LGBT rights campaigner Peter Tatchell says the “trashing” of Phillip Schofield over his secret affair with a younger male colleague has “more than a whiff of homophobia”.
The former Labour politician said the pair’s relationship had been “cast as sordid and abusive” and that such outrage was not caused by other high-profile heterosexual relationships.
In an interview with The Sun, published on Thursday, Schofield suggested that part of the backlash against him was due to homophobia.
The former ITV presenter, 61, said attraction was “no different in the gay world as it is in the heterosexual world” but reiterated he had not “groomed” the man.
In a statement shared with the PA news agency, Tatchell said the fallout was a “rank double standard”.
“The trashing of Philip Schofield has more than a whiff of homophobia. Anti-gay prejudice is explicit on social media and implicit in much of the national media,” he said.
“The age gap between Schofield and the young man is cast as sordid and abusive.”
Schofield told The Sun that he and his former lover had met when the man was 15 and he was “maybe” in his mid-50s, but added that the affair began after the man started working at ITV and had been “consensual”.
Lawyers representing Schofield and the man have confirmed these accounts.
“There was never such a massive hue and cry over relationships with much younger women by Leonardo Di Caprio, Al Pacino and Peter Stringfellow,” Tatchell said.
He also pointed out the 23-year age-difference between former prime minister Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie Symonds, adding: “there was no fuss over their relationship or accusations that Johnson had abused his power position”.
“It’s rank double standards about Schofield’s same-sex relationship.”
In his statement Tatchell said that Schofield’s partner “was not a child” when they had begun their relationship and the man had made no complaint against him.
“Schofield has not committed a crime. He lied to his employer and work colleagues and that is wrong but it is not a criminal offence,” he said.
“It is a matter between Schofield and his fellow employees and bosses at ITV. It’s nobody else’s business.”
Tatchell’s words echo those of actor Rupert Everett, who said coverage of Schofield’s affair was “homophobic” and “outrageous” and should be “dropped” by the media.
Everett is voicing a new documentary on playwright, actor and director Noel Coward, who was a closeted homosexual at a time when it was illegal to be gay.
Speaking to Channel 4 about the fallout from Schofield’s affair, Everett said: “What’s he done? He’s married and has had an affair with someone that’s legal to have an affair with.
“Unless there’s something else that we haven’t heard about they should drop it.
“It’s outrageous, this kind of Puritan fascism that’s going on. If it’s just about him having an affair and lying to his agency – why can’t you lie to your agent?”
Everett said the affair was not the business of anyone but Schofield, not even his former This Morning sofa-mate Holly Willoughby.