Increasingly, it seems to me that life may have improved for a narrow segment of the UK lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) population, but not for the majority. In some ways, for a large proportion of us things are worse now than they were 15-20 years ago.
How can this be? With so many of us enjoying civil partnerships, going to Manchester Pride, with so many businesses and the media loving us now. Surely we’ve never had it so good?
Well this is what the mainstream media, local councils, career homos and marketeers would like everyone to believe…
Two years ago I saw an exceptionally stupid piece of hype from a gay marketing company. It had surveyed one thousand readers of gay magazines Gay Times and Diva, then had apparently scaled up its findings to cover the entire percentage of the UK population (between 6% and 10% depending who you believe) that is reckoned to be LGBT.
This, they claimed, showed that LGBT people were spending gazilions of pounds on DVDs, CDs, mobile phones, foreign travel, magazines (and presumably dildos and pink crop tops).
Conveniently, it ignored the fact that the tiny percentage that reads those magazines is not at all representative of UK LGBT people as a whole. For most of the rest, their sexuality probably has zero relation to what they spend their money on. An elderly lesbian who buys Womens’ Weekly isn’t buying it because she is a lesbian. Similarly, occasionally liking cock has nothing to do with a completely closeted Asian man’s purchase of a bangara CD. In which case they are not part of that ‘LGBT market’.
If 6% of the population is LGBT, then that represents 3.6m people out of a population of 60m.
The LGBT population is as varied and diverse as the rest of the population. With people of every age, colour, religion, background and income level. It includes hundreds of thousands of LGBT pensioners who, on the whole, are not craving the latest mobile phone or Kylie CD (though my elderly mum, who was not a lesbian, used to really like Ms Minogue’s records).
The LGBT population is like a giant iceberg. Almost all is hidden below the water, with just a tiny pink peak above the surface. That peak includes just about everything ‘gay’ that we see in the media and around us.
The marketeers, businesses and politicians love to pretend that this tiny pink peak is representative of all LGBT people. But it isn’t. These people are actually untypical.
If you take Manchester Pride as an example. The population of the Greater Manchester area is about 2.24m (2001 figure). If 10% is LGBT, that is 224,000 people. Or, if you take the more conservative estimate that 6% of the population is LGBT, it is 134,400 people.
Only about 35,000 people buy a ticket for the event each year and Manchester Pride spends a fortune promoting it outside of the local area: nationally and internationally. How many of the 35,000 tickets are sold to people from Greater Manchester? At a guess, 20,000 perhaps? With the other 15,000 made up of more ‘pink peak’ people who visit from outside Greater Manchester for the event.
Depending which of the percentages above you believe, that would mean just 8.9% of Greater Manchester LGBTs buy a ticket for Pride (if 10% of the population is LGBT) or 14.8% (if 6% is LGBT).
Also, in the calculations above, I’ve made the enormous assumption that everyone who buys a ticket is LGBT. They’re not… Many heterosexuals go to Pride.
In other words, the vast majority of LGBTs in Greater Manchester don’t go to Pride.
The marketeers are well aware of this and it’s one reason why they lie and massively over-inflate the attendance figures for Manchester Pride.
In 1999 the organisers claimed that 600,000 people watched the Saturday parade. A figure that is more than one quarter of the entire population of Greater Manchester. All packed into a couple of streets in the city centre and into a parade route that is only about 2,500 yards long. It would be physically impossible to fit even 100,000 on that route, so the 600,000 figure was a huge lie.
These distortions allow the people who control gay Manchester to claim that they represent and cater for far more of the area’s LGBT population than they really do.
Regularly I hear young gay men who are on the scene saying that ‘most gay people’ go to the gay village and ‘most’ in Manchester go to Pride. What they actually mean is most of the other gay men they know, who are a similar age and who have the same tastes. In reality a small percentage of all LGBT people. Just a moment’s thought will tell you that the vast majority of LGBT people aren’t in the 18-30 age group that is so favoured by marketeers and businesses. No, they are in the 30-80 (and above) age group.
