Ethnic minority gay men: Redefining community, restoring identity

Keogh, Peter; Henderson, Laurie and Dodds, Catherine (2004). Ethnic minority gay men: Redefining community, restoring identity. Sigma Research, London.



This report presents the results of one of three studies investigating how social and cultural factors shape gay male identity and influence gay male social life in London today (see also Keogh, Dodds, Henderson 2004a; Keogh, Dodds, Henderson 2004b). These studies aim to problematise monolithic and (we believe) unhelpful concepts such as ‘gay community’ or ‘gay scene’ and show how the population of gay men in London is riven with cultural, political and social differences.

It has often been said that ‘the gay community’ or the ‘gay scene’ is an essentially White, middle-class concept which excludes men from other classes or ethnic backgrounds. This research shows that this is not the case. Numerically, the population of gay men in London is disproportionately White and mainly British (as is the population of London), but it is also as multi-ethnic and multi-cultural as the broader London population. Although we regularly celebrate the multi-culturalism of the capital, we rarely, if ever describe the gay community in this way. This is unfortunate because the many facets of the gay community which should otherwise be acknowledged or represented in health or social policy for gay men are obscured. As a consequence, social and community services for gay men remain woefully impoverished.

Moreover, by speaking the language of exclusion, we are condemned to always consider weakness as opposed to strength. There is an implicit assumption in nearly all research and policy work on gay men that to be within the charmed (White, middle-class) circle of the gay community is to be ‘included’ and therefore without need. It follows that, those outside of it are automatically ‘excluded’ and therefore, disadvantaged, weaker or more needy. These three reports will show that there is no paradigmatic gay experience or group. Rather, there are many ways of being gay, all of which are imbued with strengths as well as weaknesses.

The three reports which emerge from this collection of studies can each stand alone, but are best read in relation to one other. One examines the relationship between being less well-educated, working class and having a gay identity. Another examines the experiences of gay adult migrants to London. This report investigates ethnic minority identity and gay identity specifically concentrating on the experience of British-born Black Carribean men and White Irish immigrants to London.

Our aim in carrying out these studies is to change the way that health promoters and policy makers conceive of the gay male population. We want to replace the dominant ‘centre vs. periphery’ construction with a conception of the gay population of London as a composite of a range of different experiences; as fractured, antagonistic and constantly changing. Moreover, the factors which account for these differences amongst gay men are larger social and structural factors: ethnicity, religion, education, class, income etc. To put it simply, no gay man is simply gay, he also has a class background, an ethnicity, an employment history, a family and probably a religious affiliation.

On a policy level, we hope to take gay men’s health and social concerns out of the policy ‘ghetto’ that is HIV. Gay and HIV community organisations should be broadening their policy objectives. We feel they should be seeking to transform the education of all boys as well as increasing the capacity of all families to live with and enjoy their gay children. We feel they should be challenging all services to meet the needs of their gay users and of all communities to capitalise on the presence of their gay members. In seeking to do this, we can all learn from the experiences of gay men from ethnic minorities, gay adult migrants and working class gay men.

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