Two students of the University were the victims of a homophobic attack whilst returning home from a night out last Saturday.
The incident occurred in the early hours of Saturday morning at around 2am whilst the two young men were sitting on Hythe Bridge Street. A group of three males approached the pair and made derogatory statements about their appearance and delivered homophobic insults – addressing them numerous times as “fags”.
The men, who are not thought to be local, were said to be speaking initially in Italian, and did not expect either of the students to understand what they were saying.
However, one of the students is a linguist and thus understood the slur. When one of the students objected to the insults, he was punched in the face by one of the men.
The student’s friend then tried to intervene, but was himself physically assaulted, before the other victim was punched in the face again. The undergraduate from Wadham recounted: “After I took offence at the use of homophobic language, I was punched twice on the right side of my jaw, and when my friend tried to step in, he too was subject to further homophobic slurs, and hit.”
The group of men then moved away whilst the two students alerted the nearby police who were quick to stop their attackers. Two of the men were arrested – one of which admitted hitting someone, but denied using homophobic language; the other denied everything. The attackers have been bailed until June. One of the victims commented: “Luckily we are OK but both [of us] have been in quite a bit of pain.”
Thames Valley Police did not respond to a request for comment, but the victims praised the force for having been “amazingly helpful and considerate in their response and aid to us”.
Ashley Francis-Roy, President of the Oxford University LGBTQ Society, commented: “Many people who are involved in homophobic- or transphobic- related offences choose not to report it […] It is important, though, that every instance of homophobic crime is challenged to ensure that attitudes in society change and that people know homophobia and transphobia are unacceptable. The society is also here to give advice and support, so do get in touch with us.”
This is not the first time that such an incident such as this has been reported as happening in the same area. The second victim, who studies at St Hugh’s College, disclosed that he had previously been subjected to this type of abuse. Around a month ago during the vacation, a similar confrontation occurred when he was punched in the face by a local man near to the club ‘Bridge’ on his way home from a night out.
Jamie Jackson, a member of the St John’s LGBTQ community commented: “It is sometimes easy to think that Oxford is encased in a liberal bubble removed from the homophobia present in the ‘outside’ world. Shocking incidents like this serve as a reminder that this is sadly not the case and that there is still much to be done.”
Lincoln’s rugby team fell victim to homophobic chants by Jesus supporters during last week’s rugby plate final, it is claimed.
The chant in question was a line from a song traditionally sung about male students at Jesus. It goes: “Jesus boys, they play one, they all take it up the bum”, and it was believed to be directed at the Lincoln rugby players.
Students claimed that the chants were made on this occasion by a group of predominantly female students.
Lincoln’s rector, Henry Woudhuysen, said: “Lincoln College takes reports of offensive chants at the Rugby Cuppers match with Jesus College extremely seriously.”
“There has been an exchange of letters between the Junior and Middle Common Rooms of both colleges.”
“The Principal of Jesus and I have met to discuss the issue, and I have raised it with Lincoln’s Senior Dean.”
In an email sent to Jesus JCR, Leo Gebbie – JCR President – said: “I have been contacted by Lincoln College to inform us they have had reports of offensive chants at the rugby plate final last week.”
“Some of these chants are believed to have been homophobic, and have caused serious upset to several members of the Lincoln College Common Rooms.”
Gebbie stressed how out of place these chants were: “At Jesus, we have always prided ourselves on being an incredibly welcoming and open community which embraces and supports everyone regardless of nationality, ethnicity, faith, disability, gender, or sexual orientation.”
“I’m sure we all want to preserve this spirit, and therefore want to get to the bottom of this matter as soon as possible. Both Lincoln College and ourselves take discrimination of any kind very seriously, and intend to explore the matter fully.”
Marco Alessi, Lincoln LGBTQ rep, mirrored this sentiment: “Lincoln is a wonderfully supportive community. We pride ourselves on trying to be as inclusive as possible and it is therefore heartening that our JCR is responding to a situation that may have made members of its community uncomfortable.
“Although I was not at this particular game, homophobic chanting in sport is disappointingly common and shouldn’t go on.”
Jessy Parker Humphreys, Jesus LGBTQ rep, stated that “Whilst I don’t believe the line was meant maliciously, I think it’s important for us to acknowledge that this kind of casual homophobia should not and cannot be tolerated.
“It should be noted that Jesus girls have been discussing rewriting the line after realising the offensive implications of it. Myself and other LGBTQ members of the college appreciate that a positive response like this has been made.
“I am certain that no one who sang the song meant to offend and hopefully this whole incident has allowed everyone to realise the pervasive influences that homophobia can have on our everyday lives. Together we can work to change that,” she added.
