Sunday, October 18, 2009

Hate Mail

Stephen Gately was gay. And now he is dead. Therefore he must have died of being gay. Such is the deranged subtext of Jan Moir's Daily Mail opinion piece, which has apparently become the single most complained about newspaper article in the Press Complaints Commission's history.

In her column, originally entitled Why there was nothing "natural" about Stephen Gately's death, but later amended by a worried Daily Mail to A strange, lonely and troubling death..., Moir says:

Whatever the cause of death is, it is not, by any yardstick, a natural one. Let us be absolutely clear about this. All that has been established so far is that Stephen Gately was not murdered. And I think if we are going to be honest, we would have to admit that the circumstances surrounding his death are more than a little sleazy.
She later goes on to claim that Gately's death "strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships", trying to link Gately's untimely death and Kevin McGee's suicide to a wider discourse about gay relationships being unnatural, phony and not equivalent to heterosexual relationships.

Whatever your views on homosexuality (and just to be clear, I believe that gay relationships should be treated in exactly the same way as heterosexual ones, and gay people afforded the same rights and respect as every other human being) it's pretty clear that in the way Moir has used language here she is consciously trying to associate Gately with some imagined seedy, hedonistic lifestyle while at the same time knowing literally nothing about the exact circumstances of his death. It just amounts to prurient and tasteless speculation, especially considering that the poor guy's body was not even cold in the grave when the article was published.

The Guardian's Charlie Brooker responded quickly to the Moir article in his customary style, describing it as "a gratuitous piece of gay-bashing" and adding:

It has been 20 minutes since I've read her now-notorious column, and I'm still struggling to absorb the sheer scope of its hateful idiocy. It's like gazing through a horrid little window into an awesome universe of pure blockheaded spite. Spiralling galaxies of ignorance roll majestically against a backdrop of what looks like dark prejudice, dotted hither and thither with winking stars of snide innuendo.

Elsewhere, thousands of online responses, the vast majority critical of Moir, were posted to the Mail's website, and many others complained to the PCC.

The recent killing of a gay man in Central London, for which three young people have been charged, should show that the distance between hateful words and hateful deeds is not that far. Words matter. Language matters. And I think there's a strong case for arguing that those who use hateful language ultimately bear some responsibility for what happens when words turn to deeds.

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