A hard core wants homosexuality to stay revolutionary

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The Independent Online

Another year, another howling, screaming fuss about the "betrayal" of Gay Pride. In our capital city in the 21st century, being gay is so mainstream, so accepted, so benign, even big corporations such as Starbucks and Virgin Mobile want to be associated with us.

Today, there will be tens of thousands of recently out gay men and women in Hyde Park who never imagined that being gay could feel so normal.

But there is a small, hard core of gay activists who find this intolerable. At the centre of their gay identity is the belief that being gay is in itself radical, even revolutionary: a challenge to the stale heterosexual world. The mainstreaming of gay people is an affront to them; they see it as a repudiation of everything that they have been fighting for. Increasingly, they are boycotting Pride.

The gay rights coalition that was represented at every Pride march from 1972 until 2002 is now finally coming apart at the seams. When gay persecution was the norm in Britain, we were all glued together. Moderate or revolutionary, we were all chucked into jail just the same. But now that we have a pro-gay Labour Government that has normalised gay people so much that we will soon be able to marry, the heart of the gay rights movement is at question. What are we fighting for today?

We are splitting into two movements, with very different answers to this fundamental question. On one side there are the assimilationists. I include myself in this camp (excuse the pun). We want gay people to be given all the rights that are accorded to straights: marriage, adoption, protection from discrimination and so on.

I strongly believe that this is the view of most gay people: we believe the only real difference between our straight friends and us is the gender of the people we want to shag.

On the other side are the liberationists. Peter Tatchell, the heroic human rights campaigner, is the best exponent of this world view. He explains, "We want to change society, not conform to it."

Much as I admire Tatchell, I see no inherent overlap between fancying people of the same sex and having a radical political agenda. Besides, if we set ourselves up in opposition to straight society in its entirety, we will face a bitter and lonely life.

There is, however, one thought that should draw together both factions for a minute's silence today.

Most gay people in the world cannot march freely in their streets; they risk imprisonment - and worse - if they even privately express their love. When you reflect on that, our squabbles suddenly seem very, very petty indeed.