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One Giant Leap or a Step Back in Time?

April 4, 2011

Normally, I’m not easily shocked, but over the weekend I read about a group of gay men who were thrown out of a Brighton cab by the driver, purely because of their sexuality. After years of campaigning that we should all be treated with equal respect I’m sure there won’t be many people from the LGBTQ scene who wouldn’t be applauded to hear that someone has refused to serve someone because of their sexuality. I remember being extremely upset when I saw exactly the same scene played in Quentin Crisp’s, The Naked Civil Servant.

For Quentin, that was way in the 1950’s, a time when it was completely illegal to be homosexual, where the police could arrest you for being a ‘sexual pervert’.  The gay bars were hidden down back alleys and the only way you could gain entry was by knowing the secret password.

By the time I flew the nest, aged eighteen, to the heady heights of Norwich, not a lot had changed. Although it was 1983, the one gay pub was tucked away above a straight pub. Meanwhile, the gay hot spot, the Caribbean Club was also discretely hidden away above a chip shop. Although the Caribbean only opened three nights a week, with a piano bar on a Sunday night, I thought it was heaven. Unlike the larger London segregated scene, everyone from all sexual persuasions could only meet in one place. On occasions someone would bring their straight friend or relative to the club too. The world didn’t fall apart; I for one was pleased to take my sister along and for her to meet all my mates and to see that her baby brother’s lifestyle was as fantastic as hers.

After a couple of years, I left Norwich for Brighton. It was great to have more than one pub to go to. Back then, I never questioned why most pubs had frosted windows or blacked out all together. Like the pubs I’d visited in London, Some were more gender specific that others, while others had a steady flow of regulars from the LGBTQ community happily mixing together.

This was the time when it was still illegal to be homosexual until you were 21, where disclosure of your sexuality could get you fired from work with no law to challenge it. It was also the era when murderers could get a lighter sentence by claiming they panicked over the homosexual advancers of their victim.

Gradually the LGBT community became more vocal. Demanding for an equal age of consent and end for discrimination in the work place. We marched against the stigma of AIDS.  We protested to bring an end to the hated Clause 28. We fought for the rights of the transgender community to have their true gender recognised and gradually things got better, we began to get equality. Laws were changed and with that so did attitudes. Black paint was striped from the gay bars; new bars unveiled floor to ceiling windowed fronts, we were no longer hidden away. The way we partied slowly transformed. Along with this new attitude a smattering of clubs became metro-sexual; creating places where everyone of all sexualities could meet and dance in harmony.

I like the fact that there are still some bars that are still predominantly gender specific, but I can’t find myself wanting to go back to a time of pure segregation. So I was quite surprised to read a letter in my local gay press from three men who were suggesting just that.

In the letter they felt that the straight crowd our taking over all of the gay pubs, and that there is no place to have lunch without having to put up with screaming children and canoodling heterosexuals. Personally I see these complaints about behaviour, not sexuality. For the authors, they longed for the days of them and us and never the twain shall meet, for lunch at least.

A second letter made clear that with the rights we had campaigned so hard for, meant that it was illegal to refuse a heterosexual couple from going into a gay pub and having lunch or popping into a night club and enjoying themselves with their mates. They also went on to see if there was a way of creating gay only venues. If we start going down this path, then there will be absolute no way we would be able to be applauded about hoteliers refusing anyone who wasn’t heterosexual bed and board or for a taxi driver to refuse to take a group of gay men safely to their front door.

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