Louis Prosser, first-year Classicist and LGBTQ activist at Jesus, said: “These chants have been around for quite a while, directed by the Jesus girls toward the Jesus boys, traditionally during girls’ formal.
“I think it is a great shame that ‘they all take it up the bum’ is considered a suitable choice of insult, and it illustrates that lad culture lends itself to homophobia and other sorts of intolerance among groups of girls just as much as among groups of boys.”
Both colleges confirmed that the issue will be discussed further in the upcoming JCR, MCR and Welfare Committee meetings.
In another development, Senior Dean Nigel Emptage told students in an email to the Lincoln JCR and MCR that “A student newspaper has become interested in a matter that is of considerable importance to the College and its student members.
“While there is certainly no cause for alarm may I politely ask that any Lincoln student approached by the press should not offer a statement.” It is unclear whether this email refers to this story or another story.
An Oxford club has denied widely published claims that bouncers ejected two male students for kissing, claiming that new CCTV footage shows they were removed because one of them took a drink from behind the bar.
The club did not release this information to The Oxford Student until late on Saturday due to confusion with a separate incident involving another customer ten minutes earlier, causing a misunderstanding.
By this time several student media outlets had published details of the homophobia allegations.
Pete Mortimore, general manager of Wahoo, said that more detailed analysis of CCTV footage shows that “the males were asked to leave because of over intoxication and one of them attempting to self serve.”
According to the club, the footage shows “two males at the bar area wearing chequered shirts.”
“A member of the Door Team is called over to intervene as one of the males had been refused service by the Bar Supervisor and had proceeded to take a can of energy drink by leaning over the bar. The Door Supervisor approaches the males and guides them out of the venue.”
The Oxford Student is unable to view these images due to provisions of the Data Protection Act.
When asked to respond to the details of the CCTV footage, one of the students in question said: “If I’m honest I don’t remember the incident occurring.” He also confirmed he was wearing a chequered shirt at the time of the incident.
There is no suggestion that the students deliberately lied about the club’s motives for the ejection. The club did not give the students a reason for their ejection at the time, a decision Mortimore apologised for.
“The information regarding the male’s actions at the bar should have been relayed to the Door Supervisors at the front entrance,” he said.
Prior to this development last night, the incident was originally described as a homophobic move on the part of the club’s staff. Students at Wadham, where both of the ejected students attend, began suggesting a boycott of Wahoo, while some also proposed a same-sex “kiss in” at the club. Others recommended legal action.
A senior member of the college SU committee offered in a Facebook group to bring a motion to help pay potential legal costs, while a writer for another Oxford newspaper claimed the publication was looking to write a “suitably outraged” article on the topic.
One of the ejected students said prior to the club’s clarification that the incident “indicated the existence of an undercurrent of homophobia amongst a minority of security staff employed in Oxford clubs, which needs to be addressed.”
“I don’t identify as gay, but my friend does, and regardless of my own sexual orientation, we were discriminated against for same-sex kissing, when such activity by a heterosexual couple would have been ignored”.
Wahoo, on Hythe Bridge Street, is one of Oxford’s most popular Friday club nights.
When we really boil down professional sportsmen to their bare essentials, there are two ends of the spectrum to which they will invariably fit. At one end there are those who have all the talent, all the support and all the funding to get where they need to be. At risk of incurring the further wrath of the Real Madrid President, the Cristiano Ronaldos of this world. At the other end there are those who start off from unpromising beginnings, have only so much outstanding talent but through sheer hard work and tenacity manage to make it to the top. John Amaechi certainly fits into the latter of those two categories.
Born in Boston in 1970, Amaechi and his mother fled to Manchester when he was just four years old in order to escape from his emotionally abusive father. Arriving at his grandparent’s house in Stockport with just $2,000, his father’s presence haunted the family for much of Amaechi’s upbringing. John admits that he remembers little about a man who he describes as having no more than a biological attachment to, but tells tales of threats of kidnap and his father’s infrequent appearances in the UK as he sought to wrest his children back to his native Nigeria.
Compounded by chronically low self-esteem, Amaechi was a lonely child who was bullied at school and hated sport. For the vast majority of his formative years a career in the NBA seemed about as likely as Richard Dawkins taking up the holy orders.
“My journey to get to the NBA was incredibly implausible. I was a fat kid who ate steak slices until the age of seventeen and then I changed my mind and decided to play in the NBA and there I was, playing in the NBA.”
