran says, the language of the Act was toleration. Homosexuality was to be endured. Deviance would be allowed to exist, but it would remain firmly deviant. 'It was still wicked, wrong, corrupt, ill, immature'. Even today the law presents homosexuality as a danger to others, to children, the family and the security of the state. As Moran maintains the law is designed to contain homosexuality and keep it in its place. (Moran, 1989, Pp. 189-190). The climate in the 1960s had turned towards one of tolerance rather than acceptance. The difference as Dennis Altman says, is that tolerance is a gift extended by the superior to the inferior while acceptance recognises the equal validity of a style of Life. Tolerance of homosexuality can co-exist with a considerable suspicion of, and hostility towards, it
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(Altaian, 1974, Pp. 51-52). The Sexual Offences Act of 1967 remains the most important piece of legislation affecting the lives of male homosexuals that has been passed in more than 100 years. The Press of the time virtually ignored it. Leo Abse MP had first tried to get a Bill passed in Parliament to implement some of the Wolfenden proposals as early as 1962. The House of Commons talked it out. In May 1965 the House of Lords voted in favour of Abse's new decriminalisation Bill. When he tried to introduce it as a Ten-Minute Rule Bill in the House of Commons in the same month it was defeated. Several more attempts to introduce a Sexual Offences Bill failed until Abse reintroduced the Bill in July 1966. It took a year to make its way through Parliament with the most acrimonious debates taking place in June and July 1967. Despite the long history of struggle for homosexual law reform both inside and outside Parliament most newspapers ignored the passage of the Bill. The Daily Mirror, at the time the biggest selling morning paper with a circulation of more than 5 million, did not publish a single story on the subject in the final run up to legislation until the Bill was finally passed. And then it was to warn homosexuals not to flaunt their newfound freedom (22 July 1967). The Daily Express, the Mirror's main rival for circulation, ran two short stories during the whole debate. In both cases it described the measure as a 'Vice Bill' in headlines which tells us all we need to know about that paper's attitude to the legislation. The Daily Sketch, a high minded Tory paper aimed at the working classes, did little better. The broadsheet papers gave the passage of the bill much more coverage. As was typical of the age, the Times and the Guardian, gave detailed coverage of debates as the bill moved through both houses of Parliament. But this was done in splendid isolation. The Times made no reference to homosexuality throughout the whole of 1967 except when it reported directly from Parliament. Nowhere was the voice of the homosexual heard. The entire Parliamentary debate assumed that homosexuals were a body apart. Indeed, some indignation was felt when one Tory MP suggested obliquely that some members of Parliament might themselves be homosexual and ought to declare the fact. This prompted the London Evening News to publish its only story of the campaign. The paper was only interested in. the row between some MPs who felt the finger was being pointed at them. No newspaper, however 'liberal' its editorial agenda, published the thoughts of homosexuals. No correspondence column contained letters from homosexuals. The coverage of the broadsheets give the best possible insight into the debates in Parliament. The
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Times and the Guardian gave what seem to be faithful reports of the debates in Parliament. It is probably unfair to criticise the newspapers for the attitudes of politicians, but it is clear that no serious newspaper made attempts to put a contrary view. As a result homosexuality was framed for readers in terms of perversion. For example, Ray Mawby MP (Con: Totnes) was allowed to go unchallenged when he said, 'The general public consider this an abomination, so much so that they are not prepared to talk about it. Many of my constituents ask me why Parliament should be so obsessed with the subject.' (Guardian 24 June 1967). This in spite of the findings of the National Opinion Poll two years previously which found a majority of people in favour of decriminalisation. lan Percival (Con: Southport) felt the whole subject of homosexuality was best left unspoken, 'If it were not that there were young people in the public gallery it might be useful to explain it,' he said. 