Is public shaming of people who make homophobic comments unfair?



Late one night, after taking photos at Connections Nightclub, I was walking back to where I had parked my car. It was near The Court Hotel. I had my camera in hand as I walked through the Perth Cultural Centre.

It was a little after 1am and the great ‘gay migration’ was in progress. That busy time that occurs on Friday and Saturday nights when The Court is winding up and people head over to Connections. I was going against the flow of queer traffic.

A transgender woman was walking towards me. Suddenly a man – a little ahead of me – pointed to the woman and yelled, “That’s a dude!” He shouted at the top of his lungs that the person near him was a “man in a dress”. His friends laughed.

He looked around the people passing by searching for some sort of affirmation. His eyes met mine. We exchanged some words, I told him to get over it and asked him who he thought he was to yell at people in the street? He said he thought people changing genders was wrong. I told him to just keep walking and offered to walk with the woman, to escort her to safety.

Then  he saw the camera in my hand.

“Hey Bro, take my photo,” he asked. For a moment I considered putting him on the cover of the next edition of OUTinPerth. In my mind I rapidly estimated how many times his photo would be shared on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram before the sun rose the next morning. I ran several possible headlines though my brain.

In that moment this guy in his mid 20’s became the embodiment of every person who has every denied the rights of transgender people or refused to acknowledge someone’s chosen gender. In a flash he was the representative of everyone who has every called me, or any of my friends, a wide range of homophobic slurs.

Then I took a deep breath and walked the other way.

Earlier today writer Clementine Ford was shopping in a Myer store in Melbourne, when she overheard a man commenting about how he hates it when “faggots look sideways at you.”

Ford took to Facebook posting a picture of the man and asked the 97,000 people who follow her page;

“Anyone know this charmer? Just overheard him in Myer (Melbourne City store) with his family talking about how he hates ‘faggots looking sideways at you’. When I told him ‘faggots’ was homophobic hate speech, he just kept repeating ‘shut up’ while his mate or brother or brother in law said ‘everyone’s entitled to their opinion’. What a shame if the young son with him turns out to be gay.”

The writer said she realised that posting the man’s photo would lead to a barrage of comments saying she was stomping on free speech and the trying to ruin men’s lives but she felt that was a low priority in contrast to the effect homophobia has on the LGBTQI community.

Within a few hours the post had been shared 666 (spooky – I know) times, over 13,000 people had liked it, and over 1,700 comments had been posted. Debate raged about whether the act of spouting homophobic comments warranted such public shaming on social media. Readers noted that even after thousands of people had seen the post no-one had identified the man.

Comments like the ones this man reportedly made should be called out, they should be challenged, they should be condemned, ridiculed and treated with contempt.

Sure, everyone has an assumed right to free speech, to state their opinions but equally there is a right and responsibility to challenge beliefs, statements and opinions that are false, unsubstantiated, insulting and just plain crazy.

Challenging these comments is not invading the man’s privacy. He said them in a public space, and even if he thought he was having a private conversation – if it could be heard by other people then it was in the public realm. Taking his photo is not invading his privacy, he’s in public.

I don’t however agree with Clementine Ford’s decision to publish the man’s photo.

If public condemnation is a just punishment for a guy in the street who has a loud homophobic conversation, what do we do about the man who shouts it from a megaphone? What should be a just reaction for the blogger who spouts homophobic hate with three to four updates a week? When a business leader, politician or celebrity say something homophobic, where will we go to then?

What’s your thoughts on this topic? Fire off in the comments below.

Graeme Watson

Update: 7pm, 2nd January. Clementine Ford has chosen to delete the photo of the man she confronted. Read more on her Facebook page.

Image: Stock image YayMicro 











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