Homophobia is not something that should be taken lightly, and the term is sometimes overused and blown out of proportion when a gay person is refused service at a company, whether it be a bar, hotel or supermarket.
So I looked at the recent reports of Joshua Fox’s experience at a JD Wetherspoon establishment with a very open mind.
Out of all the articles I’ve read about this incident, let me be the first to say that for such a large chain, it would be hard for instances of homophobia to be prevented outright. Also, we don’t know the exact circumstances or language used on the night in question, and the company and Fox appear to have a separate version of events.
So on reading the initial headlines I was prepared to cut them some slack. But this position started to change when I read the chain’s response to Fox:
‘Parties of a single sex may be refused entry in order to maintain a balanced and pleasant environment for all customers.
‘This is based on some experiences in which the atmosphere in our pubs has been spoiled due to an unbalanced ratio between men and women.’
Now I have plenty of experience in the licensed trade, and know of many methods by door staff to deter ‘undesirable customers’ from entering. Many bars have a policy on not allowing ‘large parties of the same sex’ (translation: stag parties) for obvious reasons. The whole point is to avoid anti-social behaviour and it’s admirable. But to apply this policy to a ‘party’ of two gay men is stretching it to say the least, and smacks of Wetherspoon clutching at straws.
Unfortunately for the company, one member of this ‘two man same sex party’ was a well known blogger, with thousands of followers on Twitter. The gay press (who often jump on these stories, occasionally a tad overzealous and without merit) got hold of the story, which was then shared on social media and picked up by mainstream press including Metro and the Daily Mirror.
A spokesperson for Wetherspoon told the Manchester Evening News:
‘Wetherspoon is proud of the fact that its pubs welcome a cross section of customers.
‘We have discussed the incident with the manager who in turn has spoken with door staff and they are adamant that they did not mention the fact relating to mixed couples.
‘We appreciate that this was an upsetting situation for the man involved, however, we reiterate that there was no discrimination towards him.
Ugh, a ‘cross section’ of customers. I hate this rather clinical description, which to me suggests their customers are merely demographics rather than actual people. It’s not a science lab, it’s pub chain where people flock for cheap meal deals.
But why not release a statement clearly referencing gay people, and say that they are welcome at its premises? After all, that is what the story is about?
It is perhaps sound business sense. After all, Wetherspoon is not a bar specifically associated with gay people, and they do encourage a very mixed trade. From from experience my local ‘Spoons’ is frequented by an older clientele eager to get the best deal on booze at any time of the day, joined by local office workers at lunchtime and casual drinkers in the evening.
Maybe they felt a broad section of this customer base would see the brand as tainted with fairy dust if it explicitly came out in support of gay people? Maybe the company doesn’t actually support gay equality? Perhaps the chain has now got so big that they don’t wish to comment on individual types of customer?
You could accuse me of putting words in to the company’s mouth, but it’s difficult to understand their exact position on this matter due to the rather vague response.
I am the last person to play ‘the gay card’ and cry discrimination, but in my opinion there was an element of homophobia in this case. Fox is a well respected blogger and has no reason to lie about his version of events, and the company has failed to admit these failings and apologise accordingly.
And until they do, I will not be setting foot in another JD Wetherspoon establishment again.