'But that one offence is so utterly disgusting and degrading that I don't wish to give the details of it in public here or anywhere else, but let nobody be in any doubt of the disgusting nature of that offence.' (Guardian 24 June 1967). Even supporters of the legislation were unable to accept homosexuality. At best the English establishment was prepared to tolerate the condition. But only under the strictest conditions. Roy Jenkins, the Home Secretary, sending the Bill to the Lords said, 'This is not a vote of confidence in, or congratulation for, homosexuality. Those who suffer from this disability carry a great weight of loneliness, guilt, shame and other difficulties.' (Guardian 5 July 1967). The extent to which legislators wanted the subject of homosexuality brushed aside is exemplified by the Earl, of Arran, the main sponsor of the Bill in the House of Lords. On the day the measure passed into law, he told the Lords, 'I ask those who have, as it were, been in bondage and for whom the prison doors are now open, to show their thanks by comporting themselves quietly and with dignity. This is no occasion for jubilation and certainly not for celebration. 'Any form of ostentatious behaviour now or in the future, or any form of public flaunting, would be utterly distasteful and would, I believe, make the sponsors of the Bill regret that they had done what they had done. 'Homosexuals must continue to remember that while there may be nothing bad in being a homosexual, there is certainly nothing good. '... No amount of legislation would prevent homosexuals from being objects of dislike and derision, or at best of pity.' (Times, 22 July 1967). It was this speech that provided the Daily Mirror with its only coverage of the Act. (22 July 1967). The Guardian reported the Earl of Arran as
saying, 'Homosexuals would always be disliked, derided or at best pitied; they would always be the odd men out and they would have to bear it like men.' (22 July 1967). The News of the World called the new law 'a blot on the country' and a 'charter for corruption'. (27 July 1967) Such was enlightened England. As the debates published above demonstrate, as far as lawmakers were concerned all manifestations of homosexuality were still Inadmissible. There was still a deep-rooted antagonism to homosexuality despite the advances in sexual freedom that were taking place elsewhere in society. Much to the annoyance of the lawmakers no doubt, homosexuality became more visible. Newspapers took it upon themselves to monitor homosexuality and keep it decently hidden. In a classic piece of its kind Denis Cassidy of the Sunday People visited a pub frequented by homosexuals in Leeds. He saw men dancing cheek to cheek, kissing, holding hands and petting. He called upon the police to close the pub down on the grounds that homosexuals were flaunting themselves. (24 March 1968). Despite the open hostility of the Press, 'gay pride' replaced self-oppression during the 1970s. The homosexual sub culture grew throughout the western world and there was a huge increase in the number of homosexual groups in the UK with a certain amount of merging of homosexual and heterosexual youth cultures, most obviously in pop music. (Weeks, 1977). But there was also much state activity to oppress homosexuals, especially by the police. The number of prosecutions of homosexual men actually increased in the UK after 1967, especially for offences committed in public toilets. Homosexuality might have become increasingly acceptable but only so long-as it did not cross frontiers. (Weeks 229). A National Opinion Poll in 1975 suggested that 40 per cent of those asked felt that homosexuals should be allowed to live their lives openly. Reporting on the poll's findings Gay News was remarkably prescient about how public attitudes to homosexuality would change in the next decade as the scourge of AIDS reached Britain. 'It sees that overall tolerance will last for as long as homosexuals are not perceived as a positive disruptive force in society. If their presence is ever perceived as extensive enough to undermine 'normal' society, it seems likely that this tolerance would become modified into a harder attitude.' (JeffreyPoulter, 1991,p.H5). There was renewed political activity inside and outside Parliament to make further civil rights gains for homosexuals. Debates in 1977 about lowering the age of homosexual consent in line with that for heterosexuals went largely unreported in the Press.
The Press did, however, report the legal attack on Gay News in July 1977 when the paper was successfully prosecuted for blasphemous libel (a law that had remained dormant since 1921) after it published a poem that suggested that Jesus might have been homosexual. There was a continuing backlash in the Press over the supposed 'visibility' of homosexuals. Even Leo Abse, the sponsor of the 1967 Act had his doubts. Writing in the Spectator on the tenth anniversary of the Act he expressed a view that was common in the Press, 'the new freedom to come out has meant only that they [homosexuals] have freaked out'. (9 July 1977).
