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[public.] displays of equality

HOUSTON BARAKAT weighs up the case of the two lesbian women asked to leave a Wellington nightclub on the weekend and asks: are we just jumping on the homophobia band-wagon without enough information?

Here we go again. A bar patron asked to leave a bar on the basis of something seemingly discriminatory.

[public.] displays of affection

In this particular case, it was a lesbian couple asked to leave [public.] bar on Courtenay Place after a night spent there with friends. At 2.50am, when they leaned in for a kiss, they were very promptly asked to leave.

I’m sure we can all agree that discrimination of any kind in any 21st century First World country is outdated, out of fashion and really only continuing to maintain or grow its influence in small pockets of the South Island (a la Right Wing Resistance). However first I’d just like to examine the complaint itself and where the discrimination may have been present, or perceived to have been present.

[public.] humiliation

Within five hours of the first post referencing the incident on the UniQ Victoria page, 27 posts had been written on Public’s Wall claiming that Public were, amongst other things, risking their reputation, their license, being discriminatory, being hateful et al.

[public.] execution

Based purely on the information I’ve seen and what has been published publically, I think one should have just as much of a problem with the calls for the protest of Public as I do with the proposition that they might be homophobic. Very few of the comments that are published condemn the individual; in fact, most seem to either imply or straight out claim that Public hates homos. One comment even suggested that they’re happy to hire the gays but they’re not so happy taking their custom and having them sit with all their other customers – it certainly evokes a sense of pre-1960s Deep South American racism. There have also been calls, based on the little evidence released, for public (lol) boycotts, protests and press statements. Obviously, based on the little information we have and the likelihood of a misunderstanding, this is ludicrous. I often think we on the left can get a bit carried away sometimes.

[public.] law

If Public were to be charged with breaches of the Human Rights Act, based purely on the information thus far released, they’d get off for a few reasons:

1) You cannot prove they were asked to leave because of their sexual orientation, or because Public has a no-homo policy. The person who asked them to leave did not mention sexual orientation nor does the bar have an anti-gay policy or agenda – a quick look at the staff working there will tell you as much

2) The potential for misunderstanding. As no discriminatory words or statements were ever actually said, saying that that was the motive for evicting these girls relies purely on ability to read body language; a thoroughly untrustworthy and legally dismissable form of evidence, especially if alcohol had been consumed that night

3) The bar was closed at 3am, and these girls were asked to leave at 2.50am. There was definitely, as one commenter remarked, possibility for misunderstanding regarding reasons for ‘eviction’

4) As a gay man, I have often met other gay friends there, albeit reluctantly (plastic menus and big screen TVs….eeeeewww….). Whilst I’ve never indulged in PDA there, I’ve often been with people that have (refer to the point about we on the left getting carried away sometimes…). As soulless, tasteless and (x)less as I find that bar, I can at least say I have never experienced any outwards form of prejudice or discrimination there whether on my own or with others. I doubt it would be very easy to find cases of gays that can say they have been, therefore hard to establish that its a systemic problem at Public. You can’t campaign to change a problem unless you can absolutely prove it exists.

5) This seems to be an isolated incident. This is the first complaint of its type I’ve ever heard of in Wellington, let alone of a bar that hires openly gay staff in Courtenay Place.

6) A bar owner, licensee or building owner can legally ask anyone to leave the building for any reason unless one can prove the reason is discriminatory. Unless they made clear to you the reason for eviction was ‘because you’re gay’ or ‘because you’re a woman’ there are no grounds under the Human Rights Act in which you can claim a breach of that same act.

[public.] protection under the law

The most infamous case of such a breach in the last year was when a patron was evicted from the Turf Bar in Christchurch and said it was because of his facial ta moko. There was also a similar case where the licensee of Bourbon St bar in Christchurch was fined for the same breach in 2009. The crucial part here is that they told the patrons involved the reasons they were asked to leave. Miss Galbraith doesn’t seem to have been told which will give Public protecion under the law. The body language described could just as easily have been attributed to a staff member that didn’t like their shoes, hair style or just PDA in general — all perfectly legal reasons to ask someone to leave.

