Wednesday, February 23, 2011

With 'gay' being a commonly heard word in schools, it's been something of an anomaly for it to be so infrequently heard on children's TV. But that's been the reality over the past few years, and CBBC's de facto policy undoubtedly bolsters heteronormativity and the concomitant belief that being gay is not a good thing.

Ballet Boys, in the 'My Life' series of documentaries, made a welcome change as it challenged stereotypes and broached the issue of sexual orientation in an honest, responsible and open-minded way such as used to be the norm on BBC children's TV.

The documentary focussed on three brothers from Liverpool who are all passionate about dancing and want to become professional ballet dancers. The eldest is Jamie (13), then Michael (11) and the youngest Adam (9)

The brothers have had to be strong in the face of taunts and bullying. Michael, we were told, has struggled the most with people who think that ballet is something that's not very manly. He needed to decide whether he could ignore the bullies and try and win a place at Elmhurst with his older brother.

Michael: Boys what do football call us gay, but then they say it's not gay for girls to do football, which it isn't. But then it's gay for boys to do a more girlish type sport. I mean more girls do it than boys, not it's more girlish cos you've got to be dead strong.

Narrator: In Michael's school dance largely means street dance, not ballet.

Michael: I feel like saying well dance is dance. It doesn't matter what shape or form. It's like pasta can come with tuna or tomato - it's still pasta. Toast - butter, no butter; dark, not dark - it's still toast. A boy, whether he's gay or not gay, he is still a boy.

Jamie also had something to say about the taunts.

Jamie: I did say to my mate, I said, "if you can give me one good reason, what's wrong with doing ballet?" He goes, "Yeah, cos it's gay," and that's all he could say. And I was just like, "personally, obviously, I don't think it's gay." I said "it's nothing wrong being gay." I said, "apart from that, do you know - just think about it - apart from that, one good reason?" And he couldn't think of one thing. So actually if the worst thing someone could say about us is "Ah you do ballet," then that's saying quite a lot of good things about us in a way.

Ballet Boys is a definite step in the right direction. But is a boy, who's perhaps hiding his sexual orientation from his parents and friends, likely to watch a programme about ballet? He might well prefer to be seen watching a programme about football. And that's why CBBC's continuing failure to tackle homophobia in sports is so wrong, and why the failure to report on the Justin Campaign on Saturday's MOTD Kickabout was an unforgivable omission.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Yesterday was Football v Homophobia Day. But not unexpectedly the Justin Campaign didn't even get a mention on CBBC's MOTD Kickabout, or for that matter on BBC1's Football Focus.

Justin Fashanu was a black player, but against the odds and despite racist attitudes in the sport at the time he managed to rise to the top of his profession to become the first British footballer to transfer for £1 million. Racism is far less common in football now than it was 20 years ago, but the same is not true of homophobia - the prejudice which led to his downfall. Saturday would have been Justin's 50th birthday.

We were told, before its launch, that MOTD Kickabout would focus on all things footie. On 29 January the programme highlighted sexist attitudes in the sport. So why did CBBC pass up a perfect chance yesterday to highlight homophobia? They could have easily found time if they wanted to. This is just the latest in a long list of lost opportunities.

As noted several times previously on Newsround Blog, the BBC encourages yobbish attitudes. On Friday's Newsround and repeated on yesterday's MOTD Kickabout -

Boy: ManUnited fans you'd better watch out. You get less cocky, because we're gonna crush you into the ground like a piece of dirt!

There are, however, a few positive signs on BBC children's TV. Ballet Boys, which was shown on Saturday (BBC2 at 11.15am) broke CBBC's long-standing practice regarding use of the 'g' word. More about this in a future blog.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Is the Government doing enough to combat homophobic bullying?

In June last year the Prime Minister said "... we'll never really tackle homophobic bullying in schools, we'll never tackle homophobic issues in the workplace just by passing laws. It's culture change and behavioural change that is needed as well ..."

But yesterday Mr Cameron seemed to suggest, when trying to cut welfare benefits, that legislation is a means to achieve cultural change.

David Cameron: I want to make something clear. The [Welfare Reform] Bill is not an exercise in accounting. It is about changing our culture ...

So perhaps the Government ought to do more in terms of legislating to help bring about a change in homophobic attitudes. Certainly faster movement towards equality would help.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

'Should homosexuals face execution?' might sound like a debate on Radio Uganda, but regrettably it was in fact a question posed by our very own BBC in December 2009. Rather than simply issue a fulsome and unreserved apology, the BBC has sought to compensate for the insult in other ways.

