Laughable Tolerance


Do gay jokes indicate tolerance and acceptance or mask ignorance, bullying and homophobia?

According to the latest issue of NZ skateboarding magazine Manual, UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova announced skateboarding as the official professional sport for this year’s observance of World Tolerance Day 16 November 2014. The article “Skate, Don’t Hate” claims that during announcement speech in Hague last month, Bokova praised Skateboarding for acceptance of athletes from all walks of life:

“Skateboarding has within its ranks some of the most diverse members of any professional sport… Those athletes with mental illnesses compete alongside those in possession of all facilities. Alcoholics and drug addicts vie for prize money against the impossibly moral. Convicted murderers, felons and those that simply got away with it are teammates with the most fervently religious. Straight acting homosexuals and gay acting heterosexuals alike are accepted with open arms and its acceptance seemingly know no bounds and is arguably the most tolerant sports culture since Greco-Roman Wrestling. “

"A representative from the skateboarding delegation Robert Stanley of Ohio said “We are humbled by the honour. It goes to show that you can be a meth addict turned bible thumping Christian, a borderline personality with a borderline rap career, a murderer or a homophobe and still go to do great things in skateboarding, such is the depth of acceptance”.

If you find this a bit weird, there is nothing wrong with you; apparently the article is a stunt. According to the Manual’s editor Jake Mein, magazine decided to 'offer something more thought provoking' and question 'in satirical way' 'how tolerant we really are'. He also mentioned that the image on the mag’s cover elicited differing opinions and division like nothing before.

This awkward image and story around it seem to show that gays are still the best shot to draw controversy, but does the attention grabbing stunt also illustrates that we are still looked at as freaks and weirdoes, something to laugh at? And unfortunately while gay-friendliness of the sport is hilariously exaggerated in the article, the reference to murderers and homophobes in skateboarding is no joke.

Legendary Jay Adams, who redefined skateboarding, was also a gay-basher who started unprovoked attack on a gay couple which resulted in the tragic death of gay man Dan Bradbury. In 2004 book Scarred for Life by Keith David Hamm, Adams remembers the incident:

"One night in Hollywood, deep into booze and backed by his boys, Jay mouthed off to a male couple—one white, one black—strolling hand in hand down the street. After Jay's initial provocation—"Fuck you, you fuckin' homos!—things got ugly.

"I kicked the big white guy, knocked him into the paper machines… and then the black guy squared off and I took off my shirt and I go, 'Come on! Nigger! Faggot! I'll kill you!' And he socked me. Pow! Knocked me down. Then Polar Bear [Dennis Agnew] knocked him out. Boom! Then the white guy came back over and I ran and I jumped and kicked him in the mouth and knocked him out. So they were both on the ground, basically knocked out. And I grabbed Dennis and we left… A bunch of [other] guys started kicking the black guy, with boots on. And he died."

Two other professional skateboarding stars Danny Way and Josh Swindell were involved in the murder of gay man Keith Ogden. Josh and his mates repeatedly assaulted Keith in the act of hate crime, dragging him across the street and leaving him to die with face “beaten beyond recognition". While Danny Way who started the assault was never charged, Swindell got a life sentence for murder and spent nearly 20 years behind bars.

Earlier this year a series of homophobic attacks carried out in Sao Paolo by the gang of 'Skateboard Nazis' resulted in brutal murder of gay teenager Bruno Borges de Oliveira who was repeatedly kicked and hit on his head with a skateboard.

So article exploiting gay theme for the shock value and making farcical parody of the tragic reality does not at all look funny to me. And it came as the latest publicity stunt among the range of other ‘so gay’ jokes treating gay identity as something inferior and humiliating.

The Edge radio staged a sham wedding of straight mates from Dunedin Matt McCormick and Travis McIntosh. While entering fake marriages in order to get money remuneration would be considered a serious fraud with legal implications when for example immigration is involved, fake marriage arrangement to get a holiday trip abroad is considered an innocent joke, as long as all the fun is at the expense of gay community.

Why are gay themes so popular for pranks? Is it because homophobes are naturally fascinated with gay lifestyle, being disgusted by it and drawn to it at the same time? Or do gay jokes like racist or sexist jokes expose power misbalance in the society where more vulnerable citizens are being picked on by those more privileged who happen to be straight white men? Is not a joke both common starting point and popular excuse for bullying?

To paraphrase radio Edge infamous Dom Harvey’s incident, these stories are so gay you can get AIDS from them. Dom Harvey himself was made to walk Auckland Pride Parade in g-string after losing a bet. The idea of the bet was to humiliate the victim to the maximum, making him laughable 'queen for the day', sending rather different message from acceptance and pride that parade was meant to project. Yes, sometimes it is hard for us to stop being made fun of but do we really have to play along with the pranksters?

When straight dudes put on dresses in stag parties and play gay with each other are they indeed heralding their tolerance and acceptance, showing respect to women and gay-friendliness? Or is it just bare hazing and humiliation?

Why ‘gay’ still often seems to be read as ‘funny’? Why LGBT characters end up in outrageously comic camp roles, from classical movies like “Some like it hot” and “Birdcage” to modern day TV shows like “Coronation Street” and “Modern Family”? Why are there so many flamboyant gay comedians? Veteran out actor Rupert Everett believes that openly gay actors are pushed out from leading roles into doing drag. Graham Norton complained that straight BBC producers had been forcing him to constantly make gay jokes and innuendos. But is comedy indeed our niche market and are we still seriously expected to be clowns in the human circus?

Is humour that LGBT people become adapted to a sign of resilience or capitulation? Are we fighting back with it bigotry or does it make us compliant with the predetermined role within the society? When we show our rainbow colours are we seeing as wearing a pride flag on our sleeve or just a ‘pink triangle’ on our back? Are we perceived as valuable rare species or merely freaks from a freak show? Would our compliance with gay stereotypes and acceptance of mockery and ridicule be the inevitable price for the society’s tolerance?

Along with editor of the Manual Magazine I also hope that the article will initiate discussion about tolerance. How much are we tolerated? Can we be tolerated without being put down? Shall we even settle with being tolerated in the society or should we demand to be truly accepted and embraced by it? Shall we continue tolerating mockery and offence playing it down as a joke?


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