How do you choose a flatmate? A similar age or background? A shared love of early morning yoga or late night partying? When does having a set of criteria cross the line into discrimination?
This week 29-year-old Surrey copywriter Olly Barter, searching for a place to stay, spotted an advert for a Tooting flat-share on the website Spareroom.co.uk and put himself forward to be considered.
He was turned down and he posted the response he received from the advertiser on his Twitter page:
— Olly Barter (@OllyBarter) March 31, 2015
In an interview with the London Evening Standard Barter revealed how shocked he was, “I saw the room that seemed quite nice so sent a text about it, introducing myself and I put in that I was gay just in case it caused an issue for some people.”
“I just kind of assumed people would either ignore the message or make up some excuse if that was a problem,” he continued. “I was quite surprised to find a response this morning just after a (sic) sat down at work that was so honest about it. It was quite odd. I thought ‘why not just ignore it instead of raising something like that?’ Part of the reason I say that I’m gay to start with is for protection in a way, to keep myself out of dodgy situations where someone reveals their bigotry later down the line.”
The good news is that Barter has received “lots of solidarity from people” on Twitter and even the offer of a place to stay. George Poole found himself in a similar situation last year when he and his boyfriend Matthew Greenaway were turned down for a Clapham house-share on the grounds that they were not a “regular couple.” When he heard of Barter’s incident he got in touch to offer him a room in his flat.
“It’s something good coming out of all the adversity,” Barter said. “Everyone’s been very sympathetic and I suppose the best thing that’s come out of it is seeing that everybody’s been surprised by it; it’s not like a typical thing, it’s out of the ordinary so it’s nice to see that people are surprised that it’s happening in 2015.”
And so they should be. Perhaps everyone looking for a flatmate — who doesn’t live by bigoted, homophobic standards — should specify on their ads that they want to live with open-minded, inclusive, compassionate people only. Who would be left out in the cold then?