Belfast Telegraph

Should homophobic views be shut down or challenged? BBC's Nolan responds over LGBT criticism

By Gareth Cross

Stephen Nolan has responded to criticism of a discussion that took place on his popular BBC Radio Ulster morning show on Thursday, saying its important for freedom of speech for views that many find offensive to be challenged.

Mr Nolan and guests journalists Lynnette Burrows and Fionola Meredith were discussing same-sex dance partners competing in Strictly Come Dancing when Mrs Burrows said she found the idea "revolting".

Mrs Burrows mentioned she had recently been in New York she was surprised how "revolting" she saw the sight of two men kissing.

She said it "turned her stomach".

The Rainbow Project described the discussion as "unashamedly homophobic".

Mr Nolan addressed the criticism on his show on Friday morning and said that he "very robustly" challenged the comments from Mrs Burrows.

"I think there's an interesting conversation about free speech, because there are quite a few people who were offended by those comments," he said.

"There were others who were saying that's how some people think, we can't close it down. What you can do if you disagree with it is challenge it."

John O'Doherty from The Rainbow Project joined the show and asked why Mrs Burrows was invited to speak on the programme.

"She has form. Did the Nolan Show know what she was going to say? Before I came on the show this morning one of your staff phoned me and asked what I was going to say. The interview was presented as being about Strictly [Come Dancing] but it had little to do with that," Mr O'Doherty said.

"There was nothing positive or probative about the debate, how much longer do we have to keep having a debate about whether or not LGBT people should be seen in public and whether or not we are disgusting.

"There are much better people you could have on, it could have been a very interesting discussion. Why is it always about the same thing? Whether or not it is right to be gay."

Mr Nolan denied that the conversation was engineered to go a certain way.

"We were not setting up a debate about whether or not it is right to be gay," he responded.

"You live in Northern Ireland and you know that there is a proportion of the population who are still against homosexuality and still do not think it is 'natural', we have had prominent politicians over many years describing the act of homosexuality as 'vile' and 'disgusting' and 'repulsive'.

"Are they entitled to those views or must they be shut down?"

Mr O'Doherty said that he felt the show should have went further in challenging Mrs Burrow's comments and labelled them 'homophobic'

He said it was wrong that Mrs Burrows had been invited onto the show and "possibly paid" as a platform for her views.

Mr Nolan said that he had taken time on Thursday night to consider whether or not the debate should have gone ahead.

"We know that is representative of how some people behave in Northern Ireland and about how some young people are having to live in the same households as parents who talk like that," he said.

"I just think that there's a massive discussion to be had about what effect that has on a human being when words like that are directed towards them

"Do you allow it to be publicly aired because it's happening in society or is it so unacceptable that you shut it down.

"What about the people who don't find it unacceptable? Who do believe what Lynette said."

Mr O'Doherty noted that someone from The Rainbow Project attempted to get on air to discuss the issue with Mrs Burrows and Mr Nolan apologised saying "you should have been able to get on the air".

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