Telegraph columnist Cristina Odone: Banning ‘gay’ as an insult would be like banning ‘chav’

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

The former editor of The Catholic Herald, Cristina Odone, has criticised the Education Secretary for stating that it’s wrong to use the word “gay” as an insult and has suggested it would be like censoring the word “chav”.

On Friday, Education Secretary Michael Gove said more needed to be done by schools and government to end the use of homophobic language in playgrounds.

“It’s utterly outrageous and medieval to think that to use the word gay as an insult is somehow acceptable,” Mr Gove told Stonewall’s Education for All conference in London. “If it’s Chris Moyles or anyone, they should be called out.”

Moyles, the DJ who previously hosted BBC Radio 1’s Breakfast Show, was accused of homophobia in 2006 after describing a phone ring tone as “gay”.

But writing in her Telegraph blog, Cristina Odone suggested banning the word “gay” as an insult would be akin to censoring the word “chav”.

“I wonder what [Michael Gove would] have done at the fabulous wedding we attended, last Saturday. A young guest in morning suit used his iPhone to snap a friend in similar attire. He peered at the result: ‘Oooooooh you look sooooooo gay!’ The word, clearly, was interchangeable with ‘naff’ and ‘chav’: but henceforth, if Mr Gove gets his way, would it land the boy on a sinister register of ‘hate speakers’ – disqualifying him as an applicant for just about any job?”

Odone then cited the case of Tony Miano, a US preacher who was arrested in Wimbledon, south-west London last week  under Section 5 of the Public Order Act for for staging a protest against homosexuality.

The preacher was subsequently released without charge.

Odone added: “Homophobia deserves to be condemned. But muzzling freedom of speech is the wrong way about it. When the government decided last January to drop Section 5 of the Public Order Act, which criminalised ‘insulting language’, the move was hailed rightly as a victory for free speech. But if Mr Gove now says that he supports free expression only if it doesn’t offend gays, he undermines the gains made in ditching Section 5.”

Cristina Odone is known for being a staunch opponent of marriage rights for same-sex couples.

In February 2011, she said allowing same-sex couples to marry in churches “would upset large numbers of believers”.

She wrote in her Telegraph blog: “Yes, the gay, like the divorcee, can shop around for a liberal priest or imam to perform a religious ceremony. They will no doubt find some churches available for the purpose, an organist willing to play Mendelssohn’s wedding march and a parishioner to arrange the most exquisite bouquets. But as the couple go through the motions, repeating those familiar vows and exchanging rings, everyone will be conscious that this is a facsimile of the real thing, a pantomime ceremony for the thrill of re-enacting a romantic tradition.

“For the real thing, you have to be the real thing: for a real church wedding or a real synagogue or mosque wedding, you have to be a good practising Catholic, Jew or Muslim.”