I was 8 years old when the letter quoted below was written. 24 years later I was on 'Uphill Gardening Leave' prior to being booted out of the RAF for being gay and had taken to going for long walks which would often end in Sandy Bell's bar, music and a long, wide-ranging, fascinating, Lagavulin-fuelled conversation with Hamish Henderson. We had both previously served in the Intelligence Corps and felt an instant camaraderie with each other. Hamish helped me greatly, both in coming to terms with my predicament and steeling myself for the 12 year legal battle to come. In one of those conversations Hamish mentioned the letter, though, as I recall, his abridged lexicon was even more forthright viva voce than that used for the douce pages of The Scotsman.
The letter has come to mind because we've come full circle and now, 45 years after it was written, I could write the same letter but open it with the sentence:
Can there be another subject on earth about which more nonsense is written and spoken than homophobia?
The puritanical Calvinist clerics Hamish rails against have been replaced by the Holy Wolfies of the Byres Road Cappuccino Commie set at Common Space. Yes, I'm talking about the stooshie over Wings Over Scotland's (to my mind very witty) tweet about Oliver Mundell MSP's woeful oratorical skills.
For those gay folk of certain years like Paul Kavanagh of Wee Ginger Dug and myself who have suffered the very real consequences of actual homophobia over the years and have lived and fought at considerable personal cost to bring about the changes to society and the law, I cannot even begin to describe the anger I feel at seeing the enormity of what we were up against cheapened by a Scottish Labour leader using the same terminology in the Press and in Parliament to vilify a man who hasn't a homophobic bone in his body.
Like anyone who's been through the entire legal mill from Employment Tribunal, to Employment Appeal Tribunal, the Court of Session, House of Lords and the European Court of Human Rights, I'd advise anyone to caw canny before resorting to law. However, I sincerely hope that Stuart Campbell of Wings Over Scotland takes Kezia Dugdale for every penny that he's after.
To those 'gay activists' who are fortunate to have inherited the exponentially more tolerant society bequeathed to them by the actions of the likes of Hamish Henderson et. al. and would bandy false accusations of homophobia, I say have a very serious word with yourselves.
To the Yes Movement at large, I say just laugh at the Byres Road Cappuccino Commies. Unlike the majority of the Yes Movement who are campaigning for an Independent Scotland, a fair few of their leading lights appear to have used the Yes Movement solely as a vehicle to advance their personal meeja careers. Like the clerics referred to by Hamish below, their fractious nature will split them into the 'auld licht' and the 'new licht' until their middle class student political factions disappear up their own jacksies.
Edinburgh, 14 July 1972
To the Scotsman
Can there be another subject on earth about which more nonsense is written and spoken than homosexuality? (In Scotland the language mix-up probably beats it by a shrunken head.)
People who talk about 'bastions of morality' all too often turn out themselves to be merely bastions of prejudice and outmoded myth and tabu. The sexual tabu which the Reverend Malcolm H. MacRae wishes to uphold surely has about as much relevance for us in this country today as the Hindu tabu on the eating of beef or the Jewish tabu on pork. Man is an inherently pansexual creature, capable of responding to a variety of sexual stimuli, and the dichotomy of 'homosexual' and 'heterosexual' is therefore highly artificial.
Those who challenge irrational and oppressive tabus need all the help they can get from men of goodwill. Your correspondents are naive, however, if they expect to get much assistance from ministers of religion when lifting the mines in this difficult and bedevilled territory. Here and there you get 'the auntran guid ane', but in the main they are just the same old pack of self-elected elect who see sex as one of the comparatively few areas in which they can still have the occasional field day, doing their self-important thing and interfering with other people's lives. And, let us face it, there is an unhealthy Puritan strain in a broad stretch of Christian tradition which crosses the frontiers of individual sects and denominations and which is deeply suspicious not only of homosexuality but of sexuality, tout court.
It is high time the ignominious role of the clergy in most of the humanitarian campaigns of the last 150 years was brought right out into the open. In the early nineteenth century the attempts of reformers such as Sir Samuel Romilly to bring to an end some of the horrors of the English 'hanging code' - a starving mother of 17 with an infant at her breast executed for lifting a yard of linen from a shop counter; the hanging of children (two sisters of eight and 11 strung up at Lynn in 1808); 13 people hanged at a single session for being found in the company of Gypsies - were met with resolute opposition from the Archbishop of Canterbury, most of the bishops and the vast majority of the clergy of the Church of England. By the same token, the comparatively more humane and liberal Scottish criminal code was brought into being and defended by courageous laymen against vehement and often virulent opposition from the Calvinist clergy. It should surprise nobody, therefore, that in the much needed and long overdue sexual revolution - which, as Norman Mailer has suggested, is by far the most 'meaningful and natural' revolution of our time - the same general pattern can be discerned.
Latter-day Puritans like Malcolm Muggeridge try to pillory liberal-minded clergymen by calling them 'trendy', etc., but the fact is that such clergymen are a tiny minority as against the conservatives.
People like the Rev. Malcolm MacRae may try to stem the tide, but they will not succeed, because public opinion is now getting adjusted to the self-evident truth that the homosexually oriented person has as undeniable a right to personal sexual happiness as anyone else. Chastity may suit some people, and it may even sometimes burgeon into saintliness, but it can also be one of the 'roots of evil'; the unholy flowering, in this case - from the auto da fe to the fantasy (or practices) of celibate floggers - being punitive sadism.
Luckily the views of psychologists like Dr Mark Freedman are rapidly gaining widespread acceptance. In his book Homosexuality and Psychological Functioning, Dr Freedman writes; 'Social attitudes to sexuality have to be changed, or else an atmosphere of fear, negation and restrictiveness will continue to pervade society.
Some theorists - notably Marshall McLuhan - maintain that the world is rapidly changing because of the speed of communication fostered by the electronics media, and that these changes include a new tolerance for and interest in differentness. This appreciation of differentness includes acceptance of people formerly discriminated against according to social, ethnic, religious and sexual distinctions. Hopefully, then, a new climate of respect for diversity and acceptance of individual differences is arriving. With human relationships still resulting in individual chaos because of these divisions and discriminations, I hope this change arrives soon.
I am etc., Hamish Henderson
From The Armstrong Nose. Selected letters of Hamish Henderson, Alec Finlay Ed. Polygon, Edinburgh 1996.
Wings Over Scotland - Taking a stand.
Wee Ginger Dug - Throwing some light on throwing shade & A sense of perspective.
Common Space - Jordan Daly: Why we should back Kezia Dugdale and send Wings Over Scotland packing.
Random Public Journal - Common Space - What hast thou done? & Art, Sexism, Wings & Homophobia.
Indyref2 - My turn to be offended.
Logic's Rock - Wings & Waffle about LGBT issues.