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Posted by on Jul 25, 2013 in Ireland | 3 comments

So What if Forbes Called the Irish President Gay?

Forbes magazine recently published an online article where it said that the Irish President, Michael D. Higgins, was an “acknowledged homosexual”. President Higgins is, in fact, married with four children. However, the error, albeit a rather silly error, isn’t the most surprising aspect. How the media and many individuals have reacted to the error has been truly baffling. Many have reacted as if the error of being labeled a homosexual was slanderous or defamatory, as if some great injury had been inflicted upon the President’s character. The error and its subsequent apology featured in many international papers and even featured on the front page of the Irish Independent.

It is clearly the nature of the error rather than the fact it was an error which made it international news. I could not imagine the media reacting in the same manner if Forbes reported that he had three children instead of four, born in Dublin instead of Limerick, had been a member of Fianna Fail instead of the Labour Party. None of these would have elicited such a reaction; in fact, Forbes could have reported that the President was a 6’3″, dark-haired, baritone and this error would still not have garnered as much traction as the simple error of being called a homosexual.

Some of the language being used is also quite worrying. Many media outlets reporting that Forbes were making a “claim”, as if accidentally calling somebody a homosexual was something accusatory or insulting. The Irish Independent said the claim was of an “extraordinary nature”. What is so extraordinary about confusing somebody’s sexual orientation, I do not know. The author of the article labeled the error as a “terrible mistake” and the “worst mistake of his career”. Forbes have issued an apology and have sent an apology to President Higgins. Personally, I had not realised that calling somebody a homosexual was such a terrible thing to do that required apologies from both the author and the magazine.

I am at a loss as to why the media have reacted in such a manner to such a simple  error. This mistake doesn’t warrant more media attention than the puerile “Star Facts” that litter the pages of the Daily Star. Yet it has appeared on several national and international publications. All acting as if Forbes printed a grievous slight upon the character of the President. I doubt such a reaction was conscious, it could have simply been social conditioning to behave as if being called a homosexual is an insult. But I expected more from our media to not debase themselves by lowering to such sensationalist nonsense and act as if somehow our sexual orientations are a big deal, and being called the wrong orientation is newsworthy. But it only flows one way, I can’t remember the last time the mislabeling of a homosexual as a heterosexual made international news nor do I think it ever would. Being called a homosexual is clearly still seen as derogatory by some when it clearly should not be. And the media are implicit in the perpetuation of such thinking by sensationalising the simple confusion of the President’s sexual orientation.

I hope one day that somebody’s sexual orientation will no longer be an issue, no more than what hand somebody writes with.

  • Matthew

    Obviously it has been blown out of proportion by the media but it is still a bad mistake. The man is married with four kids so it paints him as living a false lifestyle. Also I have seen some Irish commenters discussing the article bringing up anecdotes about him making sexual advances against men, adding to the speculation and making him seem very dishonest. (Not that that’s directly the writer’s fault) I also thought his apology was over the top.

  • Rory McCann

    I totally agree with what you say about how being called a homosexual should not be a big deal, and the fact that it is treated as a big deal shows homophobia.

    But (a) you say “he’s married with 4 kids”, which implies that gay people can’t get married, or have children and (b) I can see why a journalist would claim it was a big mistake for them, since it shows how they completly didn’t do the basics of fact checking.

  • f_galton