By Paul Canning
There's a protest happening outside the Daily Express office in London this afternoon. Any protest against the Express gets two thumbs up from me. It's a vile, nasty rag. But this one seems a tad pointless and the anger misplaced.
Last week's supreme court decision on gay and lesbian asylum seekers generated the Express front-page headline: "Now asylum if you're gay" – hence the protest. The usual suspects, including the Daily Mail and talk radio, all behaved predictably too. But a few days before the Express's front page appeared, a gay asylum seeker was being put into actual danger by the Sun.
Zac is a gay teenager from Abu Dhabi, the most conservative of the United Arab Emirates. He's been in the UK for six years but ran away last year from his family after he was rejected by them when he came out. He got help and after claiming asylum was moved to Liverpool. There he found friends and a (hopefully) long-term partner – a new, happier and safer life. His asylum claim as a gay man under threat if he returned home was rejected by the Home Office, as most have been, but his appeal is on track.
In Dubai this week another gay man was sentenced to three years in jail. In Abu Dubai a few years ago 25 men were arrested in a raid on a party and threatened with hormone treatment – which was only stopped after US state department protests.
Zac also has a talent: he can sing. And like many teenagers he tried his hand with The X Factor talent show. He passed the initial audition and had been called back for further trials in Manchester last week.
But, it appears, someone connected with Talkback Thames, the show's producers, contacted the press and on 3 July a nasty story about Zac appeared in the Sun. He was only told about it two days later and after being told in the same phone call to prepare five songs for another audition later the same day. After he called the Sun and they told him the information had come from The X Factor, he was dropped.
The Sun's story uses his real name. Association of his family's name with homosexuality puts Zac in real danger as his father has already tried to kill him. Where, I wonder, could the Sun have discovered his name from?
For the record, Talkback Thames denies passing his name to the Sun.
Perhaps today's protesters at the Express should, if concerned to help an actual gay asylum seeker, travel a bit further east to News International's HQ, or four miles west to Talkback Thames. The pointlessness of demonstrating outside the Express building is underlined if you read the protesters' statement railing against homophobia in the media and invoking protests to the Press Complaints Commission. It doesn't appear to have been drawn up in discussion with anyone working with actual gay asylum seekers, but they have got the National Union of Journalists on board.
Have we learned nothing from the death of a gay pop singer, his slagging off in the Mail and the waste of time trying to complain using section 12 of the PCC's editors' code (Discrimination)?
Use of this section will always bang up against principles of free speech and I'm not so sure that's a bad thing. There's a vengeful tendency in the gay community, which I understand, but the line in law and ethical codes should be about provoking violence.
No, what the tabloids did with the gay asylum supreme court decision, which I suspect Lord Rodger deliberately created for them, should be complained about under editors' code, section 1, (i) – "inaccurate, misleading or distorted information" – because every single one of the tabloids took the judge's "right to Kylie and cocktails" comments out of context (as did even some foolish gay commentators). Read the whole thing. He used the comments deliberately "as stereotypes" to say that being gay is about more than sex.
Being "discreet", as the Guardian's Michael White and the Home Office perceive it to be, is not just being quiet about sex or not showing affection in the street. It's about suppressing everything about yourself – a near impossibility. As was put to the supreme court, the analogy is of Anne Frank in her attic being "discreet" – and yet still "found out".
Lord Rodger chose his language deliberately to make that point. "Discretion" is never expected of "straight" people: this is about equality and whether Britain believes in it or not. This sailed over many heads, including the TalkSport presenter who invited me on, ignored what I explained and carried on about gay "privileges". Legally, the supreme court's ruling is a landmark for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights.
So if you want to make a homophobia point to the PCC about the Mail, Express and Star on gay asylum, mention section 1, (i) of the code.
If you want to help gay asylum seekers more directly, you can support a charity that works on their behalf and you can demand real change, not just promises, from the coalition government.
If you want justice for Zac, send Talkback Thames a message. And maybe schedule another demonstration?