Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"Straight Preferred"

The advertisement hanging at my local cafe was one of those handmade types with little tear-off phone number tabs at the bottom. Someone was looking for a new flatmate, and specified some important information for potential applicants; price, location, and "preferred criteria" for the new roomie. He or she should speak English, hold a professional job, have no pets, and only smoke outside. And then, my mouth fell open. Did that really say "straight"?

It did. Someone had, apparently without shame, publicly stated their unwillingness to consider a gay person as a flatmate. Not content with simply meeting some applicants and having a chat, the advertiser was so uncomfortable with or afraid of homosexuality that he felt the need to deter gay applicants at the first opportunity.

To some minds, this is fair enough, as the advertiser has a right to choose their new flatmate, and that they might as well get their prejudices out in the open in order to spare any potential gay applicants the time and trouble.* To me, it feels like plain old discrimination. Let's not forget that we have laws against this type of thing; if the advertiser had have been looking for an employee rather than a flatmate, his eligibility criteria would have gotten him into a lot of trouble. However it appears that whilst his prejudice would not be tolerated in a professional context, it is entirely acceptable in his personal life. And the fact that he didn't hesitate to post a discriminatory advertisement in an inner-city coffee shop speaks volumes about the attitudes towards homosexuality in our society.

The elephant in the room here is that discrimination against homosexuals has in recent years become far more socially acceptable than the old-school bastions of racism or sexism. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Opinion pages of the broadsheet newspapers. Whereas no respectable paper would dream of publishing a radical treatise on why women are inferior to men, or white people smarter than black people, it is all too common to flick the papers open and find a long-winded article or letter defining homosexuality as a sin, linking it to paedophilia, or declaring it a mental illness. Despite our legislation, it seems that gays are an easy target, particularly when you invoke your religion as an excuse for your prejudice.

Unfortunately, there isn't much we can do about the kind of person who has a blanket opposition to gays, or any other minority group other than tolerate them in the way that they refuse to tolerate others.
Or maybe just scribble "Hate Criminal!" at the bottom of their advertisement.

* The situation is similar at my university, where international students commonly advertise for flatmates, specifying "Asian preferred" on the posters. If this is defensible, it is so on the basis that people may feel more comfortable living with people who are from culturally similar backgrounds, however I somehow doubt that this argument would save me from being called racist if I had posted an advertisement stating "white preferred".

Is it reasonable to specify your preference for a particular racial group or sexual orientation when advertising for flatmates, or is it just discrimination?


  1. Why is it ok and lawful to discriminate on basis of sex (ie female flatmate wanted) but not gender bais?

  2. what if the person advertising for a roomie was gay? maybe they didn't want any possible attraction, or they have a possessive lover. assumptions are a bitch.

  3. Interesting points, both. I would have thought that there may at times be a legitimate reason for a person to prefer someone of their own gender - particularly in the case of young women who for a variety of reasons (modesty, religion, etc.) may not be comfortable sharing intimate quarters with a man. Men and women may also wish to live with their own gender in order to allay possible sexual tensions with a room-mate.

    That said, I have never specified a gender when advertising for a flatmate, and neither did the person who advertised in the example above. He didn't actually care whether the applicant was male or female, but only that they were "straight". It sort of puts a bit paid to your argument, @5.46. This sounds more like prejudice than reason to me.

  4. Straight out bigotry, pure and simple.
    There's no other way to describe or consider it.

    There are only two types of people who would post this ad; Straight people who don't like gay people or gay people who've been through one of those weird conversion therapy programs and can't abide the temptation.

    No different to the signs in the windows of London flats for rent during the 50's

    No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish.

    This just pisses me off

  5. Check out the ads in Santa Cruz, California. Same problem, but in the other direction: gay preferred.

  6. At the end of the day it's healthy discrimination - or you could call it personal taste. Thank god you can decide who you want and don't want in your flat/house. If i had to live with my bother i would surely kill him.

    Some people don't want gay people, some people don't want smokers, some people (especially middle aged men) want women only, and i'm sure some women don't want unclean men, or even smelly asian food - like durian.

    If you're going to tell people that their preference is wrong, you're wrong!