On Monday the Tab weighed in on the controversy over an alleged incident of homophobia at Wahoo with an article entitled “An accusation should be treated as just that: An accusation”. I really wish they hadn’t bothered.
I don’t want to comment on what happened at Wahoo (the CCTV is still under review) but rather on the treatment of accusations of homophobia in this article. Dufton’s article seemed mainly concerned with attacking the two people involved for raising the issue of whether their treatment in the club was homophobic. Apart from anything else it was inaccurate, portraying them as being “willing to take the business to court, put its license at risk, and request relevant good will charity”, when in fact these were all suggestions or offers made by other members of the Student Union in support.
It seems obvious to me that the matter would be investigated with the club before any of these possibilities would be tried, which is indeed what happened. Similarly, the two students didn’t deal with the issue “through the student press”; rather it was picked up on and reported on by those involved in student journalism. All they did was share what seemed like a reasonable assumption (given the continuing problem of homophobia and accounts of witnesses) of a problematic incident with the student community in an online forum.
While one of them admitted subsequently to having unclear memories of the night, we all know that intoxication can complicate matters, and it doesn’t seem like there was any malicious intent on either of their parts. Dufton himself acknowledged that “in fairness, all parties concur that the pair were unfortunately not informed exactly as to why they were ejected”. It wasn’t unfair, therefore, to think that this might have been due to attitudes to same-sex kissing.
Inaccuracies aside, my real problem with this article was the vitriol Dufton directed towards those willing to challenge potential incidences of homophobia and discrimination and those willing to offer support and help, misunderstanding or no misunderstanding. He called the willingness to question the issue “frankly disgusting”, called the students “culprits”, accused them of having “cried wolf”, and painted the club involved as a vulnerable victim of accusations. This is poisonous. Businesses like Wahoo are not the vulnerable parties in matters like this; individuals who might be at risk of prejudice and discrimination are. Neither the club nor the bouncer would ever have faced legal action unless there was proof of the allegation, and it is perfectly within the right of anyone unhappy with their treatment to challenge it. As far as I can tell from walking past Wahoo every night, their popularity doesn’t seem to have taken a hit either.
I’m fiercely proud that the student community at Wadham was so outraged by an *apparent* case of homophobia, so supportive and so willing to take action should it have emerged to be the case. The real result of all this, whatever actually happened, is not that Wahoo have suffered. Instead, it has been made clear to many people that homophobia won’t be tolerated by students here. The Tab article, on the other hand, discouraged people from calling out institutions and authority figures on potential homophobia. Anyone who read the Tab piece might think twice about challenging what seemed to be discrimination, if this is the kind of attack you might get in a public forum for possibly being mistaken. The message of this article was “sit down and shut up”, and it is that, not the behaviour of those it attacked, that was “frankly disgusting”.