Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The First Post reports: A burly World Cup winning rugby player, with a wife and two children, may not appear to be an obvious candidate to become a gay rights activist. But 6ft 3in Ben Cohen has done just that. The former England winger has announced his retirement from the sport, aged 32, to dedicate his life to tackling bullying and homophobia.

Sport is often thought of as a bastion of homophobia, so it's good to see people like Ben Cohen stand up against prejudice. The showbiz and media worlds on the other hand are thought of as LGBT-friendly, but in reality homophobia insidiously pervades the industry, making it potentially far more harmful than the overt prejudice found in the sporting arena.

Simon Cowell is an exemplar.

Simon is quite happy to appear as Mr Nasty - the tough judge who doesn't suffer fools gladly. At the same time he likes the public to think of him as protective and supportive to those under his wing as mentor and agent. Despite Cowell's overt support for Joe McElderry when Joe came out as gay last July, it seems that Mr Cowell is very far from the well-meaning, easy-going and benign person that he'd like us to believe. Joe's career wasn't helped by the way he was treated by the BBC.

Newsround frequently covers stories about Simon Cowell's TV shows. At the end of yesterday's 5pm bulletin they reported that the X Factor axe has fallen on Dannii Minogue. Then this -

Leah: Talking of the X Factor, head over to the website because we want to know who you think should be on the judging panel. Let us know your thoughts this very minute!

There's no doubting that Simon is a mummy's boy but his credentials as a ladies' man are somewhat more suspect. What is the relevance of Simon's sexual orientation, you might ask. Well it's this. The showbiz and media worlds are generally seen as modern-thinking and entirely comfortable with LGBT people. So why does Simon Cowell pose as hetero when supposedly no-one really cares any more?

The truth is that people do care. No-one knows that better than these media types. They know it makes the difference between success and failure on talent shows, they know it affects marketability, they know that "straight is safe" and "gay is a gamble." Note on this YouTube clip Paula Abdul's indignant response to a reference to Simon Cowell's sexuality, although Simon himself sensibly makes light of it. But in this clip he loses his cool after Dannii Minogue quite properly raised the issue of the altered lyrics in Danyl's song (see blog on 11 October 2009)

Had Joe McElderry not fibbed about his sexuality at the start of his X Factor challenge his chances of winning would have been greatly diminished. He knew it. Simon Cowell knew it. In fact everyone in showbiz knows it. So we end up with a vicious circle whereby media moguls feed this prejudice for their own self-advancement.

That's why it's important that more people like Ben Cohen stand up and be counted.

It's that day of the year again - 17th May - International Day Against Homophobia - IDAHO

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