Sloppy Reporting in the Gay Media: The Sullivan CasePosted: April 27, 2013
All journalists make mistakes at times, including in gay publications. Take this widely circulated example. At the time of me writing this post, the headline of an article found here, reads:
Physical excercise prevents you becoming gay, claims UK councillor candidate
An odd claim to make, huh. So I looked into it. Did the candidate really claim this? The article kindly links to a thread of conversation on the Facebook page of Traditional Britain Group, where the accused candidate appears to have written the basis for the headline, IE:
Im not of the same generation as John Sullivan, but I too heard similar sentiment last century. IE that “the devil finds work for idle hands” and that if a young person kept physically busy, their tiredness would reduce the available energy for, and likelihood of, sexual temptation. When I heard the sentiment back in those days, it was not directed specifically towards homosexual temptation, but rather primarily to masturbation, but also more broadly to any sexual indulging at all.
And what sort of sexual indulgence might take place at Mr Sullivan’s school? Well, the article kindly tells us that Mr Sullivan was standing to be a councillor in Glouchester. If you google for Glouchester in combination with his comment that his school was founded in 1888, you find that Dean Close School of Gloucester was founded in in 1888. You also find that in 1963, when Mr Sullivan says he attended school, Dean Close was not a co-ed school. IE all the students were male. So if there was any sexual interaction between the students, it would have been homosexual activity. I realise that some people interpret ‘homosexual’ to simply mean “of homosexual orientation”. But that is actually a narrow definition of the word. Broadly, the word ‘homosexual’ includes reference to sexual activity between straight males too.
So in the context of discussion in the 1960s about restraining sexual temptations faced by students, Mr Sullivan’s comments fit right in. IE it was not entirely unusual for people to believe that students engaging in sport would have reduced the likelihood of homosexual activity between the students at his school.
However, the news report has reframed his words. Mr Sullivan wrote of “releasing boys tensions to avoid homo-sexuality”, seeming to refer to homosexual activity rather than homosexual orientation. But the headline portrays him as referring to homosexual orientation; IE that sport would stop students from gaining a same-sex attraction! Furthermore, in the Facebook post, Mr Sullivan states that he is just citing Victorian attitudes. But the report portrays the claim as being Sullivan’s own thoughts!
Predictably, the article was extensively spread around facebook, where Sullivan was unjustly ridiculed, EG:
The article which I have critiqued above, apparently stirred up some concern and unfortunately the original facebook post has been removed. Thankfully though, I took the screenshot depicted towards the top of my post, so you can still see what I believe the article was referring to.