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Can a Newspaper Critic Say a Big Lesbian Television Host Looks Like a ‘Big Lesbian’ And Get Away With It?

Clare Balding, a BBC sports presenter (and jockey!), hosts a show called Britain by Bike. Reviewed by London’s Sunday Times, critic AA Gill said Balding looked like a big lesbian. Well, she is a big lesbian. So how did Gill apologize?

With new jokes! “Some time ago, I made a cheap and frankly unnecessary joke about Clare Balding looking like a big lesbian,” Gill (pictured, below), the paper’s television and restaurant pundit, writes in a new column. “And afterwards somebody tugged my sleeve to point out that she is a big lesbian, and I felt foolish and guilty. So I’d like to take this opportunity to apologise. Sorry. Now back to the dyke on a bike, puffing up the nooks and crannies at the bottom end of the nation.” Ha ha?

So Balding wrote the newspaper — twice — over the incident. She received this response from editor John Witherow:

In my view some members of the gay community need to stop regarding themselves as having a special victim status and behave like any other sensible group that is accepted by society. Not having a privileged status means, of course, one must accept occasionally being the butt of jokes . A person?’s sexuality should not give them a protected status. Jeremy Clarkson, perhaps the epitome of the heterosexual male, is constantly jeered at for his dress sense (lack of), adolescent mind-set and hair style. He puts up with it as a presenter?’s lot and in this context I hardly think that AA Gill?’s remarks were particularly ?cruel?, especially as he ended by so warmly endorsing you as a presenter.

Balding responded, using a couple references I had to Wikipedia:

What, so it’s OK that he beat me up because he’s nice about me at the end? For God’s sake, would he seriously review Stephen Fry presenting QI as a faggot or Evan Davis on Dragons Den as a queer? And if he did, would the editor compare that to someone having a go at Jeremy Clarkson for his dress sense?

And in another note, she writes:

When the day comes that people stop resigning from high office, being disowned by their families, getting beaten up and in some instances committing suicide because of their sexuality, you may have a point. This is not about me putting up with having the piss taken out of me, something I have been quite able to withstand, it is about you legitimising name calling. ‘Dyke’ is not shouted out in school playgrounds (or as I’ve had it at an airport) as a compliment, believe me. It may be your job to defend your writer and your editorial team but if you really think that homophobia does not exist and was not demonstrated beyond being ‘the butt of a joke’ then we have a problem.

She’s filing a report with the Press Complaints Commission, relays The F Word, which really can’t do that much.

And what are we, and Balding, going to get out of this? An eventual apology from the paper? It would mean little, as the Times was already provided the opportunity to review the situation, and upon doing so its editor shot back that Balding is being too sensitive, and compared the persecution Gill faces over his hair and childish humor as akin to what Balding faces as a lesbian.

A forced note of sorrow, one that stems from public pressure, is as meaningless as not offering one at all.