BBC host Stephen Nolan responds to criticism after guest ‘compares homosexuality to paedophilia’

BBC host Stephen Nolan has pushed back at criticism of his show – after an interviewee branded gay couples “revolting” and appeared to compare gay couples to paedophiles.

The host of BBC Radio Ulster’s long-running Nolan Show came under fire after the shocking comments in a pre-arranged segment on Thursday (May 24).

The show aired a 23-minute panel discussion with ‘family values’ commentator Lynette Burrows, ostensibly as part of a debate on whether same-sex dance couples should be allowed on Strictly Come Dancing.

Burrows, who has previously claimed it is “a risk” to place boys in homes with gay male parents, quickly went off track in the interview.

She said: “I think [same-sex dance couples]] would be rather a revolting spectacle.

“It’s an instinctive feeling… when I was in New York, I was surprised by how revolting I found the sight of men kissing at the bar (…) men kissing is absolutely revolting.”

She went on to compare a gay couple kissing to “a man of 50 kissing a girl of 15”. When asked if she was comparing homosexuality to paedophilia, Burrows said: “One has been made illegal and the other hasn’t. That’s the difference. We have had a law imposed on us to make this accepted.”

After the segment led to criticism from LGBT rights activists, Nolan invited John O’Doherty of the Rainbow Project to discuss the issue on his Friday (May 25) show.

Nolan said: “I think there’s a really interesting conversation about free speech. There were quite a few people who were offended by those comments, and yet there were others saying, that’s how some people think.”

O’Doherty, who had complained about the segment, said: “Why was she invited onto this show? She has form, she was investigated by the police for comments she’s made in the past in relation to LGBT people [though no charges were filed].

“Did the Nolan Show know what she was going to say? Even this morning before coming on, your staff called me to ask what I was going to say.

“The interview was presented as being to do with Strictly, but actually had very little to do with Strictly.

“There was nothing positive or probative about the debate or what she had to add. How much longer do we have to keep having a debate about whether LGBT people should be seen in public, and whether or not we are disgusting?”

He added: “This is the conversation we continue to have, and yet there were much better people you could have had on for what would have been a much more interesting discussion, about whether same-sex couples should be on Strictly Come Dancing… and indeed, there are gay people who work on these shows who don’t think same-sex couples should be taking part because of the structure of ballroom dancing.

“That is an interesting conversation. Why can’t we have that conversation? Why is it always about whether or not it’s right to be gay?”

He added: “The BBC has a responsibility to bring forward the best form of the debate. I don’t see the value of bringing on someone like [Burrows] who has made outrageous comments in the past.”

Nolan said: “We were not setting up a debate about whether or not it’s right to be gay. But you live in Northern Ireland, as I do, and you know there is a proportion of the population who are still against homosexuality and do not think it is ‘natural’.

“We have had prominent politicians over many years describing the act of homosexuality as vile and disgusting and repulsive – you know all of those terms and who to attribute them to. Are they entitled to those views, or must they be shut down?”

Nolan added: “For those people in Northern Ireland who do not think it is right for two men to be kissing in public, for those people who do find it ‘disgusting’… have they got a right to say that on the BBC, or do they think that should be censored?”

O’Doherty said: “You’re misrepresenting what our issue is. The issue isn’t about the comments that were made, it was the fact the platform was provided for those comments to be made from someone who has form on making those comments, in a debate that was presented as being about same-sex couples dancing in a competition and became fundamentally about whether it is right to be gay.

“Everyone should have freedom of speech… the difference is when the decision is taken to platform someone who has form and is known to make these comments, which is what happened yesterday.”

Nolan said: “I think there’s a better discussion to be had this morning, as to how far organisations like the BBC and programmes like the Nolan Show should be going in allowing people to articulate their views.

“To deal with your point, the context is this… she was brought on to talk about Strictly, there was a story already in newspapers about whether two men should be appearing on Strictly dancing.

“Clearly part of that conversation are those people who feel two men should not be allowed on because of the suggestion… that they don’t like to see two men together doing that.”

Nolan added: “There were a considerable number of calls from around Northern Ireland supporting her. She was reflecting a view that did solicit support from people in Northern Ireland.

“Then you get into a very interesting conversation about how many people in Northern Ireland do agree with those views.”