Last night Sky News had political commentator Owen Jones in to talk about yesterday’s horrific homophobic atrocity in Orlando, Florida. Owen Jones if you don’t know, is an author, journalist, columnist, blogger, public speaker and has become one of the media’s go-to left wing commentators. He’s also gay. So, Sky News got gay political commentator Owen Jones in to talk about horrific homophobic atrocity. You would think then, that they wanted to talk about horrific atrocities against LGBT people, about homophobia, but no, what they actually did was tell him it wasn’t about him. They told him it wasn’t about homophobia. They told him it was an attack on “people having fun”. Not about homophobia. Owen Jones is not a man to be walked over. Instead he walked out. Quite right too.
I don’t watch Sky News (for precisely this sort of thing), but the clip is all over social media this morning. I watched it half an hour ago: my response is not very well thought out, but I’m struggling to stay silent. Jones was angry and upset. Of course he was. Yesterday there was a horrific homophobic atrocity, 50 men died. Because they were LGBT. And there he was on national TV being told it wasn’t about being gay, it was just another “lunatic shooting people having fun”.
The presenters didn’t seem to be able to get upset about LGBT people being murdered. They wanted it to be about them. Why do they need it to be about them before they can get upset? The message seemed to be “we’re supposed to be angry and upset about this atrocity, but it’s only the gays, so we can’t be. But if we make it about everyone, then we can be angry and upset.”
Jones has said the incident was nothing personal, that we don’t need to defend his honour. He’s right of course, it was about homophobia, not specifically about Jones. But here’s why I’m upset: Sky News brought a gay person into the studio the day after a horrific homophobic atrocity to tell him that it isn’t about gay people and it isn’t about homophobia. They didn’t get a straight person on to say that to. They got a gay person on to tell him “it’s not about you”. Just think about that.
It’s easy for us to think of homophobia as a thing of the past in the western world. We have equality, we have gay marriage, we have gay politicians, we have laws. Undoubtedly things of changed in the last 20 years, but homophobia hasn’t been eradicated. LGBT people are discriminated against or insulted or undermined or intimidated or beaten up or killed, every day. Fifty men died yesterday, in an atrocious homophobic murderous act of violence against LGBT people. Last night violent homophobia was written off on national TV as irrelevant. The Orlando murderer may well have been a gun toting religious fundamentalist, but the bile spewed out on social media reminds us that you don’t have to be religious or fundamentalist or gun owning to be full of hate and homophobia, and denying homophobia is part of the problem. Let us all mourn that. And rise up against it.