In the 4th February issue of The Cambridge Student, Charlie Bell argued that ‘LBGT is not helping gay integration’. Quite a bold statement perhaps, but one I initially welcomed as a fresh evaluation of the issues facing gay people in society today. The more you think about it though, the more it becomes clear that much of the logic behind the ‘gay integration’ debate is flawed.
Charlie makes some interesting points – no doubt with the noble intention of breaking down LBGT stereotypes that undeniably exist within Cambridge and elsewhere. But on many issues he contradicts himself, over-simplifies matters, and sometimes is just plain wrong. It’s important that these misunderstandings are clarified; otherwise we end up strengthening the stereotypes that most are all so keen to dismantle.
Firstly, let’s recognise that some people – myself included – bemoan the fact that CUSU LBGT is not as active as similar groups in other universities. Don’t get me wrong, the campaign does a very good job with limited resources (most of which go unacknowledged due to the confidential nature of welfare work) but it’s true that many LBGT social events have about as much fizz as a sparsely-attended Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. I suspect the reason behind this apparent apathy is because gay students in Cambridge feel so integrated with university life that their sexuality ceases to be the primary factor in their social identity.
We don’t need the gay coffee mornings they have in Manchester University, or the lesbian book clubs that are hosted in Leeds, mainly because we’re all so busy with everything else Cambridge throws at us to bother. At the end of the day we would rather spend time with our friends – regardless of their sexuality – than drag ourselves to some draughty meeting room for a session of gay speed dating. In other words, much of the ‘integration’ for which Charlie appears to long for in Cambridge has happened already and this, ironically, inhibits the ability of the central LBGT campaign to drum up interest in their own social events.
I’m constantly surprised at the amount of gay people I meet in Cambridge in the most unlikely situations, and this internal diversity within the LBGT community ought to be acknowledged.
Of course, the one ‘gay’ social event that is consistently popular (much to the frustration of The Place nightclub) is CUSU LBGT’s Rendezvous at Vodka Revs. But it is often ignored that even this is billed as a highly inclusive environment and is open to all: gay, lesbian, straight, town, gown etc. I don’t believe there is any agenda of promoting an ‘exclusive’ atmosphere where gays dance around in crop tops and lesbians sulk in the corners. Sure, the night might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Kambar and Fez also cater for niche markets that inspire love and hate amongst their target market. I guess the overall intention of CUSU LBGT is simply to create a safe space for gay people and their straight friends to party and pull; if anyone feels this is unnecessary, I’d challenge them kiss their same-sex partner in the middle of Cindies on a Tuesday night. The reaction probably/hopefully wouldn’t be explicitly homophobic, but I’m sure it wouldn’t go unnoticed either.
Finally I must address the somewhat naive assertion that because we’re all ‘living in the mainstream’ there is no longer a need for formal LBGT networks to exist in society. You don’t need to be the president of Amnesty to realise that such complacency is dangerous. Civil rights can be taken away as quickly as they are enacted and we must always be vigilant to threats from the far right.
Complacency is also highly insulting to anyone who has ever suffered hate crime or struggled to come to terms with their sexual orientation. The recent homophobic murder of a civil servant in Leicester Square shows that, despite all the progress we have made since the 1980s, a man can still be murdered in our capital city based solely upon negative perceptions of his sexuality. Nobody dares suggest that racism is an irrelevance to people from an ethnic minority, so the same argument should not be made in the context of homophobia. Moreover, sexuality remains an issue in the workplace: the Army, for example, only started accepting applications from openly gay people in the last decade. As an issue facing all job-seeking students who happen to be gay, graduate recruitment is something CUSU LBGT was right to address within the broader context of its Awareness Week campaign.
I suppose the most important thing to remember during this whole debate is that the LBGT movement – and the rainbow flag in particular – is intended to highlight the spectrum of difference that exists in all of us and the benefits society can reap by embracing this diversity. Don’t try and force everyone to follow a (yellow brick?) road to ‘integration’, because then the only option for a Tuesday night out would be Jelly Baby at Cindies. Perish the thought.