Sunday, 20 February 2011

The Equality Flip-Side

The Telegraph reports today that the Equality and Human Rights Commission is examining whether "gay-only" guesthouses breach new laws designed to prevent people being treated unfairly in the provision of goods or services. My students will tell you that I do bang on about this aspect of equality. That is to say, gay venues that appear to discriminate against straight people - the gay hotel or the gay pub and bar. The ghetto has continued to discriminate in subtle ways despite equality legislation - bouncers asking "this is a gay bar, are you sure it's your type of venue gents?" Someone once said this to me and I remain unsure whether he was saying I was too unattractive to enter the venue or simple looked too straight.

Anyway, I think the review is right and over-due. It raises some very serious questions for those who have sought to see equality as something to be imposed upon others, and not apply to themselves. The trouble with this simple right-wing narrative is that it fails to appreciate that there's a reason for 'gay' bars, hotels and other spaces and it is a desire to appropriate a space that can be deemed 'safe'. Safe from fear, and safe from violence. We still need such spaces today. However, we must recognise that to argue such a position is to also argue against equality.

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DJB said...

Indeed. Having worked in 'gay' establishments in my youth, and as a former patron of many near here I can also confirm how common the prejudice is. My partner and I have been refused entry to bars and a well-known local club in the city due to looking 'too straight' or not being dressed appropriately [despite them having no dress code and many people wearing all sorts!]. I welcome the review :).

Sean Hennelly said...

It's a really tough issue. I see the equality arguments, of course I do. I just wonder whether it is important to protect certain spaces because of the safety issue, as well as protecting a culture. If I were gay and wanted to go to gay establishments, I'm not sure I would want those spaces filling up with groups of straight guys, and possibly girls. I think it creates a bit of a fishbowl effect. I remember visiting Canal Street as part of Law and Sexuality Chris, and it was fantastic. Looking back though, we were as a group all looking around and giggling and taking it all in. Whether we are tolerant or not, that kind of fascination is still one that seems inappropriate.

I'm torn therefore, there are, as always, arguments both ways. I wonder though...If a Church turned away a Muslim, because he or she did not conform to religious ideology of the Church (or vice versa), I wonder what the public opinion would be. I think the arguments that would come up would be things along the lines of:

- Within a Church, Christians have the right to practice their religion as they wish, and exclude people on the basis of their beliefs

- The Muslim can go to a Mosque, a space designed for someone of his/her beliefs

I wouldn't necessarily agree with those arguments (I'm not a fan of organised religion anyway, but that opens a whole kettle of fish), but maybe there is something to say for protecting certain spaces.

Chris Ashford said...

Interesting comments all round. The challenge is to 'privilege' certain spaces, and this stumps those who subscribe to the 'equality' position and also postmodernists/queer theorists. It's probably feminism that provides any sort of theoretical assistance on this one. In practical terms, I think the current botched position is the right one but then I've also regarded myself as a supporter of diversity rather than of equality.

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