John Lyttle

Splicing yet another leap of faith to a snappy soundbite is something my mouth refuses to do
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Indy Lifestyle Online
A researcher from a radio programme rang last Friday morning, as the election landslide became an avalanche. She had a question to ask, in that pert, personable voice radio researchers have lately taken to using: "What will a Labour government mean for lesbians and gays?" And I hesitated, though I knew what I wanted - yearned, actually - to say: (potentially) everything.

(Potentially) everything ... the mood of the moment, bursting to speak. Why not let it out? The rumour-go-round was already tipping Chris Smith to take over Heritage, hooray, and the early hours had witnessed equally out Labour candidates Stephen Twigg and Ben Bradshaw take supposedly rock- solid Tory constituencies from the likes of Michael Portillo and Dr Adrian Rogers, President of the Conservative Family Institute, the man whose campaign pamphlets asked "every Exeter parent ... concerned about our country's children: Do YOU want an MP who wants to promote homosexuality in school?" only to be answered with a resounding "yes".

The scare tactics and vicious, imposed values of old had proved spectacularly redundant in this and other cases. Things can only get better: the removal of the rabid David Evans in favour of Melanie Johnson, the woman he savaged as "a single girl with three bastard children" highlights evolving definitions of family that the Conservative Institute can't easily stomach, no matter how people really live within society as well as with each other. They cannot, in short, accept the new acceptance that also accounts for the triumphs of Twigg and Bradshaw, and maybe even Labour's dangled pledge to repeal the infamous Section 28 of the Local Government Act prohibiting local authorities from teaching in any maintained school "the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship". Nowadays most families are sort of "pretend" families, improvising from day to day, and, as the informed are doubtless aware, lesbians and gay men have done pioneering work in the field. How nice to be told we'll no longer be penalised for it.

So, I started to reply, (potentially) everything. Except the words that left my lips were, "We'll have to wait and see." Which somewhat disappointed the researcher. Not to mention me. This wasn't the response - rejoice, rejoice, rejoice - her producer had charged her with prising from the nearest queer rent-a-quote.

She cleared her throat, referred to the clippings, quite rightly pointed to Labour's broad (some might say piecemeal) commitment to equal rights, citing possible legal recognition of same sex couples, to protection from discrimination, to accepting gays in the military ... Well, I had to interrupt and remind us both that when the House of Commons voted to keep the ban on homosexuals in the armed forces, the Prime Minister-Elect, his deputy John Prescott and Education spokesman, David Blunkett, each conspicuously opted out from rendering their "X" against. And the researcher said, very sensibly and rather aggrieved, Mr Lyttle, that was back then, when Labour had to practise caution. Perhaps it wasn't the right time. I tried to bite my tongue, except I heard myself say, somehow it never is for lesbians and gays. Which, I explain, is why I'm practising caution, too.

I can't help but recount the American experience. I explained how the brethren put their sorely battered faith in Clinton, to be abandoned by the "don't ask, don't tell" President who promised much the same as Labour, and then strategically decamped from Washington when a million-plus of his erstwhile voters dropped by to ask about the delayed timetable for the new dawn. Still, Bill sent a message of support: elegantly expressed lip service in exchange for executing guarantees of action.

Which is what conventional wisdom gloomily predicted. Wasn't this always what happened? First victory, thanks for all your hard work, followed by urgings to slow down, hush up, pleas to not rock the boat, before the inevitable chill of coldshoulders and being discreetly dropped from the packed agenda. Escorted smartly to the back of the queue again, standing behind those issues (pick an issue, any issue) we're perennially told are more important.

The researcher listened politely, patiently, though her deadline was looming and she was no closer to 30 grateful seconds she could edit into a warm aural glow. She broke into the droned recitation: "What if this time is your time?" Smart interruption. Maybe This Time is a corny standard forever playing in the background, round and round, bitter experience being a lousy teacher. But after 18 years of being reviled by the ruling class and daily bashed by the tabloid press, with only the compromised lowering of the age of consent to show for it in legislative progress, splicing yet another leap of faith to a snappy sound-bite is something my mouth refuses to do, though I try forcing it to form glad tidings. It's not that I don't see change, for I do. Possibly it's serendipity that the week after the election would bring The Simpsons on homophobia, The Investigator on lesbian witch-hunts, and Trial TV deciding in favour of an equal age of consent, or perhaps these are a pattern, genuine signs, and the problem is merely my victim mind-set. Maybe I'm too comfortable underfoot. The bulk of the nation appears sure that the future has arrived, so perhaps what's making me twitch is finally having to act on what I've always demanded.

My mother always said going through the change requires readjustment, I lamely offered the researcher. She was no longer listening. I'd confused her. I'd confused myself. "We were hoping for something else," she said, the pert, personable voice turned understandably frosty. "Can you suggest anyone else I might speak to?" And I racked my brains, I really did, and I couldn't furnish a single namen

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