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Pride and prejudice

Does Liverpool really need a gay quarter or carnival? Mike Homfray pushes the case for a different kind of pink industry

Published on August 19th 2008.


Pride and prejudice

AUGUST Bank Holiday is all about civic festivals, and not just Mathew Street. Every year at this time, the call goes out: Liverpool needs its own Gay Pride celebrations.

This is inevitably accompanied by a wistful glance 33 miles east to Manchester, to compare the two cities in terms of their gay-friendliness or homophobia. The conclusion is often unfavourable to Liverpool, and issues like a local Pride, and a more high-profile, developed “gay quarter” are often viewed as ways of making improvements.

Liverpool is not Manchester, and even if there was a concerted effort to improve or promote Liverpool as a gay-friendly destination, with the policies to accompany it, the outcome would not be a clone of Manchester. And is that what anyone really wants?

When these conversations begin, I often feel like the resident wet weekend (other than the one which will inevitably accompany the Manchester event), expressing doubts as to whether either of these things will really make any great difference.

Let’s start with Manchester's Gay Village. The “village” idea has always been more about hope than reality. It is essentially a commercial zone where there are selections of drinking establishments, most of which are owned by the major breweries, all of which are either gay-identified or gay-friendly. The old chestnut about the invasion of hen nights and tourists is well-worn and, given that barriers and entrance fees exist only for the duration of Pride, where gay people have to pay to enter “their” village, this is unlikely to change. There is a barbers, a taxi firm, a GP surgery, and a florist. But does this consist of a village – or simply a specific commercial district? And while, at least, the volume of drinking spaces does mean some variety, there is a clear tendency for a shift in at least some of Manchester’s lesbian and gay socialising towards the more cultural Northern Quarter, or suburbs such as Chorlton.

The Village was the product of particular circumstances. It emerged in a political climate where a combination of equality activism, sympathetic businesses, beneficial planning and regeneration initiatives, and a (pro-gay) city council wanting to take a pop at the (anti-gay) Tory government of the day came together at an opportune moment.

It is no coincidence that no other city has actually produced anything similar. The same reference points may be used – zones, villages, and so on – but Manchester’s Gay Village is a product of a particular time and place. It developed organically, and if Manchester was starting from scratch today in terms of creating a gay-friendly commercial zone, then I think it certain that the outcome would look nothing like the Gay Village. And the Village itself is not at all as some of the more visionary hopes for it at its outset.

So, when discussing Liverpool’s commercial gay scene, I would question whether the Village analogy is either helpful, or particularly useful. Liverpool is not Manchester: and even if there was a concerted effort to improve or promote Liverpool as a gay-friendly destination, with the policies to accompany it, the outcome would not be a clone of Manchester. And is that what anyone really wants?

Much the same can be said about Pride. In recent years, Gay Prides have been contracting rather than expanding, and with the many legal changes which have benefited gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people, the initial reason for their existence has changed.

Gay Prides can be an exhilarating experience. My first Prides were in the late 80s, the days of Thatcher and Section 28, and they were times when there was clearly all to fight for. That hasn’t entirely gone away. Recent events have demonstrated that the issue of homophobic violence remains all too real, and the presence of people who are proud of and open about their sexuality has been and remains a vital element in combating this sort of threat.

But would a Liverpool Pride really assist this? The easiest sort of Pride to organise is the standard formula of “march followed by party in the park”. Sometimes the march ends up being abandoned altogether, or entirely overshadowed by the party. And is it really worth all the effort to provide a one day event where people can get pissed and dance to Kylie?

It’s almost as if that is typical of what gay and lesbian people do all the time – whereas I would argue that those who use the commercial scene regularly make up a small proportion of the gay population.

I’m not a party-pooper, and I have been to fantastic Prides in San Francisco and Amsterdam which are major events in those cities’ calendars for the whole community to enjoy. But given that Liverpool Pride isn’t going to be on that scale, I would question whether it is the best use of time, money and energy. Liverpool does have both a specific lesbian and gay film festival (Outsiders), and a yearly arts/cultural festival (Homotopia) and they are both things which few other cities have. Perhaps our energies might be better spent looking for and developing initiatives which won’t turn out to be pale copies of those which exist elsewhere.