So who is on the ‘pink peak’? People who have been able to come out and who are accepted by the commercial gay scene. Predominantly young, high-earning white men who like to consume. Or lower earners who are prepared to get themselves into debt to follow the required lifestyle.
Many seem to have no interest in politics or in anyone who isn’t exactly the same as them, they think the battle for gay rights has been won and there is nothing left to fight for. Some are quite conservative and narrow-minded.
Remember that saying about how it’s better to have your enemies inside your tent pissing out, instead of outside pissing in? The ‘pink peak’ gay minority are very much inside the tent these days. They seek to conform to the heterosexual world: they wear the same clothes, crave a civil partnership, want to get a mortgage and adopt children.
If you don’t fit into the above or are unwilling to do so then, increasingly, you can expect to be excluded. Any services, facilities or resources that might have catered to you in the past will be closed down, under-resourced, attacked or forgotten about. If you can’t or won’t pay then there won’t be much for you in the future.
Organisations such as the LGF (Lesbian and Gay Foundation) don’t even include the words Bi and Transgender in their name.
There’s a growing intolerance and the dismissal of anyone who doesn’t fit into this privileged group. A view that everyone should fit in and attempts to enforce that. Twenty years ago, post-punk, many gay men and women in Manchester wore clothes that were completely different to those worn by heterosexuals. They could walk around town without trouble. If you do that now, you can expect comments at the very least.
This change has happened in the last ten years and is because the ‘pink peak’ people tend to wear much the same as the heterosexual population. There is less diversity and less tolerance of any difference now. Gay areas have become mixed and are no longer the safe spaces that they were until 15 years ago.
LGBT life in Manchester is poorer these days. We have a fragmented community where different age groups tend not to mix (where exactly do LGBT over-40’s go?). Pink peak people have no time for, nor interest in, those who aren’t like them.
If you’re older, not ‘gym fit’, a transexual… The ‘chosen ones’ will laugh at you, encouraged by their straight female friends with their Neanderthal boyfriends. It’s just SO inclusive down in the gay village now that the straight men are there.
However if you’re a young gay black man who doesn’t fit the profile then you may have a hard time even getting into some gay bars and clubs. Be prepared to answer twenty questions about ‘what magazines’ you read (surely ALL LGBT people read Gay Times?) while hen parties and heterosexual white boys sail in past you.
Marketeers and businesses have been eager to cash in on the pink pound, but also to promote LGBT areas as a kind of gay theme park.
One friend reckons that some heterosexuals see gay village areas as places where anything goes. After all, if things are so relaxed that these sexual deviants are tolerated, surely it must be open season on any kind of bad behaviour?
Also, and ironically, at a stroke new laws on equality have helped to destroy our safe spaces and many aspects of a unique culture that had grown up over decades and centuries. Now everyone must be allowed in everywhere. With the inevitable consequences, as the heterosexual 94% majority take over and assert their ‘right’ to peer into every corner.
Just one Manchester bar has managed to hold out and gives something of a glimpse of what the scene used to be like for gay men.
Drag and cabaret, polari and that whole side of spoken British gay culture, unique fashions and music, bars that catered to special interest groups and a mix of ages. All have either gone or been seriously diminished within little more than a decade. But we haven’t yet woken up to what has happened and what we have lost.
What have we gained in return? Hen parties, premium prices, every bar the same, fatal stabbings on Canal Street and an unsafe atmosphere where you may be verbally abused for being gay or threatened in the ‘gay village’.
If you want to meet a partner then the only authorised way is at an expensive bar, club or sauna. Not because these are particularly effective (or healthy) ways of meeting. But because they make lots of money for the people who matter.
