Devon LGBT group: Local paper published anti-gay hate speech

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

A Devon LGBT campaign group has condemned a Devon newspaper columnist for describing homosexuality as an “aberration”.

Proud2Be, based in Totnes, said they were “extremely saddened by the views and ‘facts’ expressed” in the South Molton News, by an anonymous columnist, known as ‘Grave Turner’.

In the column, he claimed that homosexuality is an “aberration”, and that it is “worth recalling” that homosexuality used to be criminalised.

‘Grave Turner’ also claimed social acceptance of gay people signalled the end of the British and Greek empires.

In response, Proud2Be said in a statement to “We were extremely saddened by the views and ‘facts’ expressed in this article and deeply concerned about the impact on the LGBT+ community as these views can reinforce prejudices and validate homophobia/biphobia/transphobia.

“One of the main reasons we founded Proud2Be three years ago was to combat messages like the views in this article by providing positive messages about what it is to be LGBT+. After three years of consulting with our community, we have found the majority have experienced some form of discrimination or fear of discrimination due to ignorance surrounding their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.”

Proud2Be continued: “We acknowledge the right of freedom of speech. However, we believe this freedom comes with responsibility. The responsibility to ensure that the speech does not rely on dangerous myths and controversial language. We would also argue that the published article is not an example of free speech but of hate speech.”

It added: “We are heartened by all the responses, which challenge the content of the article confirming these views are not representative of the local community at large. That the South Molton community feel strongly enough to respond directly to the newspaper and also reported the article to the local police authorities, illustrates that they do not wish to be affiliated with that writer’s views.”

Yesterday, Totnes Conservative MP Dr Sarah Wollaston described the article as “repellent”.

She told “The author doesn’t represent South Devon at all. Like many MPs I very occasionally receive similar messages warning me that I must take action or be personally responsible for the collapse of Britain. I don’t choose to print them.”

Labour MP and former Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw on Tuesday said it was “cowardly” to publish such an offensive article anonymously.

Sir Nick Harvey – the Liberal Democrat MP whose constituency includes South Molton – on Monday condemned the columnist.

He told “We can’t stop people from having these sorts of views, but they ought to be brave enough to put their name to it.”

Lib Dem St Austell and Newquay MP Stephen Gilbert also added his voice to the criticism.

The Editor of the South Molton News, Paul Henderson, defended the decision to publish the article – and to withhold the author’s identity.

He said: “It is common practice for local, regional and national papers to run columnist under a ‘non de plume’.

“The writer is of advancing years and is extremely well educated, has been known to me for close to twenty years and is not from this area.”

Mr Henderson added: “I’d like to assure you I personally do not share Grave Turner’s views in this particular article.”