Of queers, poofs and politics

There's an ideological clash between good gay sex (think `Philadelphia' ) versus bad gay sex (think `Queer as Folk')

I'M ON Westminster Bridge in the middle of the freezing night with only a camera crew and a big poof with a huge projection for company. We're all here to make a protest against the continuing presence of Section 28, the notorious amendment to the Local Government Act 1988 which bans local authorities from "promoting homosexuality".

The big poof in question, writer and journalist Paul Burston, is playing a 100-foot high slogan, Why 28?, on to the Houses of Parliament, while the crew of the independent production company, Just Television, is playing its cameras on to him. The sequence will provide the climax to Burston's polemical film attacking New Labour's record on gay rights, Tony's Fairy Tales, which will be screened on Channel 4 on Saturday night at 7.30pm.

Like the responsible media protester she is, the producer of Tony's Fairy Tales has already rung the police to tell them what we're up to. Disappointingly, the police haven't even driven past to check on us. How times change.

A decade ago, Burston made another stand on Westminster Bridge. He and fellow members of the now-defunct radical pressure group Act Up chained themselves together across the bridge, stopping the traffic in protest against the withdrawal of Aids funding from local education authorities.

The whole display was broken up quickly, neatly and hilariously when the police arrived with a big van and a pair of industrial wirecutters. Snipping the nancy boys apart one by one, the police marched them methodically into the big van while they stood meekly in line waiting to be destrung, like the pearls before swine that they were.

The car-driving public cheered and hooted, the police could barely suppress their giggles, and even the angry young faggots realised they should have seen their humiliation coming.There were no television cameras to record the event. This was still the Eighties after all, and gays were not quite the media darlings they are today.

To the average man-what-sleeps-with-women in the street it must appear that gay dominance of the political and cultural agenda is complete. Not only is it a matter for some comment when an MP is exposed as a raging heterosexual - see Robin Cook - but it's also permissible for graphic scenes of underage gay sex to be transmitted into the nation's living rooms not once but twice a week in Queer As Folk, and with sponsorship from - of all things precious to the Loaded Lad - a lager company.

It's true that gays and lesbians did make astonishing progress during the Thatcher years in terms of visibility and acceptability. Homophobia, though still a frightening, sometimes fatal, threat to many gays, is much less routinely acceptable than it once was. While it would be nice to believe that this progress could be something to do with pluck in the face of adversity - and certainly the gay and lesbian communities galvanised themselves behind both the Aids crisis and Clause 28 - their cultural triumph has been far more to do with the growing economic power of gays and lesbians, who have large disposable incomes which all sorts of parties have been only too keen to relieve them of.

In mainstream politics, though, gays and lesbians have become cautious, haunted by their special place on the loony left of old. While there are an impressive number of gay and lesbian MPs, few of them overtly champion gay issues. Many of their counterparts in gay politics now seem to be taking the lead from them. Therefore, some of the most vociferous protesters against Channel 4's gay soap, Queer As Folk, have been gays and lesbians, who rail against the irresponsibility of televising scenes of every mother's nightmare - the 15-year-old Nathan being seduced by an older man - just weeks before the age of consent bill is referred to the Lords.

In fact, it is unlikely that any kind of irresponsibility at all will deter New Labour from their commitment to delivering an equal age of consent for heterosexuals and homosexuals. Every poll shows that this is contrary to the will of the people, while the Bill is pretty much certain to be thrown out of the Lords. But the signs are that New Labour will nevertheless invoke the Parliament Act and ensure that gay and lesbian teenagers stop being jailbait at 16, the same time as their straight contemporaries.

While this may look like exemplary championship of gay rights, it makes it all the more curious that Tony Blair wouldn't introduce the whip on the issue, declaring instead that discrimination on grounds of sexual preference was a matter for personal conscience rather than party policy.

And there's the curious rider which has been introduced to assuage parental worries about pederast schoolmasters corrupting their boys. While the first person to have fallen foul of the publicity around this happens to be the creepy Chris Woodhead, the fact remains that the existence of this amendment suggests that while the Government believes that predatory male heterosexuals are not a danger to schoolgirls of 16, predatory male homosexuals are a danger to schoolboys of the same age. The reason given for this is that "girls mature faster than boys". A convenient belief for men who like young flesh, but hardly relevant to debate on equality.

What's really happening is that there's an ideological clash between good gay sex - think Philadelphia, Chris Smith and New Labour generally - versus bad gay sex - think Queer As Folk, Ron Davies and Tom Spencer. Moderate gays and lesbians wish to play down the excesses of gay sexuality in order to gain equality, while more upfront gays and lesbians - such as my chum Paul Burston - think that gays and lesbians should be honest about the details of the wilder shores of their collective sexuality because it is irrelevant to the human rights issues around homophobia.

