Homophobia apparently just the same as objecting to homophobia

// 30 July 2010

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.

Comments From You

sianushka // Posted 30 July 2010 at 3:44 pm

what a horrible thing for AA Gill to write. i believe that words such as dyke, which have so much power to offend and hurt, should be classed as hate language, just as their equivalents in racist language are. you wouldn’t call someone the ‘n-word’ in a national newspaper, and rightly so. don’t want this to sound like oppression olympics, btw, but i think it is a fair comparison.

fantastic response from balding. as she says, this isn’t about someone ‘teasing’ her, it;s about using accepted homophobia to put someone down, get a cheap laugh. we don’t live in a ‘post-homophobic’ world and she is totally right to make her stand. i applaud her.

Diane // Posted 30 July 2010 at 4:18 pm

Apart from the use and incomprehensible defence of “dyke”, which is offensive enough, what really shocks me here is the claim that oppression no longer exists, which Clare Balding so rightly and eloquently disputes.

Comparing a gay woman to Clarkson, a white, straight, able-bodied, cis male (and thus the epitome of privilege) is uneducated and inaccurate.

Nigel Whitfield // Posted 30 July 2010 at 4:21 pm

There’s definitely a difference; criticising Jeremy Clarkson’s outfit is nothing to do with his sexuality, whereas “dyke on a bike” is clearly using an often-perjorative word, in a completely unnecessary reference to sexuality.

Perhaps if Clarkson were referred to as a “breeder in ill-fittting jeans” there might be a comparison to be made, but I’m pretty sure that he isn’t.

Cruithne // Posted 30 July 2010 at 4:26 pm

As disgusting as the homophobia is, I think misogyny is at the root of Gill’s comments here.

Clare Balding comes across as a strong alpha female, in every conceivable sense of the term, and that terrifies some men more than they’d ever admit.

(first time commenting, straight cis male, for the record)

John // Posted 30 July 2010 at 4:28 pm

He’s (A.A. Gill) also trying to make it acceptable to link appearance with sexuality. When are we going to grow out of these medieval attitudes?

Amary // Posted 30 July 2010 at 4:33 pm

Claiming that we live in a ‘post-homophobic’ world is one of those glib passive aggressive statements akin to ‘when did you stop beating your wife’ and ‘we live in a post-feminist society’… it produces exasperation and is pretty effective at shutting people up while they try to think of a reasonably succinct way of countering it. ‘Rubbish’ will do for now. I especially admire Clare Balding’s first paragraph above.

cim // Posted 30 July 2010 at 4:42 pm

“Not having a privileged status means, of course, one must accept occasionally being the butt of jokes .”

…and the sooner all you non-privileged people accept that your job is to prop up our straight-white-man lives and be the targets of our jokes, the better things will be for me.

That was … more directly honest than most defences of privilege are.

Christopher // Posted 30 July 2010 at 4:50 pm

I don’t see how Balding and the rest of the gay community are considering herself/ourselves “speical victims” when we just want supposedly quality newspapers to stop using offensive terms for us in their television reviews. Surely we’re just asking for the same courtesy as is extended to everyone else.

Unless Gill is regularly making reference to “P*kis in nappies” or “N*ggers on diggers” who take the whole thing in good humour, then Balding is/we are behaving exactly like “other sensible group” would. By being incensed.

Andy Simpson // Posted 30 July 2010 at 4:53 pm

As a heterosexual male, I am horrified by: “Jeremy Clarkson, perhaps the epitome of the heterosexual male” nothing could be more offensive to my gender or sexual persuasion that that.

I’ve never been much of a fan of Clare on tele; on Twitter she’s been a revelation and I wish her every success in holding to account these so-called journalists

gadgetgal // Posted 30 July 2010 at 4:55 pm

Just wanted to comment so Clare Balding can see she has a lot of support – what was written was awful, and the response by the editor even worse for trying to justify it!! If anything it just proves how far we still have to go to achieve the world that John Witherow appears to believe we’re living in – and this guy edits the Sunday Times? If it had been the Sunday Sport I might have been more willing to just put it down to a narrow view of the world, but I thought in order to edit a broadsheet you had to be aware of things like current events?!?!

frank // Posted 30 July 2010 at 4:56 pm

How self contradictory the editor is. He simultaneously asserts that gay people aren’t victimized and then tells us if we want to be accepted (thus admitting we’re not) that we should know our place.

I find it a bit ironic that this is the same Claire Balding that perpetrated something remarkably similar herself with her classist comments towards that jockey.

Dominic // Posted 30 July 2010 at 4:57 pm

I wouldn’t have expected anything less from AA Gill – after all writing such drivel is how he has somehow managed to create a career for himself.

I am surprised at the comments of Mr Witherow. The first line of his response was amply dealt with by Clare’s first paragraph.

