One point that has particularly shocked commentators about the recent ejection by the John Snow pub of two men for kissing is that it occurred in Soho. That such a thing should happen in the symbolic and actual heartland of the London LGBT community has astounded tweeters and journalists alike. But what’s perhaps most troubling about this incident ‘on home turf’ is the schism that it has revealed within the ranks of the people who felt its impact most deeply.
Dig beneath the layers of outrage that have been building up on social media sites such as Twitter and you’ll find a distinct thread of comment from self-confessed gay men that goes something like this: ‘There were loads of gay bars around, so what were they doing going somewhere full of straight people?’ It doesn’t matter whether it was a chaste kiss on the cheek or a full-blown game of tonsil tennis. Essentially, so the argument goes, by venturing beyond the rainbow-coloured castle gates of Old Compton Street these two men had behaved recklessly. No one on the pink side of the divide has quite said that they had it coming, but at times the implication has definitely been there.
Posh women from Middle England who chair action groups with names like ‘The Society for Well-spoken Christian Ladies against the Homosexual Threat’ are comfortable targets for the left-leaning. Their sentiments are predictable and their discrimination is clear-cut. We can react with outrage, contribute to a Guardian blog and press on, emboldened and unified in the face of adversity.
What’s worse, and much harder to cope with, is when incidents such as this one reveal what certain factions within the LGBT community perceive as acceptable behaviour. The existence of Old Compton Street and the wider gay quarter of Soho is a wonderful thing, to be sure. It’s somewhere we can call our own, with a potent sense of history and some of the best bars and clubs around. But we’re on perilous ground if we start conflating geographic borders with social boundaries, however well intentioned we may be. If we do, we run the risk of turning our place of fun and occasional refuge into a ghetto. Being able to show physical affection in The Village or GAY doesn’t constitute freedom, it equals a start.
First published by So So Gay Magazine