The judge has now made a ruling in Stu Campbell’s court case against Kezia Dugdale. I was a witness in the case on behalf of Stu, so it wasn’t possible for me to speak about it before the judge had come to a conclusion. Essentially the key finding is that the judge has ruled that Stu Campbell is not a homophobe, but that Stu was unable to establish that he’d suffered any damage or loss as a result of Kezia’s remark about him, and that what she said was fair comment. It’s a peculiar ruling, in that the judge appears to have stated that it was defamatory to call Stu a homophobe, but not defamatory enough to be defamation.
In my own evidence, I was concerned to establish that homophobia is not a matter of opinion. I’m not sure how clearly I managed to articulate that. Kezia’s lawyer kept putting to me that assorted other people regarded Stu’s comment as homophobic, and therefore it was fine to say it was homophobic. I must confess there were points when I got quite irked with him. If it is the case that homophobia is a matter of opinion then everything is homophobic and nothing is homophobic.
Homophobia is not a matter of opinion, it is an objective reality faced by lesbians and gay men. If there is no objective standard for determining homophobia, then the word has no meaning at all. It is only by calling out homophobia that lesbian and gay people are able to challenge it and to change it. It’s vital that we are able to do so. However if homophobia is reduced to a matter of opinion, then it destroys the most important weapon in our armoury.
If homophobia is a matter of opinion, then any bigot can claim that their bigotry against lesbian and gay people is not homophobic because in their sincere opinion it’s not homophobia. They just need to claim that God told them so, and we’ve seen where that leads. Alternatively someone could say to me, “That’s a horrible pair of shoes you’re wearing,” and I could accuse them of homophobia because they were pandering to the stereotype that all gay men have to be very well dressed. Clearly, it’s nonsensical to claim that particular remark is homophobic, but if Kezia’s lawyer is to be believed, then it would be, because I would only have to assert that as a gay man it’s my genuine belief that it was homophobic and I was terribly offended by it. That’s essentially what Kezia’s argument was. It’s a dangerous argument to make as it devalues the meaning of homophobia and the effectiveness of accusations of homophobia as a campaigning tool for lesbian and gay people.
In my evidence I said that the definition of homophobia is not “I’m gay and I’m offended.” Homophobia is defined by the belief that homosexual people are less deserving of equality, by hatred of gay people. The judge agreed with that. He ruled that Stu’s tweet “was not motivated by fear, hatred or dislike of homosexuals.” He ruled that Stu Campbell is not a homophobe. I already knew that. Stu is rude, he’s offensive, he’s abrasive – all qualities which make him highly effective at what he does – but he’s not a homophobe. I am delighted that the judge agreed.
For my own part I pointed out that what Stu had said could not have been interpreted as homophobic if I had said it. I discovered – much to my shock – that I am the same age as David Mundell. David Mundell remained in the closet, married a woman and started a family with her, and then continued to benefit from heterosexual privilege until the sacrifices and efforts of other lesbian and gay people had made it safe for him to come out as gay without any loss of his professional or social standing. I don’t judge him for making the choice that he did. I know how horrribly homophobic Scotland was when both David Mundell and I realised our sexual orientation.
However I came out as gay during the height of the AIDS crisis and dealt with the consequences. I got gay bashed twice, I was unwelcome in my family home for many years, I was called more homophobic names and insults than I can possibly remember. Unlike David Mundell, I had a family because I entered into a private arrangement with a lesbian couple – we did that in the 1990s – and have two daughters as a result. (Stu Campbell knows that, by the way. So he certainly didn’t think that his comment about Oliver Mundell implied that gay people can’t have kids. Unfortunately I didn’t make that particular point in my evidence.)
So if it had been me who had made the comment about Oliver Mundell – “Oliver Mundell is the sort of public speaker that makes you wish his dad had embraced his homosexuality sooner.” It could not possibly have been interpreted as homophobic. It could only be interpreted as “Why didn’t your dad do what I had done?” With the implication that if he had then Oliver Mundell would have been the product of a private arrangement between a lesbian couple and an openly gay man, being brought up in full awareness of the intensely homophobic policies of the Conservatives of the day.
If it’s not homophobic for me to say it, it doesn’t magically become homophobic because Stu Campbell said it. The tweet is not hate speech, in the sense that it contains derogatory views about gay people, or terms of abuse for gay people. The only difference between me saying it and Stu Campbell saying it is that I’m gay and he’s straight. I got gay bashed, I suffered restrictions in the kinds of jobs that would accept me as an openly gay man all those decades ago, because I was fighting for the principle of equality. But if I’m allowed to say things which straight people aren’t, things which are not in themselves reflective of negative views about gay people, then that’s not equality.
The worst that you can say is that by making the comment, Stu was claiming heterosexual privilege. Which ironically is exactly what David Mundell was doing all those years he remained in the closet. However all heterosexual people have heterosexual privilege by virtue of being heterosexual, it doesn’t make them homophobes. In any case, calling out a straight person for heterosexual privilege doesn’t have the same potential to devastate their reputation as calling them a homophobe. (Heterosexual privilege is, basically, the ability to go through your life without having to worry about homophobia.)
The distinction between homophobia, heterosexism (the view that heterosexuality is the norm and everyone is straight unless you know otherwise), and heterosexual privilege is a nuance that I don’t expect most straight people to grasp. However Kezia is a lesbian, she should understand the difference. Instead she leapt for the strongest word possible in an attempt to neutralise a political opponent. That was wrong of her. She should have known better.
Many people have sought to conflate Stu Campbell’s views on the transgender debate with homophobia. You can’t do that. The two are not related. Many of the people who are most opposed to Self Identification (the view that a trans person merely needs to declare their gender to be accepted as member of that gender) are lesbians who have been active in the campaign against homophobia for decades. It is nonsensical to claim that because they do not accept Self Identification that they are homophobic. You might argue that they are transphobic, but that’s a different issue.
On the other side of the coin, the policies of the Iranian government are intensely homophobic. Gay men face the death penalty in Iran. However transgender procedures are available as part of the Iranian health system and transgender people can get their identity documents changed to reflect their new gender status. Iranian policy is appallingly homophobic, but an argument could be made that it’s not transphobic in the same way that it is homophobic, although it shouldn’t need to be stated that Iran is no bastion of human rights of any sort and this is not an argument I would agree with.
The point here is that you cannot use a person’s views on trans issues as a proxy for their views on homosexuality. The judge agreed with that too.
However the most important part of the judge’s ruling was the discovery that he wrote that Paul Kavanagh is the author of a blog called Wee Ginger Duck. Clearly that sets a legal precedent. I’ll keep on quacking.
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