Last night I attended the launch of an Australian first: a nationwide campaign that encourages people to stand up against homophobia.
Called simply No To Homophobia, it includes two television ads that will receive mainstream airplay. The ads feature real-life examples of homophobic, biphobic and transphobic comments being directed at an individual, and overheard by another.
A voiceover asks, “Have you witnessed anything like this?” as the incidents unfold, and encourage the viewer to respond, take action, stand up and put a stop to it. Take a look:
The campaign comes with some pretty powerful backing: the Victorian Police, state government (who partially funded it), champion gay hockey player Gus Johnston, and even the AFL.
Mainstream media reaction to the campaign’s launch has been positive, particularly with regards to the AFL’s involvement. Said Herald Sun columnist Susie O’Brien:
It’s time to stop saying, “Oh that’s so gay’’ about something you don’t like – not to mention calling someone a f—ing homo. And it’s time to speak up when other people make homophobic jokes and comments. If you witness harassment and violence and do nothing, you are encouraging it to continue.
But here’s the problem. The actual ads themselves are largely populated by examples of homophobic bullying that could best be described as mild.
In one, a woman working on a building site asks for a hand from her male workmates and gets the response: “I thought you lesbians were supposed to be as good as us blokes.”
In another, at a sports club, a guy changing into his training gear (outside, with clothes still on), has another player quip: “You’d be loving this mate, wouldn’t ya?”
There’s little to rival the outright homophobia that O’Brien references, and that we all have seen and witnessed.
Anna Brown, co-convenor of the Victorian Gay & Lesbian Rights Lobby, said at last night’s launch that the ads were the result of years worth of research into the discrimination experiences of LGBT Victorians.
This left me with the uncomfortable question: given that these ads are targeted at the general population, are these the worst examples they could come up with?
In sport alone, one needs only to look so far as Come Out To Play, a research report on homophobia in sport produced by Victoria University, VicHealth and the Outgames Legacy Fund in May 2010. Here’s some quotes:
The coach referred to all as a bunch of fags for not winning the game. I was not yet out to anyone and it reinforced the message that who I was is something to be ashamed of. (Alan, 23 years).
A spectator kept yelling “get the dyke” to the people on the other team. (Danielle, 35 years).
Just accusations — poof, faggot, etc… of course, I hated myself. (Elijah, 31 years).
Some male soccer players shouted abuse like ‘fucking dykes’ etc and crossed the road. I felt angry and upset. (Julia, 27 years).
Other examples in the ads certainly get the point across: the transwoman who is publicly blocked by a café proprietor from using the women’s toilets because they’re only for “real women”; the gay man at work called “princess” by a colleague and having a tiara left on his desk; the teacher telling a female student to remove her gay pride necklace because “we don’t all need to hear about it” (although I would have thought that teachers standing by and doing nothing while students commit acts of homophobic bullying would have been a worse problem – see this report).
Comments online have echoed sentiments expressed when the WTF anti-homophobia campaign was recently launched in New Zealand: gratitude that the campaign exists, admiration for the community organisations involved and their hard work, which I certainly agree with.
One dissenter on the campaign’s Facebook page was referred to as “Captain Buzzkill”, and while I’m aware that I’m opening myself up for the same criticism, I find myself questioning the soft-soap approach to the ads, particularly when at the end of one, the lesbian woman who experienced a relatively mild jibe from a workmate is seen reporting it to the police (really?).
In road safety campaigns, we’ve never shied away from showing the graphic reality associated with drunk driving and speeding. In launching No To Homophobia, the punches have – quite literally – been pulled, which is perplexing considering that one in four GLBT Australians have been physically attacked during their lifetime.
Are we afraid of frightening the horses by showing the more overt and brutal forms of homophobia that occur? Is there a concern that audiences might just switch off if they see someone being called a “fucking homo”? (although such a taunt was enough to see a St Kilda Football Club player fined $3,000 for using it against an opponent earlier this month).
My concern is, given the target audience of mainstream Australians and their general ignorance of everyday prejudice, there’s a risk that some may just respond, “is that it?” Particularly when the examples are accompanied by a deadly serious voiceover and piano music.
Homophobia in all its forms needs to be challenged, but for a campaign that’s been granted the rare privilege of airtime on mainstream telly, I thought we might have started with the big stuff, especially when the Australian Christian Lobby can be heard saying far worse things in the media about us and they get that coverage for free.
The No To Homophobia campaign is set to run for the next year. Perhaps it will evolve along the way, and most importantly, create further discussion. Because we need it.