Migrant gay men: Redefining community, restoring identity

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

URL: http://www.sigmaresearch.org.uk/files/report2004b....


This report presents the results of one of three studies examining the ways social and cultural factors shape gay male identity and influence gay male social life in London today (see also Keogh, Dodds, Henderson 2004; Keogh, Henderson, Dodds 2004). 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’ is an essentially White, middle-class concept which excludes men from different classes or ethnic backgrounds. This research shows that this is not the case. While the population of gay men in London is mainly White and British (as is the population of London), 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 describe ‘the gay community’ in this way. As a result the many different ways of being gay that exist are not represented in health or social policy. It also implies that, so-called, excluded groups are never considered in such policy because they are somehow not ‘properly’ gay. As a consequence services for gay men remain woefully impoverished. Moreover, by speaking the language of inclusion and 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 are automatically ‘excluded’ and therefore, disadvantaged, weak or 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 stand alone, but are best read in relation to each other. One examines the relationship between being less well-educated, working class and having a gay identity. Another investigates ethnic minority identity and gay identity (specifically examining the experience of British-born Black Carribean men and White Irish immigrants to London). This report examines the experiences of gay migrants 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 challenge the dominant ‘centre versus 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, we want to show that the forces which account for these differences among 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 and challenge community organisations to broaden 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; of 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 have much to learn from the experiences of working class gay men, gay men from ethnic minorities and gay migrants.

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