Bars aren’t exactly places for polite conversation – campus bars are no exception. Jokes made within the walls of The Owl can be edgy, but sometimes edgy crosses the line into very offensive territory.
During The Owl’s Trivia Night held on Oct. 11, tag-lines for teams included derogatory words such as “faggot” and other homophobic statements.
According to Nathaniel Cole, a regular patron at the bar, seeing and hearing the rest of the crowd laugh and the hosts of the game encourage the word to be used made him feel singled out in the room.
“I think probably being one of the only out gay men in the room hear[ing] the word “faggot”, it was really isolating and it was kind of scary,” Cole said. “It kind of hit home for me because those are the kind of words I’ve heard my entire life, you know? I decided that I was going to do something about it.”
That evening, Cole took to Twitter to express his disapproval. Taking his frustrations further, Cole decided to write a ‘Letter to the Editor’ in the Carillon, which was published on October 18. The letter spoke about his experience that evening and how un-welcomed he felt being in the room. In the letter, he acknowledged that he knew the management at The Owl did not condone these types of actions, but he still wanted an apology from the hosts.
After the letter was published, Cole said he received some backlash.
“I felt kind of shitty for a couple days,” he said. “It took a lot for me to, you know, publish in the newspaper – outing myself to the entire campus, or the entire city or [whoever else] reads it. It’s a difficult part of the process, and there are people who hurt my feelings or made me feel unsafe. It just took me a lot to do that because lots of times I just don’t say anything and go on with it.”
On Oct. 11, The Owl’s manager, Alexis Losie, was out of the country and noticed Cole’s comments on Twitter about the homophobic attitude at the bar that evening. She direct messaged him and promised an apology would be made.
The same day that Cole’s letter appeared in the paper, Losie made an official apology with the staff face-to-face with Cole.
“I think it would have been a really easy solution for us to just write a letter in, remain faceless as an organization versus we’re the people who make the decisions – these are the people who made the comments,” she said. “Nathaniel was the one who felt scared and definitely a victim in this situation so talking to him face-to-face was [an] obvious move. It was logical. It was what I wanted to do. It’s hard to admit you were wrong, it’s hard to say ‘I’m sorry and I made a mistake.’ So for all of us to have to do [that] to Nathaniel and actually see his face, you know, that’s a hard one when you can see emotion on someone’s face versus reading it on a page.”
“I felt kind of shitty for a couple days. It took a lot for me to, you know, publish in the newspaper – outing myself to the entire campus, or the entire city or [whoever else] reads it. It’s a difficult part of the process, and there are people who…hurt my feelings or made me feel unsafe, it just took me a lot to do that because lots of times I just don’t say anything and go on with it.” – Nathaniel Cole
Since that Trivia Night, the opportunity for teams to use taglines has been removed.
Losie said that she wasn’t unaware of some of the more offensive taglines that were used in the past, but hosts had said it was hard to censor what would be offensive to some and not to others.
Losie also added that another regular patron approached her expressing their discomfort with jokes about child molestation since they had experienced it when they were younger.
At times, expressed Losie, she had also taken offense to explicit taglines including one that implied violence against women and necrophilia.
“I just wanted to address our customers. You don’t know how it affects the person sitting at a table beside you or even someone at your table when you laugh about that stuff,” Losie said.
On Nov. 6, The Owl staff received Positive Space Training from the UR Pride Centre for Sexuality and Gender Diversity.
The Positive Space sessions explain the “benefits of making a space more inclusive [for] LGBQT identities,” said UR Pride’s executive director Leah Keiser. The sessions also explain how to use respectful language, and how to stand up against others using the language.
“It’s not going to be exactly a positive space session because it would be kind of impossible to designate a common area in The Owl [but] what we could do though is designate a space like the kitchen or Alexis’ office or something like that. Regardless, we really wanted to bring that exact training to The Owl. That would be a first good step to combating the incident that had occurred and incidents that happened before. And Alexis had requested it.”
Losie said by having the training, the worst thing to happen would be for staff members to only adopt the new attitude temporarily.
“But the best case scenario is that they extend [the training] outside of here, and also take it to their friends when they’re at a house party, [so when] these words come up they make a point of saying it’s not acceptable,” she said.
While Cole said he has put the incident behind him, he is not optimistic that anything is about to change.
“I don’t think there’s going to be any drastic change, but at least there’s people talking about it,” he said. “But at the same time, the only people talking about it are the ones who care about these issues in the first place … The people who need to change their mind set haven’t heard about it or don’t care. But I hope for those that have, that it’s kind of made them think that it’s 2012 — just because gay people can get married doesn’t mean there’s equality across the board and there’s not oppression for those people on a daily basis.”
Photo courtesy Arthur Ward