Editorial

Now that John Vassall has been released from prison (after serving an immoderately long portion of his 15-year sentence for spying for the Russians), and as a new book on Sir Roger Casement is about to be published, it’s time to wonder whether these ‘gay traitors’ would be as vulnerable now as they were in 1916 and 1962 respectively.

There can be no doubt that Sir Roger Casement, hanged for his part in the alleged importation of rifles into Ireland for the Irish revolutionaries – was condemned almost as soon as the British Secret Service “discovered” the controversial Black Diaries, which, they said, Casement had written cataloguing his sexual adventures for three years.

Vassall was forced into spying when he was blackmailed by the Russians who set up a man for him to sleep with. With the blackmailer’s usual weapon, film, the Russians turned a clergyman’s son who had risen to a trusted post in the Admiralty into a spy.

It’s easy to say that in 1962 gay love was illegal between men, and that everything’s, changed since 1967 and the Sexual Offences Act.

The sad and sick truth is that nothing has changed. The sexual Offences Act was a typical piece of “permissive legislation” that gives nothing away. Its clauses, exempt males under 21 and merchant seamen and all members of the armed forces and policemen as well as imposing the limitations of sex to groups of two “consenting” adults and “in private”.

The courts see fit to change their minds about what “in private” means with many of the cases of ‘indecency’ that come before them.

Gay sex between two adults may be free, but male homosexuals are still faced by the absurd and discriminatory 21-year-old-and-over rule. Obviously we have not got equality if the male of the species is seen by society as less responsible than his heterosexual counterpart. Whatever the law may tell us, there is still a stigma.

It is while society creates differences and these differences themselves create feelings of job-insecurity, social degradation, that the conditions that hanged Casement and forced John Vassall into spying on his own country survive.

If there is to be more than an empty charade of equality for gays on society’s part, there must be a significant change in the legal standing of homosexuals in Britain.

Acts of Parliament that say that we may do one thing, but not another are not enough. They are not permissive – in the sense of permitting us to do anything – but truly limiting.

By limiting their activity, and by seeing homosexuals as different creatures from heterosexuals, the law is forcing people into situations where blackmail and near-blackmail are still possible and practiced – after all, blackmail includes the fear of losing their jobs that frightens so many gays, possibly the majority, into leading secret lives.

Secret lives aren’t healthy. They’re not whole lives. They’re the sort of situation that gives the blackmailer scope to corner his victim.

It’s quite clear that if Sir Roger Casement were tried today, the court would not take such a grave view of the alleged diaries of his sex life. We remain unconvinced that a court could treat him as they would if the diaries had never been produced. Even today.

We remain unconvinced that no man could be blackmailed into spying because of his gayness.

To create another Vassall, all a spy master would have to do would be to put another male under 21-years old or a member of the armed forces in his way. Perhaps even an imaginitive spy-creator could arrange for his victim to be photographed in bed with two men.

The law is still discriminatory, as we have said. To us it seems that nothing has changed since 1916.

Gay Spies Hit The Sundays

LONDON: Britain’s Sunday ‘heavy’ newspapers have suddenly had a rash of reports on people convicted of spying, who were said to be gay.

First it was John Vassall, interviewed by Francis Wyndham in the Sunday Times. He was a little camp, but essentially honest in the interview in which he remembered prison life – for instance, its concerts.

He said: “The ones we did ourselves were the best. There was one very amusing prisoner who was very good at dressing up. He had a nickname – Stella. Before Mountbatten (the Mountbatten Commission’s prison report) we had a wonderful concert at Thanet. We had to pick the Miss Thanet of 1965 – it was really a scream. Eight people took part: two of them were gay, so they knew what they were doing. People ran up dresses for the show, made wigs — everyone put in a lot of effort. Oh, it really was a hoot! I did a mime with someone else. He was a girl sitting on a bench and I came in as a man reading a newspaper. Somebody shouted out ‘You’re wasting your time there!’ Even I got a kick out of that. It’s much better to hear something than nothing.”

