Twitter 1 Greencoat Boy 0, says Grace Fletcher-Hackwood

Imagine this scene – or, if you’re one of the many people it’s happened to, remember the last time it happened to you.

You’re with a group of friends and colleagues, heading to a pub after a meeting. There are a lot of you so you’ve booked ahead. Except that when you get there, the manager says he’s not going to serve you. Because you and your friends are gay, lesbian, bisexual and/or transgender.

Oh, and by the way, it is 2010.

Maybe you’d have left without wanting to make a fuss. Maybe you’d have reminded the manager that he was breaking the law, and taken your custom elsewhere.

Unfortunately for the manager of the Greencoat Boy in Westminster, the very large group of people to whom he reportedly stated “We would have refused your booking if we’d known it was an LGBT group” were LGBT Labour on their post-AGM social. I’m racking my brains to think of any group of people more knowledgeable – and proud – of the laws the Labour government brought in against discrimination on the grounds of sexuality in the provision of goods and services. I’m struggling.

As well as calling the police and going to the station to make a statement, the LGBT Labour comrades naturally got the word out. They called the gay press, but better still: they tweeted what had happened; they tweeted pictures of themselves not being served; and they tweeted the name of the pub that had refused to serve them.

And the Twitter machine swung into action. Within ten minutes of Richard Angell’s first tweet explaining what had happened, ‘Greencoat Boy’ was the top Twitter trending topic in the UK. Tweeters gay, bi and straight, trans and cis, Labour and not, joined in to encourage their followers to take action.

The email address of the chain that owns the pub was found and circulated, as was the ‘phone number of the pub. Tweeters shared their favourite pub review websites, suggesting others leave comments about the Greencoat Boy’s homophobia and transphobia. When a commenter on my website asked how one goes about asking the local authority to review a pub’s licence, it took two minutes for Twitter to find the answer.

Of course, moral support isn’t all that’s needed here. The manager of the Greencoat Boy needs to be sacked for breaking the law, Punch Taverns need to apologise and sort out some serious training, and a little mainstream media coverage would be nice to make it clear to other businesses and consumers that this discrimination is illegal. According to Laurence Durnan, Punch are making a statement today, so we’ll see how they react to the bombardment of complaints they have received.

But at the same time, the fact that the Twitter community – and it is a community – jumped into this fight with both feet, just as they did with Jan Moir and Chris Grayling, has reminded me why I believe in social networks and why I’m so proud of the one I belong to.

I am so, so proud of my fellow members of LGBT Labour for standing up for their rights (and gutted that I wasn’t there to do it with them), but I’m also proud of the many more people who shared in their outrage and took action to support them. Homophobia and transphobia are no match for the progressive power of the internet. Between us we have the contacts, the knowledge, the will, the power and the time to fight back, and you’d better believe we will.

Grace Fletcher-Hackwood is a blogger and a tweeter


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8 Responses to “Twitter 1 Greencoat Boy 0, says Grace Fletcher-Hackwood”

  1. John H says:

    Great stuff. The only bit I feel a little uncomfortable about is saying the manager should be sacked. I’d prefer to look at Punch Taverns’ behaviour first: are they training their managers in the law? Do they have diversity training programmes to challenge their employees’ prejudices?

    “Sack the employee responsible” doesn’t feel very “Labour”, and could be a way for Punch Taverns to get off the hook (“one bad apple, individual no longer works for us”). I’d hope the manager could come to realise what a ghastly error of judgment he made, and to let go of the prejudice that lay behind his actions.

  2. Chris Paul says:

    Aw, Grace, where’s the ignorant homophobic comment I came here to flame?

  3. Very well written piece, Grace. 10/10 and to the top of the class for you!

  4. Rachel says:

    It goes without saying that Greenboy’s treatment of LGBT Labour was completely, utterly and totally descpicable. It is right that such treatment is illegal.

    HOWEVER….I’m going to stick my neck out here and say that when I saw this story trending on twitter it really upset me.

    I live in Whitehaven and had spent the day consoling friends about the week’s tragic events. I spent yesterday attending memorial services across Copeland. Our whole community is still in shellshock.

    In this context, a group of adults make a fuss about not getting served in a pub and a landlord’s flippant remark. Absolutely every member of Labour’s twitterati from John Prescott downwards chimed in to offer moral support. It struck me that the overwhelming majority of these people (with the noble exceptions of Cumbrian MP John Woodcock, James Lewis and Kerry McCarthy MP) hadn’t even twittered about the tragic events let alone offer us any words of support.

