I Was Called Queer At Work

And how it reminded me of the continued fight for equality

Fred Shirley
Aug 11 · 3 min read
Photo by Nicholas Swatz from Pexels

The kitchen is slammed —

Unwashed crockery is piling up in the sink, the queue is beginning to reach out of the door, and my poor colleague is frantically slapping meals together for paying customers. I’m taking money and making hot drinks. We’re understaffed, again, and this time, I’m in charge.

An old (but not elderly) couple are up next. I take their order and make their drinks, thanking them under my breath for not ordering any food. Clara is already rushed off her feet.

As they turn away with their coffees, the man’s wife asks him a question about “the server.” I can’t quite catch what she asks, but his response is clear as day.

He calls me “the queer one”.

My heart sinks a little, and I feel my cheeks blush with humiliation as I realize I’ve just been called queer — in a definitely not nice way. There’s no time for that though, so I keep working with queer echoing in the back of my head as I try to keep my emotions from simmering over.

No, this isn’t the first time I’ve been called a homophobic slur. I’ve been called a fag more than once while out walking on the streets of my university city of Bristol; those occasions were far more humiliating than this one due to the slurs being hurled right at me.

But something about this time grates me more; this man came into my place of work and expressed contempt to his wife about my looks or mannerisms or demeanour or whatever. I was obviously within earshot. He felt free to call me queer, knowing I could hear, even after I served him so politely.

I felt like he’d slapped me firmly in the face.

Somebody just openly called me queer in the UK in 2019

The UK is renowned for being one of the most progressive countries in the world when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights. Despite this, we are fighting a general trend of increased hate crime in line with the rising prevalence of right-wing populism on both sides of the Atlantic.

This incident was a wake-up call for me —

My experience was a mild one, but you only have to check the news to see that for many people around the world, things are a lot worse and that legal equality — let alone social acceptance — is a mere pipe dream. As James Finn writes in this recent piece, religious bigotry whipped up hatred at a recent Pride parade in Poland, where marchers were met with rage, violence, and fury.

The worst thing that decent progressive citizens could do at this point in time would be to become complacent. I get frustrated when I see both straight/cis and LGBTQ+ people say that the fight for equality is over. It remains true that equality under the law is one thing, social acceptance is another.

The gentleman who referred to me as queer clearly missed the memo that it is increasingly socially unacceptable to refer to LGBTQ+ people using such language. Whilst homophobia and transphobia are more prevalent amongst the older members of the population, we must eradicate them in all sectors of our society. Only by doing this will bigots unlearn their bigotry and will young people will grow up with a message of acceptance.

In the same way that hate breeds hate, tolerance breeds tolerance. In some respects, I’m glad that that man referred to me as queer. It reminded me that the fight for acceptance is not over, that we must stand together to beat bigotry, and that nothing is so fatal to advancing acceptance and progress than thinking that our fight is finished.

We have hearts to win over.

James Finn - The Blog

Collected Writings. Stories and ramblings from a long-time LGBTQ thinker and activist.

Fred Shirley

Written by

21 year old physics masters student. Introvert. I photograph things.

James Finn - The Blog

Collected Writings. Stories and ramblings from a long-time LGBTQ thinker and activist.

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