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Chef Mila Kolomeitseva cooked up controversy when she voiced homophobic views to some of her Below Deck Mediterranean crew members —Travis Michalzik, Jack Stirrup, and Aesha Scott — and word quickly traveled around the Sirocco yacht. Her coworkers were shocked by her comments, and made it clear that they didn't share her opinions on the matter. (Watch some of it unfold in the clip above, and on the June 17 episode.)
Travis in particular got very upset by Mila's remarks and threatened to never speak to her again, saying that Mila really showed her “opinion on humanity” with her homophobic statements. Hearing someone say hateful things that are homophobic, transphobic, sexist, racist, and so on is never easy — but the crew reacted the right way by addressing the situation calmly and directly.
Personal Space spoke to Emmett Schelling, executive director of Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT), to learn helpful strategies we all can use to address those kinds of situations without painful confrontation.
Whether you are an ally to the cause or part of the group singled out, Schelling noted, “It’s important to consider your own personal safety and mental well-being first” in case the conversation becomes explosive. If you feel you can safely address the person who shares those views, these are ways you can go about it."
Ask for Clarification
Schelling explains that a good first step in responding to an insensitive or offensive statement is to “politely, but assertively interject to halt the conversation.” Ask the person making the comment to “clarify” what they meant by their statement.
Schelling added, “Generally when people hear themselves after being held accountable, it makes them pause” and letting them know that the person “hearing it does not see it as acceptable.” This is an especially helpful strategy if it’s a boss making those comments, because those situations are trickier to address due to the “power imbalance between an employee/supervisor.” It’s easier to “test the waters” by asking them to repeat what they said rather than directly addressing their statement.
However, Schelling noted to be extra careful if you are LGBTQ+ person in that situation and “live in a state where you can still be fired” for it, because you may want to “evaluate if you feel it is worth it” to continue the conversation depending on their response.
Try Educating Them
Schelling said if the person who made the comment is speaking from “a place of ignorance,” assess whether or not you think they can be “educated or moved.” One way to do so is to explain that “language has consequences because it often feeds into and fuels violence and/or discrimination against” a particular community.
“You could gently talk about a personal relationship” or friendship that you have with a member of that community, to “open a conversation about how harmful rhetoric like that” can be for that person. If you are a member of the community they are speaking against, you can also “cite examples of where you felt discriminated against, or your humanity was not recognized, by someone based solely on your identity.”
Ask Probing Questions
If they clarified their statements and doubled down on them, they are probably passionate about their stance. Schelling suggests “asking probing questions” as a method of “questioning the validity of what was said.” A good way to do that is ask: “Do you believe that equality is an important component to a successful society?” That can help steer the conversation to a broader topic of equality, which can be easier to address and more generally accepted.
If the person making those statements is still adamant that their opinion is right, try encouraging empathy by putting themselves “in the shoes of someone” who is in the community they are discriminating against.
Schelling suggests asking them “how it would feel if they were mistreated by society” for something they had “no ability to change” (such as gender, sexual identity, skin color, etc.). If the comments were made by family members or close friends, Schelling suggests expressing to them “how it makes you feel when you hear people who are supposed to love you say these things.” Additionally, “if you are an LGBTQ+ individual, it gives an opportunity to speak directly from the heart and share how their words impacted you” on a personal level.
Voice Your Disappointment
If all else fails, you can state your disappointment “to hear that they would use that sort of language or say something that is so hurtful/disrespectful of an entire group of people.” Having this type of conversation takes patience, but “often when you have a personal relationship with someone, it is easier to have difficult dialogue.”
If you are a member of the community they made hurtful comments towards, try sharing personal “experiences where others have mistreated you" or displayed nasty behavior/language directed towards you. Schelling noted, “It’s important to have these brave conversations when it’s possible and safe to, because that’s one of the best ways to combat bias.”
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