How to apologise for homophobia

So, you’ve been publicly accused of homophobia.

First up, we’re not here to judge you – at least, not right now. We’re here to help you manage this situation in a way that doesn’t end in a dumpster-fire of anger and hatred, and hopefully turns this into a positive learning experience for you and everyone else.

We don’t know what you’ve done – maybe you made an off-colour joke, your company’s been embroiled in a homophobia scandal, or some objectionable tweets from a few years ago have surfaced.

Now there’s a horde in your Twitter mentions and the media is asking for comment – so… what do you do?

Resist the urge to shout back

We know being accused of prejudice can be uncomfortable, especially when it’s by an internet mob, but the worst possible thing you can do right now is start hurling abuse back.

There’s probably a lot of things running through your mind – like, you didn’t even mean it that way and what is even the big deal – but responding in the heat of the moment, especially out of anger, is not going to help anyone.

If you can’t compose yourself just yet, maybe close Twitter for a few hours and turn off notifications. Try and stay calm. Talk to a real-life friend or someone else who can give you some judgment-free emotional support.

Actually listen to the criticisms

It’s a complex world in 2018 – and it’s fairly easy to wander into a social justice minefield without a full understanding of specifically what you’ve done wrong.

Although your actions might not seem bad to you at first, keep in mind that the lived experiences of LGBT people can be very different to yours – and if you’ve said or done something that’s made people angry, try and listen to the reasons why they are upset.

Look over what you said, and try and consider it as objectively as possible. Does it deride or mock people for being different? Does it reinforce a stereotype? Does it play into the arguments of the anti-LGBT lobby?

Thinking about stuff this way might be new to you, but for gay people who encounter homophobia frequently, these things stick out vividly.

It’s time to apologise

OK. You’ve calmed down. You’ve considered your actions and thought critically about what has been said. It’s time to respond.

Don’t rush. A badly-worded apology will only make things worse, and you could end up digging an even bigger hole.

A good apology will need to touch several bases: admitting fault, accepting responsibility, acknowledging hurt, expressing remorse, making amends, and committing to long-term change.

Resist the urge to apologise in a tweet – if you have something meaningful to say, 280 characters probably isn’t enough. It should probably be a few paragraphs, and is best posted on a long-form social media platform.

If you’re sending it to a media outlet, get prior agreement that they will publish it in full rather than chopping up your words. PinkNews will usually publish statements in full and anyone else committed to helping bring about positive change will, too.

So, what do you say?

1. Clearly recognise the offence you have caused

At all costs, avoid the classic boyfriend apology: “I am sorry if you’re upset or feel offended.” The ‘if’ places the blame on the people you’ve offended, and suggests that the problem is not you.

Instead, you need to directly and clearly ascribe the blame to yourself.

Try something like: “What I said has caused real upset for a lot of people in the LGBT community. I can clearly see that it was homophobic and wrong. I am deeply sorry for my actions.”

2. Admit fault

Politicians are the masters of issuing an overly-vague and general apology without actually admitting to doing anything wrong. Again, this is a red flag.

If you mean it, you need to be very specific about what you did and why it was wrong.

Example: “I should never have used that term, and I deeply regret the choice I made to do so. It’s a vile word that entrenches bigotry and hatred, and I understand the hurt and anger it causes.”

3. Avoid trying to mitigate your actions

You may think this is your big chance to respond to all the things that people are saying about you, but this apology is not for you – it is for the people you have hurt.

You may have an instinctive urge to correct the minutiae of everything that has been said about you, especially if some of it is unfair, but this can undermine the sincerity of your apology.

Remember, you are not in court, and you do not have a case to argue.

If you want to try to carefully explain the broader context for your actions, make clear that you are not doing this to excuse the hurt that you have caused. Do not attack or discredit ‘the other side,’ do not try to retaliate, and do not whitewash your own actions in your narrative. Try to give a nuanced, two-sided view.

Whatever you do, for the love of god, do not tell people that you have ‘gay friends.’ Your gay friends are probably pissed off at you right now, too, and invoking them as a shield does not help you.

4. Find a way to make amends for what you did

To quote Christopher Hitchens (by way of famous apologiser Johann Hari): “If you don’t want to sound like the Pope, who apologises for everything and for nothing, then your apology should cost you something.”

If you are in a public position and your actions have undermined people’s trust in you for whatever reason, consider what you can do to restore that.

If what you’ve said or done is really bad, genuinely reflect on the future of your position. Should you take some time away? Should you resign? Is there another direct way you can demonstrate that you want to make amends?

This is often the most difficult part of any apology, but a substantive gesture adds weight where words cannot.

5. Commit to making change

“It will never happen again.”

It’s a cliche, but often these words are as important as, “I’m sorry.”

If your actions were borne out of ignorance, make clear that you will be doing as much as you can to learn about the broader context of LGBT rights and engage with the LGBT community. If they were borne out of malice, underline how you will work to change.

Remember, you can’t just say you’ll change overnight. You need to make clear that you’re starting a process that will continue for some time.

6. Accept that some people will still be angry

So you’ve written this nice statement, now the whole thing immediately goes away, right?

Sadly, probably not.

If you’re genuinely admitting you’ve caused hurt, you also need to understand that the hurt will not heal immediately.

You need to accept that you don’t have a right to be forgiven, and come to terms with the fact that not everyone will accept your apology. It may take time for people to move on.

Be patient, and bear in mind that the internet is not always instant. People may only hear what happened a while after the fact, and it’s going to be raw for them even if it’s old for you.

Give it time. Be the visible, positive change that you want to be, and make that the story.