Casual homophobia in the press: a perennial dilemma

Hadley considers the implications of the Daily Mail‘s most recent indulgence in casual homophobia.

The Daily Mail had us up in arms again this week. I know, again. Apparently, being an ‘openly gay ex-Olympic fencer’ is insulting to whoever penned the headline to an article about this week’s High Court decision on Brexit. Now, irrespective of your views of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, the fact that a newspaper is using somebody’s sexual orientation as an insult echoes back to circa 1980. But once again, our ‘favourite’ tabloid has been disseminating their homophobic views to the nation.

It sends a strong message to gay men whenever a newspaper makes such homophobic remarks. It’s bad enough when you’re walking down the street and you hear someone make a comment, but to have it splashed across the front page of a periodical is just unacceptable. The fact that the headline will be read by thousands of people, some of whom are homophobic, simply reinforces the belief that being gay is something to be ashamed of. We don’t often read about the scandals of being openly straight now, do we? The headline splashed oil onto an already burning fire of the homophobic Daily Mail readership and, unfortunately, fails to make any effort to educate this group about acceptance and diversity.

As somebody who is both gay and working in the media, I’m personally appalled that this language is still being permitted. Yes, ‘openly gay’ is not homophobic, but the context in which it was used, places an emphasis on the fact that it’s negative and something to be frowned upon. You don’t have to be a gay journalist to comprehend that gay readers, or the wider LGBTQ+ community, don’t wish to read messages inciting hatred towards them. Far too often, somebody’s sexual orientation is brought to the forefront of an argument when it’s actually totally irrelevant. Does the judge’s sexual orientation bear any relevance to his ability to do his job? Not in the slightest. So why did the Daily Mail choose to use it in their headline?

This isn’t the first time that news outlets have got it wrong. When confidential patient information was accidently leaked at 56 Dean Street in Soho,  journalists described the sexual health clinic as an ‘AIDS clinic’. This added to the stigmatisation of people living with HIV and demonstrated a shockingly poor understanding of HIV from the people who report on it. More recently, the news coverage of access to PrEP on the NHS was soaked in homophobic rhetoric, with newspapers describing the treatment as a ‘lifestyle drug’ and stating that the money used to fund PrEP would be redirected away from children with cancer. If PrEP was intended for another group within society, would the coverage be so negative and abusive?

The latest stir from the Daily Mail has only added to the calls for better regulation and sanctions for journalists’ actions. Is this the society we want to live in, where journalists are able to write discriminatory articles? Or do we want to see such writing being banned? I’d argue that there is a growing necessity for editors who specialise in the reporting of LGBTQ+ issues, given that many news outlets fall short of their abilities to do so. Ultimately, there needs to be a move towards a reduction in the use of discriminatory language used by newspapers, allowing for a shift in attitudes among some groups in society.

Follow Hadley on Twitter (@wordsbyhadley)

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