Poppers: How Gay Culture Bottled A Formula That Has Broken Down Boundaries

poppers 2 Prowler on Brewer Street in Soho is, by its own account, the UK’s largest gay lifestyle superstore. Past rails of neon elasticated underwear and shelves bearing pornographic comic books, neat rows of small, colourful bottles stand on top of the sales counter.

With names including Buzz, Rush, Deep and Hard On, these are poppers – alkyl nitrites in liquid form that cause a head-rush when inhaled and were banned by the Government this week.

On Wednesday, the House of Commons voted down an amendment to exclude poppers from the Psychoactive Substances Bill. From 1 April, all poppers will be banned in the UK. The debate was all the more remarkable in that the Tory MP Crispin Blunt “outed himself” as a user of poppers – which are often taken before sex as they act as a muscle relaxant.

“We’ve had a lot of people come in in the last couple of days saying, ‘What am I going to do now?’” says Stephen Dunne, 43, a sales assistant at Prowler. “People rely on them: one man yesterday bought 40 bottles.”

A recent survey found the use of poppers to be 25 times more common among gay than straight men. Some believe the association of poppers with gay culture is what has now led to the ban.

“If you trace the bottle of amyl [a type of alkyl nitrite] through late 20th-century history, you trace the legacies of gay culture on popular culture in the 20th century,” says Dr Lucy Robinson a history lecturer at Sussex University. “We wouldn’t have had rave, disco or club culture as we know it today without the gay community.”

Amyl nitrate, the drug’s first incarnation, was synthesised in 1844 by the French chemist Antoine Jérôme Balard. It was pioneered as a treatment for angina: inhaling the liquid’s fumes would cause blood vessels to expand and pain to subside. The street name by which they are now known came from the packaging of this treatment. The liquid came in individual ampoules to be “popped”.

When nitro-glycerine tablets replaced amyl nitrite as the preferred treatment for angina in the early 1960s, demand for the stimulant rapidly declined. But its manufacturers sought an alternative market. Poppers were soon being shipped to Vietnam and given to soldiers as an “antidote to gun fumes”.

Various bans caused chemists to resynthesise chemical variations, such as butyl nitrite. The liquid on offer at Prowler is mainly isopropyl nitrite. “I remember when it was amyl nitrite,” says Mr Dunne. “That was a different story altogether: you’d get burns on your nose if you spilt it. Those were serious; these here are far tamer.”

According to Ian Young, author of The Stonewall Experiment: A gay psychohistory,  an unspoken agreement seems to have emerged between manufacturers and regulators that amyl nitrite could be sold as long as it was labelled as a room odoriser and marketed only to the gay community. Adverts promoting poppers as a sex aid began to appear in gay magazines in the US and before long a similar strategy was adopted in the UK. Because poppers were used mainly by the gay community, and were associated with sex, there was speculation in the early days of HIV and Aids that they might be causing the disease.

Amyl nitrite peaked in popularity, first as a drug of choice during the 1970s disco era and then in the late-1980s and early-1990s rave scene – both of which owed much to the gay community. Poppers, says Dr Robinson, owe their popularity to two important qualities: their association with pleasure and their communal nature. Used in clubs as much as in the bedroom, they have always provided a “crossover between what feels good in a club and how great sex can be”.

Clubs in 1970s New York would reportedly spray amyl nitrite into the air to create collective euphoria. Being cheap and easy to inhale from, the small bottles are often passed among many people – either in the club or in the bedroom. Amyl nitrite quickly became a way to break down boundaries – those standing in the way of pleasure as well as those between individuals.

Back at Prowler, Mr Dunne echoes concerns raised by Mr Blunt that the legislation will push poppers underground, increasing gay men’s exposure to drug dealers. Many dealers already sell the stimulant. Others have criticised the legislation for being based on paranoia surrounding sexual practice rather than on firm evidence.

There is no indication that poppers are particularly harmful to human health. “Drugs are never simply good or bad,” says Dr Robinson. “They – and their policing – have always been a lot more to do with the groups that are taking them.”


