A Thistly Issue

I read a story on the BBC News Website that inspired me to look at the wider picture, the story’s social backdrop. I’ve linked to it below, but here are the main points. I hope you’ll bear with me on this:

A young couple attempts to check into a double room at a hotel. Despite having booked the room in advance they are asked if they wouldn’t rather a twin room. They say no, the double is what they booked and the double is what they want. The receptionist again asks if they’d be happier in a twin room. The couple answer, again, no. They want a double room. At this point – and probably too late into the conversation – the receptionist claims that there isn’t an available double room in the hotel. The couple are more than welcome to the use of a twin or family room, both of which contain two single beds. The couple, not wanting to cause a fuss, accept a family room, albeit grudgingly. Later they tweet about their treatment and gather much support online, finally getting their story told by multiple news providers.

On the surface, my account reads as an inconvenient cock up in bookings. I’ve had this happen to me. In fact, on New Year’s Eve just gone, my girlfriend and I had to make do with pushing to single beds together because the “double room” we had booked didn’t actually have a double bed in it. It’s a pain in the arse but nothing to get too worked up about. So, why did this make headline news today?

It made headline news today because it has not been reported as a case of administrative incompetence but of wilful and illegal homophobia. Discrimination against a same sex couple along the lines of the B&B story of some time ago that brought about a clause in the law that states that nobody should be refused lodgings based on sexual orientation. And quite right too! I’m a strong supporter of equal rights. Discriminating against someone because they prefer their own gender is as repulsive as doing so based on skin colour, gender or intelligence.

But am I the only one to think there’s a slight overkill happening here? Does that BBC News article – including the quotes from both parties – read as an unfortunate case of crossed wires? A misunderstanding that has turned a mix up with a room into a case of corporate homophobia?

It could very well be that these guys were indeed discriminated against, but I see no real evidence of this in the story, neither in their description of events nor in the quotes from the receptionist that the couple have provided. It could be that they were being gently and unfairly (even unlawfully) pushed into separate beds as a result of homophobia. But then, they weren’t offered separate ROOMS, just beds. They were offered ONE room, with two single beds. Presumably none of the people involved in this story – the homophobic receptionist, the outraged couple – had thought that a neat way around the separation would be to slide the single beds together and throw a blanket over them.

Could it be that, as a society, we are far too quick to judge and yet also far to quick to feel judged? Could it be that, as a society, we feel like something is happening – like some justice is being done – when outrage is pasted onto what could be a simple mix up? Could it be that – as society mellows to a communal acceptance that people are people and no two are the same; that some men like other men, some women other women and it’s tough luck because that’s life and it is 2013 for fuck sake – those who never had an issue anyone else’s sexuality, colour or gender anyway are too quick to point the finger at those they perceive to be in the slightest way judgemental?

Was this worth all this? With the Thistle getting angry vows of “no more custom from us thank you very much!!!” from even the most reasonable people via social networking sites and virtual armies of people jumping on the bandwagon to berate a huge company (because huge companies are the enemy too, right? So this is killing two birds with one stone!) and yet NO evidence that this scenario even took place (Thistle are investigating) let alone was meant as a slight to a gay couple, aren’t we making a mountain out of a molehill right now?

Would it not be fairer to everyone involved to wait? To see what actually happened? To see IF there was indeed a mix up with the room or if the receptionist was being vile? Do the couple really want all this fuss, stemming from a handful of of tweets? Maybe. Maybe not. They’ve said themselves that they were surprised their original tweets got such a massive reaction. I’m pretty sure Thistle Hotels don’t want to have to make blanket apologies without investigation. I doubt it’s in their handbook that staff should be discriminatory.

I pride myself on being tolerant, understanding and supportive of minorities almost by default. Whether gay or disabled or whatever, if you’re picked on I’ll have your back. I’m pretty left leaning politically, some may say very much so. But I’m also a logical fella who has learned the hard way that knee-jerk reactions can lead not only to you hurting people, but also to you looking like a dick and getting yourself into trouble. It’s not good, assuming things. If the receptionist was being a dick then I’m right behind this couple, that goes without saying. But we just don’t know for sure! We have an anecdote. So far, that’s all!

You can read the BBC News website’s coverage of this story here and hopefully you can make up your own mind… Though we probably shouldn’t do so without knowing all the facts as well as having read this emotive anecdote. I’m not calling anyone a liar, here, let me be clear. But nor am I prepared to call anyone a homophobe just yet.

And I think I’ll give writer David Llewellyn the last word, from his tweet inspired no doubt by this story and many others. Something with which I could not agree more:

@TheDaiLlew: Watching a left wing Twitter mob appoint itself judge and jury is every bit as ugly as watching a right wing Daily Mail witch hunt.

EDIT: My girlfriend did some digging this morning and found this great and informative blog about this story and how it needs to be looked at again. It offers more than just opinion – as this post has – and takes my theory of a room mix up to the next level (namely, that of “breach of t’s & c’s”). So, sorry David, I’m taking the last word back and giving it to Skip’s Acorn Treasury. Take a look at this!

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One comment

  1. I think you highlighted the essential issue with this story when you said “Later they tweet about their treatment”.
    Why did they feel the need to tweet about the experience.

    You need to look at the context in which the tweets were made I suppose. Did they come across as feeling discriminated or was there a hint of “oh well” about it when they pushed the beds together?

    The biggest issue is the mob justice up-swell that emerges when stories like this are broadcast in the tiny space of a 140 Character message.
    Its very easy for someone to ‘RT’ a single message from a twitter stream and the whole story takes a somewhat different direction.

    Twitter IS fast and furious. It allows us to dip in, express an opinion and quickly comment on someone else’s opinion too. All in a blink of an eye/click of the mouse.

    Twitter has a lot to answer for here and needs to take responsibility for a world that is still not mature enough for the service it provides.

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