The decision by the Minister for Children to unequivocally criticise broadcasters’ acceptance of homophobic language has delighted gay activists.
In a speech to an education conference today, minister Kevin Brennan, a former teacher, said that homophobic bullying and the use of words like ‘gay’ and ‘poof’ by Radio DJs and TV presenters are linked.
“Just as it took several years for racial equality laws to feed into real culture change where racist language became unacceptable – so now we need to achieve the same with homophobic language,” he said.
“Just one example is the casual use of homophobic language by mainstream radio DJs.
“This is too often seen as harmless banter instead of the offensive insult that it really represents.
“To ignore this problem is to collude in it. The blind eye to casual name-calling, looking the other way because it is the easy option, is simply intolerable.”
The minister’s strong statement directly contradicts the attitude of the BBC, who last year defended Radio 1 DJ Chris Moyles for using the word ‘gay’ on his show to describe a mobile phone ringtone.
The corporation referred to the fact that some young people use homophobic language as an excuse for Mr Moyles doing so.
A study by Stonewall last year found that gays and lesbians are rarely featured positively by the BBC.
The publicly-funded broadcaster has repeatedly refused to take allegations of homophobia seriously.
Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, told PinkNews.co.uk:
“Its a landmark moment and it speaks volumes that its a minister who has been a teacher that knows the damage this can do.
“We hope the BBC will start to listen to people about the damage this sort of language can do to children.”
At the 2006 Stonewall Awards, Mr Moyles was voted Bully of the Year for his use of homophobic language on his radio show, which counts millions of children and young people among its listeners.
Earlier this year Jeremy Clarkson was mildly reprimanded for using cockney rhyming slag to call a car ‘queer’ and presenter Patrick Kielty also got a half-hearted slap on the wrist for calling a reality show contestant a ‘gayer.’
Channel 4 is currently under fire for perceived double standards in their Big Brother show, with racist comments resulting in eviction but homophobic language being treated on a case-by-case basis.
The fact that a government minister has spoken out on the issue of homophobia in the media is of huge significance.
For the first time, it has been made explicitly clear that the government regards the derogatory use of words like ‘poof’ or ‘gay’ as serious verbal abuse.
Mr Brennan also drew a direct parallel between racism on TV and homophobia:
“All of civilised society now views racist language and bullying as absolutely abhorrent,” he said.
“The public revulsion at Shilpa Shetty’s treatment in the Big Brother house, or the disgust at the abuse directed at black England players in Serbia recently, really show the progress we have made.
“Thinking back only twenty years, I think that protest would have been far more muted.
“We need to create a culture where homophobic bullying is as unthinkable as racist bullying.”
New guidance for schools on combating all bullying, including gay abuse, will be published in September.