The first tweet I saw this morning began: “I don’t usually like Piers Morgan but…”
Rubbing my eyes in disbelief and bringing myself to a more comfortable vertical position, I looked again. Maybe it was a dream? But no. “Gay twitter” (the oft-coined term for the particular echo chamber I find myself in) was agog for the Morgan. It was like some messed-up parallel universe – and deeply unsettling.
The Good Morning Britain co-host was being widely praised for his takedown of Dr Mike Davidson, a notorious “gay conversion therapist” who has previously been interviewed on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme, and is involved with an organisation called the Core Issues Trust – slogan: “Challenging gender confusion; upholding science and conscience.” Davidson was interviewed this morning alongside journalist Josh Parry, who recently went undercover to do an explosive piece on a church offering “gay cures”.
It goes without saying that I find myself very much on Piers Morgan’s side in this – when it comes to “gay cure therapy”, I definitely have a lot more in common with him than Davidson. But before I join the rest of gay Twitter and begin with outpourings of unfettered support, I think it’s important to consider the context.
Piers Morgan on gender, sexism and racism
Those who spend their time tweeting are often accused of having very short memories, so let’s not forget the barely-a-week-old interview Morgan did with trans model Munroe Bergdorf, where he accused her of “playing the victim” and repeatedly spoke over her after she was fired as the face of L’Oreal. This came on the same day that he ranted against John Lewis’ decision to make their children’s clothes gender neutral, commenting that we should “let boys be boys and girls be girls”. Not exactly the woke bae we’ve all been waiting for.
But stepping away from Piers personally, it’s important to ask whether it’s editorially responsible to give someone who believes in a “gay cure” a platform on a primetime national TV show. Of course, we often see people we profoundly disagree with on TV, and in this age of ever-polarised views, perhaps it’s important that views like this are aired in public? Perhaps, after all, it’s a case of just giving Davidson “enough rope with which to hang himself”?
There was ostensibly balance on Good Morning Britain: Davidson on the one side, and Parry on the other. Nevertheless, I still disagree with the decision to put these men on the show. By allowing them onscreen representing “two sides of a debate”, it suggests that there is a debate to be had – that gay conversion therapy is one reasonable possibility open to discussion, and that opposing it is the other. But is this really a “debate” for 2017? Do those who believe in a “gay cure” not belong outside the debate, on the sidelines reserved for illogical prejudice rather than reasonable views?
Imagine being a young gay child, not out to your parents, watching television with them and seeing someone on TV saying you could be “cured”. Notions like this do untold damage to a person. Indeed it could be said that they did do damage to Davidson himself, who identifies as “ex-gay”, someone who “stopped practicing” homosexuality when he realised it was “sinful behaviour”. If that’s not sad to hear, I don’t know what is.
Piers Morgan returns to Good Morning Britain for clash with Munroe Bergdorf
Free speech is important, no buts. However, platforming someone simply to take the sting out of their poison simply doesn’t work. Consider the fact that Khuram Butt, one of the men who appeared on the Channel 4 programme The Jihadi Next Door, was later named as one of the London Bridge terrorist attackers. Media attention doesn’t cow people with objectionable views: it often emboldens them instead.
Of course it’s great that people are calling Davidson out, but what we don’t see on Twitter or in most of the liberal media are all the fundamentalist Christians – leaders, church members, parents and so on – who see Davidson’s appearance on GMB as a huge step forward for the proliferation of their incredibly damaging message. In terms of public awareness, they had a terrific win today.
What I find additionally fascinating about the whole debate is that lesbians were not mentioned or represented in any way – another reminder of the particular fascination that homophobes have with anal sex. I mean, I’m pretty obsessed with it myself, so in a way I understand – but still, it did make me wonder: can lesbians be “cured” too? Or are they simply not “dangerous” enough to pay attention to?
For as long as people like Mike Davidson are able to present their views in the context of ostensibly rational debate, the idea that their views are acceptable will continue, and the implication that homophobia is still acceptable if it is religious continues to gain sway. When Piers Morgan is being hailed as a bastion of liberal values, surely something has gone very, very wrong.