This only acts to remind us all that the battle for full acceptance/tolerance has not yet been won. The use for decades by the ignorant and prejudiced of “faggot”, “shirtlifter”, “dyke”etc as abusive and bullying words means that their use now cannot be shrugged off as being flippant or harmless by so-called intellectuals under the cover of a more enlightened society. The Sunday Times is surely the paper for aspiring Sun readers

Chris Rutter // Posted 30 July 2010 at 4:58 pm

It’s just daft to compare sexuality with dress sense. If people tease you about something you can change its not a problem easy enough for clarkson to change his trousers. If it’s something people can’t change it’s bullying plain and simple and this needs to be considered by the media. I do think that the majority of people nowadays are able to see AA Gills comments for the biggotry it is.

HannahMc // Posted 30 July 2010 at 5:01 pm

This is the second great article I’ve read today on the casual use of language which is discriminatory (the other was in the Guardian and focused on everyday mysogeny).

I applaud Clare’s opening paragraph, which really does remind us why it’s so important to keep challenging homophobia whenever and wherever it arises.

Aislinn // Posted 30 July 2010 at 5:04 pm

Good on Clare Balding for a) holding her own against two vile men and b) doing it so eloquently and articulately.

GC // Posted 30 July 2010 at 5:05 pm

The editors response is outrageous.

Quote “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”

Maybe he thinks black people should not object to being called racially derogratory names too? Or would he allow one of his writers to describe a black presenter using such a term “and its OK because Jeremy Clarkson gets the piss taken out of him”?

What he is ignoring is MINORITIES (and yes gay people are a minority who still get murdered or happy slapped purely because of their sexuality) need PROTECTION and extra rights and until there is no racism or homophobia or sexism he, as the editor of a national newspaper needs to respect and up-hold these rights.

Paul // Posted 30 July 2010 at 5:08 pm

I agree with Cruithne, I think misogyny is at the root of this – Gill initially didn’t realise Clare was a lesbian (or so he says), but he was being sarky about her anyway.

But people like Gill and Clarkson are cast from the same arrogant mould, where they look down on most things, usually to cover up their own insecurities.

Lizzy // Posted 30 July 2010 at 5:40 pm

It saddens and angers me that anyone would consider “Dyke” to be an acceptable term.

What comes next is also angering me. Knowing editors and certain journalist’s to be a wee bit pack like and always happy to jump on a sensationalised bandwagon, in the upcoming days “dyke on a bike” will be bandied about in papers and websites under the guise of support for Clare…..without doubt dyke with be highlighted, in bold, larger letters or underlined.

How can a supoosadly well educated (in both life and studies) man not consider that to be a homophobic remark, and to imply that certain of us gays are walking around with a chip on our shoulder, unfortunately he will never suffer a homophobic remark, he will never be reduced to tears when realising your chances of getting that amazing job were reduced when they realised “you were one of those” or even to the extreme of being sentenced to death purely for being “a gay”. Perhaps opening his eyes and ears and mind a little more he will realise that this society he refers to, does not accept Dyke to be a non-homophobic comment!

julie hutson // Posted 30 July 2010 at 5:43 pm

Its very sad that some people cannot bear the responsibility of having a public voice and act immaturely when they have a platform. You hold a lot of power to embarrass and ridicule people and any mature sensible person doesnt use another persons differences to make themselves look funny or be a smartarse….. if it was someone talking about his daughter or son like that… wouldnt be so funny then would it?

Richard Mitton // Posted 30 July 2010 at 6:03 pm

I’d really like to take the micky out of you. But I can’t. You do it yourselves. My daughter is a lesbian and she laughed like hell. Get over yourselves.

Graham Anderson // Posted 30 July 2010 at 6:07 pm

The only problem being, that when it suits our community, we happily use the term ‘dyke’. The SF women’s motorcycle club “Dykes On Bikes” proudly leads the Pride Parade there, and here in the UK the bikes are push bikes, not Harleys. You could argue that its a bit like black communities being “allowed” to use the N-word, but personally I don’t think they should. But all in all, very confusing for simple minded people like Gill and the editor of the Sunday Times.

Curt // Posted 30 July 2010 at 6:36 pm

I am heterosexual and have never really liked or disliked Clare balding. She was just on the tv and I watched. However I would have lost my job if I had referred to a client in this way, it is simply not acceptable. I have read the Sunday times for nearly 20 years and the response from the editor has led me to decide on a different newspaper this week. Already spoken to the newsagent!!

