Sunday, July 25, 2004

Homophobic B&B owner defends his rights

A few weeks ago, it emerged that a B&B (Bed and Breakfast, for my American friends) owner in the Scottish Highlands declined to give a gay couple a room in his establishment because they were, well, a bit gay. The Cromasaig guesthouse’s owner, Tom Forrest, sent the couple an email explaining his decision. “We do not have a problem with your personal sexual deviation, that is up to you,” he wrote. “You are welcome to our twin room if you wish, but we will not condone your perversion.”

I saw that story in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago and it stunned me. Not so much because I never expect to hear of behaviour like that in these wonderfully tolerant times. But rather because Forrest was being so openly straight — one might almost say straightforward — in his views. And, aside from the point that by being so open he must obviously be ramming his heterosexuality down quiet gay people’s throats, it is a fact that he is simply standing up for his rights.

He owns a B&B. It’s his property and under current laws it is not illegal for hoteliers to turn anyone away from their accommodation without a booking, whatever the reason.

The story I first read presented the results of journalists’ canvassing of other establishments up and down the country to see what their attitudes were. Aside from the laughable:—

The receptionist at Greystone Cottage, Windermere, in the Lake District, hesitated: “Ummm, I suppose not.” Again with the warm welcome. Then they added something which discombobulated us rather: “The only thing I will say is that we have an 11. 30pm curfew.” A gay–only curfew? Or did they think gays just more likely to stay out late? Impossible to decide.

— there was a positive attitude. A Jersey hotelier who said that he’d love to allow gay couples to stay but that it was against a (fictional) Jersey law was overridden by the region’s PR manager who said: “There’s no law against gay couples sharing rooms. You might get the odd proprietor who is a fascist or a redneck, but there’s not much we can do about that.”

Except, there should be. And not solely for the gay–centric reason that Forrest is being homophobic. Ruaridh Nichol has an article in last week’s Observer extolling the liberating influence of the holiday and, more significantly, the hotel or guesthouse. It’s not to say that gay or straight people will automatically launch into orgies when their suitcases are unpacked — knowing you are away from home and have some freedom is largely psychological in its benefit. Start making moralistic rules for your guests and you take that away. Your building ceases to be holiday accommodation and therefore ceases to be of value.

But Forrest, who is at the centre of the present row, is in a position of strength. As well as upholding his legal rights (which happen to annul the human rights of anyone not straight) he has backing. As the most recent article says:

He has received more than 4,000 emails from every corner of the globe, 400 letters, countless phone calls and the odd financial contribution. Around 98 per cent of the correspondence, he estimates, is in support. He has also appeared on numerous radio shows, including California’s Riverside Radio[.]

He plans to oppose the introduction of a law making a stance like his illegal by standing for the Scottish Parliament himself.

But I reckon the fight should be taken out of his hands altogether. He should be compelled to withdraw all discriminatory practices from his management, or be forced to close the business.

If his position is, eventually, declared illegal, he says he’ll go to jail rather than allow “poofs, sorry, homosexuals, to share a double room in my home”.

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