“I’ve never been so offended in all my life.” How many times have we heard that increasingly irritating phrase in recent times? Being offended has almost become a national sport in this country. The slightest off colour remark can provoke howls of outrage from people who ought to know better. There’s no law to protect people from being offended, and nor should there be if we value free speech.
I doubt there’s a gay man or woman in existence who hasn’t been offended by an homophobic remark that they have been the target of or they’ve heard. But most of us get over it. We shake our heads in sadness that there are still bigots out there, we may sometimes to try educate people out of their ways but in the end we put it down to experience and move on.
In the end we have to make a differentiation between freedom of speech and hate speech. On my LBC radio show I often get a torrent of texts and tweets from people who don’t approve of my lifestyle. I’d love to think there will come a day when this sort of thing doesn’t happen, but I doubt whether I will live to see it. Perhaps I have become immune to it, but none of it offends or upsets me. It just makes me a bit sad. All I can do in my job, is do it to the best of my ability. I always say to people who describe me as a ‘gay radio presenter’ that I’m not. I am a radio presenter who happens to be gay. I don’t resile from my sexuality. It is a part of who I am, but it doesn’t define me or what I do.
Only once have I thought a caller to my show went beyond the norm of what was within the bounds of free speech. She was a muslim who actively supported ISIS killing gay people by throwing them off buildings. What on earth do you say to someone like that? She was 22. I told her that her parents should be ashamed of themselves for bringing her up with that short of set of beliefs. Several of my callers told me I should have reported her to the Police. I suppose what she said was allowable within the bounds of free speech, but clearly many of my listeners were offended. It’s very rare that anyone makes homophobic remarks on air, but on twitter and text it’s quite common.
I could spend most of my life being offended if I wanted to, but in the end, life is too short. The very uttering of the phrase “I find that offensive” effectively means that you want to silence the person who has supposedly offended you. Jews, muslims, gays and feminists may not have much in common but they are often on the same page in demanding retribution in the form of bans, penalties and censorship of those who supposedly hurt their feelings.
I say, grow up. People have died so we can retain some semblance of freedom of speech. Each time politicians pass laws which impinge on freedom of speech a small part of democracy dies.
I’ve just published a short polemical book by Claire Fox, one of the stars of The Moral Maze called “I Find That Offensive”. Anyone who things laws banning offensive remarks are a good idea should read it. Fox takes on those who seem to regard taking offence as a professional pastime. She concludes that we should make a virtue out of the right to offend.
I mean, we’ve even got to the point where students – poor dears – have become obsessed by the idea of ‘safe spaces’, where no one can say anything which another might take exception to. In some universities LGBT students are even demanding LGBT only accommodation. Utter idiocy. What a great way to build more barriers and for gay people to become more isolated. Let’s go the whole hog and have student accommodation blocks only for muslims. Or only for Asians. Total madness.
Tell you what, if I were straight or white, I’d find that damned offensive. And you see, therein lies the conundrum.
This article first appeared in Attitude Magazine