BBC stands by "homophobic" monkeypox segment in The Nolan Show

LGBTQ+ charity The Rainbow Project deemed the commentary on monkeypox in the BBC radio programme "homophobic".

Stephen Nolan in The Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster, that recently aired an homophobic monkeypox segment.
Image: Via YouTube - A Troubled Land

BBC Northern Ireland has defended an episode of radio programme The Nolan Show that contained a discussion on monkeypox that has been deemed “homophobic”. LGBTQ+ charity The Rainbow Project commented on the segment by saying: “blatant emphasis on gay or bi male sexual acts, questions and comments focused on sexual activity were homophobic”.

On Wednesday, July 27, BBC Radio Ulster in Northern Ireland aired an episode of The Nolan Show in which a discussion on monkeypox was conducted ahead of Belfast Pride. As of July 25, there have been 18 confirmed cases of monkeypox in Northern Ireland and the Public Health Agency (PHA) issued a warning ahead of the weekend events.

During the discussion, presenter Stephen Nolan interviewed PHA’s assistant director in health protection, Dr Jillian Johnston and at one point asked: “This is spread predominantly by men having sex with other men, is that right?”

After the question, Dr Johnston explained that monkeypox is transmitted through prolonged skin-to-skin contact, which can occur during sexual activity or kissing, or through bed sheets or towels.

However, Nolan was not deterred by Johnston’s clarification and went on asking: “I’m trying to understand why it is spread by men having sex with men rather than men having sex with women.” He then started asking questions about semen and orgies and added “What’s different about gay sex than straight sex?”

While it is true that the majority of cases of monkeypox were detected among gay and bisexual men who have sex with men (gbMSM), experts have repeatedly tried to stress the fact that the virus does not discriminate and that anyone can get it. Despite misleading media reporting on the issue, it is important to remember that monkeypox is not known to be a sexually transmitted infection (STI) and that it can instead be spread through very close contact, thus making sexual contact risky.

LGBTQ+ charity The Rainbow Project said that commentary such as what aired on The Nolan Show about monkeypox is “deeply concerning” and that the emphasis that the presenter put on gay and bisexual sexual acts, together with his comments, “were homophobic”.

“Especially when the representative from the Public Health Agency repeatedly stated that anyone with monkeypox can pass it on, regardless of sexual orientation and that this does not require sexual contact,” the charity said in a statement.

A spokesperson for BBC Northern Ireland defended the segment on monkeypox by saying that the goal of the discussion was “to help audiences understand issues around Monkeypox infections in Northern Ireland and the guidance that has been issued by the PHA.”

On the topic, The Rainbow Project said, “We need to have clear and targeted public information for the LGBTQIA+ community especially as we enter Pride season.” They also added: “We expect all our media to take an evidence-based approach to health messaging and to be aware of the stigma experienced, particularly by gay and bisexual men, in relation to targeted health messaging.”

“This can be accomplished without stigmatising the LGBTQIA+ community and misleading connections between sexual orientation and disease within our community,” they concluded.

If you wish to know more about monkeypox and the current situation in Ireland, you can consult these resources: MPOWER, Ma2Man and the HSE dedicated webpage. You can also watchk the ‘Monkeypox Outbreak – A Community Discussion’ event hosted by MPOWER in collaboration with Man2Man and GCN.

© 2022 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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