Danger! Police At Work

02-197206XX 3All the cottages in battersea Park are under continual surveillance by the police (plain clothed), and a guy was recently arrested at the popular one by the athletics track. After arrest by a plain-clothes-man he was taken to the superintendent of the park, so that in future he would be easily recognisable. When he appeared in court he sentanced to three months imprisonment, was fined £100 (for a first offence!), also suspended for three years, and banned from battersea Park for one year. Another guy, for whom it was a second offence, was fined £400. (All at the magistrates court, Lavender Hill, where there is a virtual stream of similar ‘offenders’.

So DON’T GO TROLLING IN BATTERSEA PARK COTTAGES – or if you do, you know what to expect.

We Know You’re In There

02-197206XX 4The march was scheduled to start at nine, but by nine thirty only thirty or so people were there. Since it seemed unlikely that anyone else would turn up, the march moved off. As they turned the corner into the main road, a couple of slightly hostile policemen cautioned everyone to stay off the pavement, but generally seemed to be rather amused.

The same could not be said of the employees and customers of the two main Earls Court pubs, the Boltons and the Colherne. The GLF leafletters and balloon carriers were quickly ejected from the Boltons and pushed around outside when they persisting in chanting slogans at the people within – “Come out of your shells! We know you’re in there!” and “What is Gay – Good! What is the Boltons – Crap!” did not appear to amuse anyone. All that happened was a minor exodus to the Colherne over the road. There the reception was even more hostile, and the exodus of customers back to the Boltons even larger, but the majority of people seemed singularly unmoved. In fact, there was a total lack of comprehension of one another, which made the customers ignore the marchers and drained any attempt at further action. People just stood around, and the guy from the Colherne gave up yelling “Fuck off” when it had no effect. It seemed obvious to me that no-one in the pubs saw any need for a march, and since they had come out for a drink and to cruise that was what they were going to do. People aren’t too keen to come out and be seen, and shouting at the doors of the pub they are in seemed a singularly ineffective way to persuade them that they would be better off if they did. I’m not at all sure what the march was intended to achieve anyway, but whatever it was, it didn’t. Granted, the passive acceptance of so many people of the whole “gay scene” is a depressing phenomenon, and one does wish gay people would create places for themselves as an alternative, but I didn’t hear a word about that all evening. It was all, alas, entirely predictable, right down to the policeman who moved everyone away at closing time with the immortal words “If I see any of you lot around here again, I’ll arrest you”.

Fulham, Stucco and Drag

02-197206XX 4Gay Pride week got off to a friendly but not very inspiring start with a dance at the Fulham Town Hall – all thirties glass and stucco. The hall was responsible for the poor sound – it was either too loud or inaudible – and so the first group deafened me whilst Rupert Herries gentle songs were lost. In the former case, it would have helped if the hall had been full, but, alas, the attendance was only fair.

The most noticeable feature of the evening was the quality and quantity of guys in drag, from those who took themselves very seriously and were got up in variations on a theme by Mae West/Yvonne de Carlo or even a sort of Drag Valentino in a velvet mirrorwork gown, on through the dollybird to a sort of Gert-and-Daisy character in a print shift, woolly socks and hush puppies (not to mention the hairy, stockingless legs and the three-day growth). Major entertainment of the evening for me was watching one guy lifting his skirt and hauling down his tights in order to join we poor trouserbound males at the urinal. But I do wish that the people in make-up had made up their minds too – most attempts at combining thirties vamp and Cherokee warpaint are doomed to failure, I’m afraid.

It was O.K. as dances go, certainly more fun than the last, and I’m quite sure a few of the town hall staff were given considerable food for thought. It’s a pity more people from outside GLF weren’t there – still, never mind, eh?

Samaritan Enquiry Part 1

02-197206XX 4
Part 2 of this series is in issue #3

Many people who are lonely, frightened and isolated go to the Samaritans for guidance and comfort – and although they advertise themselves as a last ditch help service for suicides, they are accustomed to handling personal and social problems at all levels of intensity. Their policy of deliberately keeping their distance and not giving active advice makes them an attractive prospect for people like gays, who don’t want or need someone to moralise at them.

