A WEEK is a long time in the sexual politics of The Sun. On Monday, the paper challenged the Prime Minister in a front- page headline: "Are we being run by a gay mafia?"
From today the same Sun will be a defender of tolerance, pledging it will never again "out" a gay man or woman.
To prove the sincerity of yet another whirlwind change of policy the editor, David Yelland, accompanied his sudden embrace of high principles with a high-profile sacking. He telephoned Sun columnist Matthew Parris, the former MP responsible for "outing" Peter Mandelson on BBC television, to inform him he had written his last words for the paper.
Mr Yelland said in a statement: "From now on The Sun will not out homosexuals unless there is major public interest reason to do so. We will continue to be in the vanguard of this debate - and all debates - but we will not invade the privacy of gay people by outing them."
Following that change of traditional Sun practice with a return to the more traditional modesty of Sun editors, he went on: "We will continue to be controversial and brilliantly innovative, but The Sun is no longer in the business of destroying closet gays' lives by 'exposing' them as homosexuals.
"We hope eventually that all gay people will feel free to come out, thus ensuring that charges that there is a 'gay mafia' become irrelevant."
Mr Parris said last night he had been telephoned by Mr Yelland and was told in a "perfectly pleasant" way of the decision about his column. He said he had the clear impression the decision was "not unconnected" to his Newsnight "outing" of Mr Mandelson, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.
He insisted he did not regret his Newsnight comments: "This kind of thing makes me more and more certain that when I talk about government news blackouts, I'm on to something."
He said of the paper: "I have enjoyed writing for it and I have rather got to like Sun readers, many of whom have written to me. I was enjoying the column and I'm sorry to lose it."
He added that he did not think Mr Yelland's statement precluded The Sun from outing any MPs who were gay and voted against a lowering of the age of consent in any forthcoming Commons debate as that would be "in the public interest".
Mr Mandelson last night denied being behind the Sun's sacking of Mr Parris. A spokesman for Mr Mandelson said: "There has been no contact with News International on this subject. Peter is as surprised as anyone to hear of Matthew's departure. They have maintained cordial relations through the last fortnight."
Mr Yelland refused to add to his statement last night or say whether he had discussed the change of policy with the proprietor, Rupert Murdoch. However in a television interview to be broadcast later this month, Mr Murdoch puts himself forward as a champion of equality.
He says: "I really believe in equal opportunity for people in every way ... I have ideals about improving society - they may not be the same ideals as other people ..."
Letters, Review, page 2
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