Greenwich gay group attacks News Shopper’s homophobia prize

A group which provides counselling for gay and bisexual people has criticised the News Shopper’s awarding of a “star letter” prize to a correspondent who branded homosexuality “perverted”.

The Greenwich-based Metro Centre has cancelled its advertising in the weekly freesheet until it gets a reply from the newspaper.

Chief executive Marguerite McLaughlin branded the letter, purportedly from a Mrs S Fitzsimons of Lewisham, a “hate-filled rant against lesbians, gay men and bisexual people”.

She continued: “Is it your intention to cause distress to your gay readers who have read this attack in your newspaper? Mrs. Fitzsimons actually uses the word perverts.

“Do you feel that some of your readers deserve more respect than others do? Perhaps the impulse in awarding this biased and prejudicial letter a prize is simply to create some brief, tawdry controversy?”

The News Shopper, part of the Newsquest group, has always maintained that the letter was included to “create debate” – but no letters criticising Mrs Fitzsimons’ comments, which won her a pen, have appeared in this week’s edition, which the newspaper says is because of early print deadlines.

Ms McLaughlin said the centre had placed advertisements in the newspaper for several years. Funded by Greenwich Council and NHS trusts across south London, the Metro Centre provides support services for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgendered people as well as training for employers and youth workers in sexuality issues.

“The very least your gay readership deserve is an apology from you, and yes we are your readership – from all backgrounds, ages, religions and cultures,”
she added in the letter, published on greenwich.co.uk.

Scores of readers criticised the newspaper on Twitter, while Greenwich councillor Nigel Fletcher branded the decision to award the letter a prize “inexcusable”. Sponsor Webster’s Pen Shop, which supplied the prize, issued a statement disassociating itself from the letter.

But the News Shopper has stood by publication. Asked on Twitter if the paper had considered the consquences of rewarding the letter with a prize, web editor Simon Bull said: “I don’t know how much it was considered, if it was. [The] letter doesn’t incite anything.”

He added people were more than welcome to challenge” the letter by responding via the newspaper.

The paper received national criticism too, with the Conservative LGBT Group calling the prize “inappropriate” and Bad Science journalist Ben Goldacre accused Mr Bull of “acting like a dick” in defending the award.

More on the Metro Centre’s letter at greenwich.co.uk
Full coverage of the News Shopper anti-gay letter row.

6 comments

  1. Has anyone asked Newsquest about its corporate policy on equality, discrimination and human rights? I wonder if it provides diversity training for staff …

  2. That’s an interesting thought. Newsquest is quite an odd firm, it seems – pretty secretive.

    Still, if they did want some training in these issues, there’s this place in Greenwich…

  3. What follows won’t necessarily be a view shared by everyone else. But as a gay man, I’d personally opt to take the same approach to this letter as I’d adopt in the street if someone shouted the same at me. I’d ignore it.

    I ‘read’ the Newsshopper but I certainly do feel any affinity to it. I certainly don’t need an apology from anyone for something being published which some others find enraging.

    I appreciate that a lot of people are understandably and justifiably annoyed by the letter, its publication and its apparent endorsement. But sometimes I just wonder whether its worth picking one’s fights?

  4. And of course .. now I read this comment online I notice one typo … The second para should read ..

    “I ‘read’ the Newsshopper but I certainly **don’t** feel any affinity to it. I certainly don’t need an apology from anyone for something being published which some others find enraging.”

    Woopsy.

  5. Fair point. As a life-long resident I’ve never really felt an affinity with the News Shopper (unlike the Mercury) – it still feels like an intruder from the suburbs, two decades after it launched around here. But if a newspaper claims to represent a local area – which the Shopper claims to do in Lewisham and Greenwich (from its base in Petts Wood) – then it should be a little more attuned to the feelings of those who live there.

    Nobody wanted to pick this as a fight – just a shout of disapproval, in the hope the paper might realise and acknowledge it’d ballsed-up . But the paper seems to have dug in rather bizarrely on this – and in the case of a Twitter argumernt with Brockley Central, made an enemy of someone who it should actually be keeping onside. The whole thing is just odd.

    This made me smile today: http://careers.guardian.co.uk/careers-blog/journalists-are-you-ready-to-face-your-readers

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