The 1980s: AIDS and the political backlash The spread of AIDS to Britain in the early 1980s put the cause of homosexual law reform back by at least ten years. The wholesale attacks on homosexuals as a community and as individuals reached a viciousness never before seen in the Press. The Conservative government, under Margaret Thatcher, aided by newspapers, were able to turn homosexuality into a political stick with which to beat off opposition, especially from the Labour Party which was attempting to gain new supporters, particularly at local authority level, with left-wing policies. It was clear how far Britain had retreated when in 1987 Thatcher was able to conclude her speech to the Conservative Party conference by saying, 'Children who need to be taught to respect traditional values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay.' Never since the darkest post-war days had homosexuality been presented as a direct threat to the common core values of the nation. Within a year Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 had been passed. It stated that local councils should not'promote homosexuality or publish material for the pro .motion of homosexuality... promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship by the publication of such material or otherwise'. The Press for most of the 1980s had scapegoated homosexuals. The onslaught began in 1983 when Britain woke up to the dangers of AIDS. Of course, AIDS had not been discovered in that year. It had been known for some years that a disease had been striking down homosexuals in the United States and that a small, number of cases had been isolated in Britain. In April 1983 a BBC Horizon programme about how the disease had spread in America put the subject on the British newspaper agenda. Many newspapers commented on the subject for the first time. The following month stories were published that suggested that people could 'catch AIDS' through contaminated blood transfusions. might be in danger from AIDS. Then the panic be28 Association for Journalism Education Conference gan. Papers 2000 As Simon Garfield says the reporting of the Suddenly the Press realised that heterosexuals AIDS crisis was always going to be a great newspaper
story. The story was dramatic. Put simply it said: 'Sex Kills You'. But it also gave newspapers the opportunity to legitimise homophobia. As the then editor of the Daily Star, Derekjameson, put it"Fleet Street does not like homosexuals. They think it is abnormal, unnatural and evil because it is wrong.' (Garfield, 1994, Pp.41-43.) Roy Greenslade, who was assistant editor (features) of the Sun during the 1980s, said, 'The consensus that informed the debate, such as it was, was that all homosexuals are perverts. Flowing from that, AIDS appeared to be just desserts for being involved in deviant sexual behaviour. It was quickly realised that it came about due to anal sex, and heterosexual executives on the Sun thus fed in the fact that it was a Gay Plague. AIDS tended to suggest that it might stop all that kind of behaviour, and might lead to fewer gays being around. This might shut them away then they wouldn't be influencing other people to 'go gay' (Cited in Garfield, 1994, Pp.44-45) By October 1983 Britain had its first recorded AIDS-related death of a no n-homosexual. Suddenly the Press was able to differentiate between'innocent' victims of AIDS and others. The others were homosexuals. The notion that AIDS was a 'Gay Plague' was common currency in the early 1980s. Stories implied that AIDS and homosexuality are synonymous. In addition there is the widespread use of the term'high risk group' or 'those at risk from AIDS'. (Armitage et al 60). Although the term 'gay plague' was used for only a short period of time the damage done by the initial misinformation remained. The sheer cruelty of some coverage is breathtaking. The Sun featured a vicar who said that he would shoot his own. son if he discovered he had AIDS. The article was illustrated with a picture of the vicar aiming a shotgun at a young .man's head. (7 February 1985). Bill Brownhill, Tory leader of South Staffordshire Council, was quoted in many newspapers in January 1987 when he said, after viewing a health education film about AIDS, 'As a cure I would put 90 per cent of queers in the ruddy gas chamber.' In March 1985 the Sun felt confident enough to quote US psychologist Paul Cameron as saying, All homosexuals should be exterminated to stop the spread of AIDS. We ought to stop pussy-footing about.' (Cited in Sanderson, 1989, p.238). MPs called for AIDS to become a notifiable disease so that sufferers would be forced into quarantine. If evidence were needed that homosexuals were marginalised within society the government-
