Friday, 1 April 2011

East End Troubles

As a northerner, gay man and also as an academic I often feel an outsider on the inside. Too often, our media is London-centric and panders to internal liberal angst. The various stories concerning East London pride over the last few months were a reminder of this situation. It seems odd to me that (with possibly the exception of Manchester), the London-based LGBTQ media too often appears concerned with the ins and outs of stories that do not affect vast swathes of their readership. As such, I more or less ignored the East End pride stories as stories that don't directly affect me.

I'm sure I wasn't alone in this response, but I'm also sure that it was a mistake. Our media have been useless at translating a 'local' story into a national one and assumed that simply palcing it in a national outlet does that. It doesn't. Yet, as we see in a blog post by the controversial feminist writer, Julie Bindel, we should sit up and examine what's been going on in the East End of London.

In a nutshell, and as Bindel notes, Last autumn, stickers began to appear all over the East End proclaiming that the area is now a “Gay-Free Zone.” “And Fear Allah: Verily Allah is Severe in Punishment.” After that, it all gets complex, and you should go read the excellent summary by Julie Bindel here (then carry on reading...). You don't have to agree with Bindel on anything to find the commentary useful and interesting.

I'm quite sure the post will annoy some, but it needs to be read and debated. Our failure to do so, and opt instead for a conspiracy of silence, serves only to create an environment perfect for the incubation of ignorance and hatred. We must not allow that to happen.

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nigel said...

This is what I've posted on the blog that you linked to, but I think it's worth people seeing here too.

I’ve been living in the East End now for almost 20 years, and I really don’t recognise the climate of homophobia that some people are depicting in their postings about these posters. Nor do some friends of mine who live in Bethnal Green. Certainly the impression given by some writers on the topic, that gay people are fleeing the east end, seems a little fanciful; a few people may have left, but I doubt it’s happened in significant enough numbers to make a difference to the statistics.

Of course there’s homophobia; there’s a fair bit of it about, and from much more than just one community. When I stand at the bus stop in my leather gear on the way to a gay club in Mile End, the worst looks I get don’t seem to be from people who look like they’re anything to do with the mosque on the corner. But I’ve not heard any verbal abuse for the best part of a decade.

The borough with the largest increase in homophobic crime according to the Met is Islington – noticeably rather less islamic than Tower Hamlets. Why’s that? Does anyone know? Or have a theory? Or even care, if they can’t simply portray it as one community vs another? But we should be asking these questions.

We should ask too why people trot out a survey that says no muslims approve of gay sex when it’s clear that anything that comes up with a “0%” answer is obviously flawed. It’s like saying that because you ask around your office and no one’s a christian, there are zero christians in the UK. There are gay muslims; unless you’re going to deny that there are, or insist that they don’t even approve of themselves, that zero figure is obviously not one that you can extrapolate to a whole population with any degree of certainty.

The right number might be “small” but when dealing with sensitive issues like community relations, it’s not helpful to say “no one in this community accepts us” when you know that the only reason you have a figure of zero is a statistical quirk.

What disturbs me very much about all this is the climate of division that some people seem to be going out of their way to foster in the area now; we won’t beat homophobia – wherever it comes from – by resorting to paranoid conspiracy theories.

When the Chariots sauna had a fire recently, the tone of the comments on one gay news site was shocking, with people saying it was probably arson by the muslim community, and if it was, those who’d caused the pride march to be cancelled would have given the green light to such attacks.

Is that sort of finger pointing and name calling really going to solve anything?

There are plenty of problems with homophobia, but they’re not just from one community; it wasn’t a muslim who kicked someone to death in Trafalgar Square, was it?

We need to be grown up, to stop immediately pointing fingers when bad things happen, to stop believing in conspiracy theories, and above all to talk to each other.

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