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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

    £18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

    £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own