On Dealing with Hateful Harassment

Ebun Joseph

Dr Ebun Joseph is the module coordinator in UCD of the first Black Studies module in Ireland. She lectures on race, migration, social policy and equality. She is a career-development specialist, author and chairperson of the African Scholars Association Ireland (AfSAI). She is a citizen of both Nigeria and Ireland, and has lived in Ireland for more than 17 years.

Dear Ebun, Firstly, thank you for your work in advocating for a more inclusive and accepting Ireland. I’ve spent my life here feeling like I’m fighting a losing battle with regards to racism and homophobia. I’ve seen blatant racism with my friends who are all of differing backgrounds and I’ve personally experienced homophobia and sexuality-based harassment.

The last six or so years have been pretty tough in that respect. I moved back to my hometown with my partner. It’s a large town with a population of about 6,000 or so. There are many different nationalities here now, but unfortunately I was naive in thinking that meant it had a more inclusive environment than it was when I grew up here. My partner and I have had so much abuse and harassment here and it’s really starting to get to us.

I cannot say it’s everyone because we have some very good friends and have been respected by many people that we have met in passing. In saying that, every time we go for a drink all we get is disdain and derogatory comments. […] Regardless of which establishment we go to it’s the same.

We get comments about our appearance, about our sexuality and about the wider LGBTQ community. All derogatory. We are very normal women, we work hard and cause nobody any problems or distress. […] We don’t flaunt our relationship in any way. We don’t hide the normal discreet gestures like a hand on the back to guide my partner to a table or simple touches that any loving couple would make.

Everyone here knows we are partners and I’m guessing we are the talk of the town because it’s strangers that make these comments. Always men, always Irish-born men […] The most recent was very upsetting. There were two groups of men, four to one side, five to the other. We ordered a drink and were talking about our day at our jobs. Bothering no one.

One of the groups loudly and animatedly discussed how “bloody lesbians were making them sick and putting them off their drink”. The other group – loudly, for all to hear – debated about which of us was actually a man. It was all very vile language, to put it lightly. When I went towards the toilets I was shouted at that “the dudes’ toilet is the other way”.

My partner spoke to the bartender to ask them to stop, but he just threw his hands up and asked what was he supposed to do, it’s free speech. We left. And went home upset. Again. That’s just one night, one example. This kind of abuse has also happened while socialising with friends. From experience here we know that calling it out with these ignorant cavemen leads to scuffles and that’s not our way. We don’t want that.

My question to you is this: how would you deal with a situation like that knowing that speaking to the staff makes no difference? Does it constitute harassment if it’s a single event? We are genuinely fed up, frustrated, and verging on not being able to socialise in our own locality. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you for taking the time to lay out what has obviously been a very difficult experience for you. By putting this story out there, you’ve taken the first step towards resolving the outrageous harassment you and your partner have received, and continue to receive.

You’d be surprised how many readers will find some comfort from reading your story. There’s a form of healing in just knowing it is not only you that this has happened to.

Others also start to see more clearly the level of hurt that such acts cause.

No one, after reading your account, can claim to be ignorant of the effects of actions such as these.

Managing Harassment

There’s no single answer as to the best response to harassment. Every situation is different.

Harassment is any form of unwanted conduct related to any of the discriminatory grounds, which has the purpose or effect of violating a person’s dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for the person. In the experiences you have presented here, it is sexuality-based harassment.

Freedom of expression or speech comes with responsibilities. A person has the right to express themselves, but also a responsibility not to harm others with their speech.

Let’s be clear about this: being harassed is not your fault. You are not responsible for another person’s bad behaviour.

You do not have to change your behaviour or sexuality to suit others. You do not have to disguise or suppress your sexuality to please others. You do not have to apologise for how others choose to judge you.

Whether it is in your sexuality, race, gender, religion or abilities – you are not expected to make any apologies about difference. It’s their job to deal with how they feel about difference.

Silence or ignoring it doesn’t make it better, and neither does it make it go away. Ignoring it sometimes can embolden perpetrators to act more audaciously to get a reaction.

What to Do

Firstly, whatever you do, stay calm. I know it’s tough, but don’t show fear and stay confident.