Innocent until proven guilty has also always been a fundamental rule of the legal system and democracies all around the world. We saw what happened with Darren Hughes last year. Why are we now able to go to the media and make pretty serious public judgments on people and businesses when the media couldn’t do it to one of our own last year?

Now given all of the above, why are so many people so quick to jump on the bandwagon and start claiming that Public is a prejudiced business? Talks of a boycott, protest, visible and public condemnation of what is being called a Human Rights breach, threats to go to the press, when there is still a giant possibility it was just a giant misunderstanding? Is it that much of a stretch to imagine that these girls were asked to leave a bar, in the gay capital of New Zealand, which hires openly gay staff, that was closing in ten minutes, by a guy who had bad timing and rubbish body language? Why do we all jump on the discrimination train straight away without carefully considering all the factors?

A few posts on a facebook page is hardly Kony2012, but surely y’all can remember the controversy that was caused when people were signing up and buying t-shirts for an organisation they’d never heard of before, nor cared to research. It’s this arbitrary wagon-riding that’s damaging the credibility of everyone.

any [public.]ity is good [public.]ity?

It also isn’t too hard to see the possibility that, if Public is found to be innocent of discrimination (has anyone questioned whether the guy who asked them to leave is gay?) and it’s reported (as seems to be the desire of a lot of people) the bar gets a lot busier by people who’ve read what’s reported and have come to the same conclusion I’ve proposed.

What will the real public think about gays then? Overly eager to cry ‘discrimination,’ quick to jump to the most negative conclusion and on the loudest bandwagon…Sound familiar? As someone who is both Maori and gay, I have been fighting that stereotype for long enough and it’s not fun.

[public.] disclosure statement

I hate discrimination. The idea of treating some lesser than others because of their age, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or other things they have no control over makes me incredibly uneasy and fucked off. Some of my best friends are gay and lesbian lobbyists, human rights lawyers, law students and Gender Studies tutors.

[public.] defenders

What pisses me off just as much is when people make massive claims with little perspective and little information for as much effect as possible without asking more questions. I’m not saying this couple didn’t suffer discrimination. I’m saying that based on the information that has been made public so far, there’s insufficient evidence to say they certainly did. However instead of realising that, instead of realising that just because one bartender may have discriminated that it doesn’t necessarily make the business owners homophobes, people have just decided to jump on the bandwagon saying its ‘a violation of our human rights.’ Yes, it is, but only if you can prove it, and based on the available information, you can’t.

In the [public.] eye

The more frivolous and constant the protests, boycotts and press releases the less credibility we hold as a community. Do your research, get some perspective, and always ask more questions. Sort out these problems quietly between the parties involved before you go to the press or set up a social justice page without giving the people involved a chance to respond. Don’t just jump straight from first gear to last resort on such little information.

[public.] warning

Whether you agree with what I’ve said or not, it’s a pretty standard concession that we live in an overly-litigious society. Not as much as the USA, but still pretty quick to jump to first to facebook, then the press, then legal avenues if we feel we’ve been slighted, ripped off and treated unfairly. The lack of real news in New Zealand certainly helps this attitude.

On this note I think it fair to finish with a warning first to the guy involved, and then to everybody else. Be careful about how you treat others. We’re more electronically networked than ever before. If something you do may be misconstrued as discriminatory, don’t do it. Regardless of whether you meant it or not, when you work in the public eye you’ve got certain responsibilities you have to fulfill.

And to everyone else: keep asking questions. Investigate things properly before jumping to judgment. It both annoys and inspires me the way students for equality have picked this up. It shows you still care about social justice, which is a great legacy of the student movement. However another important part of university is the necessity of free inquiry. Asking questions, being critical, analysing, researching, learning and understanding that one issue can have many viewpoints. Remember the importance of perspective. This guy’s career, the bar’s business, your credibility could all be lost due to a misunderstanding. If it’s proven not to be one, by all means protest, picket and pash-in all you like. But until it is, hold off on the [public.] humiliation and [public.] executions, eh?

I’ve often thought we on the left can get a little carried away sometimes.