By comparision, the powers that be find it difficult to make any money from men who go cruising. So it must stop. In the 1980’s, cruisers would be under attack from the police. Now in Manchester it is from the police AND the local council, supported by the likes of OutNorthWest magazine, which allows itself to be used as a propaganda tool, dutifully warning of any crack down on cruising spots. Cruising also upsets the rich people who have recently bought apartments next to the canal and we can’t have that…
Cruising is one of the few aspects of gay life that Manchester City Council and local businesses have been unable to commercialise and profit from. So now cruisers face more harrassment from both the police and the city council than they did in the 1980’s.
A nearby gay sauna offers a venue for casual sex and in there people tend to go much further than outdoors. Barebacking in the sauna is rife and, according to reports, it seems a man may have been raped on the premises recently. However, its expensive membership and entry fees mean that businessmen and the city council benefit, so it is allowed to operate free from harrassment from the authorities.
Violent, anti-social and often ‘lewd’ behaviour by drunk men and women is widespread across the streets of Manchester city centre every weekend, with the result that large sections of the population feel unsafe and unable to visit the city centre at night. But again this is tolerated because these troublesome people are prolific consumers of alcohol and generate huge profits.
Forget the fact that, for many men, cruising is as much a social as sexual activity, particularly for those who don’t fit into the ‘pink peak’ lifestyle or are too poor to partake of it and that for some this is still the only LGBT contact they have. Also that cruisers tend to do very little sexually (compared to what goes on in a sauna), are usually discrete and disturb almost no one. They simply are not profitable so must be stopped!
And to those who say that cruising is dangerous, I would like to see figures for violent assaults in and around bars and clubs per one hundred people who use them, compared to the same for men who cruise. I strongly suspect you are more likely to be robbed, stabbed, raped or murdered by a drunken or drugged-up man you take home from a club (or possibly one you come across as you leave a club) than by a sober man you meet cruising on a public footpath.
INCIDENTS REPORTED IN THE MEDIA SINCE FEBRUARY 2008
25 Feb 2008 – man stabbed to death on Canal Street at 7.30pm in the evening.
3 Mar 2008 – a life sentence for the 26 year old who viciously battered an HIV positive man whom he met on Canal Street. His victim suffered bleeding to the brain and has been left permanently disabled.
22 Nov 2008 – 18-year-old stabbed on Bloom Street
11 Sep 2009 – a BBC reporter was attacked as he and a camerman set up equipment for a live broadcast from Sackville Park in the gay village at six o’clock in the evening.
13 Jan 2010 – a 30-year-old man was raped in Manchester city centre in the early hours of Wednesday. The man got into a car in Bloom Street
Other attacks in and around the gay village which didn’t make the news have been mentioned on the Facebook group Gangs of Canal Street.
Please let me know of any incidents you come across either in the gay village or in the cruising area around the canal. So far I haven’t found any recent ones in the cruising area, though a few people have fallen into the water.
People may be more reluctant to report a mugging if it happens in a cruising area. But they aren’t going to walk away from a stabbing or serious assault and we can see where most of those are taking place.
Sorry if this sounds negative. But I’m all too aware of what we’ve lost and I resent it. Integration is a fine idea but, so far, the cost has been too high.
How have we ended up in this situation? Is it that, in the excitement of suddenly being loved (or at least not attacked) by those who used to hate us (the media, Tories, police) we took our eye off the ball? Was it inevitable due to the coming of age of the Thatcher generation?
There are many theories. Another is that, due to AIDS, we lost a whole generation of the most vibrant people who had previously fought for our rights and community. With them gone, more cynical individuals were able to grab control.
There is hope, however. Across the country, social networks, groups and alternative more-inclusive events are springing up. Individuals who are disenchanted with the commercial gay scene are seeking out and finding each other and it’s very encouraging that lots of young people are involved in this and are standing up to say that the way things are at the moment is wrong.
Thanks to the internet, the mainstream media and gay press are no longer the only sources of information. Different voices can and will be heard.