Some thoughts on the last 48 hours

The original intention of this blog was to write about web design and front-end development, however it’s not everyday that you somehow become the most read story on BBC News — so I want to take a brief departure from the scheduled programming to clearly air my side of the story.

I start, as all good stories should with a quotation from George Bernard Shaw:

“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

My partner and I had decided to spend a relaxing weekend in the capital and take in a show at the National Theatre whilst there. My partner happens to be male, as do I. We’re one of those new-fangled homosexual type couples. Usually this isn’t a problem.

Staying at the Thistle Barbican, we had pre-booked a “Superior Double Room sleeps 2. Room only. Non Smoking Requested, 2 Adults.” (or so the email read) through LateRooms. We arrived at the hotel to find a rather large queue. In a rush to make the start of the show; we abandoned check-in and dashed off to the tube. Later that evening we arrived back at the hotel, exhausted and ready to crash in our room.

This is where the trouble began. Upon seeing two gay guys approach him, the receptionist asked the two of us: the room you have booked is a double room with a double bed, but are sure that you don’t want a twin room with two separate single beds?” He stressed the word ‘separate’. We turned down the offer of separate beds and brushed off the comment as a simple misunderstanding. An almost amusing mix up. Making it clear that we wanted a room with a double bed, as pre-booked. He then asked us again, “are you sure you do not want a twin room with separate beds?”. He was visibly uncomfortable with us. He was unable to make any eye contact with me, focusing almost solely on the computer screen in front of him and occasionally looking up to repeat the same question to Gavin, my partner. Once again we confirmed that there was no mistake in the booking process and we did actually want the double room that we had reserved. Abruptly, he then insisted that we would “have to take the family room” and to “think of it as an upgrade”. The ‘family’ room featured three single beds separated by wall-mounted bed side tables.

Angered by this whole exchange I flashed Gavin an unamused look, and he reciprocated by putting his hand on my shoulder in an attempt to calm me down. He could tell I was flustered. But at the end of a long day neither of us particularly wanted to stir up a fuss so, rather Britishly we chose the path of least resistance, gave in and headed off to bed.

Feathers ruffled I exercised my anger to my twitter followers, posting:

Homophobic receptionist at @ThistleHotels refused me & my bf our pre-booked double room. Insisted we take a “family” room w/ separate beds.

Retrospectively it may have been blunt, but such is the nature of twitter. Upset, hurt and angry I went to sleep and thought nothing more of it.

Rather bizarrely I awoke to find I was trending on twitter in the UK. I had been retweeted over 1,000 times. Over lunch I discussed this with Gavin — asking his opinion on the matter. We were both bemused be the entire situation. I had now received emails requesting interviews from The Sunday People, Sky News, The Daily Mirror, The Metro and the Manchester Evening News amongst others. Not wanting to sensationalise what was a serious and personal issue I politely declined all of the interview requests.

Now amassing nearly 3,000 retweets and countless responses I felt pressured to reply fairly and accurately with more details of the experience, both for my sake and in fairness to Thistle (who had still yet to contact me or comment). At around 1.40pm Andy Dangerfield got in touch with me to write an account of what happened, to be published on BBC News saying: “[it] sounds like an important issue that should be raised”. I agreed.

I could not stress enough how important it was that the account was balanced, accurate and transparent.

Shortly after the BBC News article went live, Thistle tweeted what felt like a rather lacklustre ‘apology’:

Have spoken to @nickhurley and apologised for how he felt.

The article quickly became the most read story on the BBC News website. It was 5pm before Leyla at Thistle finally phoned me to ask, “had I been contacted previously?”. I hadn’t. She then phoned me a second time to offer Gavin and I a complimentary stay in any Thistle Hotel of our choosing. Having been soured by our experience we politely declined the offer. It was not until the third phone-call to me that they finally apologised and offered the same complimentary stay. Again, we declined the free stay. We weren’t after remuneration, just tolerance.

Thistle’s CEO Mike DeNoma has since issued a statement.

The easiest option would have been to stay silent and say nothing, but it’s homophobic acts like these that add up to a lifetime of feeling like a second-class citizen. Should something as insignificant as my sexuality mean that I am treated differently by society? I don’t think so. It is important to remember that Thistle Hotels are a multinational brand with a PR team, whereas I am just one individual — but if everyone stands up to these otherwise overlooked daily acts of prejudice we can help push the human race forward.

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