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  1. Can I just add a wee [public.] disclaimer notice: after reading the letter thoroughly again, I picked up something I didn’t pick up before: that the staff member responsible for their eviction apparently told them clearly that if they were straight, they would not have been required to leave. If this is true, then they are indeed liable under the Human Rights Act 1991 and outrage is justified. The main gist of the article however remains the same:

    The eviction was an independent decision made by an individual. His views obviously do not reflect the views of Public bar who hire openly gay staff, and have done for a very long time. Criticism of the bar in its entirety seem, at this stage, unjustified.

    Discrimnation is evil – however we should always make sure to not be sucked in by viral albeit well-meaning campaigns without inquiry first. We should always do our own research when it comes to making calls that could significantly and negatively affect the lives of everyone involved.

    If it can’t be proven he did evict the ladies on the basis of sexual orientation, he cannot be charged under the law.

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    • Anonymous says:

      So the staff member used the word straight??!! That has more than one meaning i.e. not on drugs… Just a thought…

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  2. That's right says:

    “As a gay man, I have often met other gay friends there, albeit reluctantly (plastic menus and big screen TVs….eeeeewww….)”


    That’s right!

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  3. The point I was trying to get across was that I’m not a die hard supporter of the bar, have no particular affection for it and that I’m not (kind of) standing up for them because it occupies a special space in my heart. Obviously I need to try harder (and Public needs new menus)…I send a thousand apologies if I didn’t communicate my point clearly enough.

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  4. Anonymous says:

    whats the bars name? that story is far too long, just tell me the name of the bar then I will know to avoid the bar.

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  5. READ IT! says:

    Read the article, it’s really good! It basically says that the gay community are once again up in arms over something that is probably nothing, and that the information we have so far won’t stand up in the HRC and could have just been a misunderstanding.


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  6. Anonymous says:

    You you should also note that the bar closes at 5 not 3…

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  7. They’re licensed until 5, but that night they closed at 3.

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  8. Who’s Houston Bakarat?

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    • Anonymous says:

      why are u turning against your own kin houston? or are u some annoying straight?

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  9. Houston, A great article that sums up the discomfort many have over this issue at face value. My own major unease with what has happened is that it went out onto social media in the first place not the last. The couple in question have a ready made remedial path to follow via the HRC, but chose the facebook route….cue ranting calls for bans, fines, boycotts etc.

    How loud will the facebook/media world be when the other half of the picture emerges. But the damage is already done….shamed on the front page, apologised to on the bottom of page 107. I support their case, but vehemently oppose the approach they took and the wording used to garner sympathy for their case while setting Public up for the backlash.

    Social media as a rallying call for a lynch mob if ever there was one.

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    • Anonymous says:

      dont stick up for those stupid straights, good on them for been exposed on face book, i hate straights like that

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    • Sebastian says:

      Incredibly well said JRW.

      This all seems to have jumped the gun. The LGBT community of Wellington seems to be up in arms about something that is probably nothing. The Bar closed at 3 that night. The bouncer probably saw them having a snog, thought they might be a little bit drunk, and simply asked them to leave. It probably wasn’t a peck, but it probably wasn’t getting finger-rapey either – but they’re a couple, and as a guy in a relationship I can say – the kisses between couples in love are passionate, and may give off the wrong signals to the other individuals (in this case, the bouncer) – This just sounds like a case of breaking up the party before things get too rowdy, if you catch my drift. There was only about 10 minutes until closing when they were asked to leave anyway.

      But hey – this is New Zealand, and the LGBT “Community” – and we just love ourselves a good lynching of “gay haters” and jumping on a bandwagon. Something, anything! to distract us from realising how goddam bored we are down here. You know what sickens me? We’re supposed to be the tolerant ones, the accepting ones. The LGBT Community are supposed to be the strong ones who show compassion and free love, we’re supposed to be the non-judgemental ones.

      What a fucking joke.

      Without knowing the entire story, you’ve all jumped on the Homophobia wagon, like sheep. All for the chance to make yourselves feel important by blowing this entire situation out of proportion, posting on their facebook page, twittering your views and blogging about it. Rather than show humility you showed anger, rather than express reasoning and understanding, you expressed words of hate and judgment. You didn’t care for the entire story – in your eyes, the girls story was good enough. You played right into their bored little hands, and the managment of [public] have now been demonised and unfairly shamed.

