Setting the Record Straight: A Misinterpreted Hate for the Straight

This article was written as a response to A Misguided Hate For The Straight

Whilst I do believe it’s possible that anyone can experience prejudice and discrimination based on their sexual orientation, I don’t believe that ‘heterophobia’ (an extreme and irrational fear or aversion to heterosexuality and heterosexual people) exists as a phenomenon. I dispute Sam’s premise for a number of reasons, primarily to do with his lack of consideration as to the origins of LGBT venues and his lack of acknowledgement of the privilege and power heterosexuality holds in society.

LGBT venues came about not because the LGBT community is ‘heterophobic’ or because we wanted to actively segregate ourselves from heterosexuals, but because we had to carve out our own safe spaces in society, where we could be ourselves without fear, something we were not allowed to do until recently. Section 28, which banned the promotion of homosexuality in UK schools, was only repealed in 2003. The same year, it became illegal to discriminate against lesbians, gay men and bisexuals in the workplace. These were huge milestones in our fight for equality that occurred in the past decade but we are still a long way from equality (gay men still can’t donate blood, we can’t get married, etc). The article quotes a survey conducted by Impact, reporting that 70% of people surveyed believe that bars should not cater towards clientele of any specific sexuality. Of course it would be wonderful to live in a world where no one is discriminated against due to their sexuality, but in reality we just aren’t there yet. LGBT people expressing affection for each other in mainstream ‘straight’ clubs do not go unnoticed, usually attracting unwanted attention. Whereas two women might get away with some gratuitous male attention, two men will frequently receive some form of verbal abuse, or, in the worst case scenario, assault. Whilst I’m not arguing the LGBT community should endorse and continue segregation forever, as it currently stands, we are a long way off equality, and as such, LGBT venues provide a necessary safe space.

The survey also showed that 78.6% of people (half of which were heterosexual and half non-heterosexual) thought it was wrong to refuse an LBGT person entry to a ‘straight’ venue but only 67.1% believed it was wrong to refuse a heterosexual entry to a LGBT venue. The article concludes from these findings that the 11.5% difference is due to the LGBT community being less tolerant towards their heterosexual peers, or so-called ‘heterophobia’. If the question had only been put to those who define as LGBT, then perhaps the 11.5% difference would be of more weighting. However, it was put to all participants and so I do not believe such a sweeping conclusion of ‘heterophobia’ can be drawn from this data. Turning someone away from a LGBT venue will usually be because the venue has a duty to protect its customers, as far as possible, from harm. The biggest threat LGBT customers face is homophobia from other customers, and sadly they are most likely heterosexual. Turning someone away is not necessarily a form of discrimination or ‘heterophobia’ but simply self-protection; to have a good night out without feeling threatened or intimidated. An alternative interpretation of Impact’s survey results should perhaps be that people acknowledge the LGBT community needs its own safe spaces and that sometimes the turning away of heterosexuals from LGBT venues is vital to make this possible.

Whilst I believe the original article was written with the best of intentions, I don’t believe the conclusions drawn are correct. I think the entire premise of the article was based on a few isolated incidents, backed up by misinterpreted data, and did not address the necessity of LGBT venues, nor the wider issues of heterosexual privilege and power within our society. Until LGBT people achieve full equality, we’re going to need to keep our LGBT venues and safe spaces. So we’re very sorry if, for our safety, we occasionally don’t let you in and you need to go and find somewhere else to drink. But let’s be honest, you’ve got a lot of options and it’s probably not going to completely ruin your night. Homophobia is still a widely acknowledged and seriously damaging problem in contemporary society. ‘Heterophobia’ isn’t. So let’s get this in perspective.

Frances Cowling

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14 Comments on this post.
  • Sam Mustafa
    22 April 2012 at 13:20
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    Thanks for writing this, Fran. I agree with a lot of what you have said – it’s just a shame that from me writing about one topic, you have managed to infer that I somehow ignore other topics, when I have repeatedly said that this is not the only article I have written on LGBT issues. In fact, the two examples you mentioned in brackets (men not being able to donate blood and gay marriage) I have written about in the past.
    Moreover, in the original article, I never say that we should get rid of safe spaces – I understand that they are needed, but what I was going for was that they shouldn’t be. And that requires understanding on both sides.
    Likewise, heterophobia is not just an issue that affects straight people – it also affects people who appear to be straight and therefore it can be considered part of the homophobic problem. It all boils down to my central point that all discrimination/prejudice is wrong.
    I stand by what I said in the original article – it’s solely my opinion and everyone is entitled to that.

