Musing on the death of Stephen Gatley, Jan Moir of the Daily Mail, wrote a spiteful little piece today. It was originally called "There is nothing 'natural' about Stephen Gatley's death", although the title has now been changed at the Mail's website.
In the article Moir first insults Gatley by saying he couldn't sing, then she makes several insinuations about his death, suggesting that there is something fishy about it. She also implies that he died because of his lifestyle. She then makes it clear that the idea of happy gay people in relationships is nonsense by writing "Another real sadness about Gately's death is that it strikes another blow to the happy-ever-after myth of civil partnerships."
Reading it made the blood drain from my face. Then I got very angry. I immediately complained to the Press Complaints Commission (along with several hundred other people), causing their site to crash. It seems that Moir and the Daily Mail have hideously misjudged national attitudes, and the power of social networking. The story swept around the internet like a crazy, out of control fire. High profile twitterers like Stephen Fry and Derren Brown urged people to report her. A Facebook group was set up. Charlie Brooker of The Guardian posted one of his quick ripostes. Marks and Spencer, who were advertising on the Mail's site, asked for their advertising to be removed. Moir has issued a response to the furore, where she basically insults the complainers further by implying that none of them have read what she wrote, and that anyone who did simply didn't understand her. So, she's basically saying that thousands of people misinterpreted her article - somewhat worrying, considering that journalists are supposed to be good communicators and get the message across easily. She's admitting to being rubbish at her job really.
I'm taking a special interest in the story. I've been tracking the Daily Mail and its homophobia for several years. In a book I published on how gay men are represented in the media I looked at over a thousand articles about homosexuality that the Mail has published and found some common themes. These are the 10 "rules" of writing about homosexuality that you have to abide by if you write for the Daily Mail.
1) Gay relationships don't last
2) Gay is not a proper identity, it's just filthy sex
3) Being gay will lead to crime and violence
4) Being gay is something to be ashamed about
5) Beware - many gay people hide their gayness for some reason - making them liars and morally dubious
6) Despite (5) many gay people are "obvious" and/or "shameless" so they won't shut up about being gay - and we don't want to know!
7) Gay people are promiscuous
8) Gay people are everywhere - they are many and they are strong
9) They want to infect your children with their ways
10) They are strident, loud and militant. They will never stop demanding "rights" they don't deserve.
To Moir's credit, her article follows the Daily Mail's "rules" on how to write about homosexuality, almost to the letter. She's at least toeing the line.
While the article is upsetting and horrible. The response from the public has been incredibly encouraging. Ten years ago, The Mail got away with this sort of bile on a daily basis. Now they know that if they try it on, they'll get an instant fight, and it'll hurt. Times haven't changed yet - but we are witnessing them changing...