Jordan Daly: Why we should back Kezia Dugdale and send Wings Over Scotland packing

LGBT campaigner and co-founder of the Tie campaign Jordan Daly explains why he is backing Kezia Dugdale in her row with Wings Over Scotland about homophobia

WHEN it comes to Wings Over Scotland and his controversies, I generally try to stay detached. He’s nothing more than a man with a blog, who has gained some notoriety, a bit of a strange cult following and whose online behaviour is akin to trolling. All in all, not someone I really want to discuss.

However, the news that he’s taking Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale to court after she called out a tweet of his and marked him as homophobic has sparked a debate around whether or not the blogger’s comments were indeed laced with prejudice, and it’s something that I’m just not sure I can keep mute on. 

As a reminder, the bizarre and uncalled-for tweet from the Wings Over Scotland account at the centre of the storm is as follows: "Oliver Mundell is the sort of public speaker that makes you wish his dad had embraced his homosexuality sooner."

Let me make my perspective clear: to insidiously use an openly gay politician’s sexuality as a weapon - with the intention of insulting his son - is, to my interpretation, homophobia. 

Wings has consistently and blatantly sought to provoke with his comments on social media, always reaching the brink of acceptability and surpassing it by a country mile. Yet this one really riled a lot of people, myself included, and in recent days I have watched many attempt to defend it by arguing that it isn’t homophobic.

I’ve spoken publicly about my struggle to accept my sexuality and the issues that I faced as a result of my experiences at school, but that period of my life has left me with a somewhat omnipresent self-consciousness about being known as "that gay guy", and having my sexuality define me or used against me. 

That’s why, when I saw the tweet in question, I was taken aback - because I understood the underlying sentiment, and the impact that it could have.

Let me make my perspective clear: to insidiously use an openly gay politician’s sexuality as a weapon - with the intention of insulting his son - is, to my interpretation, homophobia. 

In today’s society, with our legal protections and a general level of mainstream acceptance, prejudice against the gay community often rears its head in more subtle formats; that is, homophobia doesn’t always present as black and white. 

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To a degree, the lines of acceptability have been blurred and it can be difficult for those who aren’t otherwise engaged in this issue to identify what is alright and what isn’t. To emphasise my point here, let’s take a look at use of language. 

We at the Tie campaign spend a lot of time in schools across the country, and one of the biggest problems is the widespread presence of homophobic slurs and insults. This is where perception is key, because while saying "your t-shirt looks so gay" may not be homophobic to you, it is homophobic to me. You might think that calling your friend a "poof" is banter, but others would view that as prejudiced and offensive.

That is the crux of this issue - perception. There’s a reason that considerable effort was taken to outline the importance of perceived discrimination in the Equality Act, and that’s because prejudice or intolerance isn’t always as clear cut as one would think. What matters most is how it’s interpreted by those on the receiving end.

There’s a reason that considerable effort was taken to outline the importance of perceived discrimination in the Equality Act, and that’s because prejudice or intolerance isn’t always as clear cut as one would think.

It’s worth remembering that while David Mundell is a highly public figure, he is also - in this case - the target of Wings’ vitriol, and so his views on the situation are important. Unsurprisingly, he stated at the time that he perceived the comment to be homophobic. As did Dugdale. As do I, and many others from the LGBT community. Notice the trend?

Whether or not the remark itself is homophobic has obviously been the topic of debate and while my tuppence worth is that it was, in the grand scheme of things that’s neither here nor there for those of us uninvolved in the suit. 

What’s alarming, though, is that this situation is likely to have negative consequences in similar scenarios. If a comment or statement doesn’t immediately appear to be homophobic, or racist, or misogynist - will a politician stand up against it and risk being dragged to court for doing what they believed was the right thing? That’s the predicament that our public influencers and commentators are inadvertently being put in with this obnoxious stunt.

The difficulty I have in this respect, other than someone taking an openly gay woman to court over her perception of homophobia, is that a controversial comment will now be defined by a judge or a jury. There’s a thin, blurry line here. If something this blatantly offensive isn’t ruled to be homophobic, then what else becomes acceptable?

In his column for The National newspaper this week, the Wee Ginger Dug (for whom I have a lot of respect, as someone who spoke up for gay rights at a time when it was not safe to do so) argued that Dugdale’s decision to call out the comment in question would make it harder to challenge homophobia, because - and, to paraphrase based on my understanding of the piece - Wings’ tweet wasn’t real homophobia.

What makes it more difficult to openly challenge homophobia is when a blogger, who has made a disgusting comment which offended many, opts to publicly march someone to court for speaking out against it.

I disagree. What makes it more difficult to openly challenge homophobia is when a blogger, who has made a disgusting comment which offended many, opts to publicly march someone to court for speaking out against it. This ultimately, one way or another, sets a precedent for future incidents.

The backdrop to this episode is important and, of those who have surfaced to defend Wings, I haven’t noticed any offer an explanation for some earlier notable comments. During a Twitter conversation about American whistleblower and transgender activist Chelsea Manning, Wings wrote: "He can call himself whatever he likes and live however he likes. None of my business whatsoever. But I get to decide what I think he is. And no sanctimonious wankhole is going to tell me different ... I say what I see. A man. You can call him 'her' if you want, but you don’t get to tell ME."

Without hyperbole, such discourses are transphobic. Denying the validity of one’s identity and dictatorially ruling on pronouns is ignorance, and it should not be tolerated. Is it any surprise that a comment such as that which was aimed towards Mundell would appear on Wings’ timeline? Is it, then, any surprise that it would be perceived - by many of us - as homophobic?

What I can’t quite wrap my head around is why the seemingly indefensible is being so vociferously defended. I’m also not entirely sure why Wings retains any influence, considering his catalogue of controversies.

That this entire situation is now being depicted as the misrepresented pro-indy underdog taking one for the team and battling the "smears" of a "unionist" is uncomfortable to observe - particularly when people are actually engaging with this cynically conspiratorial narrative. It really does represent the worst fringes of a once vibrant and engaging movement.

To overlook homophobia and transphobia, from anyone, because they are a pro-indy voice is to consent to a level of intolerance which is not okay.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it now: I don’t care how good the 'Wee Blue Book' was - Wings should not be glorified, defended or encouraged by and within the Yes movement. 

To overlook homophobia and transphobia, from anyone, because they are a pro-indy voice is to consent to a level of intolerance which is not okay. If we are a movement underpinned by pillars of progress and social justice, then it is our collective duty to stand up for equality, fairness and respect. In this instance, I’m not seeing that.

So as a young, openly gay Yes voter who has spent the last two years of my life campaigning to advance LGBT equality - I’m with Kezia on this one and, constitutional differences aside, you really should be too.

Picture courtesy of Scottish Labour

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