Vik // Posted 30 July 2010 at 6:43 pm

To compare this sort of homophobia to insulting Jeremy Clarkson is ludicrous. People insult Clarkson because of how he chooses to behave – boasting about killing animals, trying to bankrupt the League Against Cruel Sports, making homophobic and sexist remarks, calling Gordon Brown names like c*nt in semi-public and ‘one-eyed’ in public, slagging off anyone who thinks speeding in cars and blowing things up isn’t super, etc.. When you act and behave like that in public you invite and deserve criticism. Clarkson – like his friend, the ‘monkey killer and proud of it’ A A Gill – is criticised for his words and actions, not his gender or skin colour.

Balding always comes across as polite. Gill was having a go at her on the grounds of what she physically is, not what she says or does, and that is every bit as bad as having a go at someone for being black or Jewish. I thought that kind of unpleasantness went out with Bernard Manning, but apparently it’s alive and well in the once august Sunday Times.

Clive Scoggins // Posted 30 July 2010 at 7:04 pm

AA Gill’s comments are utterly outrageous, and his editor’s response is utterly indefensible. The spirit of current UK legislation protecting people against harassment due to race, sexuality, gender etc (soon to be combined into the Equalities Bill) is “impact, not intent”. Protesting that it was just a joke, or that “he didn’t mean it” is no defense. I hope the PCC upholds Clare’s complaint against this odious man and his misguided editor.

Bob Arthur // Posted 30 July 2010 at 7:08 pm

I agree with Witherow’s view that sometimes complaints about being the butt of jokes can be viewed as over-the-top sensitivity. But THIS WAS NOT SUCH A TIME.

A. A. Gill’s comments were offensive, and an apology should have been offered immediately. Witherow’s response was staggeringly worse. Simply unacceptable. I wish Ms Balding every success with her PCC submission.

Laurel Dearing // Posted 30 July 2010 at 7:22 pm

i get that people try to be oh-so-un-PC in comedy, and after the watershed blah blah, but when its in a newspaper for people of all ages and backgrounds to come across when looking through a tv review, and even when not, if you get called out on language like that dont justify it. id have thought the premise on using language like that is that you think the other person is in on the joke. if they arent, you do not in any circumstance act like that. and for the world to read! im sure there are plenty of idiots in the country that would have thought the ‘joke’ was funny, and she was overreacting, or whatever, but for someone with the responsibility of informing the public with news and stuff that people dont have the right to be offended by something like that? unacceptable!

Patrick Moylan // Posted 30 July 2010 at 7:51 pm

With no position to promote or defend on sexuality or PC vs homophobic doctrines – I think that the editor and the journo come out of this looking smug and arrogant and appallingly offensive. I can’t imagine that they would show the courage and equanimity that Clare Balding has demonstrated. They will come out of this badly. If I thought anybody close to me was going into journalism to espouse its current standards I’d tell them to go back to school

Ian Callis // Posted 30 July 2010 at 7:55 pm

I think the editor is correct about “privileged status”. I think AA Gill was just unnecessarily rude.

annifrangipani // Posted 30 July 2010 at 8:47 pm

Clare’s response is so awesome! I’d really like to know where all these heterosexual white males (I work with a ton of them) get the idea that we’re post-homophobia? I find it really weird, particularly when any thing alluding to being gay or lesbian is considered good joke fodder or just funny. Because being gay is funny? I missed the memo about that one.

I sincerely hope AA Gill experiences some sort of sanction about this – is there any way us normal folks can complain? Perhaps write to the editor also?

John fowler // Posted 30 July 2010 at 9:07 pm

Well its still not considered okay to use the N word, as a racial slur in a world where racism is rife. Why does the sunday times think using a sexual slur is okay where people are persecuted, physicially hurt and even killed, for their sexuality?

Also a joke is supposed to be funny, this was not, its just rude and shows a small mind.

Lubin Odana // Posted 30 July 2010 at 9:10 pm

Clare Balding is my new hero. Her response couldn’t be better – what an intelligent and eloquent woman. Good luck to her.

Matt Hambly // Posted 30 July 2010 at 10:07 pm

A.A.Gill is a tosspot, and I’ll never patronise The Times, on Sunday or any day, again. Get a grip people – my elderly rellies use outdated and insulting terms, at times, to refer to other races and it’s important that they are educated that, outside of their cutesy, safe caucasian-only populated villages, it’s no longer appropriate to come out with those sorts of things. As long as comments like AAG’s are allowed to pass us by without comment, the longer we’ll have to keep fighting for “acceptance”, coz we’re not there yet…

Marriot Hughes // Posted 30 July 2010 at 10:21 pm

I do wonder if this will make it through the preliminary rounds, but I do think there’s a hint of over-sensitivity.