backed Standing Advisory Committee on AIDS had no representatives from the homosexual organisations. The vast majority of money made available by government to tackle AIDS went to haemophilic organisations, even though the majority of sufferers were homosexuals. (Jeffrey-Poulter, 1991,p.l86) Moves were made to curtail the freedom of homosexuals. Once again, newspapers asserted their right to silence them. The Daily Express stated, 'Homosexuals are the group hardest hit by AIDS and most involved in its spread. More than ever, no one should be allowed to do or say anything that could tip youngsters towards hom.osexua.lity.' (9 December 1987) A survey of Press reporting conducted for the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom in November 1985 found a great many articles which mentioned lesbians and gay men also mentioned AIDS, leading the report's authors to conclude that it is possible that all articles which mention AIDS, whether they mention homosexuality or not, could be read as comments on homosexuality. Using such language as 'gay plague' was a deliberate choice with political implications. (Armitage et al, 1987, p.60) Newspaper columnists helped to turn public opinion away from homosexuals. Newspapers blamed homosexuals for AIDS, highlighting innocent victims (those who were infected through blood transfusions) and by implication 'the guilty'who caught it through sexual practice and then passed it on to others. During the 1980s a new form of journalism was becoming popular in newspapers. Julian Petley has identified how a new type of journalist punditry emerged, fuelled by the need for newspapers to chase readers who were deserting the printed Press in favour of broadcast news. Newspapers were tempted to go where broadcasting does not, into the realm of opinion and comment. The comment, however, was not necessary based on fact. (Petley, 1997, p.254). The most extreme form of comment, unsurprisingly, was to be found in those newspapers that were engaged in circulation battles. The Daily Star's columnist Ray Mills was able to write this in 1986. 'Little queers or big queens, Mills has had enough of them all- the lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals, the hermaphrodites and the catamites and the gender benders who brazenly flaunt their sexual failings to the disgust and grave offence of the silent majority. A blight on them all, says Mills." (Sanderson, 1989, p.239.) Newspapers repeatedly called for 'tougher action' to be taken against homosexuals. The Daily Express felt able to print a reader's letter advocating, 'Burning is too good for them [homosexuals]. Bury them in a pit and pour on quick lime' (13 December 1987). The Press disguised its own role in this conAssociation for Journalism Education Conference Papers 2000 2 9
struction of AIDS. They presented people 'caught up in the AIDS scare', without mentioning that misinformation from the Press caused that 'scare' in the first pkce. (Armitage et al, 1987, p.62) In 1988, the Daily Star editorialised, 'Surely, if the human race is under threat, it is entirely REASONABLE to segregate AIDS victims - otherwise the whole of mankind could be engulfed. '[...] The truth is that promiscuous homosexuals are by far the biggest spawning ground for AIDS. They could curb the spread of the disease if they curbed their sexual appetites, but that does not seem to be happening, despite all the warnings and all the condom campaigns. Right now, ideas Hke AIDS colonies have got to be worth considering.' (1 December 1988. Cited in Beharrell, p227) The use of homosexuality to make political capital was gaining momentum in the right wing newspapers in the 1980s. The creation of moral panics, u sing one of the last remaining minority groups which it was socially acceptable to abuse, helped the papers to set the political agenda. Some commentators even suggest that these inflated crises and threats were hyped up to the extent that they created a climate of public opinion that allowed Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 to be passed. Terry Sanderson asserts that Parliamentary debates relied almost entirely on evidence culled from the newspaper reports whose authenticity had been challenged over and over again. (Sanderson, 1995, p.235). To coincide with the 1986 local government elections, and those of Labour-controlled Inner London Education Authority, the Sun devoted a front page to 'Vile book in schools' - Jenny Lives With Eric and Martin. The report stated that the book which was 'a shocking schoolbook showing a little girl in bed with her homosexual father and his naked lover' was available to children in ILEA schools. (Sanderson, 1995, p.60) The story was a distortion of the truth, but one that stuck. Even in 2000 as the debate over the scraping of Section 28 continues this book is invoked as a reason why 'homosexual propagandists' should not be allowed into schools. In January 1988 a Harris Poll confirmed that the sustained anti-homosexual rhetoric of the Press had taken a toll on public opinion. Only 48 per cent now thought that homosexual relationships between consenting adults should be legal (it had been 61 per cent in March 1985). Of those questioned 83 per cent agreed that local councils should not teach that homosexuality was 'on a par'with heterosexuality. A total of 55 per cent believed that gay and lesbian magazines should not be on public sale (JeffreyPoulter, 1991, Pp.225-226) The government responded by encouraging backbench MP David Wilshire to put forward Section 28. One cannot but agree with Jeffrey-Poulter
that for the first time in British history this placed on the statute book the principal that homosexuality was socially undesirable and inherently inferior to heterosexuality. It was a blatant attempt to consign homosexual relationships to second-class status.
