Saturday, January 28, 2006

Out of the Closet: I'm a Name-Dropper

All this about Simon Hughes being gay came as a shock to me. Not that he's gay. I thought everybody knew. I've distrusted him for twenty odd years, since the Bermondsey by-election, when the right wing, Thatcher-supporting press crucified Peter Tatchell because he was gay, and the openly gay (I thought) Hughes kept quiet.

Apparently not, we now learn that he's been in the closet all his life because he didn't want his Mam to find out. Hmm. I was listening to talk about this on the Today programme whilst I was in the bath yesterday and got to wondering: how did I know Simon Hughes, MP was gay, when apparently even his own mother didn't? And then it came back to me, as things do sometimes in the bath.

It was 1983. I was a law student at Newcastle Poly (now Northumbria University). I was having an end of term pint (several pints probably) in The Concert Bar, just across from the law school with a gang of mates when we were joined by a couple of our lecturers. We occasionally drank with these two because I moved in left wing circles in those days, and these lecturers were avowed Socialists. Anyway, we got onto the subject of the disgraceful press tactic in the Bermondsey by election and one of them told me about Simon Hughes keeping his own sexuality quiet, even though those in the know in London would tell you he was a well-regarded member of the bourgeois, elite, Metropolitan gay community.

It's funny how life goes on, you go one way and the lads you're having a pint with go another. One of these lecturers was Stephen Byers (we called him Stevie), who later became an MP and of course had an interesting time as Transport Minister. And the other, the one who dished the dirt on Hughes in a bar in Newcastle 23 years ago, was John Hutton, then a youngish legal academic, now the Minister for Pensions. Heigh ho.

All the name dropping aside, I can't help but feel distaste for this whole malarkey. It shouldn't have mattered diddly way back in 1983 what either Tatchell or Hughes chose or chose not to do at bedtime. Much less should it matter in 2006, when I'd rather fondly hoped we'd trashed homophobia and other nonsense.