  • Luke Mitchell
    22 April 2012 at 18:18
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    Interesting debate- I read both articles and felt that Sam’s main aim was that discrimination can, and does, happen both ways. I think there was some misinterpreted data in his article; for example- some people may feel that a gay club should be just for gay people- where as a mainstream club is not a ‘straight club’ and by no means should exclude someone on the basis of sexuality. I think Fran has a fair point there.
    However, I would personally stand by the spirit of Sam’s article in that degrodation and discrimination from both sides is unacceptable- even if there is more directed towards the LGBT community. As a parellel example, my brother came home from school once very upset that two black students had made spiteful comments about him for being white and british. If prejudice is wrong on principle, then why is this tolerated?

    To clarify; the more serious problem is definately prejudice against LGBT people and that’s why we have an LGBT officer but not a straight peoples officer!! I think Sam would acknowledge this, but I believe he was trying to raise an issue that shouldn’t be swept under the carpet.

  • Ross Leaver
    22 April 2012 at 23:40
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    This is a debate that I’ve been hearing about increasingly often over the past couple of months. The cases that Sam mentioned are certainly disturbing, and I’m concerned they have reached our own doorstep in Nottingham. However, I’m confident that the predominant atmosphere within the LGBT community is one of tolerance rather than purism. Until I read Sam’s article, I had never even heard of the word ‘breeders’.
    It’s vital to remember the continuing struggle that the gay community face, both worldwide. Over 85 states around the world explicitly list same-sex sexual activities between men as illegal, and the same for women in 40 states (I could go on endlessly). Even within the UK there is still no marriage equality, and the church fires off derogatory comments on a daily basis. If ‘heterophobia’ does exist, then homophobia is infinitely worse. We don’t have a ‘white British society’ at Uni for parallel reasons.
    “Until LGBT people achieve full equality, we’re going to need to keep our LGBT venues and safe spaces.” – I couldn’t have said it better. Frequently I’m criticized for being of the opinion that as a society, we should not tolerate intolerance. Hopefully these pockets of heterophobia will dissipate and remain isolated. But young teens aren’t committing suicide because they’re straight.

  • Maria
    23 April 2012 at 17:15
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    I think a lot of us agree that it’s difficult to be met by an idea of what LGBT people “should look like” in LGBT specific venues, and I have absolutely no illusion that segregating “ourselves” is in any way useful(based on the idea that it’s much easier to dismiss the needs of/dislike the unknown). I love straight people in LGBT venues – as long as they don’t get offended by being hit on by a gender they’re not used to getting hit on by, realize there are LGBT people of all types in the venue, and they don’t start kicking up a fuss about people’s gender expression or what toilet they choose to use. If you’re straight and go to an LGBT venue, realize that there are going to be LGBT people there who’re not there to pander to your sensibilities.

    In some places, alternative “Queer” venues are popping up as a reaction to the “mainstream commercialized” LGBT venues that cater to a certain look/type of people – which I feel much more comfortable in.

    Then again, I’m not a big fan of straight clubs that’ll turn away customers for not being dressed a certain way/looking a certain age/having the right gender expression either.

    I don’t think it’s about heterophobia, I think that, for some venues, it’s a misdirected image building technique applied such as with the straight clubs mentioned above. And in the case of “keeping the safe space” – I think any bouncer would have to take that case by case doing a risk assessment, but in certain establishments, I agree that risk doesn’t seem to be the main concern.

  • Stefan
    23 April 2012 at 19:25
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    I agree that the LGBT community still needs safe spaces, however it seems that you’re assuming heterosexuals deliberately frequent LGBT venues to cause trouble: “LGBT community needs its own safe spaces and that sometimes the turning away of heterosexuals from LGBT venues is vital to make this possible.” Which I don’t think it really the case.

    If we want to live in a world were everyone is equal, we can’t have one rule for a certain group of people and another for a different group. By this I mean, LGBT venues shouldn’t be allowed to prevent the entry of heterosexuals, but as Maria said, heterosexuals need to be prepared for what an LGBT venue entails.

    As a footnote, you state gay men not beging able to donate blood as a milestone in reaching equality. I must dispute this point, as I know it’s purely medical, and nothing to do with sexuality.