Amaechi’s story sounds all the more unlikely when you discover that his introduction to basketball could not have been more coincidental. The much travelled NBA star was always a big kid – he now stands at 6’10” – and this was all it took to persuade two basketball coaches to approach him on a street in Manchester and ask him if he fancied taking up the sport. Dwelling on his lack of sporting prowess and aversion to physical activity, Amaechi was sceptical at first, but no more than a year later he had moved to Chicago to pursue a career in one of sport’s most star-studded leagues.
Many a seventeen year old would have baulked at the suddenness of totally rehashing a life plan which involved such complete upheaval and a step into the unknown, but perhaps it was the dizzying spontaneity of it all that compelled Amaechi to take the jump.
“For me there was nothing about it that I didn’t want, it just seemed that the journey was not a straightforward one. As an adult we can understand that difficult goals will have correspondingly difficult journeys, but at that time the fact that my plan got thwarted at some many different points made me question whether that journey was possible at all but it didn’t quell my desire to get there.”
Amaechi’s path to success was littered with setbacks. He went undrafted until the Cleveland Cavaliers offer him a contract in 1995 and spent three years in the European wilderness before taking one last shot at the big time in 1999.
At the age of 29 he was running out of time, but he had received some positive reports from his time in Europe and that proved enough to convince the Orlando Magic to grant him another chance. A year later, the unknown Amaechi was at the heart of a story that reverberated around the NBA.
[caption id="attachment_47466" align="alignright" width="315"] Amaechi in action for the Orlando Magic[/caption]
‘Meech’, as he became affectionately known, had impressed to such an extent that the legendary LA Lakers offered him a 17 million dollar contract. Amaechi’s sense of loyalty, however, would not allow him to leave the side that had taken such a risk in signing him, although the financial sacrifice he was making may have been softened by the Magic’s promise to make up the difference the following season.
If anyone ever needed proof of the fickleness of sport then they need only know of what happened next. As Amaechi’s form fell by the wayside, he was gradually edged out of the Orlando set-up, contrary to all pledges and promises.
In his memoirs Man in the Middle, released in 2007, Amaechi described the snub as a ‘colossal mistake’. With time for reflection on his side and a new career as a performance psychologist in full flow, is it a flashpoint that still plagues the Amaechi conscience?
“I think it’s important for people to know that I have regrets for not having the products of that decision because going to LA would have given me everything I had ever wanted. Nobody in Britain would have been able to question that I was the best there ever was. I would have had four Championships rings; it just would have just been a self-evident truth that I was the best.
“But the reality is, is that what I have by not going is greater. It’s not materially greater but in the course of my everyday work now as a psychologist the authenticity of my word is the most powerful tool in my arsenal and that was cemented in that decision.”
There was also something else a little closer to home that Amaechi had gained by staying on with the Magic. Whilst he was still a student at Penn State, John started what is now a burgeoning CV of community work by signing onto a Big Brothers/Big Sisters scheme in which young adults were assigned misfiring teenagers to help them get back on track. Amaechi took to the programme to such an extent that the local police began seeking his help in watching over the neighbourhood youth.
In Orlando, Amaechi had taken up the guardianship of two teenagers, Jeff and Martin Jones. They grew so close that, after discussions with their biological parents, Amaechi took the Jones brothers under his full-time care. Staying with the Magic allowed Amaechi to honour this commitment.
Given the positive role that sport played in transforming his own life, you would be forgiven for thinking that it would be an activity that he would strongly encourage in his everyday charity work with disadvantaged kids. But Amaechi is surprisingly sceptical about the impact of sport on young people’s lives.
“The largest percentage of money going into sport is actually for this kind of issue, not sport for sport’s sake but it’s what they call ‘sport for development’. But it is misnamed because the truth is there is no evidence for sport doing good in society. The evidence, to use a good social scientist term, is equivocal at best. If you look at people like Professor Fred Coalter, who has written extensively on the power and use of sport in society, the evidence is just not great.
“What we do know is that it is not the individual sport that matters but it is the way that the sport is coached. The reason that sport gave me some benefit in terms of my personal development is that the people who coached the sport that I took part in, took that aspect very seriously. The sad part is that most people who get involved in sport have coaches who are either ill-equipped to teach what they do so that they are technically unskilled, or the larger problem is that they teach sport in a way that is antithetical to results you want. You are not going to produce emotionally literate, intellectually curious young people by communicating through screaming and shouting at the kids who are involved.”
Amaechi articulates strong views on ‘screamer’ coaches throughout his memoirs, expressing his distaste for management styles that revolve around verbal abuse and psychological torture that he has associated with the prevalence of depression in sport. It is a philosophy that Amaechi looks to put into practice at his Basketball Centre in Manchester.
