SNP MP and former BBC Breakfast host, John Nicolson, sharply criticised the BBC for its attitude towards LGBTI diversity.
He claimed that the BBC’s attitude to LGBTI TV figures has changed little since openly camp stars such as Larry Grayson and John Inman were labelled by the media corporation as “waiting for the right woman to come along”, suggesting it has a heterosexist culture.
The East Dunbartonshire MP, who previously presented on BBC Breakfast, said press office staff at the corporation were “aghast” when he told them he had come out as gay in an interview with The Daily Mail.
Nicolson decided to come out publicly as gay in 2000 when a wrongly claimed he had a long-term girlfriend. In the original Daily Mail interview, he said that he did not want people to think Dale Winton was the only role model for gay men.
Speaking during a parliamentary debate on diversity in public sector broadcasting, Nicolson said LGBTI people are under represented in the media.
He said: “When I came out as gay when I was presenting BBC Breakfast on BBC 1, which I did for a number of years, I found that I was the first mainstream TV news presenter to do so.
“When I told the press office staff that I had given an interview to the Daily Mail, and that when asked about my home life I had been honest, they were aghast and told me that no BBC presenter had ever been openly gay before.
“I said: ‘Perhaps in news nobody has been openly gay before, but what about other fields?’
“They said that no one in any field had ever been openly gay. Larry Grayson and John Inman were, according to their BBC biographical notes, apparently just waiting for the right woman to come along.
“That was in the year 2000, and I am not sure that much has changed.
“Why does it matter? As (Labour’s Chi Onwurah) rightly said, the faces and voices on TV, especially in news, should reflect the society in which we live. It is all about trust.”
Nicolson also added: “The BBC Trust in Scotland reports that less than half of the people in Scotland believe that the corporation represents their life.
“That is the lowest level of trust in the BBC of any of the nations in the United Kingdom, but it is no coincidence, given the number of TV programmes that are commissioned in Scotland and the jobs in Scotland.”
The MP who is in addition the SNP’s culture, media and sport spokesman also noted Scotland is maybe the “only country in the world” where no foreign news is run on the main 6 o’clock news programme.
Nicolson’s comments, especially in relation to Inman and Grayson, point to an establishment heterosexist culture in which opposite-sex sexuality was presumed.
While Nicolson’s revelations fall short of revealing the BBC as institutionally homophobic, he does suggest that as an organisation the BBC has encouraged non-straight people to keep their sexual orientation private.
Likewise, his insistence that “not much has changed” indicates that the culture of viewing opposite-sex relationships as the norm, and implicitly as socially and morally superior, has not been sufficiently challenged in recent years
While personalities such as Graham Norton and Paul O’Grady have become more visible due to their high-profile roles within the BBC, the relative lack of visible representation of LGBTI people within the corporation raises questions not only of trust but also how committed it is to social equality and challenging historic anti-LGBTI biases.