“If you go to the London branch and say yours a lesbian, you’ll see Chad Varah, and when you admit what your problem is, he’ll pat you on the knee and say ‘congratulations!’

“… We have special people to deal with the neuroses, depressives, the marital problems. So that just leaves me the female homosexuals and male deviants, a very nice thing lo be left with. They are the most vulnerable and gentle people you could meet.” (Chad Varah, the founder of Samaritans)

It’s true – I did get referred to Chad Varah very quickly, after twenty minutes talking to a woman Volunteer at St. Stephen’s, Walbrook, where Sams started 18 years ago. The Volunteer just said reassuring things and warned me off organisations like GLF on the grounds that “they do a lot of showing off” and “They are very busy being gay and not taking it very seriously.” She hadn’t heard of CHL, or showed no reaction, anyway.

Chad Varah gives me a direct and serious smile, and takes me up to his office. I began where I’d left off with the volunteer, talking quite truthfully about an affair which was breaking up, and he immediately began to give what I felt were traditional replies – the quote above was repealed almost word for word, plus little stories about “the two hundred very genuine lesbian friends I have”, and about a couple who had sent him a card while “on their honeymoon”. I felt even none isolated by this ‘happy-ever-after’ angle, as I’d already been talking about loneliness.

He uses physical contact a lot, holding my hand in both of his, patting my knee and putting his arms round me when I’m crying. I don’t like this very much, partly because I do not want to relax and put it all on to him, and I feel this is what he wants. He also makes a lot of small suggestions relevant to points I make, and I find this worrying, as if he has assessed me and decided how to act, although we have only talked for twenty minutes. He asks whether I am a Christian, and refers a lot to ‘,the boss”. This does not sound very stupid, and he is obviously sincere, but as I do not believe, it makes me feel that, again my statements are being manly pre-judged.

I spend two hours in his study, although perhaps a third of this is spent listening while he deals with telephone calls. I do feel that I want to see him again, when he asks me to make another appointment, but I do not give my name and address, and although I am sure he is genuine, I feel no compulsion to reveal that I am ‘test-marketing’. I thought I might want to admit that I am from ‘Gay News’, but what I have said about my personal life is true, and I don’t want to alter the relationship before I’ve investigated it further.

“Over there Mr. Roving Mike”

01-197205XX 3Over the airwaves came this sane, rational, slightly wary programme, busy with being reasonable, a little tinged with nervousness and heavily colourwashed with a genteel shade of apologia. But the programme as she is spoke was a little different.

You couldn’t see the paraphenalia of speakers and microphones, the small group of hard chairs in a room fit to hold at least twenty more. And a good many chairs were empty. You didn’t have to sit through the build-up from the producer and Jimmy… about how they hated to edit the programme, so no cussin’ and so on. About the number of listeners, to remind us of our responsibility. About who we were, anywhere we came from and again the confusion of Gay News with Gay Lib came up. And then some wise child asked the producer if he was gay and was told, “In inverted commas, ‘no’, otherwise yes.”

Radio suffers from being non-visual, as well as deriving certain advantages from it. When someone began talking about bleached hair, we all laughed because Jimmy Saville has bleached hair. When Jimmy talked about the number of people there, he was able to imply the existence of a fair sized gathering, when in fact there were fewer than a hundred, probably as low as fifty. When he said we all looked sober and businesslike, you couldn’t see me in the front row with me blue velvet jacket and bright silver boots (among other things, I hasten to add).

But more important than the little white lies radio allows you to tell is the greater one – that this was a free programme of people being given a fair chance to have their say. Let me explain the set-up. Jimmy was on a little stage with the group. On the floor of the room they were using as a studio, one at each side, were rather sober and not-unheavy gentlemen, each carrying a microphone attached to many yards of wire. You got your chance to speak when Jimmy allowed it – and since he obviously thought we were going to be troublesom, and the running order to which he frequently referred did not include any discussion of radical gayness, it took him a long while to send it our way. Often I found that the discussion had taken a sidetrack and by the time he waved a mike to me, my point was irrelevant. Other times the subject was changed altogether. How far this was influenced by the voice of the producers in Jimmy’s earpiece, I cannot say. Yet when the programme began to change character, and started to pursue any topic in depth, it seemed to be the exact moment for another piece of music. In short, it was in no sense of the word a discussion programme.

