Are We Jumping The Gun On Homophobic Tweets?

Owens Nigel

The police crack-down on Edryd James for his homophobic tweet to gay rugby referee Nigel Owens won’t serve LGBTs in the long-run, says Rob Buchanan.


Police in the UK are investigating a homophobic tweet sent to the Welsh gay rugby referee, Nigel Owens (pictured above). The response from rugby fans was huge and immediate, with thousands supporting Owens and condemning the tweet, which referred to England’s win over France, which brought them in second from the top in the Six Nations, with Ireland winning the championship.

The tweet said: “Your a gay fuck awful performance against fance tonight, how did england top Wales”. It was sent from the twitter account of a Welsh man named Edryd James. Nigel Owens responded to it with ‘You want me to report this homophobic tweet do you?’

After a flurry of frenzied tweets from people both inside the world of professional rugby and further afield, Edryd James’s apologised and claimed his phone had been stolen before the message was sent. At this stage South Wales Police had independently become aware of the issue as it began to trend on twitter.

Sadly this is not the first time that Owens has been on the receiving end of homophobic abuse. So-called ‘fans’ have been banned from attending matches for up to two years after shouting anti-gay slurs during play. And despite its reputation for having less violent behaviour at matches than football, rugby is not immune to homophobia at the highest levels. Rugby union player, David Pocock recently complained about fellow players on the pitch using homophobic language.

The UK takes a notoriously hard line on Twitter abuse, be it due to race, sexual orientation or religion. If found guilty, Edryd James’s may find himself in very hot water indeed.

The website keeps a daily tracker of the use of phrases like words “faggot,” “so gay,” “no homo,” and “dyke” on Twitter. Naturally the algorithms aren’t quite able to distinguish between a tweet from an LGBT advocate using the vocabulary in a positive way or some knuckle-dragging bigot with a room-temperature IQ. It generally makes for depressing reading, but still it’s useful data. As I write this article, for example there are 4,923 uses of the word “faggot” on Twitter, 2,030 of “so gay”, 2,243 of “no homo”, and 1,211 of “dyke”.  The tweets themselves give fascinating insight in to the varied and often infuriating contexts that they are being used.

But Twitter is a funny medium. Impersonal and spontaneous, it’s highly restrictive word-count can lead to poor judgement and the illusion of consequence-free commentary. Tweeters therefore often sacrifice context for a shocking soundbyte.

In my Twitter feed I’ve had my parentage questioned, the presence of my testicles speculated upon, and even the suggestion that I may be a Satan-worshiping lizard. However it would never cross my mind to report someone on a one-off insult. My first response is always a humorous comeback, or I try to kill with kindness.

I wonder whether the current UK laws might be a bit heavy-handed for a single foolish tweet? The growing feeling in the Twittersphere may be that gays have become sacred cows and are receiving a disproportionate amount of protection. It can make even the most liberal person bitter and antagonistic and it sets up a false divide between LGBTs and straight people.

We need understanding, not resentment. We also need to avoid crying wolf, when far more severe forms of discrimination and intimidation require our attention, both on social media and in everyday life. I would be the first in line to advocate heavy sentences for serial abusers, especially for those threatening or inciting violence on Twitter, but is coming down like a legal ton of bricks on someone for a single tweet saying “you gay fuck” really sending out the message we want?

© 2015 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

0 comments. Please sign in to comment.