The freedom of the British press is something we have all learned to value. Usually this is understood to mean that our newspapers are not controlled or censored by the government, the state, the police or the army. Publish and be damned is still a good slogan.
However, this freedom is also assumed to mean that individuals and groups of individuals have the right to reply to attacks made upon them by individual newspapers. Quite often this right is freely given. You will find in general that all contentious topics are given a pretty free airing from both sides, whether it is scientology in dispute or Sir Basil Spence’s erection.
A significant exception was made recently though by The Sunday Telegraph. On Sunday, June 2Sth the following item appeared in that paper’s column of pungent tit-bits called To the Point; —
LEAVING aside any dispute about the power of judges to make what is in effect new law, there will be general satisfaction that they have declared to be illegal any advertisement designed to put homosexuals in contact with one another.
It has now become clear that the concept of privacy enshrined in the Wolfenden Act should have applied, not only to homosexual practices as such, but to anything likely to encourage them. The Act was intended to protect an unfortunate minority from persecution, but not to empower them to spread their deviant ideas in society at large.
Presumably no one would dispute the S. Telegraph’s right to express such an opinion. Some people might question the use of emotive language – eg. ‘unfortunate’, ‘empower’ and ‘deviant ideas’, not to mention the use of ‘their’ with its establishment of a ‘them’ and ‘us’ division.
Quite naturally though the paragraphs upset a great many homosexual men and women. And several immediately wrote to the newspaper.
I would like to take issue with you, as no doubt others of your readers have done, over last week’s article entitled ‘Gents’ Directory’.
You leave aside the question of whether it is right that the judiciary should usurp the legislature’s function by effectively making laws to cover what a few unelected judges consider to be Parliament’s omission. I have not seen in your columns an equal lack of concern at, for example, left wing youth groups which similarly by-pass the established democratic channels from time to time.
You assert that the denial of advertising rights to homosexuals will meet with general satisfaction. Among the one in twenty homosexuals who read and write for the Sunday Telegraph? Among those who believe in one law for all citizens and abhor discrimination against minorities? Among those concerned at the isolation and despair often faced by homosexuals denied the opportunity for social contact and fulfilling relationships because you do not like them?
You claim that the Sexual Offences Act intended to protect homosexuals from persecution. The Act indeed allowed consenting adult male homosexuals a limited freedom at law. But society persistently denies homosexuals the opportunity to exercise that limited freedom. You justify this with the emotive concept of homosexuals ‘spreading their deviant ideas in society at large!’ We do this, apparently, by seeking to contact other homosexuals via advertisements, just as heterosexuals freely do, on a much larger scale. And if they feel the need, in an entirely heterosexually orientated society, how much more so must we!
The outcry against this social persecution has only just begun. We are comforted by the knowledge that, although this is and must be our battle, we are not alone.
Tony Ryde, (Vice Chairman Campaign for Homosexual Equality) 28 Kennedy St., Manchester.
Your editorial comment on homosexuals (Gent’s Directory, last Sunday) has brought considerable and unnecessary distress to a great many people. The note is based on the misconception (which a little unbiased research would have swiftly corrected) that homosexuality is infectious. When a homosexual advertises for companionship then only another homosexual is interested. Society at large remains unaffected.
Surely you would agree that one’s sexuality can hardly be dismissed as a mere idea, but is an inescapable fact of one’s personality.
What you refer to as the “spread (of) deviant ideas” is the simple assertion that the homosexual man and woman have a human right to exist in equality with our heterosexual brothers and sisters. A society which happily accepts our contribution to its economy (mostly greater than that of married people) yet continues to condemn us to a crippling emotional isolation might itself be judged deviant.
Press Officer: CHE 28 Kennedy St.
I was dismayed to read your editorial “Gents Directory”.
To many heterosexual adults, the subject of homosexuality appears to be aligned with pornography, bestiality and intentions to deprave. Anyone admitting to being a homosexual is branded as unclean and considered fair sport for either mental or physical punishment.
