Wednesday, June 16, 1999 Published at 15:01 GMT 16:01 UK
Outing: Revealing other people's secrets
And the revelations keep coming. . .
Cabinet ministers, former cabinet ministers, sports stars, comedians. All have fallen under the news juggernaut in recent months, as it races down its endless motorway.
Just this week, former Welsh Secretary Ron Davies announced he was bisexual after allegations in the News of the World about his sexual behaviour while out birdwatching near his home in Draethen.
Society has come a long way from the days of Rock Hudson, whose homosexuality was an open secret in the world of films, but whose career was nevertheless based on being a huge sex symbol for movie-watching females.
Society has come a long way, but it seems that being gay still ranks alongside the likes of adultery or crime in tabloid stakes. It was only last year, after all, that the Sun demanded to know if there was a gay mafia at the heart of the government. It later retracted its demand, saying it would not seek to expose gay ministers.
But the fact remains that "outing" is still on the agenda, however much the gay community may have wished never to see it again.
It is some years now since the threat of having their secret homosexuality revealed was made against figures from the worlds of showbiz, politics and religion. What some people found most disturbing about the threats was that they came from other homosexuals, who said they wanted to reveal hypocrisy.
OutRage! has been the most vocal gay group in the last few years - in 1994 it threatened to out ten Anglican bishops it said were gay but who did not support gay rights from their pulpits.
Peter Tatchell explained last year that he and OutRage! were in fact opposed to outing, "except when public figures abused their power to harm other gay people".
"The aim is to discredit the perpetrators of discrimination by unmasking them as hypocrites," he wrote in The Independent. "Because outing can help destroy the power and credibility of homophobes in high places, it is the right thing to do."
He wrote: "This is old, tired and very familiar; when the tabloids did over Michael Barrymore and George Michael, the excuse was that - wait for it - the Michaels were practising homosexuality in private and heterosexuality in public and were therefore hypocrites."
But as it becomes more socially acceptable to be openly gay - and as the sheer number of gay public figures increases - surely there will be less currency in outing people?
"What they write is very much governed by that. The more tolerance, the greater the education and understanding, the harder it is for any tabloid editor to justify outing, unless there's something more involved, like with Ron Davies or George Michael."
People - particularly young people - were far more tolerant nowadays, he said. But he added: "It's also a question of image and what you want to achieve. I think if Rock Hudson were alive today, he would still probably need to cover the truth.
"If I was doing his PR today, my advice to him would probably be the same as it was 30 years ago because his appeal is as the pin-up, the heart-throb, the sex symbol. And once the audience knows it's not accurate, all of the magic, the charisma, and the box office appeal goes."
And although attitudes were getting more understanding, newspaper interest would still depend on who the individual was.
"From my own experience, I never had to cover up Jimi Hendrix and drugs, in fact it helped the image. Whereas if it had been Cliff Richard, it would have destroyed him. Every image is different, so as a PR you have be sure that every image you create is the most positive, the most successful."
While he did not anticipate Stephen Gately's career would suffer at all from his announcement that he was gay, he added: "If he was a footballer his career would be over still. It's not cut and dried, we're not in a situation yet where it just doesn't matter, we're a long way from there. If one of the Royal Family came out, there would be a huge outcry about it, it wouldn't be 'Well, so what?'"
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