"A homophobe and a gay couple at the same dinner party!"
I recently had a small dinner party that was a disaster. My guest list included a gay couple, several straight friends, and — amongst them and unbeknownst to me — an unabashed homophobe (I’ll call him “Roger.”) In the middle of a conversation about a recent Glee episode, (and after a number of drinks), Roger said he couldn’t stand the show because of all the “f-- ots” in it. When he saw peoples faces drop, he added: “Just kidding.” One of my straight guests pointed out — correctly, although I thought rudely — that there was nothing funny about Roger’s remark and called him a “homophobe.” My gay friends didn’t actually say anything, but I felt terrible for them. Not surprisingly, the evening never recovered. As a host what should I have done at the time?
As a host, your primary responsibility — after making sure no one gets food poisoning — is to ensure that no guest is made to feel uncomfortable. While we can’t be held responsible for the political or religious views of our friends (or worse our family members), it is your duty as a host to protect. Because of the egregious nature of this verbal volley, I would have delivered the adult version of a line often spoken to young people: “We don’t talk that way in this house.”
In this instance I’d have said — very soon after the incident: “Roger, could you help me in the kitchen for a moment?” The point is not to humiliate Roger in front of your other guests, but to take him aside and explain a number of things, starting with, “Hate language is not acceptable in this house.” He may claim not to understand the power of using such a term, but you can certainly set him straight (pun intended) on that point. I’d then ask him to apologize to your other guests — but not to single out your gay friends. Each of us should be offended by homophobic (or racist) comments regardless of our sexual orientation (or skin color).
As for your guest who returned the volley with a cry of “homophobe!” In general, I’d argue that rudeness does not allow for reciprocal bad behavior, but there are times when it’s important to speak the truth — if only because some may interpret silence as concurrence.
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