TORIES AND religious fundamentalists are trying to unleash a flood of anti-gay bigotry. Catholic Cardinal Winning and millionaire owner of the Stagecoach empire Brian Souter (an evangelical Christian) are leading a crusade to keep the anti-gay Section 28 law in Scotland. Tory lords and Church of England bishops have now waded in to defend Section 28 in England and Wales. All of them claim they oppose discrimination. Yet recently Winning called homosexuality a ‘perversion’ and likened gay people to Hitler’s Nazis. His insult is sick beyond belief. Gays were one of the groups Hitler sent to concentration camps.
Last week New Labour appeared to be caving in to pressure from such bigots. A source from the Department for Education and Employment quoted in the Guardian said the government’s new guidance on sex education in schools would be ‘on the same lines’ as the old Tory Section 28. No doubt this would please Chris Woodhead, the chief inspector of schools. He claimed last weekend that Section 28 did not harm children. Yet the law helps bigots like Winning to feel their abuse is acceptable. Such abuse encourages a minority of bigots to translate anti-gay words into physical attacks.
Someone became so consumed with hatred for gay people that they planted a bomb last year in a gay pub in Soho, central London, killing three people and injuring scores of others. One in three gay men in Edinburgh report they have been physically attacked because of their sexuality. The defenders of Section 28 are not just against gay sex. They are against all sex unless it is between husband and wife to produce children. Cardinal Winning wants abortion banned, including when a woman has become pregnant through rape. Brian Souter says that ‘quick divorces’ and ‘legitimising illegitimacy’ are a threat to ‘our traditional values’.
Does he think society would be a better place if the law forced couples to stay in loveless marriages and if the 40 percent of children who are born outside marriage were labelled ‘bastards’? The tabloids that back the right wing fundamentalists are a bunch of hypocrites. Public revulsion at the Soho bombing forced the Sun newspaper to condemn the attack. It described those who helped rescue people from the carnage as ‘gay heroes’. Now it runs lurid scare stories about ‘militant gays’ pushing ‘pornography in our schools’. This same paper features pictures of topless women in Playboy poses. The Daily Record pretends that gay people are all middle class and that it is standing up for working people. But in every workplace, estate and community there are gay people living and working alongside straight people. The Daily Record refers to ‘well funded gay pressure groups’. Yet it applauds Souter’s £500,000 donation to the Keep Section 28 campaign. This is money he has squeezed from Stagecoach bus workers through family-wrecking shifts.
THE CHRISTIAN churches have a filthy record in their treatment of young people. The morality of Cardinal Winning’s Catholic church has been exposed over the last few years in child abuse scandals and priests having sex with parishioners. Three years ago it set up a fund not to pay compensation to victims but to drag them through the courts. Betty Thomas is one of over 200 people who were mistreated in Catholic – run orphanages in Scotland in the 1950s. She said in 1997, ‘If you vomited after having to eat something you didn’t like, you were forced to eat the vomit. When the compensation claims were first brought, the Catholic church said we were motivated by greed and self seeking materialism.’
A British minister of the International Pentecostal Church was arrested in Romania last week accused of having sex with underage teenagers. Keeping children in ignorance, treating sex as shameful and preaching obedience to church hierarchies make sexual abuse more likely. Preventing schools from rationally discussing sex means condemning lesbian and gay school students to a life of misery.
Section 28 has left 44 percent of teachers fearful of confronting prejudice or of offering advice to gay teenagers. A GALLUP poll in 1998 found that over half of lesbian and gay school students had suffered repeated verbal abuse. One in three had been beaten up at school. Later that year 15 year old Darren Steele committed suicide after years of anti – gay bullying. One in five young gay people attempt suicide, according to two surveys. The anti – sex bigots think that is a small price to pay to maintain the image of the god – fearing family.
SECTION 28 bans councils from presenting homosexuality as anything other than ‘a pretended family relationship’. It enshrines in law the idea that being gay is abnormal. Bigots say the sexual behaviour of animals shows human homosexuality is unnatural. This is about as stupid as saying, ‘If god meant us to fly, he’d have given us wings.’ It ignores the same – sex behaviour that biologists observe in dozens of animal species, from apes to sea horses.
More importantly, if ‘natural’ human behaviour is the same as that of primitive animals then it must be ‘unnatural’ to cook food, wear clothes, have a pint or watch television. If the only ‘natural’ sex is for procreation, then the widespread use of contraception must be ‘perverted’. Sex for pleasure is as legitimate as sex for producing children. Sex between members of the same sex has existed in every form of human society. Anthropologists have found homosexuality among the Dahomeyan, Yoruba and Hausa cultures of West Africa, and among their descendants in the West Indies. Archaeological artefacts show homosexual behaviour among the original inhabitants of South, North and Central America. Literature records homosexual acts among the Romans, medieval Japanese, Indonesians and cowboys on the American frontier.
British history is full of famous lesbian and gay figures. King William of Orange, hero of anti – gay Loyalists such as Ian Paisley, had male lovers. Attitudes to homosexuality have varied throughout history. In ancient Athens certain forms of male homosexuality were regarded as superior to straight sex. It is only in the last century and a half that a clear distinction between gays and straights has emerged.
It was an attempt by our rulers in the 19th century to present the modern heterosexual nuclear family as the only proper way to live. Human sexuality is far too varied to fit neatly into two boxes. Some surveys show that about one in ten people are ‘mainly or exclusively gay’ (though most have not come out). However, every scientific survey suggests that three or four times that number have had a sexual experience with someone of the same sex. Even the anti-gay Daily Star put ‘sex with another man’ in its list of the most common male fantasies last week. It reassured its readers that ‘this does not mean you are gay, just curious’.