  • Dave J
    24 April 2012 at 10:17
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    Bouncers do an assessment of whether somebody is a ‘risk’ regardless of what club/bar they’re standing in front of. If somebody goes to a club to cause trouble, or they’re not dressed appropriately, or whatever, I’ve no issue with them saying ‘you’re not coming in tonight’. However, without satisfying one of those conditions, it is definitely wrong for a bouncer to discriminate on the grounds of orientation.

    The assertion seems to be being made that straight people more often than not go to gay clubs to cause trouble. I think that’s incorrect anyway (what genuinely homophobic person would want to be seen in a gay club?), but if they aren’t causing trouble, I don’t see any reason at all why they should be ejected or refused entry. You’re prejudging peoples’ actions based on their orientation, something which surely gay rights campaigners are fervently against.

    I don’t think you solve integration problems by increasing the level of segregation in society. And I don’t think that you should adopt a ‘some animals are more equal than others’ policy either. If you believe that people should be judged on their actions, not on where they were born, their gender or their orientation, then how is it possible to reconcile this with the suggestion that straight people should be banned entirely from clubs because they’re likely to be violent towards gay people if they occupy the same space?

    If I tried to label ‘gay people’ in any blanket way, not only would I be in the wrong, but the liberal intelligentsia would rip my head off. I expect the same courtesy in return on behalf of my own orientation.

  • Dave J
    24 April 2012 at 10:22
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    Incidentally, taking the arguments made above to their logical conclusions, how far should we go to ensure that LGBT people are kept safe until society becomes fully integrated (however that happens)?

    Maybe we could build separate schools so gay people won’t need to go to the same schools as straight people? They could sit in different places on the bus? I’m sure I’ve seen that work somewhere before.

  • George Orwell
    24 April 2012 at 17:49
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    I read Luke Mitchell’s comment with great interest. Would that be the same Luke Mitchell that led a standing ovation at SU council after a speech was given which supported removing the right of the LGBT rep to vote on motions at council, and their right to bring motions directly to council?

  • James
    25 April 2012 at 09:00
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    I find it very worrying that someone with such views is our Demm Comms Officer next year. Just sayin.

  • S
    25 April 2012 at 12:05
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    As Sam points out in his article, even the spokesperson from Stonewall stated that barring straight people amounts to discrimination. I agree with Dave that you cant improve integration by imposing segregatory practices. It seems that a bar with a predominantly gay clientele and bouncers at the door to chuck out anyone inside who causes trouble, is a safe a place as possible for gay and straight cultures to meet. This feels increasingly important at a university that sometimes seems quite conservative.
    On a separate point how do you distinguish between those who are straight and those who just look straight? This only promotes a cliquey and judgemental image of gay culture. My girlfriend and I dont look like the lesbian stereotype. While we have never had a problem getting into NG1 or Propaganda, it would be nice to assume this as a given at bars around the country.

  • Luke Mitchell
    10 May 2012 at 01:00
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    Hi James- sorry to hear you’re worried about me being the Dem-Comms officer elect. I’ve re-read my comment and not sure why you’re unhappy with what I’ve got to say. Please could you clatify?

    And George- I have never led a standing ovation to specifically remove the LGBT rep’s vote or the LGBT committee’s right to bring motions to council. Please understand that I would never do such a thing!
    The fact that I supported the proposed decision making structure has nothing to do with the debate going on here. Incidently, I gave a speach in that meeting explaining why the proposed structure would benefit the LGBT network (as well as other liberation campaigns) more than the current system!
    If you thought that the ‘Assembly Structure’ would have damaged the LGBT voice in our Union, that’s okay- but it doesn’t mean that everyone who supported did so to remove the LGBT vote, which is what your comment seemed to imply.

  • Luke Mitchell
    10 May 2012 at 10:25
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    Just to make this clear, the speach George was talking about that I applauded was definately not a speach against the “LGBT reps right to vote”. It was a speach that effectively outlined the benefits of the proposed decision making structure (Union Assembly) while giving a balanced and fair criticism of the current structure (Union Council). The speach in question did not even mention LGBT.

  • Dave J
    10 May 2012 at 13:28
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    I don’t want to be Mr. Pedantic (I am, I know), but it’s ‘speech’.

  • Luke Mitchell
    10 May 2012 at 13:37
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    Lol- yeah, sorry about that! I’d like to say it was a one off typo but I said it about 3 or 4 times!! Maybe I shouldn’t be at uni 😛

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