Lesbian sports presenter Clare Balding has made a complaint to the Press Complaints Commission after a journalist called her a “dyke on a bike”.
Balding, who recently battled thyroid cancer, is currently presenting Britain By Bike, which was reviewed in the Sunday Times last week by AA Gill.
The presenter took offence at Gill’s review, which called her a “dyke on a bike” and made a series of unflattering remarks about her appearance.
Gill wrote: “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.”
Later in the article, he referred to her “muscular bottom” and added: ‘I’d like to see her as a sturdier Judith Chalmers, possibly in lederhosen. I wonder if the production team noticed that, even through three layers of Viyella and Gore-Tex, Clare has heroically assertive nipples.’
Balding wrote to the newspaper’s editor John Witherow but complained his response was unsatisfactory.
In his reply, Witherow wrote: “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.
“Jeremy Clarkson, perhaps the epitome of the heterosexual male, is constantly jeered at for his dress sense (lack of), adolescent mindset and hairstyle.
“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.”
However, Balding said she could accept jibes about her appearance but accused Gill of “legitimising” the word dyke, which she said was a common playground insult.
She wrote on Twitter: “I don’t mind being referred to as a lesbian. I am, for God’s sake, but don’t use it as a stick to beat me with.”
She responded to Witherow: “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.”
The PCC has confirmed that it has received a complaint from Balding, while a Sunday Times spokeswoman told the BBC the newspaper had been contacted by the press watchdog but declined to comment further.