The Changing Representation of Gay Politicians in the UK Press

Smith, Donna Louise (2009). The Changing Representation of Gay Politicians in the UK Press. PhD thesis The Open University.



The changing representation of gay politicians in UK newspapers is an area which is underrepresented in political and media studies. It is an important subject because press representation of gay politicians has personal and public consequences; not only can the ‘politicians concerned have their political and personal lives negatively affected, democracy can be compromised. Indeed, gay politicians may be less inclined to speak out on gay issues and free expression may be constrained.

The thesis demonstrates:

1. How gay MPs in the UK are represented in newspapers

2. How representation has changed

3. An overarching frame of representation.

Newspaper articles are analysed and politicians and campaigners interviewed. A literature/historical review contextualises analysis, taking into account socio-political factors.

The thesis demonstrates that the press representation of gay politicians is governed by three interconnected frames:

1. The move towards recognition

According to the premise of ‘recognition,’ marginalised groups are entitled to equal rights and respect, rather than a grudging tolerance, alongside recognition of their particularity. This thesis suggests society has moved from intolerance, to tolerance, to partial recognition of homosexuality; this process has been a halting one, although it is generally unidirectional.

2. Acceptability over time (in relation to heterosexual public space)

Sexuality/sexual acts can be rated in terms of public acceptability (as in the acceptance of society) and heterosexual public space. Generally, public homosexuality has become more acceptable over the last fifty years (again, this has been a halting process), although still has some way to go to reach full acceptability.

3. Mediated personas as ‘constructed reality’

Gay politicians are represented in the media through the use of binary themes; using these themes, their personas (gradients of negative and positive) are created by and mediated through newspapers.

The third frame helps to maintain negative and stereotypical representations of gay politicians.

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