The Spar Guy incident has pointed out the rising tide of homophobia that will come in advance of the referendum, and how we need to ask our straight allies to stand up for us, says Brian Finnegan.
Yesterday I was asked to write an opinion column for The Herald about the #SparGuy incident, in which an employee of Spar refused to serve a man who called another customer a “faggot”. Because The Herald is a mainstream newspaper, read by heterosexuals in the majority (I assume), I aimed my piece at that readership, describing how casual homophobia impacts on the lives of gay and lesbian people and hypothetically turning the situation on its head by asking readers to imagine if things were the other way around, and straight people were a minority who were casually denigrated every day because of their sexual orientation.
Readers of The Outmost, who I assume are LGBT in the majority don’t need to be asked to imagine casual denigration of their sexual orientation or gender identity because they know it only too well. The SparGuy incident is only too common, and really has only made headlines because somebody who was not the victim of casual homophobia took a stand against it.
As the value of gay and lesbian people is called more and more into question in the debate leading up to next year’s equal marriage referendum, more and more people like the homophobic man in Spar will feel endorsed to give voice to their prejudices. Not only that, but more and more people who have deep seated negative feelings about gay people that they don’t fully acknowledge will find those feelings rising to the surface.
Organisations fighting against same-sex marriage will mount poster campaigns, featuring messages that overtly say gay and lesbian people should not be considered equal to straight people under the eyes of the law. These posters will be divisive and upsetting, and they will add fuel to the fires of homophobia.
That’s why we need more people like Spar Guy. We need lots of right-thinking straight people standing with us in solidarity, and refusing to allow homophobia, casual or otherwise, to go unchecked. We need allies who understand how homophobia can hurt, and what kind of damage the ‘no’ campaign will do the mental health of vulnerable people, to stand up and say they support us, that they will not tolerate the hurting of us, verbal or otherwise.
Colm, the young man who was at the centre of the Spar incident, has already received death threats on social media, and people telling him he blew things out of proportion by telling his story. But telling the world about homophobia, about how we are subject to homophobia almost every day in so many innocuous ways, is not blowing things out of proportion. It is telling the truth.
In my Herald column I asked straight readers to do a little experiment, by asking any gay or lesbian people in their acquaintance when the last time they experienced homophobia of any kind, personally directed or not. I want gay and lesbian readers of this column to do another experiment. Ask a straight friend what they think of the SparGuy incident, and ask them if they would be willing to stand up for your human dignity in the same way. They will all say ‘yes’, I assume, but in challenging their thoughts around it, you might just push them to do it in real life.
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