Taken from Independent.co.uk

Italy Gay Unions Battle Opens With Move To Criminalise Surrogacy

Rome (AFP) – Italy’s upcoming parliamentary battle over gay civil unions has opened with a group of senators proposing prison terms for couples who use overseas surrogate mothers to have a child.


In a move branded “indecent” by Italy’s biggest gay rights group, Catholic senators from Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party have tabled an amendment to draft legislation legalising same sex unions which would require gay couples to prove they had not used a surrogate.

If they cannot, the partner who is not the biological father would not be allowed to adopt the child and a judge would be entitled to have the child placed in care and put up for adoption.

The amendment also envisages prison terms of up to two years and fines of up to one million euros for using a surrogate overseas, regardless of whether the practice is legal in the country concerned. Similar penalties are already in place for anyone entering a surrogacy arrangement in Italy.

“This is indecent. A law intended to recognise rights cannot be transformed into a criminalising one that talks about prison,” said Gabriele Piazzoni, the national secretary of rights group Arcigay.

The civil unions bill is to be debated by the Senate from January 28 and numerous other amendments are expected to be tabled before a deadline on Friday as conservative lawmakers backed by the Catholic Church mount a rearguard action against it.

The bill is expected to finally pass after examination by both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies but supporters fear key articles could be watered down or removed.

Opponents meanwhile have threatened a constitutional challenge and a campaign for a ratifying referendum if parliament approves gay unions that they think resemble marriage too closely.

Italy is the last major Western European country not to have enacted legislation enabling gay couples to have their relationships legally recognised.

Opinion polls suggest a majority of voters support same sex couples’ rights to enter civil unions but that the electorate is more evenly split on issues related to adoption, surrogacy and medically assisted procreation.

Interior Minister Angelino Alfano sparked outrage earlier this month when he said the use of paid surrogate mothers should be treated like a sex crime.

Taken from News.Yahoo.Com

The Era When Gay Spies Were Feared

MI5 has been named the UK’s most gay-friendly employer – but it isn’t long since same-sex relationships were considered a threat to national security. How did attitudes change?

In 1963 the Sunday Mirror offered its assistance to the Security Service.

“How to spot a possible homo,” ran a headline in the paper. Below this, for MI5’s benefit, was a list of supposed signifiers of male homosexuality (“a gay little wiggle”, “his tie has the latest knot”, “an unnaturally strong affection for his mother”).

The pretext for this unsolicited advice – which now seems clearly offensive – was the case of John Vassall, a gay civil servant who spied for the Soviets under threat of blackmail. A gay man, the paper’s reporter said, was a de facto security risk: “I wouldn’t trust him with my secrets.”

Fast forward 53 years and the service tops Stonewall’s 2016 list of the 400 best places to work for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.According to the Times, more than 80 of its employees belong to an LGBT staff network.

And yet a ban on gay men and women serving in MI5, MI6 or GCHQ was in force as recently as 1991. The treatment of LGBT intelligence staff was exemplified by the case of pioneering codebreaker Alan Turing, who lost his security clearance after a conviction for gross indecency in 1952 and later took his own life.

A series of Cold War scandals featuring gay men meant homosexuality was linked in many people’s minds with espionage and betrayal. As well as Vassall, who was caught in a honeytrap by the KGB, at least two of the Cambridge Five spy ring, Guy Burgess and Anthony Blunt, were gay, while a third, Donald MacLean, was bisexual.

There was also Daily Telegraph Moscow correspondent Jeremy Wolfenden – son of John Wolfenden, who chaired the commission that recommended the legalisation of male homosexual acts – who was photographed by the KGB having sex with a man, and whom MI6 subsequently attempted to use as a double agent. He turned to heavy drinking and died in 1965 age 31.

In the United States, Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist campaign targeted scores of gay officials, explicitly linking homosexuality with subversion and Soviet sympathies, a process known as the “lavender scare”. FBI chief J Edgar Hoover – himself widely believed to have been gay – used the agency to target dozens of gay government employees.