Conclusion This paper has demonstrated that over the past six decades images of homosexuality have been distorted in the Press to demonise a group seen as apart from mainstream society. Not much has changed today. In 2000 the Daily Mail has been leading the charge against homosexual law reform. It supports the House of Lords every inch of the way in its fight to stop the repeal of Section 28 and 'gay propaganda being peddled to impressionable young minds'. (8 February 2000). The Mail on Sunday sees a conspiracy, believing homosexuals have undue influence on the Cabinet (13 February 2000). This echoes the Sun's campaign 'Tell us the truth Tony. Are we being run by a gay Mafia?' (9 November 1998). The Sunday People labels as 'perverts' homosexuals who use a public area of woodland to make sexual contacts. (5 March 2000). Richard Ingrams asks in the Observer, 'Are paedophiles gay?' (20 February 2000). A British Airways plane is delayed while two men seen kissing one another are thrown off. 'The Captain decided to abort take-off rather than risk the safety of the passengers,' a BA spokesman said. (Sun, 12'April 2000). To end on a positive note. The Mirror seems to have introduced a policy of reporting positive images of homosexuality, perhaps as a way of redefining itself as a modern progressive newspaper. While the Mail manufactures controversy over the repeal of Section 28, the Mirror reports on three homosexual teenagers - two male, one female - about 'the challenge of being "different" in a hostile world'. The Mirror supports repeal because Section 28 'encourages prejudice and abuse'. (M Magazine, 11 April 2000).
Altman Dennis (1974), Homosexual Oppression and Liberation, Alien Lane, London. Armitage Gary, Julienne Dickey and Sue Sharpies (1987), Out of the Gutter, A Survey of the Treatment of Homosexuality by the Press, Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, London. Beharrell (1993), 'AIDS and the British Press, in Eldridge John (ed), Getting the Message, News, Truth and Power, Routledge, London. Cudlipp Hugh (1962), At Your Peril, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London. David Hugh (1997), On Queer Street, A Social History of British Homosexuality 1895 - 1995, Harper Collins, London. Ellis Sue and Paul Heritage (1989), 'AIDS and the Cultural Response: The Normal Heart and We All Fall Down', in Simon
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Shepherd and Mick Wallis (ed), Coming on Strong, Gay Politics and Culture, Unwin Hyman, London. Garfield Simon (1994), The End of Innocence, Britain in the Time of AIDS, Faber and Faber, London. Higgins Patrick (1996), Heterosexual Dictatorship, Male Homosexuality in Post-War Britain, Fourth Estate, London. Hobsbawm Eric (1995), Age of Extremes, The Short Twentieth Century 1914 1991, Abacus, London. HMSO (1957), Report of the Committee on Homosexual Offences and prostitution ['The Wolfenden Report'], Cmnd 247, London. Jeffrey-Poulter Stephen (1991), Peers, Queers and Commons, The Struggle for Gay Law Reform from 1950 to the Present Day, Routledge, London. Learoyd C. G. (1954),'The problem of Homosexuality', in The Practitioner, 172, London. Medhurst Andy (1998), Tracing Desires: Sexuality and Media Texts', in Briggs Adam and Paul Cobley (ed), The Media: an Introduction. Moran Les (1989), 'Sexual Fix, Sexual Surveillance: Homosexual in Law', in Simon Shepherd and Mick Wallis (ed), Coming on Strong, Gay Politics and Culture, Unwin Hyman, London. Petley Julian (1997), 'Faces for Spaces', in Bromley Michael and Torn O'Malley (ed), a Journalism Reader, Routledge, London. Porter Kevin and Jeffrey Weeks (1991), Between The Acts, Lives of Homosexual men, Routledge, London. SandersonTerry (1989), 'Gays in the Press', in Simon Shepherd and Mick Wallis (ed), Coming on Strong, Gay Politics and Culture, Unwin Hyman, London. Sanderson Terry (1995), Media Watch: The Treatment of male and Female Homosexuality in the British Press, Cassell, London. Shepherd Simon (1989), 'Gay Sex Spy Orgy: The State's Need for Queers,' in Simon Shepherd and Mick Wallis (ed), Coming on Strong, Gay Politics and Culture, Unwin Hyman, London. Weeks Jeffrey (1977), Coming Out, Homosexual Politics in Britain from the Nineteenth Century to die Present, Quartet, London.
Paper delivered at Association of Journalism Education, Journalism the First Draft of History conference, London, UK, May2000. At the time of writing Richard Rooney was Principal Lecturer and Head of the Journalism Department, Liverpool, John Moores University, Liverpool, UK.
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