Last week’s incident in a Dublin Spar shop should inspire business owners across Ireland to refuse service to people who use homophobic abuse, says Christine Allen.
“Look at those dykes!”
It was a Sunday afternoon when I overheard the above being uttered by a fellow shopper in a well-known retail store. The young girl was referring to my friend and I. Having driven to the store on a moped, we were carrying bike helmets.
A nearby shop assistant, who had definitely heard the comment, continued mutely folding underwear. Despite the threatening tone of the customer’s observation, she barely looked up from what she was doing.
While my friend laughed the girls comments off, I felt quite self-conscious for the remainder of the time we spent in the shop. I found myself glancing in full-length mirrors, not only questioning whether myself and my pal looked ‘super gay’ in our checked shirts and leather jackets, but also keeping an eye out for the teen who had referred to us in such a homophobic and derogatory manner.
Even after we left the shop, I was still feeling a little bit anxious about our safety. The girl had been with a gang, and they were by no means children. Thankfully, nothing further occurred.
Last week, when I first heard about the incident in a Baggot Street Spar, in which a customer who referred to another as a “faggot” was refused service by a cashier, it brought back some memories of the discomfort that I felt that day. It felt like justice had finally been served for the many LGBT individuals who have been on the receiving end of homophobic comments from people who believe they are untouchable in this respect. Someone was no longer willing to look the other way.
Yet, when I recalled my own experience, it put further into context not only how prevalent such homophobic attitudes are within our society, but how the majority of staff in businesses are still willing to stay silent when witnessing to such bigotry. The fact that the actions of the Spar cashier subsequently received such widespread media attention reveals the rarity of such stands against homophobia in everyday life.
In 2010, at the height of the global recession, a Gaydar Spending and Lifestyle Survey reported that nearly half (47.8%) of their 1,800 UK-based respondents claimed that the credit crunch was nowhere on their financial radar. Some 81% owned credit cards (up from 74% in 2009) and held an average of 3.12 cards each, while spending on average £482 a month.
The report also found that gay and lesbian consumers were not using their cards just to keep financially afloat. Some 51.6% were still spending on holidays, 47.5% on clothes and 62.3% on Internet shopping (excluding groceries).
Although these figures were for the UK, it is likely that Ireland’s gays weren’t to far behind. You only have to look at how Dublin’s gay scene continued to thrive throughout the recession to get a flavour of how differently the gay community was affected by the recession here.
Since many businesses are willing to rely on the ‘pink pound’ to remain solvent when times are tough, surely it is only fair that they in turn stand behind their LGBT customers? Couldn’t a zero tolerance policy in regard to homophobic comments being expressed on their premises be implemented?
A business has the right to refuse service to someone they deem to be causing offence towards other customers. In the aftermath of the incident Spar Ireland tweeted in support of their cashier, saying they “believe in respect for all people”. I would hope that many businesses follow suit, and show respect for all people by encouraging their employees to stand up against verbal discrimination of any kind.
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