Make sure you and your partner are safe. Evaluate the situation. Is it safe to challenge them? It’s better to look and feel like a fool than to endanger your life.

Write down what has happened. Note the date, time and place. Jot down descriptions of the people involved – including any distinctive features that can be used to identify those who are harassing you.

Record it, too, if you can. These days, change has come, too, from people being shamed into doing the right thing.

Report! Report!! Report!!! I know it might appear that nothing is being done or that no action will be taken, but just report it. You have two avenues here.

You can report what has happened to the venue’s manager, given that they’re supposed to create a safe place for customers. The manager doesn’t leave shards of glass on the floor. They’re responsible, too, to ensure no one is throwing metaphorical shards of glass at you and your partner. If the manager shrugs it off as banter, tell him you’ll be making a formal complaint to Gardaí – which you should do, in any case.

I know this is hard. You might not want to be seen as a “troublemaker”. Logging a complaint can be seen as a time sink, too. But the most important thing to note here is that if no one takes any action, it won’t go away. It will get worse.

Tell the manager about both the incident and the bartender’s inaction. If he asks what to do, have suggestions ready. He could put up a sign saying, “Homophobes Are Not Welcome”, or “Homophobes Will Be Thrown Out.” He could ask offenders to stop, or leave, when he hears or sees abuse.

Seek help from a support group or LGBTQI community of friends and allies. Organise yourselves and visit the establishment before the busy business time and make a formal complaint to the manager. You might think it’s too much trouble and hassle. But as I said before, if nothing is done, nothing changes.

In both cases of reporting, you are asking for two things: that the organisation puts structures in place that shows they do not accept hate crimes or hate speech; and that they do not serve their pints with hate speech.

Name and shame and call it what it is: homophobic bullying, hate speech, homophobia and sexuality-based harassment. It is not banter or Irish craic. It is wicked and mean to get joy from someone else’s misery, suffering, or pain. Don’t allow them think it is a bit of boys’ banter, bias, or ignorance. It isn’t.

If the harassment makes you feel in danger or leads to violence, do call Gardaí immediately.

Finally, acknowledge how you feel. Harassment can cause harm in a way that can impinge on your human rights. Anything that makes you feel unsafe in a public space, or makes you feel you have to leave, has deprived you of your right to enjoy your environment safely.

Find a safe space and share with friends what happened. Find a way in your conversation to locate the problem in the perpetrator and not in you.

Create an Inclusive Environment

You may need to report this harassment to the pub or bar manager, and Gardaí. But it is not your responsibility to make it stop.

Organisations, pubs, restaurants, and so on have a responsibility to ensure that people aren’t harassed on their premises. They should take steps to make sure environments are safe and comfortable for everyone.

If you do not report it, there’s no record. The state can say there’s no problem.

As management consultant Peter Drucker famously said several decades ago: “what gets measured gets managed”.

The owner of a bar or restaurant has a responsibility to make the place safe for both staff and customers. If a staff member spills water on the floor and a customer slips and breaks their back, who will be sued? The staff member or the business? Obviously, the business.

The owner of the business has a responsibility, too, to have a policy around acceptable, and unacceptable, behaviour.

Think about another example: the smoking ban. The proprietor has to police the ban of indoor smoking.

We also need proper laws against hate speech that protect human dignity.

On Bystanders

If you witness abuse and do nothing, you’re as guilty as the people who taunted these two women.

It is exhausting to be, time and again, the only one fighting your corner. You need friends and strangers to stand up for what is good and right.

With individualism, we’ve lost a sense of community that makes us care for another human being like we care for ourselves.

We are not machines. We are humans, with a will, mind, and emotions. Let’s use those to make our world better for everyone.

Got questions about race and identity in contemporary Ireland that you’d like UCD lecturer Ebun Joseph tackle in her column? You can send them to us through this contact form.


Ebun Joseph: Dr Ebun Joseph is the module coordinator in UCD of the first Black Studies module in Ireland. She lectures on race, migration, social policy and equality. She is a career-development specialist, author and chairperson of the African Scholars Association Ireland (AfSAI). She is a citizen of both Nigeria and Ireland, and has lived in Ireland for more than 17 years.

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