Sorry, I’m not homophobic and I don’t like homophobia, but Ms Balding herself asks whether Stephen Fry being called a queer would be acceptable. Well, if he’d been presenting a show on alcohol and a reviewer used the phrase ‘queer with a beer’… yeah. Nowt much wrong and I don’t know if Mr Fry’d be quite as stung. Equally, and apologies for the language, but I’ve seen and read comments describing Jeremy Clarkson as a big cock in a fast car. Pretty accurate I reckon, and I think at least once it was from one of his co-presenters on Top Gear. And he’d probably laugh and half agree.

It isn’t nice, and I’d hope there was no hurt intended by any of the people involved. And I really hope Ms Balding doesn’t take it too much to heart, I think she’s a fantastic presenter and she comes across as a very nice person (I trust my instincts with TV ‘personalities’).

But there’s offence and offence. The same words can cause differing levels of offence in different contexts. It’s not a defined line, and generally me personally I’d look at the intentions of the ‘offender’. If AA Gill wasn’t intending hurt, then perhaps a statement commenting on his insenitivity would be more appropriate than a formal complaint and a campaign in the media.

Everyone has to endure a bit of ribbing at times, and sometimes it’s insensitive. I don’t agree that this instance counts as homophobia though. Just ignorant (which is very different indeed).

I agree more with the views of the Sunday Times editor (not often I say that!) than Ms Balding.

Lorna Gregory // Posted 30 July 2010 at 10:32 pm

Welldone Clare for taking a stand. It seems people often try to silence other people with claims of inverse sexism/racism/homophobia and it shouldn’t be tolerated.

For me, one good thing has come out of it, I watched her bike program and I love it!

Brian // Posted 30 July 2010 at 11:33 pm

What has Clare Balding’s sexuality got to do with her excellent biking programme or Ramblings on Radio 4? I doubt if the professional (only in the narrow sense of being paid) sneerer A A Gill (who wouldn’t be amused if someone took the mickey out of him for being very dyslexic) could appreciate the joy that Ms Balding conveyed when freewheeling downhill. Wheeee! Brilliant.

Luke // Posted 30 July 2010 at 11:36 pm

“It saddens and angers me that anyone would consider “Dyke” to be an acceptable term.”


Well, lesbians use the word ‘dykes’ all the time so I don’t see any problem with that unless you are going to attack them too. I know that a few black people say that only caucasians cannot use the N-Word, but they just look ridiculous doing it and most black people think they are idiots too.

AA Gill is a pratt and was offensive, but people are – this is a ‘storm in a teacup’.

zygoville // Posted 30 July 2010 at 11:44 pm

It’s not ‘just a bit of fun’ or ‘banter’ – it’s bloody rude and leads to worse, and Clare Balding is right and brave to be standing up and saying what she’s saying – excellent show! X

laura // Posted 30 July 2010 at 11:45 pm

I remember once reading an angry review by AA gill about the treatment his blind friend received when they dined a deux in a restaurant.

So visually impaired people have special status do they Mr. Gill?

How about elderly fathers of twins?

Or ‘journalists’ who write about gang bangs?

Or dyslexics perhaps?

Or convoluted journalists who take a long time to get to the point of the article (or does the blonde write them)

Or friends of Jeremy Clarkson whose coat tails one hides behind.

Or men with female surnames?

mmmm…so many sub-groups you belong to…its amazing you don’t have empathy with those who took so long time to become accepted.

So catapult a minority back to where many people wish they were (think Alan Turing who broke the Enigma code and killed himself because gay was not accepted by people like Gill) and have a jolly good laugh about it all. Grow up.

counterstrike // Posted 31 July 2010 at 12:00 am

Has Clare Balding complained about this article yet?


Amir // Posted 31 July 2010 at 12:10 am

Just heard this via tweets. Felt really bad for this needless hurtful comment. Then found myself here and read the response to Claire’s complaint. Wow the bigots who live amongst us never fail to amaze me. Claire your program is truly wonderful. You have made this a truly enjoyable and I wish we could see you in much more programmes of this type. You are a wonderful presenter and bravo to you for objecting to this inappropriate bigoted reporting. Homophobia and racism are alive and Present and to defend or tolerate them is indefensible.

Pro-Wrestling:EVE // Posted 31 July 2010 at 12:46 am

Poor sales and controversy creates cash. That is the only conclusion I can come to as to why the editor of The Sunday Times would not only allow AA Gill’s column to be published but to then go out and defend it in such a way (‘Dyke on a bike’ = Jeremy Clarkson having bad dress sense??? Seriously??).

I personally find AA Gill’s comments to be more misogynistic and ignorant than homophobic but believe by publication they have effectively endorsed homophobic behaviour and language.

I just find this whole scenario almost surreal in execution because this kind of language and the subsequent defence thereof can surely only be done for attention seeking purposes as you don’t need a crystal ball to give you a hint as to what the response would be which is why I have to come to the conclusion that it was done for this exact kind of attention.

