So young Prince Harry has done it again. In a video shot 3 years ago, the endearingly gaffe-prone prince gently joshes one of his Army comrades as "our little Paki friend", and the whole anti-racist circus swings into action once again, blowing it up out of all proportion. Yes, it was a silly thing to say and just plain wrong, but to the level-headed this will register only as a youthful gaucherie, a misdemeanour, not the heinous "crime" that the anti-racist lobby is desperately trying to pump it up into.
Feigning outrage with all the theatrical zeal and artifice of Kate Winslett winning a Golden Globe, the usual attention-seekers are strutting about demanding ever more fulsome apologies, with some loony-tunes demanding a full scale mea culpa televised apology. Wankers! Prince Harry is guilty of nothing more than ethnocentric condescension, mildly reprehensible, yes, but there doesn't seem to be any malice involved and he has apologised. That should be the end of the matter. Goodness knows, we've seen him cuddling enough Aids orphans in Africa to get the message this guy is not a racist!
In any case, gay people have to put up with far worse slurs and condescension. Radio 1 disc jockeys routinely use the word "gay" for anything considered lame or crap. Via popular culture, this use of the word "gay" has crossed over into the mainstream from the same Black American subculture that augmented the homophobic lexicon with words like "gayboy", "faggot" and the even more delightful "shit-stabber" (which explains the longstanding, but largely unspoken, antipathy between large sections of the black and gay communities). Even some older people, who really ought to know better, like Jeremy Clarkson, have started to use "gay" as a byword for anything weak and useless.
These slurs against gay people are far more damning than anything Prince Harry has said, as they leave no room for interpretation. They are undeniably insulting and intended to be so. When Clarkson was censured by the BBC, for calling a particularly awful car "gay" on Top Gear, the complaint was not upheld - though, bizarrely, he was censured for calling it "a little bit ginger beer". The re-release of the Pogues record Fairy Tale of New York a couple of years ago had the word "faggot" bleeped out when it was played on Radio 1, but it was later played uncensored after listeners complained in their droves. And quite right too!
Surely, as lesbian and gay people, our shoulders are broad enough to withstand a little joshing, the occasional joke, crass comment, or even hostile criticism? Like our fellow Brits of Pakistani origin, we should be robust enough to rise above such foolishness and stop behaving like a bunch of Mary Whitehouses who have just spotted an erection at the vicarage tea party. We are not voiceless, we are not without talent, so we need not be victims. We can fight back simply by proving we are smarter, kinder, funnier and better than our detractors.
As individuals, we all need to be sensitive to the feelings of others - that is a mark of maturity - but allowances have to be made for the young, the foolish and the ignorant, for whom the internet world of FaceBook, MySpace and YouTube has blurred the boundaries of "public" and "private", as well as any notion of what is appropriate in any particular context. Rather than jumping on every unguarded remark uttered in the public sphere, we should only punish malicious intent, not immaturity, thoughtlessness, or free expression. Like Prince Harry, it's time for us all to grow up.