Gay is profitable in the pink ghetto: A London office block turns its back on the straight world - but business is still business, says Paul Burston

BRITAIN's first gay office block opened for business in Covent Garden, London, last month. What was once a boring old vegetable warehouse is now a lively centre for gay trade, housing a gay gymnasium, a graphic designer, a firm of solicitors and a press and marketing consultancy.

After all the rosy press reports about the so-called 'pink pound', this latest gay enterprise should hardly come as a surprise. In urban centres such as Soho in London and Manchester's Bloom Street area, gay men already have a bewildering selection of bars, cafes, restaurants, gift shops, hairdressers and clothing outlets tailored to meet the bulge in their pockets.

So why not an office block bulging with gay businesses? Jeremy Norman, the founder of Heaven night-club in London and the brains behind this latest development, said recently: 'It's nice to say to small, gay businesses: 'Here is an environment where you can feel at home'.'

The concept certainly has its attractions. As a gay man who spends most of his daily life in a heterosexual environment, I can appreciate the appeal of turning your back on the straight world and its petty prejudices. Norman has made it clear that although he has not ruled out inviting 'gay-friendly' straight businesses to set up shop under his roof, he 'will not tolerate anti-gay remarks in the building'.

What bothers me, however, is what the decision to take up residence there says about relationships with the big bad world outside. Because what we are really talking about is the building of a ghetto, and after a lot of careful thought (and, I'll confess, a fair amount of careless consumerism) I remain unconvinced that life in the ghetto amounts to anything approaching heaven.

In some respects the ghetto is a place of strength - or at least a place that offers respite from the real world. But you could argue that if you refuse to deal with the real world, the real world will find ways of dealing with you. An activist friend once joked that if the anti-gay bigots paid someone to drop a bomb on a certain south London building, they could effectively halt the gay movement - the point being that containment is the first step towards elimination.

And it has to be acknowledged that as much as the gay ghetto is about keeping 'nasty' straights out, it is also about keeping 'nice' - that is, spendthrift - gays in. For most gay businessmen, home is where the widest profit margin is. Contrary to rumours, life in the gay ghetto does not really amount to an 'alternative' lifestyle. All it really offers is a more concentrated version of the consumer culture at large. In a sense, the Covent Garden development is simply a chip off the old office block.

In the early days of gay liberation, we used to wear ourselves out chanting the slogan: 'Gay is good.' Two decades on, we have seen enough pairs of leather jeans fall apart at the seams and been ripped off by enough gay holiday companies and letting agencies to know that this is not always the case, that 'gay' is often synonymous with sloppy service, second-rate goods and inflated prices.

It is true that some gay businesses regularly plough a percentage of their profits back into the community whence they came, but it is also true that many more do not. For the men reaping the rewards of commercial enterprise then to make appeals to some spurious sense of community action seems inappropriate, to say the least. Gay men use gay shops simply because there are not many places on earth where you can find rubber shorts and itsy-bitsy Lycra one-pieces under one roof.

I am not suggesting for a moment that we shouldn't support gay enterprise, that we shouldn't shop at gay stores, eat at gay restaurants or take our business to the companies operating from gay office blocks. We should support them because they are good, not simply because they are gay.

Jeremy Norman is the first to admit that he is offering 'a marketing ploy'. We should take him at his word.

Suggested Topics
Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Ray Whelan was arrested earlier this week
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
In a minor key: Keira Knightley in the lightweight 'Begin Again'
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Life and Style
It beggars belief: the homeless and hungry are weary, tortured, ghosts of people – with bodies contorted by imperceptible pain
lifeRough sleepers exist in every city. Hear the stories of those whose luck has run out
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
Life and Style
fashionJ Crew introduces triple zero size to meet the Asia market demand
Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini of Arsenal launch the new Puma Arsenal kits at the Puma Store on Carnaby Street
sportMassive deal worth £150m over the next five years
Arts and Entertainment
Welsh opera singer Katherine Jenkins
musicHolyrood MPs 'staggered' at lack of Scottish artists performing
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Currently there is nothing to prevent all-male or all-female couples from competing against mixed sex partners at any of the country’s ballroom dancing events
Potential ban on same-sex partners in ballroom dancing competitions amounts to 'illegal discrimination'
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

    £60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

    Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

    £60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

    AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

    £600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

    E-Commerce Developer

    £45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice