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Homophobic bullying in schools is not “Freedom of Speech”

May 20, 2016

“Gender, race and sexual preference laws intended to protect minorities from being ill-treated, or barred from employment, are supported by the majority of us, but few envisaged that freedom of expression would also be curtailed, even for schoolchildren.”

Here’s an extract from a classic old school Daily Mail comment piece by Peter McKay, running along the popular line that we shouldn’t make any attempt to prevent children from expressing homophobic viewpoints because it might defile them permanently in some way, corrupting their fragile, miniature souls.

Right-wing peoples of this very type often say that a crime is a crime, and therefore we should not think of hate crimes as being distinct from them. OK, well, let’s imagine for a moment that the abuse was not homophobic abuse. If the child yells “Bastard!” across the room at his classmate, are we really to rationally argue that this behaviour should not be curtailed? I find it hard to believe that any conservative social commentator would make an argument for that; sounds more like the sort of “loopy liberal” point of view they so deride. If you are pro-discipline and respect, you ought to be anti the outright expression of prejudice, just as you are against any other sort of abuse and against any tolerance of that abuse.

Of course teachers have to intervene when they hear homophobic utterances on the campus, precisely because children have influenceable minds; if they aren’t put on track during their school years, we as a society have the much harder job of convincing stubborn adults that they are not absolutely right about everything, and can’t justify yelling their potentially offensive opinion to all and sundry.

Reporting on a schoolboy saying he supports UKIP to get the foreigners out of the country, this writer described it as rare and priceless “candour”. Candour, according to WordWeb dictionary, is the: “Ability to make judgements free from discrimination or dishonesty”. I would hesitate to take seriously the concerns about freedom of speech made by a person who thinks that baldly nationalistic, xenophobic rhetoric counts as “free from discrimination”. It is exactly the kind of viewpoint we’re hoping to prevent, via the radical suggestion of introducing education on the nature of prejudice into an educational institution.

Yes, you could make the tired argument that no-on-has-the-right-not-to-be-offended, but that is irrelevant to the behaviour of the offender. It makes no sense to suggest that the offended have to get a hold of themselves, but the offender has no responsibility to adjust their own behaviour. Again, it’s a viewpoint I’m astonished to find in the right-wing press, who do indulge in some selective victim-blaming but at the same time are not famous for expressing the view that we ought to forgive criminals all their wrongs because the rest of society need to get over it.

Articles of this kind are usually overly concerned with finicky semantic policing, and perceive that the possibility of political correctness going “mad” is a greater injustice than the prevailing abuse that goes on in the very sections of society where political correctness has not gone “mad” enough. Their example was BBC Radio 4 pointing out that Conchita Wurst is not transgendered, but a drag queen. This is a classic example of confusing political correctness with actual correctness; it would be an error to think of Tom Neuwirth (Conchita Wurst’s real name) as transgendered, because he does not have gender dysphoria – the dissonance between one’s biological sex, sex identity, and society’s perception of sex in relation to gender. He is simply an entertainer like Paul O’Grady and his drag alter ego, Lily Savage.

“Life has become a semantic minefield,” declares Mr McKay in response to this differentiation, as if having a nom de plume is so starkly unusual, civilised society could never get their head around such a concept. I must say, not being able to handle this small aspect of the vernacular strikes me as being rather feeble. I wonder how many people decide that it is too much of an effort to get simple terminology right before actually trying to do so in the first place.

It’s precisely this weak conservatism of language which we on the Left are trying to “curtail”. If you can encourage teenagers or younger children to see that altering their point of view to incorporate other ideas is an integral part of operating in society, you can stop them all growing up to think they own the language, and any corruption of that language must be a sign of the virulent agenda of the unreasonable Other.


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