There’s a really good interview in today’s Guardian with Michael Cashman, whose many achievements include founding the Stonewall charity.
Remember the tabloid outrage about the first gay kiss in EastEnders? Cashman was the man they were demonising. The clipping above, incidentally, is by Piers Morgan. Morgan would also write article such as “the poofs of pop”, a regular feature speculating on whether particular pop stars were gay in which he called up stars’ agents and demanded to know what their sexual orientation was.
Cashman was nervous at the thought of the press scrutiny that could follow, but agreed. Even before his character was announced, the Sun ran a story about the role under the headline “Eastbenders”.
“What made it worse,” says Cashman, now 69 and sitting in his fourth-floor Limehouse apartment overlooking the Thames, “was the information was leaked from inside.” The Sunday Mirror, meanwhile, claimed that he had had an HIV test in the US and was dying. The News of the World ran a double-page spread, headlined “Secret Gay Love of Aids Scare EastEnder”, which outed his partner and printed the couple’s photos and address.
There was even an attempt to orchestrate “sinister” stories about him.
…When news broke that Cashman’s character would share the first gay kiss in a British soap (a peck on the forehead), the backlash only intensified. Campaigners such as Mary Whitehouse railed against it; the BBC was besieged by angry letters and phone calls; on more than one occasion a brick was thrown through Cashman’s window.
It’s a fascinating read and I’m sure Cashman’s autobiography is even more so. It’s a powerful reminder of how far we’ve come in a relatively short period of time as well as a shocking story of how badly and sometimes violently gay men have been treated in this country.
Stonewall, the charity Cashman founded, was created in response to the hateful Section 28 legislation and the lack of action to battle HIV, then routinely described as a “gay plague” and dismissed as a fiction by the Sunday Times under the editorship of Andrew Neil. The Sun ran one editorial claiming that “Straight Sex Cannot Give You AIDS – Official”.
Stonewall didn’t initially include trans people in its campaigning – that changed in 2015 when then-chief Ruth Hunt described that lack of inclusion as a mistake – but Cashman can see the parallels between how trans people are treated now and how gay men and women were treated in Stonewall’s early days.
“To bring in section 28 against a group of people who should have been supported and nurtured and loved. To do that was viciousness beyond imagining.”
Throughout the 80s and 90s, gay people were often portrayed as predators by media organisations supportive of section 28. Cashman sees similarities in the way the trans community is treated today. And he is concerned that some lesbian, gay and bisexual people are joining in.
“If I don’t stand up for the rights of others, how can my own rights ever be defended?” he says. “The fact that lesbian and gay people are willing to sacrifice trans people …we’re rolling back the clock.”
Cashman’s autobiography, One of Them, will be published in February.