Former Independent editor lauds The Sun for ‘heroic’ reporting of gay former footballer

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Simon Kelner, the former editor of The Independent, says David Dinsmore, the current editor of The Sun, is a “hero” for the manner in which the paper reported Thomas Hitzlsperger’s revelation that he’s gay.

In an article titled “The Thomas Hitzlperger story is also a victory for the tabloids”, Kelner wrote on The Independent’s website: “But the biggest challenge in terms of changing perceptions may be what used to called the terraces, which are still, as anyone who goes regularly to football matches will know, a repository of racism, sexism and homophobia. And, in this respect, perhaps the biggest hero in this story is the editor of The Sun. Britain’s most popular tabloid gave Hitzlsperger unequivocal validation on its front page, calling him ‘brave’ and a ‘winner’. It was a remarkable, cheering, piece of journalism, and was a clear indication that, for all strata of society, things are changing.”

Thursday’s edition of The Sun splashed with the Thomas Hitzlsperger story on its front page, describing him as a “winner”, juxtaposed with a story about Manchester United defender Chris Smalling’s, who had gone to a fancy dress party dressed as a suicide bomber. The Sun branded him a “loser”.

Despite praise from Simon Kelner, The Sun still has a long way to go when it comes to continuous favourable coverage of the LGBT community.

In December, the paper published an article by columnist Katie Hopkins concerning Olympic diver Tom Daley. Her article was titled “others won’t dive in”, and suggested that other sportspeople will not follow Daley’s example of talking openly about same-sex relationships.

She described Daley as an “irritating twerp”, and suggested that it was his own fault that he had been bullied at school.

In the same month, Trans Media Watch (TMW) criticised The Sun for splashing on its front page the personal story of a six-year-old trans boy. 

The paper carried the headline “I’m a boy, says twin girl, 6″ – complete with a photo of the child and his identical twin sister.

The Sun should not have published this, and in particular should not have published the name of the school he attends,” TMW said to PinkNews at the time. “In addition The Sun misgenders the child throughout, which is clearly in breach of TMW’s style guide; a child who identifies as a boy is going to find being publicly referred to as a girl particularly traumatic.”

In September, The Sun described Dominic Elliott – an aide of artist David Hockney – who died following a drugs overdose in March 2013 as a “bender”, in a photo caption on its website.

In February 2012, Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes told the Leveson Inquiry that phone records obtained by the newspaper forced him to come out as bisexual in 2006.

The paper defended its decision to ask in an online poll whether gay people should be allowed to serve as cabinet ministers, following the resignation of David Laws from government in June 2010.

The Sun has a history of making false claims against those in the entertainment industry.

X Factor judge Louis Walsh reached an out of court settlement with the paper in November 2012, after it falsely accused him of carrying out a nightclub sexual assault on another man.

During the 1980s and 1990s, under then editor Kelvin Mackenzie, The Sun insinuated and spread rumours about the sexual orientation of pop stars.

Resulting in 17 libel writs in total, The Sun ran a series of false stories about Sir Elton John in 1987.

The paper also ran an unsuccessful campaign to remove Eastenders’ first gay characters from the show. It was after Colin Russell, played by Michael Cashman and Guido Smith, played by Nicholas Donovan, conducted the soap’s first same-sex kiss in 1989. The Sun used the smear “Eastbenders” to make its feelings clear.

The paper was also prone to whip up hatred towards gay people living with HIV, running the headline “STRAIGHT SEX CANNOT GIVE YOU AIDS – OFFICIAL” in November 1989.