Owen Jones: I felt ashamed for flinching at Alan Carr’s charity fairy advert

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Journalist and columnist Owen Jones says he flinched when he saw Alan Carr’s advert for animal charity PETA, but then realised he felt ashamed for having done so.

The controversial campaign, unveiled last week, divided opinion in the LGBT community.

Carr was depicted as a fairy with the slogan: “Be a little fairy for animals”.

The Chatty Man presenter reacted furiously to suggestions that the ad showed gay men in a stereotyped light.

Writing for Guardian.co.uk, Jones said: “I flinched when Alan Carr’s new ad for animal rights campaigners PETA made its debut on social media. There he was, smiling cheekily as he posed with a set of pink wings and a pink wand, beneath luminous pink text inviting us to ‘be a little fairy for animals’. Yuck, I thought to myself: that’ll really help along the stereotype of gay men as a bunch of mincing court jesters.

“When the inevitable Twitter backlash came, I quietly empathised with it. ‘Anyone find the PETA ad campaign really fucking offensive?’ tweeted one infuriated gay man. ‘Basically: gay men = fairies.’ But then Carr faced his detractors down with aplomb: ‘The most homophobia I get is from gays,’ he tweeted back, completing his riposte with a dig at their alleged ‘self-loathing’. And then I felt quietly ashamed to have flinched in the first place. Carr’s defiant response forced me to examine prejudices I share with all too many other gay men.”

Jones continued: “This is how I could have justified my instinctive flinch. When gay people appear on TV, it is invariably as one-dimensional, caricatured camp clowns, a kind of gay minstrel show. But Carr has never claimed to be emblematic of gay men.

“Of course we should see a wider spectrum of gay men – including, say, the beer-swilling, football-obsessed lad alongside the body-pumping Kylie-loving scene queen – but why does that mean discriminating against a funny comedian because he’s outrageously camp?”

He added: Gay men have a big problem with camp. Gay dating websites abound with profiles specifying ‘straight-acting men only’. Despite the widespread myth that campness is affected – that it’s all for show – most gay men think camp is deeply unsexy. Graham Norton – another screamingly camp comedian – has said that campness is ‘a much harder thing to accept than being gay’, because it ‘comes with judgment all round’.

“This anti-camp hostility partly comes from a desire to conform to traditional gender roles, which gay men have already subverted whether they want to or not. But Carr has a point: some anti-camp bashing is driven by the homophobia of gay men.”