And in doing this, local councils and other providers need to ensure that community development money and necessary support is provided to ensure that Liverpool and the rest of Merseyside becomes a genuinely inclusive and gay-friendly environment – and that means a far more profound cultural shift than simply creating pedestrianised commercial zones or single-day drink-fests.

Mike Homfray is involved in a range of local LGBT activities and is author of Provincial Queens: the gay and lesbian community in the north-west of England (published by Peter Lang, and available at News from Nowhere bookshop, Liverpool, or here This article is written in an individual capacity.

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19 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Albert DuckAugust 19th 2008.

Cheekyberni - How dare you refer to me as "heterosexual"! Yes you are prejudiced and narrow-minded, and apparently proud of it!

cheekyberniAugust 19th 2008.

Simmer down oh bitter ones!!Secret Squirrel - it is not the issue of 'confining it to one space' but creating a cultural gay area - exactly the same as having a shopping area or oldtown... what's wrong with that?Les R - I never said anything for or against the Mathew Street Festival, I obviously don't like drunken mobs - hence why I ask for the gay village distinction - and if having an opinion is prejudice, then so be it! Mike Homfray's article seemed outdated to me - and my response portrayed my feelings.Harry Rule - I am not a Nazi, I don't give a hoot where you go out clubbing, I never said all straight men were leery - have you something on your conscience? LOLChill out!!

cheekyberniAugust 19th 2008.

Harry Rule - IF I were to enlighten the youth of today in any way, it would be exactly that - enlightenment - not your paranoid twisted outlook....And I have nothing whatsoever against gay men, so re-read and settle yourself x

cheekyberniAugust 19th 2008.

Albert Duck - what would you prefer to be called? Homo Sapiens? A Straight? or just Mr Duck?

“Que sera, sera”August 19th 2008.

as Doris Day sang.

JoanAugust 19th 2008.

HiWe are so lucky in Liverpool as we have something quite unique in our gay cultural festivals and I love them both believe me, but I would love to see a gay quarter - with not just bars and pubs, but gay -owned businesses, health centre, social space with out alcohol and all the other lovely things that could come from having a vibrant "village" - businesses would flock to the area whether they are gay owned or not as has been seen with the wonderful Deli Fonseca who understood why that spot would be perfect for an up market deli and restaurant. I see that kind of business helping to make up our own, very Scouse Village! So, dancing in our safe street at night, and chilling out, shopping and gourmandising during the day! Something for everyone, including straight people looking for a stylish place to be. Oh, and statue of Brian Epstein...about time the lad had some recognition!!

Chris BernardAugust 19th 2008.

In fact Liverpool had it's first Gay Pride Festival in 1979. It was organised by Merseyside Friend, CHE and many others. There was some confusion, mainly from the printers, as to whether it was Gay Pride or Gay Bride? The evnet was extremely successful (turn out wise) and there have been a few others since, the oter most notable being in 1995. Debate and discussion is inconsequential. If people want to organise it and get on with making it happen, and enough people show to make it a commercial success - then it will run and run. The politics may need to be conisidered - why is the support from the public purse for the LGBT community disproportionately less than for other communities? Though, regardless of financial support from the local authority etc, there's nothing to stop an event being organised. In fact it looks very much like there's one in the pipeline. Outsiders Film Fest & Homotopia are already great successes so?

cheekyberniAugust 19th 2008.

hahaha yes Harry, to educate the youngsters NEVER TO GROW UP LIKE YOU!!!

Harry RuleAugust 19th 2008.

Yeah! Well said! It's not as if straight people are somehow immune from verbal and physical abuse in the street! We ALL get it girl, grow up! I suppose Cheekyberni would want us banned from Homotopia, Garlands, etc.?

Big TomAugust 19th 2008.

What's 'leery'? No such word!

Queen SquareAugust 19th 2008.

Gosh. How unpleasant.

mourieAugust 19th 2008.

terrible idea. forcing gays into a ghetto is worse than the nazis did to the jews in poland. making gays live in these ghettoes would make them targets for the BNP firebombers and teenage thugs roaming the streets of Liverpool.Why force gays into sub standard housing and rotting shacks this way? Gays are the majority of waiters, chefs, actors,ballet dancers,nurses,teachers, and radio and tv stars in this country.We should give them their own city; PINK city and let them have freedom not make into untermensche by whipping them into some inner city gay ghetto.Any scum criminal from eastern europe or robbing gypsy is treated better.Not a great idea.

secret squirrelAugust 19th 2008.