Daniel Chirwa // Posted 31 July 2010 at 1:45 am

I just thought that I should perhaps post to head-off a line of thought that has become increasingly prevalent in the posts. I am a black male, and while I agree that Clare Balding is right in her complaint in an effort to defend her right to hold whatever sexual orientation she wishes without prejudice, I wish posters would leave black people and racism out of their arguments.

Yes, black people and homosexuals are both minorities but there is a world of difference between calling one a ‘nigger’ and the other a ‘dyke’. The “N” word is mired in the history of the slave trade and thus using it has a deeper meaning than merely being a derogatory word, indeed it disregards the lives lost in the struggle for both emancipation and equality.

“Dyke” is still however, a disrespectful and offensive word to use in a broadsheet newspaper about someone for just having the temerity to be homosexual, especially when the esteem in which Balding is held by the industry is considered. Just lets be more judicious in our choice of comparisons.

Rachel Morton // Posted 31 July 2010 at 1:50 am

The use of such terms should be restricted to those to whom it applies – eg the dykes on bikes who lead the Sydney Mardi Gras or nigger as a term o affection among the Carribean community in Notting Dale. The use of such terms by anyone else is obviously gratuitously offensive.

phillip blevens // Posted 31 July 2010 at 7:38 am

I don’t know who Clare is, I don’t know who A.A. is, I don’t know who the editors are. But I kind of agree with the editors. Being accepted means being able to take a joke like the rest of us.

Meryl // Posted 31 July 2010 at 7:53 am

I am sick of people like AA Gill and his editor being able to get away with this stuff and I hope thet get what they deserve.

However whats the betting that the PCC find for the paper… old boys club and all that?

polly // Posted 31 July 2010 at 8:21 am

Yes the Sunday Times is somewhat missing the point. Which is that nobody makes fun of Jeremy Clarkson for being heterosexual.

People shout “lesbian” or “dyke” in the street because they think it is an insult. Men think that to merely say to a woman ‘you look like a lesbian’ is the most cutting thing they can say – because what woman would want to look like a lesbian? Which is why I always respond “I AM a lesbian” or “well spotted”.

This ISN’T a case of Balding being over sensitive because AA Gill is a national newspaper columnist, not a drive by abuser.

Good for her, I hope the Times is roundly censured.

polly // Posted 31 July 2010 at 8:28 am

PS I don’t think ‘dyke’ is offensive by itself, the word has been thoroughly ‘reclaimed’ now. The problem is the context, not the word itself – the intention was to insult.

I heard a discussion about Joe McElderry coming out as gay on the radio last night and someone made the very good point that ‘famous person is heterosexual’ is never news. That’s the issue here – firstly that AA Gill assumed Balding is heterosexual, when she has been out as a lesbian for years (and personally it’s the only thing I knew about her), and secondly that he obviously thinks ‘lesbian’ is an insult.

kinelfire // Posted 31 July 2010 at 9:03 am

Leaving aside the obvious problems in using slang for genitalia as insulting descriptors, I saw that someone had tweeted @ Claire Balding “If you’re the ‘dyke on the bike’, I can only assume that AA Gill travels by punt”.

He left himself open to that one, really.

Ms. Balding’s response has been admirable, to say the very least.

Julie // Posted 31 July 2010 at 10:38 am

What about blonde jokes… I’ve had to suffer them all my life from teachers, bosses, friends ..and am tired of people thinking its funny to make me the butt of their joke. If I had an afro and people were making afro jokes it wouldn’t be acceptable. If I respond I am treated like I have no sense of humour. My teenage son is blonde and everytime he does something silly… Its because he is blonde… How is that okay? How many blogs do you read about people protesting about it?

John Roch // Posted 31 July 2010 at 10:43 am

The caption to a photograph in the same issue gave her name as “Spalding”

Steve // Posted 31 July 2010 at 1:09 pm

Clare is spot on in her response (“When the day comes…”) indeed it’s precisely this bit that so many of the self-appointed champions/pub bores of the “anti-PC brigade” point blank refuse to accept.

Their aversion to accepting this boils down to a kind of childish envy of someone else’s perceived victim status. (Something to bear in mind when you read Littlejohn sneering about this in next week’s Daily Hate.)

Steve // Posted 31 July 2010 at 1:19 pm


I’m not aware of any blonde people resigning from high office, being disowned by their families, getting beaten up and in some instances committing suicide because of their blonde hair.

Is there a long history of racism against blonde-haired people? Do blonde-haired people suffer anything like the same severity of discrimination that black people do? Were blonde-haired people once regarded – and by many, still regarded – as inferior? Were they the victims of forced segregation? Do people cross the road when they see a blonde person approaching them? Is the victim of a racially-motivated attack more likely to be blonde-haired – or black?