Last night's BBC Three documentary: World's Worst Place to be Gay? was presented by Scott Mills, who began the film showing what he does best: DJing in clubs. Scott claimed that being gay simply wasn't an issue in most places where he works.

Scott: So, I'm gay. Big deal you might think. And in this country it really isn't.

Maybe Scott ought to question why 'gay' is now such a rarely heard word on BBC children's TV.

Scott: Although things still aren't perfect, we've come a long way.

In fact BBC children's TV has gone backwards in terms of lesbian and gay representation. Scott and other BBC employees might want to make enquiries as to why this has happened.

Scott: In other parts of the world homosexuals are still hated and discriminated against. A wave of intense homophobia is washing across Africa, where homosexuality is already illegal in 37 countries. It's being fuelled by fundamentalist preachers, intolerant governments and homophobic politicians...

Scott Mills' first impression on arriving in Uganda was that it's a really cool and friendly place. But he soon found out from talking to the population that there was a real hatred of gay people, with some saying homosexuals should be killed. As a result LGB people are disowned by their families and made to live secretly in a slum ghetto.

After undergoing a bizarre ceremony intended to 'cure' his homosexuality Scott decided to find out the views of young Ugandans.

Scott: In western countries it was the young who led the fight against homophobia. So is that where the hope lies in Uganda?

It turned out that the high school kids he spoke to had similar views to the rest of the population, which left Scott rather disheartened.

Scott: It seemed to me that young kids think like this because as soon as they're old enough to learn they're fed an unending diet of anti-gay propaganda.

World's Worst Place to be Gay? on iPlayer till 21 February 2011

Monday, February 07, 2011

Takeover is the theme of CBBC programmes for this half-term. Presumably the channel will be running repeats of programmes like Gimme a Break, Remote Control Star and Project Parent. Of course kids aren't really in charge - it's just a pretence that they are.

Pretence isn't just limited to programme making, it's also a problem on the Internet as Daniel Roche, of Outnumbered and Just William fame found out.

Newsround 5pm this evening -

Ore: Last year some of his mates thought they were chatting to him on Facebook. It turned out they were talking to a complete stranger - someone pretending to be him online.

Leah: Things got serious when the impostor tried to arrange to meet one of Daniel's friends. Now with Safer Internet Day taking place this week, Daniel wanted to tell us his story.

Ricky Eleven-year-old Daniel. Famous for playing cheeky Ben in Outnumbered. He's never signed up to Facebook - he knows you have to be 13 or over to have an account. So imagine how surprised he was when his friends said they found him online. It turned out to be a fake Facebook page created by a stranger.

Daniel: They mentioned if I had a Facebook account and I said 'no.' They said 'oh' and they showed it to me and mum and we were a bit bewildered and we kind of looked at it a bit and we researched it and he was pretending to be me.

Ricky: The Facebook impostor contacted some of Daniel's schoolfriends, and even tried to arrange a meeting with one girl.

Those lucky enough to have a very good Internet connection can watch the full report here. Last year's Newsround Special about keeping safe on the Internet: Caught in the Web is available here, and is being repeated at 4.55pm tomorrow on BBC One.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

What is it about the BBC that prompts them to seek out an anti-diversity view nearly every time an LGBT-related story makes the news? It doesn't matter who, as long as they've a contrary opinion, the BBC will use them to 'balance' the report.

Remember that report about Elton John's new baby? Former Newsround presenter, Lizo Mzimba told viewers that "not everyone is pleased" about it and then, to prove his point, we saw extracts from an interview with Stephen Green, in which Mr Green suggested that gay people treat babies as designer accessories. Green said that "to deprive a baby of a mother" is like an act of pure selfishness.

Anyone who saw that news item on 28th December 2010 would have noticed that the interview was captioned with Stephen Green's name, and below that his organisation "Christian Voice." Without knowing any background about his 'Christian' organisation, viewers might have assumed Green is representative of traditional Christian family values. However thanks to some good investigative journalism on the part of the generally homophobic Daily Mail, the truth about Stephen Green is out. In view of which I suspect Mr Green is unlikely to be invited by the BBC to proffer an opinion again. Perhaps friend and soulmate Melanie Phillips will offer him a shoulder to cry on.

Can't the BBC learn a lesson? Let's hope Newsround covers LGBT History Month, which begins today, and without the usual BBC "balance."

Balance? Will CBBC ever get it: LGBT History Month is an attempt to put right the heteronormative indoctrination all kids receive from Day 1 of their lives. Or as Melanie Phillips tendentiously put it recently: the ruthless campaign by the gay rights lobby to destroy the very ­concept of normal sexual behaviour.