Next week The Observer slammed back with part one of a two-part serialisation of bits of a book by Brian Inglis on Sir Roger Casement, the eminent Edwardian hanged for treason in 1916 for his alleged part in the Irish ‘troubles’.

The Observer introduced the package with a paragraph describing Casement as a ‘diplomat, homosexual, Irish patriot’.

In his book Inglis claims that: “He (Casement) had left some of his possessions in his old London lodgings, among them his so-called Black Diaries for 1903, 1910 and 1911.”

Others have argued that these diaries never existed until the British Secret Service wanted to ensure Casement’s conviction and execution. It is said that they are not even in a passable imitation of Casement’s handwriting.

Indeed the Black Diaries are among the few once-secret papers the authorities keep very close tabs on.

They are still unpublished. They are in the British Museum but only ‘bona fide’ historians can get to see them.

Irish Oppression

I sent the letter printed below to the Irish Times, The Dublin liberal daily. Needless to say it wasn’t published, although they happily publish letters detailing methods of deporting Ulster Protestants that would make General Amin quake. A similar letter was sent to the Belfast Telegraph, the Belfast liberal daily, and the same applies.

It is ironic since two of the Republic’s favourite sons were homosexual – Oscar Wilde and Roger Casement, though if you publicly believe that the patriot Casement was gay and his ‘black diaries’ true, you’d get short shrift from today’s patriots.

Ironically it was a former Ulster Unionist MP, Montgomery Hyde, who wrote “The Other Love” of which GN published an extract recently.

Remember in Ireland homosexuals must be political because the laws are vicious.

Trevor

Belfast.

Dear Sir,

Those concerned with civil liberties should be made aware of the peculiar situation facing homosexuals in N. Ireland. Though governed by Mr Whitelaw and sole legislative control being exercised in Westminster, the unchanged N. Ireland law is still in operation. Thus we have the peculiar situation where a Westminster MP is liable to life imprisonment in N. Ireland for an act that is perfectly permissible in London!

The Unionist party in their role of supervising institutionalised inequality were incapable of removing such penal iniquity, even five years after the reform in England.

Not surprisingly they were ably supported in mutual silence by all the nationalist groupings. One might think that such grotesque inequality between Britain and N. Ireland would have galvanised an organisation like the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association (NICRA). But NICRA said and did nothing, its credence as a genuine civil rights organisation being further eroded. An undefined term of internment and life imprisonment are remarkably similar and equally worthy of denunciation when those living in Britain are liable to neither.

The Ministry of Community Relations ought to give the Belfast homosexual community some token of gratitude for the uncompromisingly non-sectarianism it has displayed in the last three years. Not only has it remained united but it has also had the capacity to unite elements of the majority Catholic and Protestant community, albeit in common antagonism!

I recognise that changing laws does not change society, but in this case it is a vital first step. No organisations for self-help or external re-education can emerge while potential members remain liable to such harsh penalties. And only when that happens will it be possible to integrate homosexuals into society and erase the negative and self-destructive features of their behaviour.

It goes without saying that the same laws apply in Southern Ireland. As letters such as this are seldom if ever published, the matter may still be an unsubject, fit only for medical journals. If it is permissible to discuss the issue let us not hear the woeful cries of those who legislate by sloth, that there is no demand for such changes or worse still, that many homosexuals approve of the present law. It is an interesting coincidence that the homosexual minority is something on a par in numbers with the Protestant community. Where a lot has been written of the relatively minor legal discrimination they suffer, nothing has been written of the social and legal position of homosexuals.

Hopefully, Republican homosexuals will not be forced into some kind of reform queue behind Protestants, women, emigrants, etc. Instead a co-operative effort needs to be undertaken of all those minority groupings in society who are pushed around – to overcome the intransigence of a few and the ignorance of most. Otherwise individual freedom becomes a market commodity, traded in by church and state and political lobby. Back in N. Ireland where reform is largely there for the asking, a wise campaign exposing the anomalies in the law is immediately required.

Trevor McAville