BBC faces backlash for calling playwright Noël Coward ‘queer’

English actor and playwright Noël Coward

The BBC has faced backlash for describing playwright Noël  Coward as ‘queer’, with some condemning the term as a “homophobic slur”.

On Boxing Day (26 December), BBC Arts took to X/Twitter to promote a BBC2 Boxing Day documentary about Coward. 

In promoting the documentary the channel described the actor, singer and composer as being “queer” in a “very straight world”. 

Coward, whose reputation as a playwright was established with The Vortex (1924), lived an openly gay life, as reported by The Guardian.

However, the way the word queer is used and received by some people is complicated, and while many of us are proud to be queer, and have reclaimed the slur, some people are staunch in their views that ‘queer’ is offensive and struggle, or refuse, to accept it.

In January, PinkNews asked followers how they feel about the using the word ‘queer’, most supported its use personally and as an umbrella term.

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In a description of the show – Mad About the Boy: The Noel Coward Story – on BBC’s iPlayer the same wording has been used. 

The description goes on to note that “by the age of 30, he was the highest-paid writer in the world and a star on the Broadway stage.” 

Under the X/Twitter post, critics accused the BBC of using a “homophobic slur” saying Coward was a “gay man”, “not queer” while another said “a good portion of gay men find this term offensive”.  

BBC News’ style guide notes: “Originally a pejorative term… ‘queer’ has been reclaimed by some in the LGBTQ+ community. However, it is not universally accepted and has the potential to cause offence.” 

The guide adds that the term shouldn’t be used unless the subject has “already adopted it”. 

A BBC source told The Daily Mail that its style guide is specifically for news content and that the film was met with critical acclaim when it was released to cinematic and international audiences in the spring.

They added that the film was made with blessing of the Coward estate and in consultation with his official biographer.