    Whitehaven and Egremont are hardcore Labour towns surrounded by vast swathes of Tory hinterland. Labour party activists who just over a month ago were knocking on doors in a “key marginal” seat were caught in the crossfire, are grieving the loss of relatives and friends. To put things in perspective, when David Cameron and Theresa May turned up, the “word on the street” of Whitehaven was that this was a “Labour town” and that people would’ve preferred to have seen the leader of the Labour Party than a Tory Prime Minister. I happen to disagree with them: I think it was right and appropriate that DC and TM visited regardless of political colours. But it makes the point. These are “our people”: our core vote.

    Don’t get me wrong: I have been overwhelmed by messages of support from friends across the world – as have many of us here in Copeland. Messages of support have also been received from across the Houses of Parliament, from churches across the world and others.

    What upset me about this Greenboy twitter thing was the complete absence of perspective. It was as if every member of Labour’s twitterati had to be seen jumping on this particular bandwagon, presenting this as the most terrible thing that has happened to Labour Party activists this week.

    Well, I’m sorry. It wasn’t the most terrible thing to happen to Labour activists this week.

    We, as Labour activists, are in the middle of trying to work out why we lost an election (though we didn’t in Copeland). Conversations are being had about how we lost touch with our “core vote” and real issues that affect people’s everyday lives. If we, as a party, even dare to think that not being served in a pub can even possibly compete with being caught in crossfire, suffering gunshot wounds and grieving relatives then we really have lost touch with reality.

  5. Rachel says:

    In order to really bring things home, one of those who was killed (Mike Pike) was a member of the Labour party.

  6. Martin, London says:

    Rachel, in perspective yes clearly the shootings in Cumbria are far more horrifying than a group of people turned away from a pub. My heart goes out to those people who have been directly or indirectly affected by what happened in the Whitehaven area. I found some of the footage shown yesterday of the service held, probably harder to watch than the footage from the day of the incident itself, because seeing the community itself out there in the rain made it feel incredibly real.

    I think that lining the two events up side-by-side doesn’t really compare. I think it’s possible to feel sorry for the people of Whitehaven AND to feel sorry for the people who faced discrimination on Saturday. I don’t see them as mutually exclusive in that you have to pick one or the other.

    Nor do I see this as a “Labour activists” issue. I’m not a member of any political party, even if my voting patterns have tended to be predominantly LibDem or Labour. I think I would have been equally horrified if an LGBT Tory group had been the ones affected at the Greencoat Boy. Or if it had been a group that was not affiliated to a political organisation. An incident like that would transcend politics in most people’s eyes – that’s why you’ll find LGBT Tory tweets supporting the LGBT Labour group over the incident.

    Why did one event get distributed by word of mouth on Twitter, whilst another did not? Probably because from my perspective at least, I learned of the Cumbria tragedy on BBC News and in the national press. Sending a message limited to 140 characters in this instance didn’t feel appropriate for that. So I left a few comments at the foot of a newspaper article. Whilst in the case of the Greencoat Boy incident, I doubt that it would have made the press if it hadn’t been carried by word of mouth via Twitter – there was no national newspaper column to leave your comments at the foot of, and even now none of the tabloids have touched it, probably because it doesn’t suit their general slant to things. And so Twitter carried the message around, and that’s social media’s power to spread the word. The Cumbrian shootings did not need the word spreading because it was there, broadcast live on a rolling newsreel the second it happened. But that doesn’t mean that anyone found it any less horrifying.

  7. Grace says:

    Rachel,

    I agree with Martin that it’s problematic to compare the two incidents. Also, I think I was one of the Labour tweeters who didn’t tweet about Cumbria, simply because I didn’t know what to say – as Martin says, everyone knew about it already, and to me it feels weird and pompous for a Twitter-nobody like myself to say ‘my thoughts are with the victims’ families’ as though I were a public figure.

    However, your comment really moved me as I honestly hadn’t thought about the events in Cumbria from that perspective. I think you’re absolutely right that Labour figures should have stepped up to show support for the local community and our own activists. If you’re reading this comment, I think it’d be really valuable for you to expand on what you said in a full-length post…

  8. Rachel says:

    Guys,

    I just really want to thank you for your gracious and understanding replies.

    What I wrote was from the heart rather than the head so do I appreciate that comparing the two incidents wasn’t necessarily logical – and my gripe is more at the Labour leadership/contenders (Alan Johnson and Harriet Harman excepted) than the LGBT Labour campaigners who were “fighting the good fight” for their own cause.

    There is much that could – and will – be written on this subject. Please spare a thought for the editors of the local Labour newspaper Egremont Today (www.egremont-today) some of whom have lost not one but several friends in this terrible tragedy. The reason they know so many victims is precisely BECAUSE they’re such hard-working and prominent activists and councillors in their own community. There’s one chap who, it is said, is on first-name terms with every Labour voter in central Copeland – it’s not far wrong.

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