London's Gay Ghetto, Old Compton Street and its environs, forms a useful district where queers can feel unthreatened, and where specialist services such as hairdressing, cafés and pubs abound to cater to our every whim.
However, look a bit closer, and think of other notorious ghettos: the Jews in Warsaw, for instance. Every ghetto has a reason for its existence: usually to hide the inhabitants and their practices from offending the authorities. Many queers accept this reason, happy to collude with the homophobes who rule. The ghetto, of course, doesn't exist only in Soho, but in every lesbian and gay pub and club; and a mental ghetto exists in the mind of every purveyor of queer services in the country. Some members of OutRage! on the other hand believe that we should embrace integration.
Twenty-five years ago, in the heady days of GLF, integration was one of a platform of revolutionary ideas tried out. After the General Meeting, many of the members would flood into the various straight pubs around Notting Hill. Most of the pubs barred us; and one even imprisoned members dressed as nuns in the bar. Eventually most members found this process so painful that the idea quietly died; and many of those revolutionaries happily reembraced the dozen or so gay venues which formed the Gay Ghetto in those days.
In the past 25 years much progress has been made. Many of us are 'out' all the time: at work, with our parents, and in the street. The greatly expanded ghetto has become a place where we can relax from confrontation.
There is, however, another reason to smash the ghetto. Why is it that gay bars always seem to have the most expensive prices? Very few gay restaurants are at the cheaper end of the price range; and those entrepreneurs who have set up specialist services, (funeral directors, beauty parlours, etc.), have lost no opportunity to show their solidarity with their gay brothers and sisters by ripping us off, right, left, and centre. When those profits go back into the gay community it might not seem so bad: but usually they go to straight and, on the whole, homophobic breweries; to straight record companies; and to straight drug houses such as Glaxo-Wellcome.
Take for instance this year's Pride. The speaker banks on either side of the stage were covered with the logos of dozens of straight companies. It has been estimated that the straight turnover for the day exceeded £ 2.5 million.
So, my friends, the word is integrate. Leave your gay bars and specialist services to their profiteering managements. Let every pub in the land get used to having its share of queer customers. In the process it is possible that many of the more macho posturings of their straight customers would be modified. It is important that we are seen behaving in our usual manner by the maximum number of the 'ordinary' populace. The ideas of 25 years ago were before their time. THEIR TIME IS NOW.
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