“For our staff it is vital. I insist that at my centre we coach in a way that is likely to produce intrinsically motivated, emotionally literate, communicative young people. I am attempting to do some work with the government on improving the standards of coaching. We need to ensure that we have a better standard of coach in touch with what are now increasingly vulnerable young people.”
Perhaps the new FA Commission could learn a thing or two from Amaechi’s ideas on coaching.
[caption id="attachment_47468" align="aligncenter" width="553"] Amaechi imparts his coaching philosophy at his Basketball Centre in Manchester[/caption]
John remains in touch with a large proportion of his kids; in fact moments before our interview he had just finished making a video for one his adopted sons who is now a school teacher back in the States. But, despite his parental instincts, his arrangement with Jeff and Martin remained an informal one out of necessity. Florida was one of several states that had banned gay people from serving as foster or adoptive parents, based on the belief that they would not make good role models. Amaechi’s charitable and caring character makes a mockery of such arguments, but it is just one example of the prejudice that he had to deal with throughout his career.
Amaechi was side-lined at the Utah Jazz by coach Jerry Sloan because he disapproved of John’s lifestyle. Even his golden year with the Magic was tainted by the homophobic views held by his cherished team-mates. One incident in particular stands out in his memoirs, where Amaechi talks of a flight back to Orlando during which one of his closest friends launched into an assault on homosexuality, spouting words along the lines of ‘they get what they deserve’. That Orlando squad was famed for its sense of team spirit and togetherness, but for Amaechi hearing such sentiments from those whom he respected most was hard to stomach.
“It’s hard to fully trust the people around you and sport is one of those places where teamwork is not optional. You can’t win against high quality teams if you are not cohesive and it is almost impossible to be cohesive if you know that, secretly, the people around you harbour animosity towards you.”
Amaechi is open and honest in his book about the depths of depression that hiding his sexuality had caused. Time and time again he speaks of his desire to let loose and enjoy the eclectic collection of gay districts that he came across in his travels. However his fear of being outed and the damage he believed that would cause to the locker room stopped him from doing so.
Amaechi argues that the presence of an openly gay player would expose the homoerotic elements of the male bonding that is so commonplace in sporting environments and that, influenced by uninformed views of gay men, heterosexual players would be concerned that homosexuals would sexualize this behaviour. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, did his desire to lead a normal life ever take him to the precipice of quitting?
“I would suggest to you that a person does not leave their home, travel 6,000 miles on their own as a seventeen year old and then just give up.”
Sounding almost offended by the suggestion, the conversation moves to the problem of tackling homophobia within the game itself. In the past, Amaechi has been vocal in his criticism of various governing bodies, branding the FA as ‘dinosaurs’ for their lack of proactivity. So what does he believe needs to be done differently by the authorities in order to rid sport of its widespread homophobic attitudes? Amaechi’s response takes me be surprise:
“I’m not really interested in whether they tackle homophobia; I’m interested in whether they are interested in winning.” After a dramatic pause, he continues:
“I’m a performance psychologist who works in business and the businesses I work with are not interested in being nice to people. They are interested in what gives tangible performance returns. So I simply question any organization that creates a toxic environment where certain percentages of their employees will be unable to function at their best. I question their interest in being the best.”
So, granted that, whether a humanitarian or performance issue, homophobia remains a problem that is not being dealt with properly, where exactly are they going wrong?
“Well the logic of all this is completely understood to the FA. They understand that if they allow monkey chants then their black players will not play as well. But their ability to understand this extends only so far as skin colour, which seems a bit obtuse to me.”
But the picture is not just one of dinosaurs and pre-historic attitudes. Amaechi admits he is encouraged by the progress made by society, even since he retired just under ten years ago.
“Legally the framework in America has changed radically with the new President. In Illinois for example, just yesterday they passed marriage equality, so that is another state that you can add to the list of states that have become more progressive. People in general have become more progressive. But there is still, in America in particular a very strong Republican, socially conservative focus and there are still plenty of people in influential positions who are not interested in equality in the way that you might expect.”
Judging the progress made and the distance yet to travel, one could argue that Amaechi’s words about difficult goals having correspondingly difficult journeys may be just as apt in this case as they were in relation to his own life.
[caption id="attachment_47469" align="aligncenter" width="553"] Amaechi at a gay pride event in Chicago[/caption]
As we conclude our interview, we return to the very beginning. Before he moved to the States, Amaechi sat down with his mother to devise ‘The Plan’, a comprehensive document setting out how he was to achieve his goals. ‘The Plan’ included areas of his game which needed to improve, which colleges to choose as well as other practicalities of his ambitious journey.