This is manifestly unjust. It is surely the case that homosexuals are by accident of birth made what they are. How many of your readers would endorse your condemnation if it were directed at another branch of society different from the norm of which there are so many tragic examples.
I do not agree with the aims of the Gay Liberation Front and others which appear to show the homosexual as superior to his brethren but I am sure that the majority of this section of the population merely want to be accepted for what they are and have the equal rights to which we subscribe in every other walk of life.
In the present isolated environment that has been forced on them, why should we even now deny them the right to try and establish contact with each other? Your own endorsement sir, of the recent Court ruling aggravates the present bigotry and further delays the coming of a free and well adjusted society.
I read with astonishment your editorial ‘Gents’ Directory’. I can only hope that your extremely distasteful and hostile remarks stem from a complete ignorance of the nature and effect of homosexuality, rather than a wilful desire to inflict suffering by perpetuating wicked myths.
I and my colleagues, who include doctors, surgeons and priests, have daily brought home to us the misery and unhappiness of that minority whom you gratuitously describe as ‘unfortunate’. Our clients problems are not caused by their homosexuality but by the very attitudes within society towards homosexuals as examplified by your editorial.
If, as a responsible, opinion forming member of that society, you should wish to discover the truth, I and my colleagues would welcome the opportunity to inform you of our work. If, however, your prejudice will not permit you to take up our offer, then I hope your conscience will restrain you from publishing such ill-informed editorials in the future.
These are clearly sensible, reasoned letters, hardly the work of maniacs or cranks. But of course, none were published. Instead, Brian Roberts the 68-year-old editor of the Sunday Telegraph took what seems to be the unusual step of replying personally to his correspondents.
Tel: 01-353 4242
Thank you for your letter of June 28.
There is nothing in our editorial which I wish to withdraw. It did not attack the protection afforded to homosexuals by the Act. In rightly supporting the recent Court ruling against advertising, it took into account that there must be many what I might call “borderline ” homosexuals whose often courageous resistance to homosexual practices should not be undermined by such proselytising. Tolerance is one thing, encouragement another.
One could, of course, go on for several paragraphs about the implications and — perhaps more important – assumptions of Mr. Roberts’ letter. Tony Ryde, in fact, did reply, as follows: —
Dear Mr. Roberts,
Thank you for acknowledging my letter. I did not ask you to withdraw any part of your editorial but rather to recognise that there are other views, equally strongly felt and perhaps as widely supported. Perhaps you intend to publish such an alternative view this Sunday since presumably the Letters Column in the Sunday Telegraph, as is generally the case, doesn’t have to reflect the Editor’s personal opinion.
I recognise that your editorial did not attack the protection which the 1967 act affords to homosexuals (so long as they are over 21 and live in England); I do not think I suggested it did. Rather I pointed to the social persecution which continues unabated and is reflected by your own views, albeit in the guise of protecting borderline cases from temptation.
Of course there are borderline cases on both sides. If I, being predominantly homosexual am tempted to heterosexual practices neither I, not I think you, will applaud as courageous any resistance I might offer. The morality or immorality, surely, depends not on the act but on the spirit. For you, as for the proponents of the 1967 Act, homosexuality is to be considered as intrinsically evil or sick. Whereas CHE, together with all homosexuals campaigning for full civil rights argues that truly fulfilling, responsible relationships have nothing to do with hetero- or homosexuality per se, but with people and personal values. The borderline homosexual therefore has an equal chance of, and right to, meaningful homosexual relationship as to a meaningful heterosexual one.
In any case you cannot contend that homosexual advertisements appeal primarily to ‘borderline cases’ and you will admit I think I that trying, I believe misguidedly, to protect them you are denying a far greater number of confirmed homosexuals the opportunity to I make contact with other confirmed homosexuals in the hope of relieving their loneliness and establishing mutually rewarding relationships.
If CHE proselytises it is for this freedom which should be an unassailable right; so long as it is denied to us tolerance is pure fantasy.
What is disturbing about the whole episode is The Sunday Telegraph’s inability to admit another point of view — and a point of view backed with rather more experience of the real situation that the author of the original article.