Gay Times never should’ve hired Josh Rivers…20 days.
That’s how long Josh Rivers lasted as editor-in-chief of Gay Times, Britain’s oldest and arguably most prestigious gay men’s magazine. Yesterday, the magazine suspended him following a Buzzfeed article which exposed bigoted and offensive tweets Rivers sent between 2011 and 2015 in which he attacked just about every marginalised group you can imagine.
“I’ve just seen a girl in the tightest white tank & lord help me if she’s not pregnant, she should be killed. #gross” reads one tweet. “I wonder if they cast that guy as the ‘The Jew’ because of that fucking ridiculously large honker of a nose,” he tweeted in 2011. “Look here, tranny. 1) you look like a crackhead 2) YOU’RE A TRANNY & 3) your wig doesn’t deserve a mention. Avert your eyes, honey,” he said in a transphobic post.
These are just the tip of the iceberg. While he did apologise, it clearly wasn’t enough. Following a public backlash, Gay Times sacked Mr Rivers today, effective immediately.
The saga of Josh Rivers begs a lot of questions. Previously Gay Times’ marketing manager, Mr Rivers was promoted to editor despite having no discernable journalistic experience. A Google search on Wednesday turned up a negligible web footprint for any journalist, let alone the editor of one of Britain’s premier lifestyle magazines.
This was part of the magazine’s “reboot,” an attempt to diversify their staff, output, and appeal beyond white gay men. Mr Rivers, who is multi-racial, was to head this reboot and make the magazine more appealing and relevant to a wider audience.
Obviously, that failed. Instead of finding a bright young writer or editor to take the magazine in this brave and laudable new direction, James Frost – the man who bought Gay Times back in March – hired a bigot with a Twitter history to rival Donald Trump’s in the breadth of communities he’s insulted.
“To every single person who is hurt, offended, and disappointed: I’m sorry,” Mr Rivers said in a tweet on Wednesday. “The tweets are horrible. They are abhorrent. They are ugly. They are so hateful. These tweets from my past show a deep self-loathing that I’ve worked hard to overcome.”
This apology did little to placate many in our community, including me. I tweeted at Mr Rivers that “I’m just curious what you’ve done that shows you’ve changed and repudiated these horrible views.” Mr Rivers never responded.
He should have. I firmly believe people deserve second chances. We’ve all had messy politics before. People grow and change as they mature. I wouldn’t want some of my opinions as a 17-year-old to be held against me at 31.
But here’s the crux of the issue. Mr Rivers wasn’t 17 when he sent these tweets. He’s my age, which means the bulk of his offensive tweets were sent when he was about 25. 2011 wasn’t 1911. He should have known better. That he didn’t shows, at best, a stunning lack of judgment and at worst a strain of hatred and bile that shouldn’t be tolerated in a locker room, let alone on Twitter and certainly not in the pages of a national magazine.
The issue is further complicated by the fact that the only way we know Mr Rivers disavows his old tweets is by his most recent tweet. He’s gone radio silent since Buzzfeed published its piece, and as I said, he has little web presence to go on. It’s hard to judge his sincerity because we don’t have a body of work to read. He’s as green as they come, which really begs the question – why was he promoted to editor in the first place? How did Mr Frost and Gay Times not know about Mr Rivers’ past? Buzzfeed found these tweets with little more than an advanced Twitter search. It’s clear nobody did their due diligence before Mr Rivers took the helm.
That’s beyond unfortunate, especially given the circumstances. Trying to diversify Gay Times – and gay media in general – is a noble goal, and many (including me) were excited that a Black and Minority Ethnic gay man was at the helm of one of our most notable publications. Gay media has for too long been dominated by fit young white men, and it’s high time that we include more voices more regularly.
For their part, Gay Times sought today to assure readers that even though Mr Rivers has been sacked, the magazine plans to continue with its rebranding. In a statement, Gay Times promised that it “will relaunch on 30 November, with what is quite possibly the most significant overhaul in its 33-year history.” Articles by Mr Rivers will be removed, but the “new-look magazine will feature submissions and significant contributions from the far reaches of our wonderful and diverse LGBTQ community.”
What this “overhaul” will look like is anyone’s guess, though. If the debacle of Mr Rivers’ hiring-and-firing shows us anything, it’s that this diversification of gay media is off to a rocky start and will be harder than perhaps initially thought. Without announcing an interim editor-in-chief, it’s unclear what the future holds for Gay Times.
Hopefully the magazine will again be helmed by a BME editor, preferably one with journalistic experience who has been thoroughly vetted before being hired. But it’s also important that all gay media, not just Gay Times, continue to bring in diverse writers, photographers, editors, and staff.I’m interested to see how Gay Times (and gay media generally) proceeds after this.
Whatever happens, though, we need to not let this set us back on our road to including move voices. Mr Rivers is one man who should never have been given the job he had, but he’s not the only gay BME writer. There are hundreds of talented young BME LGBT people ready to take his spot. Hopefully, Gay Times will hire one of them – preferably one who doesn’t have such a checkered past.
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Opinions expressed in this article may not reflect those of THEGAYUK, its management or editorial teams. If you'd like to comment or write a comment, opinion or blog piece, please click here.