WITH his purple bodysuit, red patent leather handbag and his effeminate mantra of 'uh-oh', it was only a matter of time before Tinky Winky was hauled out of the closet. One of the members of the pre-school world's Fab Four, the Teletubbies, was front-page news across the United States last week when religious right mouthpiece Jerry Falwell branded the cuddly character a homosexual. The outburst, from the evangelist all liberals love to hate, caused predictable mirth and no shortage of outrage. The claim came, after all, only a couple of weeks after Mr Falwell announced that the anti-Christ was at large on Earth, and was almost certainly a Jewish male. 'Jerry Falwell's paranoia about gay people has reached a new and ludicrous high-water mark,' said gay rights activist David Smith. 'As farcical as it may sound, Falwell's latest ranting has serious consequences.' But you know what? Mr Falwell is right. Tinky Winky is gay. If you don't believe us, just head down to your local gay bar and do a vox pop. The gay community long ago adopted the Teletubby as one of their own. No matter that Tinky Winky's gender can hardly be distinguished, and that the toddlers who watch the show are years away from comprehending issues of sexual orientation. Tinky Winky's proclivities are a favourite subject in gay chat rooms on the Internet, and Village Voice columnist Michael Musto recently proclaimed: 'Tinky Winky is out and proud. It's a great message to kids: not only that it's okay to be gay, but the importance of being well-accessoried.' Even the sober Washington Post joined in the outing over the New Year, when it declared that in 1999, Tinky Winky was 'in' while Ellen DeGeneres - the lesbian actress - was 'out'. This is not the first time that gay groups have misappropriated children's characters. G. I. Joe, the macho, action soldier toy, is another prominent gay icon. Where all this leaves Barney - the dinosaur who is also purple and minces around in a similar manner to the Teletubbies - is open to question. The finger was also pointed at Barney a while back, by a southern minister called Joseph Chambers, who accused him of dubious sexuality. But kids across the nation were shocked when Mr Chambers reserved his most scurrilous allegations for Bert and Ernie, of Sesame Street fame. 'They're two grown men sharing a house and a bedroom!' he said at the time. 'They vacation together and have effeminate characteristics . . . if this isn't meant to represent a homosexual union, I can't imagine what it's supposed to represent.' The producers of Teletubbies and other children's shows have pleaded innocence, but one has to suspect that some of the people behind these programmes are unable to resist an inside joke or some subliminal politically correct message. In Britain, The Magic Roundabout was often cited for being little more than the LSD-induced fantasies of hippies, while no one who grew up watching the Captain Pugwash cartoon will ever forget that moment of enlightenment when they were finally old enough to get the significance of the sailor who went by the name of Master Bate. As perhaps the most famous Native American actor, Russell Means is one of the few Indians whose name is recognisable outside his community. But before he became an actor, Mr Means was an activist hero - the Martin Luther King of the Indian rights movement. A founder of the American Indian Movement, he led a standoff with federal agents in 1973 during a dispute over Indian land rights. But the man who is best known for starring alongside Daniel Day-Lewis in The Last Of The Mohicans is in real danger of becoming a Judas among his own people. As the leading character in a real-life court case, he stands accused of threatening the Indian tribal justice system he fought so hard to build up. The case revolves around whether Mr Means, an Oglala Sioux, can legally be tried under the Navajo court system for a crime which occurred on Navajo land. The actor does not dispute that he was living in the Navajo Nation in Arizona when he got into a fight and assaulted his father-in-law - but he is vowing to fight until the bitter end the Navajos' right to try him. In a world where many Indians are inter-marrying and living on each other's land, Indian leaders are shocked that Mr Means should challenge the legitimacy of the tribal justice system. They say he undermines the campaign of Indians to secure greater recognition for their rights. Due to a series of Supreme Court decisions since the 1960s, there are 150 different tribal courts, and the largest - the Navajo - tries 70,000 cases a year. The tribes argue that since reservations are often hundreds of miles from the nearest state or federal court, and crime is on the rise on Indian lands, the maintenance of a tribal justice system is essential for law and order. However, non-Indians cannot be tried in such courts - and Mr Means' lawyers claim that a 1991 Congressional law allowing tribal courts to prosecute members of other tribes is therefore discriminatory. Legal experts believe the case, being heard by the Navajo Supreme Court in a special sitting at Harvard University, will be a litmus test of how well the tribal justice system stands the test of time. 'The thing that works against us as a nation is ignorance, indifference, and arrogance,' said Navajo Chief Justice Robert Yazzie. 'There's not been a recognition or respect for Indian tribal courts, and again that's out of arrogance and indifference. We have all the foundations to run a fair system, and we think that should be recognised.'