Im not gay - and until reading this article I always thought yeah why hasnt Liverpool got a gay village. But now I think why fix it if its not broken? And we should look at the good things that we have got like homotopia etc and work more on things like this. Why should it be confined to one area of town or a quarter - surely if we are supposed to be the Capital of Culture we can put a bit more thought into this - instead of having an extension of mathew street full of hen parties and lads in stripey jumpers!

Harry RuleAugust 19th 2008.

Oh well, it's back to school very soon for you, isn't it?

cheekyberniAugust 19th 2008.

I'd love to sit here and have you slag me off all day, but I have a life...So in conclusion - my point was:I said let's have more of a recognised gay scene in Liverpool, by way of a Pride event, and now I'M being called a homophobic nazi – I think you all ought to get OUT more xx

Harry RuleAugust 19th 2008.

"..“ hahaha yes Harry, to educate the youngsters NEVER TO GROW UP LIKE YOU!!!”". Why. What have you got against us gay men? The Nazis had ideas like yours. They were fond of outdoor events and torchlight rallies just like you.

cheekyberniAugust 19th 2008.

Big Tom - Anyone who's had the misfortune of encountering a 'leery' lurker outside of nightclubs at closing time will know exactly what I mean!

CheekyberniAugust 19th 2008.

You speak eloquently in your argument against a Liverpool Pride... But just because YOU fear change, and liken it to 'cloning' and such nonsense, doesn't mean the rest of us want to deny our existence, our youthful culture, our creative flair, our celebration of what we stand for - our sense of PRIDE!!!See the Facebook petition for a Liverpool Pride at: www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=61370035649&ref=ts… and you will see it has (today) 1248 members!! Is that enough majority to put on at least one day of gay celebration? Or is the Pink Pound not good enough as it's neighbourly heterosexuals spend at events such as The Mathew Street Festival.This aversion you have to a gay 'village' - how utterly selfish and ridiculous that is - I can tell you that on Manchester's red-cobbled 'commercial zone', as you call it, I have never experienced the dirty verbal taunting from leery straight men whilst trying to safely find a taxi at club closing times for my girlfriend & I - as occurs weekly here outside Liverpool gay pubs & clubs - due to, I believe, a blatant disrespect for us yes, but enhanced by the factor that it is not a designated/'safe' gay area.At the end of the day (when you put on your slippers and chew on your pipe) - the rest of us still have life in our bones, love the FREEDOM of an outdoor party, and enjoy uniting with like-minded others for a SAFE and UPLIFTING experience!!Don’t put a dampener on it – we’ve got rain for that!!

Mike HomfrayAugust 19th 2008.

Thanks for the lively response. A few thoughts.Joan - yes, that does sound really good, but does it actually exist anywhere in Britain? It certainly doesn't describe Manchester's 'village'. I have no problem, at all, with the idea of a 'gay quarter' like that, but we won;t get anywhere near it by looking towards the Manchester model. It would be something quite new and different, more like some of the American or European cities?Chris: I think what does need to be explained is exactly what Pride would be. Are we talking about the 'march and drinking day' model, or something more imaginative. Yes, there's nothing stopping anyone organising it, and if its supported then it will be a success. The questions might be, though, what will it be, and who is it for.Berni: no, I don;t fear change, anything but. But I don;t call the creation of a weak copy of what has been tried elsewhere 'change'. I also think that far from being 'dated' , its the 'gay village and pride' model that is all a bit tired. If you seriously think that establishing a Pride event would do anything to regenerate the gay and lesbian facilities or community networks for the rest of the year, then I think you may be fooling yourself - particularly if a lot of the energy and effort is put into organising that one or two days. Having a gay friendly city needs far more than just a commercial drinking scene or even a commercial drinking festival.....and I think we need to be careful in assuming that any area can really be 'designated' as a gay area. Tell that to the flocks of tourists and hen parties in Manchester's village....

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