      Congratulations on being such amazingly pre-mature, conceited, judgemental assholes. You make me ashamed to be a gay kiwi.

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  10. This article is way too long.


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  11. Anonymous says:

    yeah who wants to read all this crap, sure if i was doing an assignment or something, but fuck reading all this shit


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  12. That’s what this article is about actually…

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    • Anonymous says:

      STFU! Houston You are a fucking dick, just fuck off and never write an article again you dummy

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  13. Anonymous says:

    dont let this houston put articles on here again guys, he is a traitor

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  14. I’m rather disappointed it descended into petty, childish name-calling so early. Ah well.

    I hope you have fun making the rest of us look bad.

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  15. *You’re *mighty *aren’t *Umm (is that even a word?) and I may be mistaken, but I believe *dickhead is one word.

    In response: I wouldn’t say I’m high and mighty, but thank you for calling me so. I would however assert that you seem to take pleasure in being an idiot, which is far more unattractive.

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  16. Great piece says:

    Great analysis of the situation. I agree with Houston and most of the points he raises. Always ask questions before you rally so desperately all of your energy. Well done for talking some sense amongst this emotive and thoughtless situation. If there was discrimination then hang that staff member out to dry, but that won’t be proven with the little facts we have. It sounds like these girls just didn’t appreciate that they were asked to leave for whatever reason, possibly because they were drunk and disorderly or possibly because they looked at the bouncer the wrong way.

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  17. All of the negative criticism has come from people that haven’t actually read what I’ve written.

    I’m quite chuffed by that (and the 127 shares), thanks guys 🙂

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  18. Houston said “This is the first complaint of its type I’ve ever heard of in Wellington, let alone of a bar that hires openly gay staff in Courtenay Place.” Short memory or not listening to others? Temperance (now closed) barred drag queens, another bar (now closed) barred an older man on age grounds, other bars have excluded and allowed assaults on lesbians. Some bars employ staff who are rude and disrespectful towards queer customers, especially those who appear more flamboyant. Few people who have been treated in this way have the stamina to go through a complaints process, especially if it risks outing them.

    Some of the posters were intemperate but Rebekah’s own words seem more reasonable. If Public had responded more politely to Rebekah’s initial complaint the issue may not have escalated as it has.

    The manager – who wasn’t at the bar – has defended the staff member but how would he know what was said? Accusing a customer of lying isn’t helpful. He should reassure customers that they would be treated fairly in future, and agree to investigate the incident, and to remind staff of legal obligations for professional, nondiscriminatory behaviour towards all customers. That is still possible but will be harder for people to believe him.

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  19. Temperance closed down about 4 years ago if I recall correctly? The bar that replaced it was very queer friendly, even serving as the bar where the closing ceremony of the Outgames was held. Also – barring drag queens doesn’t necessarily make you homophobic. If straight guys showed up in dresses I’ve no doubt they would’ve been denied entry as well, perfectly legal and, by logical inference – not discriminatory.

    I’m unaware of these other bars you speak of, but I doubt they would’ve been in the last five years. Wellington as a whole is famous for its queer culture and acceptance of diversity. Yes, some individuals do harbour homophobic attitudes, but they’re definitely few and far between, especially in Wellington.

    I agree that Miss Galbraiths response was very reasonable. I just think its a shame that a large amount of the LGBT public, who weren’t even there, didn’t handle this with the class, sense or intelligence that she did, raising a point I asserted in what I wrote – far too quick to jump on the discrimination bandwagon before the release of more information and before asking for more information. It’s this kind of half-baked slacktivism that loses both ones credibility and the credibility of ones cause.

    As for the response from bar management – probably the worst case of damage control I’ve ever seen by a bar owner who isn’t the brightest star in the sky. But how would you like it if, even though you hire gay staff and have close gay family members and friends, your bar inspired mass protest by a social media lynch mob, none of whom were even there, by the actions of an independent, long-serving and trusted staff member? It was terrible damage control, and a prompt apology (whether you thought it was justified or not) would have helped blow this whole thing over.

    I feel sorry for both the girls and the business owners. This should have always been left to them to sort out between them as adults without the LGBT community threatening protest, press coverage, boycotts and sit-ins. If that didn’t work out, then perhaps go down that route. But for the LGBT community response to jump straight from first gear to last resort doesn’t help anyone and was completely unnecessary, especially when balanced against Miss Galbraiths own very level-headed and reasonable response.

