This week we read that a gay couple had been told by a security guard that a woman had complained about their "behaviour", after some public displays of affection in a Sainsbury's, of all places.
Sainsbury's has since offered them a £10 voucher, as a gesture of goodwill. The next day, we read that a "big consensual kiss-in" has been arranged in the Hackney store, in some ways rather similar to that held in Brighton a couple of years ago. You might not have read about this, as it's been relatively low key, with even the BBC choosing to file it in the London corner of their news.
My Facebook feed, my Twitter feed – in fact, my whole online world – was incensed, outraged to the point of becoming collectively catatonic. For us, this was headline news. There were some who reacted with humour – "Maybe he thought they were brothers" was among my favourite quips, although I think it's a relatively unlikely hypothesis. Most were condemnatory, spewing tweets and incredibly prosaic Facebook comments, all of which had the general thrust "I know, isn't this awful. Aren't these people awful”. I didn't disagree with them; I do think it's pretty awful – quite ridiculous in fact – that you can't even pop to the shops to buy a pizza (I don't know that it was a pizza, I'm just painting a picture here) without someone feeling the need to pass judgement on your sleeping arrangements.
Please understand, I'm not meaning to make light of this at all. Importantly, I am not saying this is a "small" thing and we should just somehow ignore it. Most gay people who aren't up in arms about this take a view that we should roll with the punches and ignore things like this when they happen. I would suggest that is just as bad – certainly from the standpoint of wanting to effect a change in people's minds, which I think most of us gay people (and of course all the people who think gay people are actually not that bad) would like to see.
I hesitate to bring Brexit into this, but if you will indulge me for just a moment – I think lots of us Remainers were genuinely flabbergasted at the result, largely because it didn't at all reflect the mood that we had been experiencing in our social circles, nor in our social media circles.
It highlighted the fact that increasingly we exist in a set of almost completely discrete bubbles, "echo chambers" if you will, spending most of our time in vehement – almost indignant – agreement with each other. This means that our opinions not only remain unchallenged, but maybe even more importantly, they can never serve to challenge the opinions of someone who might disagree with us.
I think it's great that a kiss-in is going to happen in Sainsbury's. "Gay" kissing is great, I do it every day, but I remain sceptical about what the long-term benefits of this will be. That brings me to my question; in situations like this – which almost every gay person living in the UK will experience on a semi-regular basis – what is the best way to respond?
The natural and instinctive reaction is to be indignant, upset, hurt and angry. We want to tell people their opinion of us is wrong, that their view of the world is skewed and needs improvement – they're homophobes. It feels quite good to do that, I'd say. However, maybe a more considered response is called for here.
If someone tells you that your opinion is just “wrong”, dismissing it for whatever reason, how do you tend to react? I think most people would say that it serves only to entrench their opinion even further. This has certainly been my experience in confrontations I've had with various members of my religious fundamentalist family, on sexuality and on a great many other things. Ultimately it just leads to a peculiarly exhausting but ultimately futile stalemate.
Having one of these big kiss-ins is a great statement of solidarity, but beyond making us feel better about what we believe to be true, will it really change anything? I'd suggest not. It fuels the sense of “us and them”; of two diametrically opposed parties doomed to endless conflict, and the mutual exchange of equally immovable viewpoints. The press in many quarters already pits us against each other – "the LGBT Community", against in this case Sainsbury's, but this is really only one demonstrative example of a much wider societal phenomenon.
However socially unacceptable homophobia becomes, and however noisily we express our indignation about its purveyors amongst ourselves, I think that until we actively seek to open a meaningful dialogue with people whose view of the world is so different to our own, at least in this area, we will continue in this monotonous cycle, and nothing will change. It won't be easy, but I think it'll be worth it.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies