Thursday, January 26, 2006

Simon says…. I’ve had sex with men

Well, that confirms more than two decades of speculation. LibDem leadership candidate Simon Hughes has finally decided to be ‘open’ about his sexuality. I suppose it could be argued that he’s not actually saying he’s gay (neither did Elton John, at first) because he says he’s had sex with men and women in the past. So, if we take him at his word, he’s technically admitting to being bisexual. Whatever the case – welcome to the LGBT community, Simon!

At least Mr Hughes has done it with confidence and dignity – even if it did take 23 years. There was no tearful ‘admission’ and to his credit, no shocked wife and kids to tell.

Now, of course, Simon Hughes presented himself as “the straight choice” in that notorious Bermondsey bi-election in 1983, in what is acknowledged as the most homophobic election campaign in living memory. The Labour candidate – a pre OutRage! – Peter Tatchell was relentlessly smeared and attacked over his sexuality both by his rivals in Labour and by Liberal canvassers. Tatchell documented the whole sorry saga in his book The Battle for Bermondsey.

However, despite a (somewhat unfounded) reputation for ‘outing’ public figures, OutRage! never outed Hughes, despite having the ability to do so. Why? Well, because he wasn’t a hypocrite. It is only acceptable to ‘out’ someone if their public pronouncements are at variance with their private lives. That is to say, if they’re spouting homophobic crap and voting for antigay laws while hiding a secret gay life. Hughes did not do that.

Still, he’s being accused of “lying” by the straight media. I suppose technically that’s true. But I’m not convinced that the straight media either appreciate the difficulties many gay people have in coming out, or – more importantly – the media’s role in creating those difficulties.

The tabloid press are beyond the pale. The Sun used the term “LimpDems” in their story.

Sky News glibly referred to it a “scandal”, though perhaps they meant that it was a controversy because Hughes had denied being gay in the past. The Sky News story also confirms that The Sun were behind the ‘outing’. One has to wonder what the legitimate public interest is. Obviously I’m always glad when more people exit the closet, but I must confess to being ambivalent when the agent of that action is the Tabloid press who have no genuine interest in destroying the closet.

For gay people – even in “the 21st century” – the question of coming out or not is still a difficult one, and it isn’t just politicians, Hollywood actors and others in the public eye worry about. Will I get that promotion if the boss knows I’m gay? Will I be allowed to see my nephews if my sister knows I’m gay? Will I get harassed by the neighbours of they know I’m gay? These are questions that everyday gay people aske themselves… well, everyday. Even those, like myself, who are very ‘out’ – because every new day brings a new situation where one has to decide whether to out oneself or not.

Of course Simon Hughes should have come out. Of course, these days, even the Tories have openly gay MPs. But if there has been any hypocrisy, it’s been from a media that frames the question as if the answer is self-evident. To many, unfortunately, it isn’t. Homophobia and prejudice is still very much with us.

But, the only way we can begin to confront homophobic prejudice is to ‘out’ it. And, the only way to ‘out’ prejudice is to expose ourselves to it by coming out ourselves.

Peter Tatchell has forgiven Hughes for his part in the homophobic Bermondsey bi-election a quarter of a century ago. Tatchell is right to do so. In coming out, Simon Hughes is now one of us, and as such, we should protect and nurture him - as we must do when the estimated 50 other gay MPs who are still deeply in their closets decide to do the right thing.


At 7:21 pm, Anonymous Depressed said...

I'm a gay man of about Hughes's age, and I've been a LibDem (previously SDP) activist since the SDP was founded. I was one of the foot soldiers in his by-election campaign.

I understand his caution about coming out then, but what I saw of his campaign didn't aim at Tatchell's sexuality, and I always believed - as I was told - that anything along those lines wasn't coming from our camp. True, there were some out Young Liberals with their own badges protesting at Tatchell's attempts to duck the issue, but as I recall they were asked to take them off. For what it's worth, I also remember some fairly obvious attempts by various Militant types to harass our canvassers away from the council estates they considered their territory. The Labour Party campaigners of 1983 was no more simon-pure (pun intended) than the old machine Labour people they'd displaced (and who put up their own, openly homophobic candidate).

What depresses me is not only Hughes's blank denials about his own sexuality even at a time when they were no longer even expedient, but chiefly this belated admission that there was something wrong about that campaign. If there was, he must have known at the time. In a situation like that, the candidate isn't in charge and isn't in a position to know everything the party minders get up to. But he had plenty of opportunities to distance himself from anything underhand at the time, and certainly had no need subsequently to carry on denying what he has now admitted about it. How on earth can he reconcile any of that with his much-touted "faith"?

I'm feeling more than let down. This sort of hypocrisy does NOT require protection or nurturing from gay men or Liberal Democrats. My only reason for staying in the party for the moment is to do what I can to make sure he isn't elected leader.

At 4:25 am, Anonymous Jonathan said...

As one who is bisexual (yes, we do exist) I have been saddened by the actions of those in the media and elsewhere over the past few days but more surprised I suppose by those who are openly gay who don't seem to believe that bisexuality exists. As someone who is sexually attracted to both men and women, these types of polarised black or white pronouncements do untold damage and either makes us bisexuals state we are one or the other to our costs or worse still, keeps us firmly in the closet.


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