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    • Anonymous says:

      shut the fuk up Houston, and fuck off with all your bad essays . fuck houston u think youre a fuckn author dont u? just fuck off

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      • Sebastian says:

        Hey Anonymous – why don’t you fuck off? Just a thought, you big keyboard warrior you.

        At least Houston has enough conviction to front up to what he says, and justifies his words accordingly, while you just sit there in your hostile little corner of the internet, hiding behind the safety of your computer screen, spewing your acidic comments of hate. Wow, aren’t you just the fucking Vanguard of Gay Courage.

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  20. Houston, we have a problem – you don’t seem to have an off switch

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    • READ IT! says:

      Kate, that is neither ironic nor entertaining. Please offer something more substantial or refrain from commenting in future.

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    • Houston. says:

      I’m terribly sorry Kate…I have a tendency to get rather intoxicated off the exuberance of my own verbosity inadvertently resulting in the discomfort of others…it’s something I’m working on but I can’t seem to keep my hands off the keyboard I’m afraid…

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  21. And They Ask Why Im Leaving... says:

    Well documented and written Houston; you managed to restore just a smidgen of faith that I had all but lost in the LGBTXYZ “community”. By posting a fair and balanced article on an active gay community forum. Even when faced with poorly augmented backlash such as that of “anonymous” you have resisted the temptation to lower your self to peti squabbling and name calling.
    I cant help but feel if the wider LBGTXYZ group were as adult, considered and genuine that I would not feel pushed as pushed away from the “community” that theoretically exists to support me.
    My understanding is that although modern western society may not have reached 100% tolerance and acceptance of all sexuality, races, creeds and religions we are at least at a point where the “minorities” can work together with the “majority” to create a much wider, more accepting citywide community.
    Wellington, nor New Zealand has a large enough population to really segment itself as much as many try to. It also appears to me that many homos are discriminate of sexuality. “Don’t side with the straights” I hear you cry.
    As a discrete gay man, I tell those that need to know my sexuality the truth, I think we have, or at least are now able; to accept all sexualities, religions and anything else without having to make a song and dance about it. If we don’t want to be stereotyped then stop adhering to stereotypes. Therefore I have no “Pride” in being gay just like I wouldn’t have pride if were straight.. People should be proud of their entire being regardless of who they do or do’t find attractive,
    On a side note; any form of PDA, unless pleasantly discrete, is gross.

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    • Sebastian says:

      See, I always wondered what the big issue people have with this is all about? It just seems kinda strange that people down here seem so put off by displays of affection/sexuality. Sure, you’ll go to a club and maybe make out with a guy/girl on the dance floor, but then you see a couple (gay or straight) sharing a GENUINE moment with each other, that doesn’t involve drugs or alcohol – and suddenly your repelled like a French abbey nun discovering an orgasm!

      Seriously, what’s wrong with holding hands or letting others enjoy being in love. No offence – but it sounds a bit bitter and conceited.

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  22. And They Ask Why Im Leaving... says:

    Holding hands and a genuine peck on the cheek etc fall into the “pleasantly discrete” basket. However some take this too far and are all over each other in a drunken sloppy slur. Its this kind of PDA that can be unpleasant, I have no issues with genuine love where drugs or booze are not involved, but when its done to make a statement or to push boundaries or out of intoxicated lust then I personally disagree with it, gay, straight or otherwise.

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  23. Thanks Houston for the article, it is refreshing to hear a logical point of view. I was thinking that a misunderstanding, given the situation, would be very likely and nobody had raised this point so far.

    Good on management for listening to their staff and siding with them. I (though not on the same industry) have experienced a complaint and my manager stuck by me. Luckily, I was able to provide email proof to back him up (after the fact)! It is very easy to shove someone right in front a bus to save face.

    Temporance didnt let anyone into their bar apart from Rugby players, my partner was wearing a suit and didnt get in. This is why they where closed down.

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  24. Disgruntled Queer says:

    I have just written to “Salient” outlining my desire for Ms. Fowler to resign.

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