Swinging the wrong way

Do straights have a 'right' to enter a gay bar?

Patrick West
Columnist

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Topics Politics
  • I want to get into a gay bar

While having a drink in a Soho pub last week, I happened to pick up a stray copy of a magazine called Midlands Zone, a publication that caters for the gay, lesbian and bisexual community of England’s West Midlands. Being the confident modern-day liberal that I am, I took time to flick through this esteemed publication, and I came across a story that struck a chord.

‘Straight guy reports Swedish gay club for discrimination’, read a headline on page eight. This related to the story of a Swedish man who is currently taking a case of discrimination to his government. He was recently refused entry to the Gay-VIP Wonderbar on account of him being straight, and feels that this is a blatant abuse of his rights.

As a painfully liberal student in Manchester back in the mid-1990s, I remember going to many gay bars in the city centre’s Canal Street. You would get accepted in most, but sometimes one’s boorishly heterosexual behaviour – getting too drunk, dancing like a prat, trying to chat up fellow female students, complaining that the place wasn’t playing indie music – made one less welcome. I’m sure that we were very annoying and they were in their rights for telling us to go away.

(For the record, I’ve never subscribed to the gay stereotype. Most of the gay men I have known – including my next-door neighbours – bear little resemblance to the media cliché of the super-toned, clubbing-mad aesthete. A good proportion loathe this stereotype. If I swung the other way I would also take exception to being portrayed as a sex-maniac, pill-popping philistine.)

When a good friend of mine came out two years ago, in the spirit of that Electric Six song, she sought to take me to a gay bar. The tour around Soho was her way of introducing me to her new world. Yet all but one venue wouldn’t let us in on account of my heterosexuality. She was incandescent, protesting that this was a disgraceful example of discrimination. Of all communities, those that face discrimination should never practice it.

This echoed the argument made by Melissa Bell, son of former MP Martin, when she and her baby were turned away from a gay venue in 1999. She protested that she was ‘shocked’ to realise it was because she was not homosexual: ‘I would have thought, of all people, that they should understand how horrible discrimination is.’

I tried to reassure her that I did not mind. No one has a ‘right’ to enter a pub or club. Discrimination is not a bad concept in itself. There is nothing wrong with all-women colleges, denominational schools or all-male gentlemen’s clubs. There is a principle called freedom of association.

It is really unedifying to see straights bleating about their human rights being abused, just because they couldn’t get into a gay bar.

  • Childish racism

In the wake of Ann Winterton’s expulsion from the Conservative Party over her joke about the death of the Chinese cockle-pickers in Morecambe Bay, a poll by YouGov found that discriminatory jokes are actually much more acceptable than one might have suspected. Of the 1749 adults quizzed, 61 per cent thought it acceptable to tell jokes about the Irish, 51 per cent about Asians and 50 per cent about blacks.

This does not surprise me. I have noticed an increase in racist humour in the past year or so, from the kind of people one wouldn’t expect it from. But whereas old-fashioned racist jokes merely reflected prejudice and hatred, you can hear a different tone in people’s voices now. Today, racist quips are made in a kind of nervous, childish manner – as if those doing the telling think they are merely being naughty.

Because race has become the big taboo today and the populace is so afraid to even mention the subject, all thoughts about it have been repressed. And when something is repressed, it is unconsciously articulated in an unhealthy manner. To make a racist joke acts as a kind of infantile catharsis; it is also a rebellious gesture to prove that you care not for the censorious iron fist of today’s thought police. This is why such a thoroughly un-PC, bad taste programme, The Office, has become such a sensation.

Some might argue that this proves that Britons (or white Britons) are indeed institutionally racist. But everyone has prejudices, which are the function of instinct and fear. A racist is an unthinking creature, whose head is ruled by his heart. A non-racist is someone who has embraced reason. The best way to eradicate racism is to argue people out of it, through argument and debate.

  • Food fight

Luigi Amaduzzi, the Italian ambassador to the UK, has been complaining this week about the debasement of his country’s culinary heritage, in particular the supposed barbarisation of the pizza. ‘A pizza base covered with pineapple or with curry is no more Italian than a steak and kidney pie covered with chocolate is English.’

I fear he is putting misplaced national pride over taste. Amaduzzi also appears to regard the pizza in a rather essentialist manner. It is not as if pizzas have existed before time – or that they are purely Italian. It took tomatoes from the New World to give them their distinctive flavour and it took a man named Ike Sewell to invent the deep-pan pizza in Chicago back in 1943.

The great thing about food is that it is transcultural, on a perpetual process of evolution. For instance, ‘good old English fish and chips’ is a hybrid, according Professor Panikos Panayi, who argues in The Spicing Up of English Life that it emerged from the French tradition for frying chipped potatoes and the immigrant Jewish custom for deep-frying fish in batter. The modern pizza, like Chicken Tikka Masala, is testament to this marvellous process.

Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from Amazon (UK).

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