Actually talking into the mike was intimidating, too. Since I was sitting right in Front of Jimmy, the man holding the mike stood between us (then was room to one side). Consequently I had to either talk to the mike itself, or try to see how Jimmy was reacting via this large gentleman’s armpit – but it didn’t seem to matter most of the time, as Jimmy was usually looking at the other roving mike, and positioning it so he could cut in swiftly when I or anyone else paused for breath. The major occasion when we actually talked to one another was in arguing about drag, transvestites, and so-called effeminate behaviour, which he and everyone else had bundled up into one package labelled bad. It is not easy, in a few sentences, and in these surroundings, to separate the three and defend them, also separately. Especially as Jimmy was more interested in making the point written down on his order sheet (which presumably said ‘homosexuals are not like that’, where it ought to have said ‘not all… etc.’). And so he tried to steer me up the garden path and strand me, because I wasn’t in drag. I could have been a mite less honest than I was, and said that there was no point when the audience were listeners, not watchers – but in an already rather dishonest programme I did not wish to compound the felony.

As far as I could tell, both from the way the talk was steered and the reception of some of the statements, the plan of the programme was to present gays as nice, safe, normal, unremarkable people just like everyone else, valiantly fitting in where they are plainly meant not to go (since the law still treats us as perverts and a danger, and so do most people). It said nothing about gay people who believe, as I do, that we are different and in some respects better, and that we are capable of evolving a lifestyle of our own which would be perfectly compatible with every other possible sexual and ethnic group (something which predominantly heterosexual societies have never managed to do). Of course, taken as a whole we are no better or worse than anyone else, but we will not become anything like compete as individuals whilst we play pretend marriage and domesticity, which are plainly not, and never will be, the ways in which two or more men can build a life together. Only legal and financial lies, coupled with societal pressure of belief, make sure that heterosexual marriages continue at all. And this is what is meant, at basis, by being acceptable – it means behaving like a certain group of people who are plainly different in a fundamental respect from ourselves, and in a way which they themselves find near impossible.

But what the programme did do was to reach a number of people who have never met another gay person in their lives before, who have lived in loneliness and fear, and now find that they are not alone. In the couple of weeks following the programme the Albany Test alone had over a hundred letters of this kind. And it must have given courage to many others. It will have helped to case the tensions in a home such as mine, in which I live with my parents and only recently faced them with the fact that I am gay. It will have helped the painful process of dispelling all the history of prejudice and censure that we have faced and still do. Above all, it slated loud and clear the one fact that must be said again and again – that gayness is about love, that it is no different in any way from heterosexuality, that both are as good, as fulfilling, and as human as each other. The only perversion is their persecution of our freedom as though we were less than human.

As with so many other things, the control of the producer is the crucial factor, deciding as it does the image of a particular person or group of people which is communicated to the audience. When the audience is as large as 5 or 6 million, as it is with Speakeasy, then the producer of that programme has an enormous responsibility to the group he is portraying – in this case, gay people. Yet there was little preparation for the programme and it only lasted one hour, and so time was precious, an attempt was made to exclude certain sections of the gay community, who do have something to say, whether or not you agree with it. Those organisations which were represented did not cover anything like a wide range, being for the most part composed of people who seemed not a million miles from the self-pitying legions of the unfortunate living out their twisted lives – ‘but it wasn’t our fault’. So much more consultation should have taken place, so much more time spent before and during the programme. The only way we can be at all sure that a fair image of us goes out to those who don’t know is to do the job ourselves. It will be, I am sure, a very interesting exercise for both the producer and the participants.


