Rod McPhee: Do we really need a gay village here in Leeds?

Leeds Pride.  Photo: Terry George
Leeds Pride. Photo: Terry George
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IT’S not a rhetorical question – I’d like an answer. Or at least a discussion because while moves are afoot to create a gay quarter in the city I can’t help but wonder whether anyone is that bothered either way.

Sure, the gay community has the annual Pride event, which really is something to celebrate, but isn’t there already an unofficial village in existence at the junction of Call Lane and Lower Briggate?

Of course, you could then argue in favour of making the unofficial, official. After all, what difference does it make?

I’d argue there is a difference, albeit a subtle one - and it’s one which goes against the idea.

You see, in other cities gay villages tended to pop up as a result of people sticking together, call it a defence mechanism born out of less enlightened times. Just 15 or 20 years ago being gay still meant you stood a pretty good chance of getting your head kicked in if a thug cottoned onto the fact.

Things aren’t perfect now, but they are a hell of a lot better. I’m not sure being gay means you have to stick together to remain safe anymore, at least not to the same extent.

Besides, I think most meatheads know exactly where all the bars and clubs are catering for boys who like boys and girls who like girls. Unsavoury types already steer clear and if they don’t, if they decide they’re going to pick on someone, I doubt they’ll be any less likely to do so by virtue of it being an ‘official’ gay village.

Then there’s the image problem of becoming a pink wedge in the city centre: everyone gets to know about it. And you only have to ask the bars and clubs in Manchester’s village what that means: hen parties. Yes, great gaggles of girls in wedding dresses with L-plates and inflatable genitals drunkenly staggering around asking any half decent bloke they can find: “Are you absolutely sure you’re gay?”

Besides, as it stands the cluster of nightspots at the bottom of Briggate already draws in a nicely mixed crowd and branding it as something so sexuality-specific might alienate those who currently feel comfortable about venturing down that end of town.

And doesn’t it seem just a little bit old-fashioned? A bit 80s/90s? Just because other cities have chosen to create villages does it mean we have to do the same? Isn’t Leeds just a little less obvious than that?

All credit to Leeds City Council who are investigating the gay village idea because they say they want to “recognise the LGBT’s contribution to Leeds’s success” but I think there are more direct ways of providing inspiration and a safe environment for gay people. Our schools would be a better place to start.

Besides, in creating a quarter for people, in the same way that we create quarters focusing on business or shopping or restaurants, doesn’t that amount to ghettoisation? Is that what we want?

I actually think it would be a bolder statement to leave things as they are and, if they evolve at all, let them evolve organically, not by attaching labels.

Let’s have the discussion by all means, but we shouldn’t feel we need to make changes just for the sake of it.

Because the moment you ringfence an area you could, by inference, effectively ringfence yourself in and everyone else out.

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