But John being John, he decided to imbue ‘The Plan’ with his own set of values to ensure that he stayed true to himself. His final document consisted of eleven rungs, the last of which was ‘the role of legacy.’ Fearing a rather coded response, I ask what he would like his legacy to be. He points me to a quote I had used at the very start of our interview when I had asked him to explain something he had said in a television interview some years ago: “The most improbable of people, in the most unlikely of circumstances, can become extraordinary.”
“I try to live by it. I want to point out that the extraordinary is not necessarily about the height of the mountain that you end up climbing; sometimes it’s about the distance you travel from the foot of the mountain. I freely admit that I was a very average NBA basketball player but for different people ‘extraordinary’ can be very different things depending on where you’ve come from. It made me understand that for very different people there were equally implausible but equally laudable journeys out there.
“When I look at the world around me I try to recognise that there are some people who are considered lowly or worthless who can become extraordinary and I think that way of looking at the world is an empowering one.”
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An email has been sent to Merton’s JCR by their LGBTQ rep, condemning the use of the terms ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ as insults.
The JCR exec member, second year English student Alex Beecham, said in the email: “Recently, I have personally heard or been told by others about Mertonians using ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ as an insult or term of deprecation. Suffice to say I won’t go into the many different reasons why this is unacceptable other than to say that it creates an extremely unpleasant atmosphere and contributes to people feeling as though their existence is being policed, from their clothes to the way they walk or speak, regardless of whether or not they’re actually gay. Don’t be the gender police.”
He added: “If you really want me to explain to you why ‘but gay just means happy’, among other responses, fails as a justification, you are welcome to speak to me.”
Tom Dyer, a second year French and Classics student at the college, commented: “I have heard a few people using ‘gay’ in that way this year, definitely more than last year, mainly when we’re out in town/in queues for clubs, that kind of thing. Even though it hasn’t been very frequent this year in my experience, it’s still always surprising to hear, because there was nothing like that last year.
He continued: “It’s important to stop this kind of casual behaviour before it can become accepted and ingrained. It’s obviously completely unacceptable to use ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ as a derogatory term in any context: I find it usually comes from people who think they are cool.”
When asked about the issue, Beecham was keen to stress Merton’s ethos of inclusion and tolerance, saying: “I had heard or been told of Mertonians using the words ‘gay’ and ‘homosexual’ in the context of insult or deprecation and was concerned to make it clear that this sort of language is unacceptable[…]I would like to point out, however, that upon arriving at Oxford in my first year, I noticed and was gladdened by the absence of ‘gay’ being used in this sort of discriminatory context, and, at least in my experience, these incidents were very much exceptions which should become less and less common.”
He further stated: “In my experience of the university as a whole, Merton is one of the best colleges in terms of providing a safe and welcoming environment for students regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Daniel Bregman, a third year mathematician, and the college’s LGBTQ rep last year, commented: “Homophobic language is generally a topic in which no news is good news, but even the best of us can accidentally slip. Alex’s gentle email was just the right sensible and unremarkable reminder that people should think about what’s important before they speak, write or publish. In my experience Merton has always been a fantastic and welcoming environment with no problems worth writing about.”
Is Exeter College supporting homophobia? Many colleges host conferences; in fact for poorer colleges they’re essential to keep finances afloat. But it can’t be denied that Christian Concern will also profit from Exeter’s decision; the reputation of this ancient institution will give the group an air of respectability and moderation.
This is wrong; Exeter College’s reputation has been built up through tolerance, intellectual freedom and critical thought. Basically, all the things Christian Concern aren’t. While Oxford undoubtedly has Christian roots, we should not pretend that this Christianity is anything like the evangelical, aggressive and uncompromising brand of religion practised by Christian Concern and associated groups.
Do not delude yourself; Christian Concern is homophobic and makes a point of demonising the LGBT community. They advocate “corrective therapy” for a number of students, many of whom are at Exeter. That fact alone should make College officials run a thousand miles. The key point here is that Christian Concern not only holds strong opinions, but during their conference will actively incite hatred against people whose sexual orientation is different to theirs. Free speech in this country was intended so we could freely hold opinions, not so we could cause pain to others.
Nor should religious groups should be exempt from the expectations we attach to each other. Having a strongly held belief does not mean Christian Concern deserves better treatment, and should not be an excuse for Exeter to ignore their extremist views. Would Exeter accept an extremist Islamic Preacher? Would the BNP be welcome to host an event?
The very fact that Christianity can be equated to such appalling people should make moderate Christians wake up and show us the true character of their faith. The culture of silence at the Oxford Inter Collegiate Christian Union must end; by refusing to comment they appear to the rest of us to be tolerating homophobia, and plays to many negative stereotypes about religion. If Christianity is better, then its believers must stand up and say so.
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