Radio host Stephen Nolan. (Facebook/ Stephen Nolan)
The BBC has defended a monkeypox segment in an episode of Stephen Nolan’s The Nolan Show that was condemned as “homophobic”.
The segment aired on Wednesday (27 July) on BBC Radio Ulster in Northern Ireland ahead of Belfast Pride. It discussed the monkeypox outbreak in Northern Ireland, which has seen 18 confirmed cases as of 25 July.
Nolan interviewed Dr Jillian Johnston, interim assistant director in health protection at Northern Ireland’s Public Health Agency (PHA).
At one point, Nolan asked: “This is spread predominantly by men having sex with other men, is that right?”
Johnston clarified that monkeypox is spread by direct skin-to-skin contact, including kissing and sexual activity, and also via bed sheets or towels or an infected person coughing or sneezing.
Nolan pressed on: “I’m trying to understand why it is spread by men having sex with men rather than men having sex with women.”
He began asking questions about semen and orgies, asking: “What’s different about gay sex than straight sex?”
Experts have made clear that monkeypox doesn’t discriminate, and that anybody can acquire the virus.
The outbreak was first detected among queer men in London, and the UK government has said that monkeypox is being spread through sexual networks, which is why the demographic remains the most impacted.
There is no evidence of orgies contributing to the spread on monkeypox, despite attempts by anti-LGBTQ+ voices to suggest this is the case.
LGBTQ+ charity he Rainbow Project hit out at the Nolan Show segment, saying that the “blatant emphasis on gay or bi male sexual acts, questions and comments focused on sexual activity were homophobic”.
“Especially when the representative from the Public Health Agency repeatedly stated that anyone with monkeypox can pass it on, regardless of sexual orientation and that this does not require sexual contact,” a statement added.
“We need to have clear and targeted public information for the LGBTQIA+ community especially as we enter Pride season.
“We expect all our media to take an evidence-based approach to health messaging and to be aware of the stigma experienced, particularly by gay and bisexual men, in relation to targeted health messaging.”
We are particularly concerned by questions and discourse on this morning’s Stephen Nolan show. We feel this segment and many of the articles and wider public commentary are causing further stigmatism toward gay and bisexual men and the wider LGBTQIA+ Community.
— The Rainbow Project (@TRPNI) July 27, 2022
But BBC Northern Ireland has defended the segment, and told the Belfast Telegraph that it aimed “to help audiences understand issues around monkeypox infections in Northern Ireland and the guidance that has been issued by the PHA”.
It continued: “We heard several times about how transmission can occur and that it isn’t exclusively linked to sexual activity.
“And we referred also to the need to avoid stigmatising people and behaviours.
“We know that this is an important subject, with relevance for everyone.”