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?