It was a period in which LGBT people risked losing their careers and their freedom if their sexuality was revealed. In 1952 President Eisenhower signed Executive Order 10450, which effectively ruled that gay people were security risks. Homosexual acts between men were illegal in Great Britain until 1967.

“Queer men were thought to be untrustworthy because of their queerness,” says Allan Hepburn of McGill University, Montreal. “They were vulnerable to blackmail because the law offered them no protection.”

And yet nonetheless there was a double standard at stake. Though their conduct was not illegal, heterosexuals were hardly immune from honeytraps and blackmail – as evidenced by the cases of the Stasi “Romeo spies” sent to seduce West German women.

The Profumo scandal – in which the minister of war’s mistress was found to have been sleeping with the Soviet naval attache – did not result in calls for straight men to be considered suspect, or prevent promiscuous heterosexuality becoming part ofthe James Bond mythos.

Indeed, the Guardian’s former security editor Richard Norton-Taylor suggests that the secrecy imposed on LGBT people during this era may have made them more effective spies. “They could keep secrets, and tell lies.”

This association between homosexuality and secrecy, furtiveness and potential treachery ensured gay characters were a recurring trope in Cold War-era spy fiction. John Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came In From The Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy include gay subtexts – made even more explicit in the 2011 movie adaptation of the latter.

Some have made the case that the British intelligence services appear to have been relatively accepting of homosexuality, if only compared with other parts of society that commonly persecuted LGBT people. Burgess’s gay affairs were widely known in intelligence circles. As with fellow Cambridge Five member Kim Philby’s heterosexual philandering, class and social status rather than sexual orientation appear to have been paramount.

According to Christopher Andrew’s authorised history of MI5, gay men and women were in 1951 judged by the service when vetting public servants to be “maladjusted to the social environment”, potentially “of unstable character” and vulnerable to blackmail. However, Andrew says MI5 was “relatively unconcerned” about gay civil servants so long as they “remained discreet”. In 1965 MI5 resisted a view from the Treasury that homosexuality should be an absolute bar to any kind of public office that required positive vetting.

The legalisation of male homosexuality in 1967 meant the fear of blackmail could no longer hold. “You get rid of illegality and suddenly the fear of being blackmailed evaporates,” says Christopher Murphy, lecturer in intelligence studies at the University of Salford, although it took public attitudes longer to catch up with the law.

The 2015 BBC espionage drama London Spy, which features a relationship between a young man and a male intelligence officer, is notable for the fact that their sexuality is not treated as particularly exceptional in itself. And when the news about MI5’s place on the Stonewall list was revealed, the headlines were very different from those of 1963.

The spy chiefs of MI6 and GCHQ are now public figures, but the secret intelligence service used to be so shrouded in mystery that revealing the name of a spy would land a writer in court.

Taken from BBC.CO.UK

Gay asylum seeker fears for his life if forced to return to Nigeria

“There is no hiding place for gay people in Nigeria”

After being lynched by six anti-gay vigilantes in 2007, Nigerian asylum seeker Abraham says that he will be killed if he’s made to return to his home country. Currently living in Sunderland, Abraham is trying to claim asylum in Britain, and is still waiting to hear from the Home Office about his living status.

He told Chronicle Live that he had been attacked on social media by people in Nigeria since his sexuality became known. Abraham has specifically chosen not to share his surname publicly, because he fears it will put his family at home in “grave danger.” He is father to three children, whom he had to leave behind after his wife divorced him.

Originally from Lagos, Abraham’s boyfriend died of HIV before he fled to Britain in 2008. He told the paper that “there is no hiding place for gay people in Nigeria – the attacks are coming from all angles.”

Abraham explained that he originally applied to stay in the UK in 2013, but his application is still pending: “The authorities are suspicious because I have three children in Nigeria and because I did not claim asylum as soon as I entered Britain.”

He also told the paper that the recent reforms made to same-sex marriage laws in Western society has had a negative effect in Nigeria: “The result is that in Nigeria conspiracy theories have developed saying that the West wants to infest Africa with a gay mentality.”

Words Alice Freeman


Taken From GayTimes.Co.Uk