THIS is the difference Julie.

It explains why what you might regard as “special treatment being dished out to minorities” is, in actual fact, plain old decency and consideration in light of what that person still has to endure for being ‘what’ they are.

Yes everyone discriminates to some degree. But please let’s have the generosity of spirit to concede that some groups suffer considerably more severe and more regular discrimination than others.

Laurel Dearing // Posted 31 July 2010 at 1:53 pm

and begrudgingly, for the record, im pretty sure this is a site that does have critique on the ‘dumb blonde’ thing, certainly redheads and gingers

Darren // Posted 31 July 2010 at 2:29 pm

I think Daniel Chirwa makes an interesting point but one with which I would slightly disagree.

I understand his argument regrading the legacy of slavery and the use of the N word yet homophobia has it’s own terrible history too.

I am a history teacher and each year I cover both the slave trade and the Holocaust. For the latter I always try to emphasise that it was not just the Jews who were murdered by the Nazis but homosexuals, gypsies and other minority groups. The mere mention of the word “homosexual” in the classroom elicits some sniggers but allows us to tackle homophobia head on.

Any form of prejudice needs to be tackled head on. A victory for CB here can only serve to remind people of that.

Maggie // Posted 31 July 2010 at 3:02 pm

This story illustrates perfectly one of the reasons why I gave up on The Times, and AA Gill, quite a long time ago.

What can we do about it? Don’t read the paper, don’t buy it…..hit them where it really hurts – in the hip pocket.

When they’ve published the apology, naturally!

Laura Green // Posted 31 July 2010 at 3:08 pm

Quite unbelievable- I breathed such a deep sigh as I read this because I am really saddened and astounded that such flagrant homophobia is still so common place in the media. I’m so tired of hearing of incidents like this and being told to lighten up- when will ‘they’ get it?! Why can’t AAG recognise that his comment is just the latest in a long stream of hateful comments that Clare Balding has had to endure – and to compare her to Jeremy Clarkson- possibly more reason for complaint than the rest of it!

I agree with annifrangipani I think there must be some means of collective action that we could organise to pass on the views expressed on the comments stream. Who can I write to? How can I help lovely Clare? Let’s get something done about this together.

Tracey // Posted 31 July 2010 at 4:56 pm

John Witherow’s comments are arguably more offensive than AA Gill’s. AAG’s was an horrendous insult but JW’s defense epitomises the latent, just below the surface homophobia that is alive and kicking in the UK. Gays can sense it but cannot always deal with it as it isn’t always brought out into the open.

Go Claire, deal with this and make a public debate on sneering and destructive homophobia and why it should never be acceptable within a civilised society.

Tony D // Posted 31 July 2010 at 7:55 pm

A.A.Hill is an idiot who thinks homophobia is a comedic subject. Remember that “phobia” describe someone with irrational fears and therefore that makes him irrational as well as an idiot. The Sunday Times is a rubbish newspaper anyway and best used to line the bottom of bird cages.

Martin // Posted 31 July 2010 at 8:10 pm

Whilst I respect many of the polite well thought out responses to this I’m wondering whether that is the right tactic?

A.A. Gill feels that it is fair to make an obnoxious remark about someone because he can get away with it?

As Tim Minchin did amusingly with his aggressive response to Phil Daoust from the Guardian (who I personally felt deserved the reaction); perhaps it’s time to get nasty on people like A.A Gill?

I’m open to criticism of the idea but I’m wondering whether it might be good to directly bully A.A. Gill to give him the empathy for the situation he is clearly lacking?

However please don’t respond with the “we’re better than that defence” as I’m more interested in a critique of why you think it would or wouldn’t work. Not some moral superiority stance. I’m not an overly nice person and that won’t win me to that viewpoint. I want a critique of it as a tactic.

Just because I’m normally an obnoxious jerk however doesn’t mean I don’t wish you all the best whatever you think ;)

Numpty // Posted 31 July 2010 at 8:41 pm

I’m sorry, but as long as some lesbians refer to themselves as “dykes”, there are no defensible grounds for being upset when other people use the term. (Likewise “niggers”, “pakis” etc., all of which are used within certain groups to refer to each other, but are, inexplicably, not allowed to be used by anyone else.)

Elmo // Posted 31 July 2010 at 10:05 pm

Opened paper today and couldnt believe I was reading this-not the incident between aa gill and CB, its the kind of thing I would expect of him (Baboon anyone?) but that the editor would defend him in such a way-its disgusting.

This is a very popular national newspaper, (though one I never buy) and for it to be writing off homophobia, likening Clare Balding to Jeremy Clarkson (oh poor littwl jerwemy, boo hoo, it must be SO hard for him to be a rich white middle class male, who has to cope with bad dwess sense to boot), and then suggesting that the whole thing is whinging on the part of gay people, is beyond belief.