Burston himself is pro Queer As Folk. Defending the programme in his weekly column in the London listings magazine Time Out, he declared: "Nathan is 15, fully aware of his sexuality and determined to do something about it. The fact that the man he has sex with is nearly twice his age and a bit of a tosser is hardly the issue. What's important is that Nathan makes the choice and the experience leaves him feeling empowered..."

This may be a difficult idea for Britain's beleaguered parents to get their heads round. But the fact is that the young gays that Burston is concerned about are not the non-fictional Nathans of this world.

Instead he wishes the law to protect vulnerable young gays, who are taunted at school and confused about their sexuality. One in five gay teenagers at present attempts suicide, and under Section 28 it's a grey area in the law as to whether they're able to approach a teacher to discuss such feelings, and effectively against the law for a teacher to develop strategies to combat anti-gay bullying. This is what "promoting homosexuality", the inflammatory words of Section 28, mean in reality.

Burston also wishes to protect older gays and lesbians from wider discrimination, with an extension of the Crime and Disorder Bill's tough penalties against race hate crimes to cover homophobic crime as well; the introduction of a Sexual Orientation Bill which protects gays and lesbians against discrimination in employment, housing and the provision of goods and services; and he wants gays and lesbians to be able to join the armed forces.

These measures, I think, do need to be enshrined in law with the utmost speed, which is why it's safe to assume that Burston's attack will be pretty embarrassing to the Government. None of the many New Labour ministers invited by Burston to take part in Tony's Fairy Tales took him up on his offer, though Chris Smith was perfectly charming when he was buttonholed while making a speech at the inauguration of Maggie Hambling's statue of Oscar Wilde.

As well he should be. Oscar Wilde has been dead for almost a hundred years. He was jailed for "gross indecency", a charge which still exists in the Crime and Disorder Bill as a specifically gay crime. If Wilde were with us now, this homophobic law could be invoked to ensure that his whole sad and destructive story was played out again in much the same way. How little we learn in a century.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
music

Arts and Entertainment
Creep show: Tim Cockerill in ‘Spider House’

TVEnough to make ardent arachnophobes think twice

Arts and Entertainment
Steven, Ella Jade and Sarah in the boardroom
tvThe Apprentice contestants take a battering from the business mogul
Arts and Entertainment
TV Presenters Ant McPartlin and Dec Donnelly. Winners of the 'Entertainment Programme' award for 'Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway'
musicAnt and Dec confirmed as hosts of next year's Brit Awards
Arts and Entertainment
Jewel in the crown: drawings from ‘The Letter for the King’, an adventure about a boy and his mission to save a medieval realm
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Juergen Wolf won the Young Masters Art Prize 2014 with his mixed media painting on wood, 'Untitled'
art
Arts and Entertainment
Iron Man and Captain America in a scene from
filmThe upcoming 'Black Panther' film will feature a solo black male lead, while a female superhero will take centre stage in 'Captain Marvel'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Imperial War Museum, pictured, has campaigned to display copyrighted works during the First World War centenary
art
Arts and Entertainment
American Horror Story veteran Sarah Paulson plays conjoined twins Dot and Bette Tattler
tvReview: Yes, it’s depraved for the most part but strangely enough it has heart to it
Arts and Entertainment
The mind behind Game of Thrones George R. R. Martin
books

Will explain back story to fictional kingdom Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Dorothy in Return to Oz

film Unintentionally terrifying children's movies to get you howling (in fear, tears or laughter)
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robert James-Collier as under-butler Thomas

TVLady Edith and Thomas show sad signs of the time
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Dad's Army cast hit the big screen

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling is releasing a new Harry Potter story about Dolores Umbridge

books
Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor finds himself in a forest version of London in Doctor Who episode 'In the Forest of the Night'
TVReview: Is the Doctor ever going stop frowning?
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Nicholas Serota has been a feature in the Power 100 top ten since its 2002 launch
art
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

    A Syrian general speaks

    A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    ‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

    Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

    Fall of the Berlin Wall

    History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
    How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

    Turn your mobile phone into easy money

    There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
    Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

    Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

    "I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
    Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

    11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

    Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
    Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

    Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

    The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
    Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

    The school that means business

    Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
    10 best tablets

    The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

    They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
    Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

    Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

    The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
    Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

    Pete Jenson's a Different League

    Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
    John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

    Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

    The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
    The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

    The killer instinct

    Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
    Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

    Clothing the gap

    A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
    Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

    The Fall of the Berlin Wall

    Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain