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”.
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.