Debate: Are straights gatecrashing gay parties, or should we all club together? Two writers argue the question

This week, in response to complaints about an overbearing heterosexual presence at gay events, Manchester's Mardi Gras gay festival is introducing the so-called Pledge Band - to be worn by straights, with pride, on the arm. They will also be required to pay pounds 5 for the privilege of joining the party. Is this sexual apartheid or a valid form of self-defence?

Matthew Linfoot

Straights are perfectly nice, but they contribute nothing to gay culture, says David Smith

Don't get me wrong. I'm as turned on by straight men as any other gay man. And I have many a fond memory of sharing my bottle of poppers with a fag hag on New Year's Eve in the Paradise Factory. I even have a good relationship with my best friend's mother.

But the organisers of Manchester's Mardi Gras have every right to ban them from the city's annual lesbian and gay festival. It's supposed to be a celebration of lesbian and gay identity, for God's sake.

And how can I really get down to the serious business of celebrating my sexuality, if I'm constantly having to worry if your mother's lost her handbag or not. Straight men, mothers and fag hags have their uses, but someone should tell them that, at times like this, all they do is get in the way.

For far too long the Gay Village has been overrun by straights. And I'm not just talking about gangs of drunken lads jeering the queers or straight pop stars and footballers getting all the attention in places like Metz. I'm talking about ordinary straight people, usually quite nice straight people, taking up space. Space which is supposed to be ours to play with, not theirs.

It was far-sighted gay and lesbian entrepreneurs who risked their money on tarting up the buildings along Canal Street to create, out of an unsightly sprawl of inner-city dereliction, a safe space for us queers. We can't stop the straights from moving in, I suppose. But I'm glad the council has refused to give late licences to pubs and clubs that aren't donating to the Aids charities the event is raising money for. It will teach them a lesson about charity.

And make no mistake about it, gay men and lesbians act differently when straights are not around. When they are, we spend far too much time acknowledging them and seeking their approval. Watch a gay man on a dance floor surrounded by women. He'll either be busy entertaining them or seeking their approval. Or worst of all, he'll be trying to convince them that gay men really can have a good time, or even, cliche of cliches, that gay men really do have more fun. And where does that leave his friends? Or his boyfriend? Out in the cold.

I don't want to spend the weekend talking to some straight man about the problems he's having with his wife. Or to some straight woman about the relative merits of David Beckham and Michael Owen. I'd rather have a heart to heart with another gay man about his ups and downs on the relationship front, and get his gay take on the new football season. I want to know what he thinks of the House of Lords, and what he thinks of the music we're dancing to. I want to know how he feels.

From such gay banter are tales of the city made. How else do we share our stories which make up the raw material for the gay theatre, cinema and fiction which document our lives?

Entertaining fag hags, or even entertaining the new, male variety, gaggles of straight boys who love nothing better than taking their tops off in gay clubs, doesn't contribute a damn thing to gay culture. It's just an exercise in proving we don't have a chip on our shoulders. It dilutes the focus of what we're about.

Let's not waste our energy on straights this weekend, when we should be spending our energy on ourselves and each other. This is our weekend so let's enjoy, let's go for it.

David Smithis the editor of 'Gay Times'

Segregation is not applicable in a post-queer society, says Matthew Linfoot

The received wisdom about gay festivities, such as Pride and Mardi Gras, is that we've created such orgies of pleasure and Bacchanalian delight that heterosexuals just can't keep away. And little wonder: the booze flows non-stop, there are disco tents full of bangy-bangy music, and more Shirley Bassey drag acts than you can shake a feather boa at. How can straights resist?

Well, with great difficulty apparently, given the continuing sex wars to keep straights out of gay events. The organisers of Manchester's Mardi Gras say they want to exclude potentially rowdy drinkers who take advantage of their generous licensing hours. I would remind them of Graham Norton's famous dictum, that the only difference between a straight man and a bisexual is six pints of lager.

I suspect money lies at the heart of this. By some misfortune, most lesbians and gays are incapable of fiscal planning on a large scale. London's Lesbian and Gay Pride was for several years the largest free festival in Europe: they (gay men, lesbians, and those straight interlopers) came, enjoyed, and left ... without paying. Pride collapsed in financial ruin: what a surprise. So this year, the organisers decided to sell tickets in advance, which had a two-fold function: to guarantee an income and, tacitly, to deter too many straights. The result: not enough tickets were sold and the event was cancelled.

So you see, the mighty power of the Pink Pound has either been a work of fiction, or at least exaggerated. It just goes to show that gay events cannot survive exclusively on gay money. Besides, if heterosexuals are so desperately keen to enjoy the hospitality of gay bars and queer clubs then it would seem churlish to stop them. I wouldn't argue, I'd just take their money.

And what if we start discriminating against people on the basis of sexuality? Where would it end? We'd have to devise some kind of validation system to prove one's queer credentials. Then there'd be endless debates about whether or not we let in pre-operative transgender bisexuals. But you can't escape the irony here, that we're proposing the same kind of discrimination that's been used against lesbians and gay men for years, and which gay rights activists have been fighting in the courts to overturn.

And in any case, I don't want to live in some kind of gay ghetto. I don't subscribe to this notion that my car has to be serviced by "Queers 'n Gears" or my hair cut by "Sappho's Scissors". No, the point is that we're living in a pan-sexual, post-queer society. Heterosexuals have plundered queer culture and we're busy ripping off straight lifestyles. We want partnerships, pension rights and babies, they want interior design, dual incomes with no kids and techno music.

The boundaries are so blurred, you can't spot the difference. It may not yet be perfect harmony (or indeed equality), but it sure is better than the separatist hell of the Seventies. Admittedly, it's been a crap year for gay rights, but an anti-straight ban in Manchester is not progress. Besides, the sight of a Lord and a Bishop partying down Coronation Street and disappearing hand-in-hand down the alley behind the Rover's Return is worth the price of any Pledge Band.

is producer and co-presenter of BBC GLR's 'The Lavender Lounge'

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