Fox News and US chat show host Geraldo Rivera suggested on a TV debate earlier this week that the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was becoming “some kind of lesbian cabal”.

The discussion took place on Fox and Friends and appeared to unnerve his co-host, Gretchen Carlson, who tried to change the subject.

The discussion was initially about the recent accusations of sexual harassment at the DHS, but ended up with Rivera insisting on his belief that the heart of the issue for people was that all of the women in top roles at Homeland Security were lesbians, and that such ‘manly’ items as “old spice” and “english leather cologne” wouldn’t be allowed under Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.

Rivera said: “Is the sub-text of the Department of Homeland Security scandal that there is some kind of lesbian cabal, that it’s a same-sex takeover? It seems everyone is talking around it.

“Is that really what people are saying, that men are disadvantaged because women and specifically, lesbians, are ruling the roost there?”

Though two senior officials at the DHS are women, the vast majority of the leadership positions there are occupied by men.

Writing for ThinkProgress, Annie-Rose Strasser said: “Rivera is falling into the easy trap of assuming that any powerful woman must be a lesbian, and that women achieving any level of power portends the end of men.

“But in fact, his comments — which seem an intentional attempt to incite anger — point the general problem that having few women in leadership leads to sexist assumptions about a woman’s abilities, sexuality and relationship with male co-workers.”

She added: “On the other hand, it’s understandable that Rivera might not know about women in leadership positions.

“His own employer, Fox News Corporation, seems to have just one female executive out of 10, and one female board member out of 16.”