28 September 2007

The MP's son, Bebo, and homophobic abuse - Part 3

> LAWS179: "The MP's son, Bebo, and homophobic abuse" > LAWS179: "The MP's son, Bebo, and homophobic abuse - Part 2" Further thoughts on this issue (again, taken from conversations elsewhere): I think [online discussions elsewhere] disclose the most newsworthy story of all. And it's not particularly related to the identify of the youth or his father (although, as I've said elsewhere, I think the implicit condonation of the postings by his father and the leader of the political party – that is, their refusal to condemn the language and behaviour – is extremely newsworthy and should be pursued further, as Nicole Moreham suggests [in comments posted earlier on this blog]). Rather, it's the attitude of the community to this type of language by youth. As many folk have noted, terms such as "gay", "f*ggot", "queer", are being used by youth routinely, but largely as terms synonymous with terms like "lame" or "stupid" or "undesirable". According to some of the views expressed on the incident, that's fine according to many people. It's part of the expression of growing up; "rugged" but not inappropriate. Not only does this view appear prevalent amongst the public, it has also crept into the broadcasting standards rulings: (a) the rejection of complaint by our BSA about a comment that "playing the recorder was “gay"": http://www.bsa.govt.nz/decisions/2006/2006-069.htm; and (b) the rejection by the BBC Governors of complaint about the use of the term "gay" – meaning "rubbish" – by Chris Moyles; http://www.bbcgovernorsarchive.co.uk/docs/complaints/apps_janmar2006.pdf). As someone who is gay myself – and someone who is aware of the grave effect this language has on gay and lesbian youth – I find this attitude extraordinary. Notably, I think, the response suggests a double-standard. I doubt the response would be the same if other terms were used as substitutes for lame or stupid. "Emos are n*ggers." "That rugby team is a bunch of wogs." "The school dance was coon." "Johnny is a sl*t or a slapper." "Bill was a tight as a Jew.". It's interesting to note how high these words rank on the BSA's 2005 study on unacceptable words in its "Freedoms and Fetters" report (http://www.bsa.govt.nz/pdfs/bsa-freedomsandfetters.pdf). No doubt, similar arguments have been made in the past about how the use of these words was not intended to denigrate the minority and other groups – but these arguments have rightly been rejected. Why is it different for pejorative language about gay people? Given the present media outrage about various incidents of "internet bullying" and the like, I'm particularly surprised that the media haven't been more interested in this angle. And, of course, also the point mentioned earlier: the question of whether leaders of our political parties think this type of behaviour is appropriate (regardless of whether it arises within their family or otherwise). To be fair to GayNZ.com too, it is in this context that the story arises, although undoubtedly it only became so newsworthy because of the political connection. They have been running stories on these issues for some time including, for example, an article today on the connections between bullying of gay and lesbian youth and suicide rates ("Direct link between GLBT bullying & suicide" http://www.gaynz.com/articles/publish/3/article_5007.php). Is homophobic language now so mainstream that no-one cares?

1 comment:

Andrew Doherty said...

Much as I hate to disagree with you but when you say

"No doubt, similar arguments have been made in the past about how the use of these words was not intended to denigrate the minority and other groups – but these arguments have rightly been rejected."

are you sure that, when it comes to the language used by teenagers in the school grounds, such arguments are in fact rejected. If so I believe this is a very recent development.

At my high school in the late eighties and early nineties the noun "jew" meaning "bludger" and the verb "to jew" meaning "to bludge" were ubiquitous. I don't recall any effort on the part of teachers to limit or even discuss this very offensive language.

I suspect that exactly these arguments were, and perhaps still are, used to defend this approach, or rather lack of approach.
I get the impression that such usages are regarded by most, including by many teachers, as "rugged" but not ultimately of great concern. I also have the impression that many would regard attempting to prevent the use of this kind of offensive language by teenagers as being about as likely to succeed as King Cnut's efforts to turn back the tide. I see Bebo as an extension of the school playground in this respect and I tend to think a majority of New Zealander's would have an attitude very similar to John Key's about this kind of language in both environments regardless of which minority group is the target. I hope I am wrong and I'd be interested in any evidence you have to the contrary. Certainly, I am very sceptical that gays find themselves in a worse position than other minority groups in this respect.

Now it IS strange that the use of the word "gay" meaning "lame" is largely acceptable in ADULT conversation when the analogous usages for other minorities are typically not. Some of my best (straight) friends use the word this way and I'll admit I think it is funny when they do although I can't entirely defend it. I tend to see the BSA rulings you refer to as reflecting this odd double standard.

Course Outline

Lord Justice Lawton in Maxwell v Department of Trade and Industry [1974] 2 All ER 122 said:

"From time to time ... lawyers and judges have tried to define what constitutes fairness. Like defining an elephant, it is not easy to do, although fairness in practice has the elephantine quality of being easy to recognise. As a result of these efforts a word in common usage has acquired the trappings of legalism: 'acting fairly' has become 'acting in accordance with the rules of natural justice', and on occasion has been dressed up with Latin tags. This phrase in my opinion serves no useful purpose and in recent years it has encouraged lawyers to try to put those who hold inquiries into legal straitjackets.... For the purposes of my judgment I intend to ask myself this simple question: did the [decision-maker] act fairly towards the plaintiff?"


This course examines the elephantine concept of fairness in the law, along with other contemporary legal issues.

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