The editor of a Devon newspaper says he stands by a column which described homosexuality as "an aberration" and claimed social acceptance of gays signalled the end of the British, Roman and Greek empires.
The South Molton News, a monthly local paper in North Devon, received four complaints and its editor Paul Henderson was questioned by police after publishing the controversial column in its September issue.
One complainant said the article was deeply upsetting and took the small town "back into the dark ages".
Pink News, the LGBT news site, discovered the article.
The columnist, who writes under the pseudonym Grave Turner, wrote that promoting homosexuality and outlawing "so-called 'homophobia'" was the "road to hell" and will lead to anarchy and the breakdown of society.
The anonymous writer reveals his disapproval of the "well-founded taboo" around gay people being overturned by human rights legislation.
The column says: "Clearly homosexuality is a naturally occurring phenomenon that is, nonetheless, an aberration. Such persons as suffer from it should-be treated with sympathy and understanding."
The column addresses the changing language used to refer to gay people, branding the word "gay" as a "harmless and pleasant little word... skillfully adopted by organized homosexuals (Stonewall and the like) as a sort of camouflage disguising what they were really about, making it seem palatable."
Grave Turner concludes: "It was not homosexuality per se that caused the collapse of the great civilising empires of Greece, Rome, Britain, et al, but rather public acceptance of it was the exclamation mark that signalled the end of empire.
"With it came the weakening of the disciplined social structures that support law and order. Slowly, but surely, anarchy will take over."
Editor Paul Henderson, who has known the columnist for 20 years, told The Huffington Post UK he didn't regret publishing the article.
"I read the article, re-read it and read it in context. I knew it was incredibly close to the mark, there’s no question about that. However, taken in context and read right the way through, I thought 'yes: I can publish that.'"
He said Grave Turner, whose real name hasn't been revealed, is a man who has written columns on subjects including immigration and politics, with a "hard-hitting" approach for the paper throughout its eight-year history.
The South Molton News received four complaints about the piece. One was made in person and three via email, which were all from a single family. The South Molton News has a circulation of around 2,100 copies per issue.
One complainant reported the newspaper to the police. Henderson was interviewed by the local police diversity unit, which he said decided not to pursue the matter further.
Henderson stressed that he didn't share Grave Turner's views: "I'm certainly not anti-gay because my nephew is gay."
"I don't share those beliefs, but some people do," he said. "I was talking to someone who said they were a Christian and said the Bible tells them [homosexuality] shouldn’t happen. It throws up an interesting moral question over tolerance and acceptance, and they are two very different things.”
Asked whether he thought the column's content could insight hatred or spread homophobic views, Henderson said: “I know my area and my readers pretty well. Having looked at the whole article, I made the decision to publish it. Subsequently, the police have come back with the same conclusion."
Henderson, who founded the paper around eight years ago, said: "Whilst it was close to the mark, did it step over? It’s very, very close, I'm not disputing that. Equally, we live in a democracy: we’re built on freedom of speech. Where do we draw the line? It’s not there to deliberately insight hated of gays, far from it.”
Henderson told The Huffington Post he had been contacted by some “fairly vitriolic” people since the column's publication.
He is publishing one of the complaint emails, and his response - which includes an apology for offending some readers - in the next issue of the paper.
Both emails can be read in full below by permission from both parties:
From: Nigel Young
Date: 16 September 2014 19:22
Subject: Re: September edition
To: South Molton News
I almost don't know where to start this email, but suffice to say that I thought South Molton had been plunged back into the dark ages, when I read 'Grave turner' article on page 14 of the current edition.
Whoever the anonymous writer is, and the fact that he/she has these views is bad enough, but the fact that you, as Editor, saw fit to publish such an article I find very disturbing. Frankly, I am appalled at the language and sentiment used about homosexuality. I always thought South Molton was an 'inclusive' town, but reading your magazine, it would appear not. Have you any idea of the upset and distress caused to various South Molton residents. Would you have printed such outrageous remarks had they been linked to those of a religious, colour, or other ethnic minority group. I don't think so. So how is it acceptable to print such words about homosexuals?
Whilst by writing this, I am 'nailing my colours to the mast' so to speak, I am also absolutely disgusted that the writer inflames matters further by linking the article to children. Homosexuals are not paedophiles, in fact you will find statistically that most paedophiles are heterosexual. The whole article is just deeply upsetting.
I would imagine that you have and will receive a number of similar complaints regarding the article's publication. I also consider the author of the article should reveal him/herself.
I look forward to your response.
From: South Molton News
Date: 17 September 2014 08:53
Subject: Re: September edition
To: Nigel Young
Thanks for your email raising your concerns over the Grave Turner article that appeared on page 14 of the September edition of the South Molton & District News.
I take on board your comments and can inform you that I have received only one other complaint over the article. Instead of raising their concerns with me directly (as requested and as you have) that complainant chose to report the article directly to Devon & Cornwall Police/Diversity in Devon. I was interviewed by the police in regard to the article at the beginning of last week and the matter as I understand, and have been informed, has been recommended as no further action required.
OK, back to your email and to answer your questions. The responsibility for what is published in the paper is ultimately my decision. Having read the submitted copy, my judgment was that the article was extremely close to the mark in respect of acceptability when taken in context in regard to the whole subject matter of the article and therefore I chose to publish.
This columnist in particular has very strong views on a number of subjects and inclusion in the paper is there to encourage debate, discussion and a viewpoint in areas that would not normally be carried in a small local paper. His column is not there to directly upset any particular individual, group, nationality or sector of the community.
You pose the question about religious, colour or other ethnic minority group being featured in the same style and the answer bluntly is yes. There are numerous comparable examples of Grave Turner columns that cover all of these subjects and also strong criticism of the UK and American establishments involvement in policy making, foreign matters and immigration.
I do take issue with your point that the article links homosexuality with paedophilia. That is simply not the case. As a father of an 8 and 12 year old, I personally on this point feel Grave Turner is 100% correct. I do not want my children exposed to sexual matters whilst they are still children and yet the 'establishment' feels they should be.
On your final point about 'revealing himself', the answer is a point blank no. It is common practice for local, regional and national papers to run columnist under a 'non de plume'. However I can inform you that the writer is of advancing years and is extremely well educated, has been known to me for close to twenty years and is not from this area.
Finally however, I am deeply sorry that you have been upset by the published article, that isn't the intention of what we do. The paper is not an extension of Paul Henderson and I regularly run articles with which I, in a personal capacity, do not agree with. It is there however to reflect the views/opinions/thoughts of the wider community across a wide range of subjects following the rules of legalality, decency and honesty. Sometimes I publish articles which with certain individuals or groups are not popular to the point where I've received threats - I quote, 'I hope you trip on the pavement, hit your head and never wake up' or informed to me by a 3rd party 2 years ago 'When I get out of here (prison), I'll find you.'
I'd like to assure you I personally do not share Grave Turner's views in this particular article. If I did, then my nephew whom I'm very close to and who is in a long-term same sex relationship with a rugby player wouldn't forgive me and neither would my own children as they care for him deeply. I am however keen to ensure that the right of reply is fully active and with your permission I'd like to publish your email in the letters section of the paper in the next edition. Could you let me know if you are happy to give your permission for this to happen and if so, would you like your name included or not.
Once again, apologies for any upset the article has caused you personally.