*****To suggest that society will only accept gay people if they promise not to moan every time someone teases them, or hits them, or spits on them, or beats them up, or drives them to suicide, or kills them is fucking infuriating, because this is a statement that will be read by millions of people. *****

Incidentally, I disagree about dyke reclaiming etc. It’s fine not to be offended by it, but CB didnt sign up to any club where she has to agree with all other gay people on what terms they all find offensive-if she doesnt like being called a dyke, she doesnt like being called a dyke, end of.

I also resent those people who mark any defence of racism, homophobia,et al as “a storm in a teacup”. All these incidents may seem very little, but there are lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of these little incidents happening everyday, often all over the media. Suddenly the storm in the teacup spills over the edge and becomes a floatilla on a tidalwave.


angercanbepower // Posted 31 July 2010 at 11:58 pm

Numpty, you’re right. Context is irrelevant and intent meaningless.

You’re a numpty. You and I mean exactly the same thing where we use that word to describe you, right?

Rebomax // Posted 1 August 2010 at 12:50 am

Okay. Lots of worms being freed from cans here.

Firstly, Gill’s article: Personally I believe the first paragraph is the most offensive and insidious. He called Clare ‘a big lesbian’ as an insult and then apologised when he realised she was indeed ‘a big lesbian’. This apology was not for the name-calling, instead it was because he had not managed to be offensive enough.

Secondly: not sure that this debate really needs a Jeremy Clarkson analogy, at time of writing at least, the gentleman(?) in question has not been a consenting contributor to the debate.

Thirdly: The comments posted by Christopher: “P*kis in nappies” or “N*ggers on diggers”made me laugh out loud – Am I a bad person? (c*nt on a punt was good one too)

Finally: this whole debate may make humorous references to sexuality (as opposed to derogatory references ) politically incorrect. The more gay adjectives that become insults the harder ‘poofs and lezzers’ will find it to describe themselves creatively.

Will the politically correct term be: sexually challenged (which, frankly, implies that one’s fanny is halfway up ones back*)

*apologies if your lady bits are, indeed, halfway up your back.

Gino Parks // Posted 1 August 2010 at 2:18 am


A A Gill is a loathsome prat, and I’ve long since stopped paying attention to anything he has to say. But the response from the editor absolutely beggars belief, and I’m ashamed to say it’s opened my eyes to just how much of a problem we’re still dealing with.

As for the posters saying “some members of the community have tried to appropriate the word dyke, therefore no members of the community can be offended when someone (i.e. “me”) calls you a dyke”… very depressing, but I’m glad to see you’re in a minority for once.

Go get ’em, Clare.

maggie no 2 // Posted 1 August 2010 at 3:43 am


You should check out Chris Rock on youtube as he describes the brief moment (I think Christmas Eve between 3.30 – 3.45am) when a white person is allowed to use the n word in public. You sound like you could do with a laugh.

juliamarisa // Posted 1 August 2010 at 3:58 am

I agree with Numpty to a point. I proudly claim the term “dyke” to describe myself on days when I feel particularly dykey. Words like dyke, queer, fag, etc. are being reclaimed, and by reclaiming them we take the power away from those who use them in contempt. That said, no person should be “allowed” to use any word in a way that is intentionally hurtful. But by responding in the way that she did, from a place of hurt, Clare granted Gill the power he was seeking. Had she proudly responded with something along the lines of, “Yes, I’m attracted to women and have a more masculine demeanor and appearance. I’m a dyke. No big deal.” she would have undermined the original attack.

walter probyn // Posted 1 August 2010 at 5:20 am

numpty said “I’m sorry, but as long as some lesbians refer to themselves as “dykes”, there are no defensible grounds for being upset when other people use the term. (Likewise “niggers”, “pakis” etc., all of which are used within certain groups to refer to each other, but are, inexplicably, not allowed to be used by anyone else.)”

It’s precisely because words like “dyke” & the racial slurs you mentioned are used by people solely to attack homosexuals & homosexuality and non whites, that they were adopted by their victims in the first place. It allows the targets of these slurs to take ownership of the words themselves in an attempt to take the power away from the bigots who use them.

You see the slur came first, not the decision by those dehumanised by it to adopt it as their own. Were we living in a World where people did not attack others for their homosexuality, you wouldn’t have the privilege of telling lesbians that they’re not allowed to call themselves “dykes”, because they would not be subject to such abuse. As it is, lesbians choosing to use the word “dyke” positively ought to be understood rather than judged…but then in order to understand why some lesbians use the word “dyke” requires people who aren’t lesbian to attempt to put themselves in their position…something you clearly refuse to do.

