Homophobia apparently just the same as objecting to homophobia

If you’ve been following the magnificent Clare Balding on Twitter, you’ll have seen this unpleasant little story unfolding over recent days.

For those of you unfamiliar with her work, Balding is a BBC presenter (and for my money one of the best sports presenters they have).

In AA Gill’s TV column in last week’s Sunday Times, he reviewed Balding’s new programme Britain By Bike. Well, I say he “reviewed the programme” – mostly he reviewed her sexuality and her appearance.

His words:

Some time ago, I made a cheap and frankly unnecessary joke about Clare Balding looking like a big lesbian. And afterwards somebody tugged my sleeve to point out that she is a big lesbian, and I felt foolish and guilty. So I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise. Sorry.

Now back to the dyke on a bike, puffing up the nooks and crannies at the bottom end of the nation.

Balding unsurprisingly objected, and has written to the Sunday Times twice over – a letter for publication, and a personal letter to the editor.

The editor, John Witherow, has since responded, informing Balding:

In my view some members of the gay community need to stop regarding themselves as having a special victim status and behave like any other sensible group that is accepted by society. Not having a privileged status means, of course, one must accept occasionally being the butt of jokes . A person’’s sexuality should not give them a protected status. Jeremy Clarkson, perhaps the epitome of the heterosexual male, is constantly jeered at for his dress sense (lack of), adolescent mind-set and hair style. He puts up with it as a presenter’’s lot and in this context I hardly think that AA Gill’’s remarks were particularly “cruel”, especially as he ended by so warmly endorsing you as a presenter.

As Balding quite rightly noted to me earlier today: “What, so it’s OK that he beat me up because he’s nice about me at the end? For God’s sake, would he seriously review Stephen Fry presenting QI as a faggot or Evan Davis on Dragons Den as a queer? And if he did, would the editor compare that to someone having a go at Jeremy Clarkson for his dress sense?”

Balding has since responded to the editor’s letter thus:

When the day comes that people stop resigning from high office, being disowned by their families, getting beaten up and in some instances committing suicide because of their sexuality, you may have a point.

This is not about me putting up with having the piss taken out of me, something I have been quite able to withstand, it is about you legitimising name calling. ‘Dyke’ is not shouted out in school playgrounds (or as I’ve had it at an airport) as a compliment, believe me.

It may be your job to defend your writer and your editorial team but if you really think that homophobia does not exist and was not demonstrated beyond being ‘the butt of a joke’ then we have a problem.

More news on this story when we have it.

UPDATE: Clare Balding is apparently pursuing a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission.

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