 

c/o The Albany Trust
32 Shaftsbury Avenue
London W.C.1.
22nd May 1972

“Gay News”
19 London Street
London W.2

Dear Peter and David,

Anthony Grey tells me that I am in the dog house as far as Gay News is concerned. I also seem to be pig-in-the-middle over the BBC Speakeasy programme. I am sorry that it has been construed that I was indulging in jiggery pokery. It’ll teach me in future not to be lumbered with other people’s chores. The BBC rang and asked me to find thirty gay people as representatives of as many organisations and groups as I know, excepting Gay Lib. They also talked about something called “Challenge”, which I assumed was a Gay Liberation Front venture. There seems to be have been some misunderstanding and a right cock-up in the arrangements for the programme. I am sorry if I have hurt anybody’s feelings or made them feel that there was dirty work afoot I am glad everybody represented in the programme seemed to take a full park in the discussion and the Gay Liberation Front more than held its own.

May I wish Gay News every success. If at any time you feel I could contribute anything useful, let me know.

Yours sincerely,
Michael Butler

Gay Life in Scotland, or Och, Yerra Naffie Big Jessie, Jimmah!

01-197205XX 4Being freely translated: “Oh! You’re
a screaming queen, my dear.”

There are fundamental differences between Scotland and the rest of the U.K. which reflect back on the individual life-styles of men and women living in Scotland. Some of these differences can be understood using the simple analysis that life outside London is barbarious for all “sub-cultures” and that it is self~evident that life in the “provinces” must be an eternally lonely and frustrating existence.

It’s not really as simple as that, however, and the above analysis makes the fundamental error of assuming that life for homosexuals in and around London must be always very pleasant with everyone else having to cope with a less pleasant existence. In fact activists living in a smaller community where any action at the local level is rewarded by quick attention and positive response. Whether that response is creative or destructive will depend a lot on the calibre of the local gay activists. It is easier, too, for the local gay community to get a corporate feeling of togetherness – you can’t just drop out of sight very easily, and the pleasant spin-off from this is that people care a bit more about your personal happiness.

But, again, I just want to underline that the picture is complex, and that there are a thousand graduations between city sizes and community spirit. Before I bow to discipline and keep to the subject in hand, I’d like to suggest that gay commentators in other regions could help provide an unrivalled service by writing about their own part of the U.K. especially if they’ve travelled around and put thing into perspective: we readers of “Gay News” may wonder just what it is that makes life so different for a Geordie a Mancunian, a gay Derry Boy (surely Northern Ireland must be the most socially and legally deprived area of Britain). There must be rich seams of unrecognised local slang, unrecorded local life-styles – what a PhD awaits the lucky researcher! Or the updater of Montgomery Hyde’s now sadly uncontemporary survey of homosexuality in Britain!

OUTRAGES ON DECENCY: Any male person who, in public or in private, commits, or is a party to the commission of, or procures or attempts to procure the commission by any male person of, any all of gross indecency with another male person, shall be liable to imprisonment for two years. (S.11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act l885). Got it? Let me spell it out: two guys in private, perhaps also lovers, can’t fuck, suck, or toss (or anything else remotely sexual) without committing a criminal offence. Age is no protection. And that is the law under statute in Scotland. At common law we have the crime of SODOMY: Sodomy is the crime of unnatural connection between human males. Both parties, if consenting, are guilty. As with rape, proof of penetration is an indispensable requirement. It’s a messy, antediluvian situation, and neatly reflects the unenlightened. near perverted attitudes towards sex which has clouded the minds of our moral law writers. The state of the law is one major barrier towards a well-balanced, well-informed society.