What is “inexplicable” about black people choosing to adopt an age old word that has been used to dehumanise them? The word “nigger” clearly is not used by black people in the same manner a member of the KKK would use it…does that really need explaining?

There’s nothing defensible about your argument that a victim of bigotry has no right to be offended because they have chosen to use that self same bigotry to their advantage. You are effectively saying that abusive language is something that people are required to put up with & any attempts to subvert its use or meaning only serve to legitimise its use as a slur.

Btw, the word “numpty” has never been used to systematically oppress millions of people, hence no one willingly adopts it.

Ariane // Posted 1 August 2010 at 10:20 am

Clare Balding I know, but who the hell is A. A. Gill?

Maeve // Posted 1 August 2010 at 1:23 pm

”…behave like any other sensible group which is accepted by society”? I find this really disturbing. Does John Witherow even realise what he’s saying here? What is ”society” then? Default hetero white dudes who will ”accept” ”other” (!) groups as long as they are ”sensible”, i.e. take any crap thrown at them? Unbelievable.

As other people have commented here, I too no longer read The Times or A.A. Gill. I refuse to read anything he writes.

angercanbepower // Posted 1 August 2010 at 5:55 pm

Maeve, wow, you refuse to read A.A. Gill? I think you’re giving him too much credit. I just don’t read him.

Sarah // Posted 1 August 2010 at 10:49 pm

I think many people are missing the point here, focusing on the specific words used rather than the principle.

The point is that in an article which was supposed to be reviewing Clare’s upcoming TV programme, the writer saw fit to trivialise her work by making irrelevant references to her sexuality, which he would not have done had she been heterosexual. Therefore it’s prejudice – irrespective of the adding of insult to injury by his choice of terms.

I can’t presume to speak for gay people, because I happen not to be gay, but I imagine that “the gay community” (and any other minority group for that matter) are not seeking “special victim status” making them exempt from ALL ridicule; simply equality in not being ridiculed for things that others can take for granted that they will not be ridiculed for.

GC // Posted 2 August 2010 at 7:46 am

Numpty and others

You are entirely missing the point. Black people use the “n” word as it comes from an attempt to reclaim the insult so that it cant be used by others to attack them. Ditto “queer”.

It is not “inextricable” that causasions cant use it, same thing for “dyke”.

Get used to it.

Lindsey // Posted 2 August 2010 at 9:58 am

It’s not the word “dyke” itself that’s the problem, but the fact that Gill uses it to dismiss Balding, to reduce her to being “just one of those people” and therefore of no real relevance or importance to the audience. It undermines her, and distracts from what the program is about.

I also second the person above who rightly commented that just because some lesbians are happy to be called dykes doesn’t mean all lesbians have to accept it. If Balding had called her program “Dykes on bikes” that would be a very different matter.

Maeve // Posted 2 August 2010 at 11:35 am

Just a figure of speech, angercanbepathetic!

polly // Posted 5 August 2010 at 10:14 am

To reiterate what others have said, you are completely missing the point Numpty. It isn’t the word used that’s offensive, but the intent behind it.

If a black person uses the ‘n’ word, the point is they don’t don’t have structural power over other black people – so they’re not being racist. And I’ve had ‘lesbian’ shouted at me as an insult quite a few times as well. So how am I meant to refer to myself exactly?

The problem isn’t the words Gill used (though if Balding thinks ‘dyke’ is offensive, that’s her prerogative), but the fact that he thinks there’s something wrong with being a lesbian.

Context is key in any use of language.

Rachel // Posted 5 August 2010 at 12:40 pm

Seems to me that a lot of this comes down to the perennial issue of who gets to decide what’s offensive.

People with privilege often seem to think they get to decide what’s offensive, rather than the people they are offending. It’s obvious to me that actually the people who are offended should get to decide what’s offensive.

Bea // Posted 5 August 2010 at 10:58 pm

I am in agreement with others who suggest that Gill’s comments stem from misogyny. He dismisses her work on the grounds that she is a woman, and a lesbian. Clare Balding identifies this herself I think when she suggests that it is unlikely that someone would use Stephen Fry’s sexuality as a focus for derision. I think this case really highlights the marginalisation of lesbians in our society and media. It is surely to do with subversion of typical role of women in television; to appear in some way sexually available and appealling to the male viewer.

I am just incensed by the editor’s comments! How dare he say those things?? How can he be so entirely out of touch with the experiences and realities of life of people who aren’t exactly like him?? The Clarkson comparison is about the most absurd thing I have ever heard and beautiful highlights this man’s utter ignorance and total misunderstanding of what is being objected to here and why. I would like to know where he is living if he thinks he inhabits a world free from homophobia.. Which is ironically precisely what he both demonstrates and condones in his disgusting response to Clare’s complaint.

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