Yet the state of the law in Scotland hasn’t prevented the flourishing of an outward-going gay community (at least in Edinburgh), nor has the law prevented the growth of a service group (the Scottish Minorities Group) dedicated to the promotion of the interests of the homosexual community. The police have very few statutory powers of arrest in Scotland (unlike England) and the power to arrest is based on the common law. The most prominent offences linked with homosexual behaviour aret
dedicated to the promotion of the interests of the homosexual community. The police have very few statutory powers of arrest in Scotland (unlike England) and the power to arrest is based on the common law. The most prominent offences linked with homosexual behaviour are the common law offences of “shameless indecency” and “breach of the peace”, the latter of which is used quite widely in Scotland. The police are not involved in the prosecution. Public prosecution is conducted by the Burgh Prosecutor (police courts) or the Procurator Fiscal or Advocate Deputy (Sheriff or High Courts). The policy of successive Lord Advocates has been not to prosecute for “in private” activity, and so homosexuals in Scotland enjoy, for all practical legal purposes, the same freedoms as heterosexuals. Scots law of evidence affords an extra protection to the citizen. However, the laws remain unreformed – an insult to every right-thinking person. A friend of mine, extolling the “golden age” of the l8th Century and deploring the tawdryness of contemporary 20th century life, conveniently forgot the fact that today we are confined by legal and moral restraints brought about in response to specific events in the 19th Century. We too easily forget that the “age of Consent” up to 1875 was 12. In that year it was raised to 13, and then to 16 in 1885. The idea that two men in their teens taking part in homosexual actions cannot be “consenting” is laughable, yet the Sexual Offences Act 1967 says just that. Thank goodness this ugly piece of modern legislation does NOT apply to Scotland. It perpetuates the idea of “gross indecency” between men, a statutory offence invented in 1885, and in an emotional and malicious way confines young people to criminal proceedings, when they may properly need care, advice or empathy. What we need in Britain are sound rational laws. So long as we tinker and “reform” present laws we gay people will perpetuate socially and legally the concept of second-class citizenship.

Scotland’s population is about 5¼ million, just half the number of people who live within an hours train journey from London. The area is vast, but because of the wild and exciting land-forms, the people are unevenly distributed and confined in the main to the Forth-Clyde valleys and on or near the East Coast. There’s a very distinctive flavour to each city. Glasgow and Edinburgh, a gentle hourly drive apart, have unmistakeable identities. Glasgow is a city of superlatives: best Victorian city in Europe, highest high rise, greatest programme of urban motorways, brilliant parklands… yet… and yet bad for gays. It’s a sort of combination of heavy industrial working-class past combined with a near dearth of intimate and varied meeting-places. The Close Theatre is a stunning exclamation mark in the heart of old Gorbals. Edinburgh: “east-windy and west-endy” about sums it up but if you’ve been to the August International Festival (or any other time) you will know that this lovely city is also a haven for Scotland’s gay community. SMG are operating a successful Saturday night coffee-food-and-dance club, and the Edinburgh Branch of the Group is now seriously engaged in the buying of central premises, inside which we can create our permanent home. Edinburgh’s size (less than ½ million) seems just right: big enough for variety, small enough for identity. Gay people relocating should give serious thought to settling in Edinburgh.

The best way to approach Dundee is at night driving northwards over the Tay Road Bridge (or take the evening train from Edinburgh!). Unfortunately, visual impact does not match up to social enjoyment, for this is a very stolid town which partly derives from a large female work force to support the Jute industry. It is a “tight” city, not at all liberated. I have never been to Aberdeen, but my friends sing the beauties of its crisp-clean granite, and worry their hearts about the social disruption (and destruction) attendant upon the North Sea oil bonanza. Inverness I know is a cheerful and smaller version of Edinburgh in many ways. Some very sensitive restoration work coupled with the delightful modern development just slightly spoiled by some loutish work in the late fifties and early 1960’s. Could be very pleasant for gays once SMG Inverness begins to grow.

I’ll wind off now! Hopefully this highly personal and patchy picture will give some idea of what Scotland is like as a place to stay.

  • References: (yes, there were some)
  • THE FRIEND April 28th 1972 (Marjorie Jones’ article)
  • SCOTTISH INTERNATIONAL March 1972 (author’s article)
  • CIVIL LIBERTY The NCCL Guide (Penguin Books, London, 1972)

 

SCOTTISH MINORITIES GROUP.

MEETINGS:

  • EDINBURGH, from 7.45pm to 9.00pm in the basement of 23 George Square. Check with Mike Coulson at 031-225 4395. Women’s Group at 7.30pm. Saturdays from 9.30pm to 12.30pm coffee/food/dance at the same address.
  • GLASGOW, meetings every Tuesday at 8.00pm at 8 Dunearn Street, Glasgow C4. Women’s Group at 184 Swinton Road, at 8.00pm. Third Friday of every month at 214 Clyde Street (library of community house) invited speakers, from 8pm.
  • DUNDEE, every Friday at Dundee University Chaplaincy, Social. Details from 041-771 7600
  • ABERDEEN, Weekly social meetings, Details from 041-772 7600