It’s safe to say I would rather saw my own arm off than spend an evening at a One Direction gig. So my sympathy for the ‘hordes’ of teenage girls who not only have to struggle on a daily basis with their crippling lack of musical taste but who were also reportedly denied entry to the performance by said boy ‘band’ at G-A-Y on Saturday night (on the grounds that said girls were, y’know, straight) was always going to be somewhat limited, regardless of the actual rights and wrongs of the issue. But even putting my musical prejudices aside, G-A-Y promoter Jeremy Joseph is in the right on this.
Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is against the law, of course, as duly reinforced by yesterday’s court judgement against the B&B owners who got all hot and bothered (interpret that as you choose) at the thought of all the sinful things two men who were sharing a bed could get up to. And it has to be admitted that this might put gay clubs in a slightly tricky position, since their whole raison d’être is to be places where LGBT people go to meet one another (and let’s be frank, probably hook up, since that seems to be the point of most clubs).
I’m not really interested in focusing on the law on this as it currently exists; gay clubs seem to have functioned perfectly well thus far without attracting any Equality and Human Rights Commission-sponsored lawsuits, and I doubt that’s going to change any time soon. True, there are vast legions of assorted morons who love to point to the isolated and insignificant instances of discrimination against straight middle-class white men as evidence that they’re victims too (and equality’s all very well but these days it’s all gone too far and did you hear about that terrible Winterval business?), but they’re probably too busy working themselves into a lather over whatever the Express is telling them to hate this week to be a problem. Nor am I getting into the vexed question of precisely how the door staff at gay clubs judge would-be revellers’ sexual orientation – though admittedly it does seem like that can be a pretty unpleasant experience, as Jack Cullen’s Guardian post above makes clear. No, it’s the ethics of the act of discrimination itself that interest me. How is Jeremy Joseph’s decision to exclude non-LGBT One Direction fans from G-A-Y different from Peter and Hazel Bull’s aversion to man-love in their B&B?
I don’t think it’s sufficient just to argue that being barred from a club for being straight is a trivial sort of discrimination. Aside from anything else, not being allowed to share a bed with your partner for a night or two isn’t that terrible an ordeal in itself either. The relevant point, I think, is pretty simple. Straight devotees of One Direction aren’t a particularly marginalised or oppressed group in society, while homophobia, despite the massive improvement in attitudes and legal rights over the past decade and a half or so, is still very much with us. It’s easy to see why cases like the killings of Jody Dobrowski and Ian Baynham could make some LGBT people wary of being open about their sexuality in their day-to-day lives, and gay clubs can to some extent act as safe spaces to allow them to be themselves.
But even if you’re convinced by that, surely (I hear you cry) you couldn’t have anti-discrimination laws which allow some clubs to refuse entrance to straight people, but not B&B owners to refuse a double room to gay people? But why not? It’s already perfectly legal for rape crisis centres and women’s refuges to specify in recruitment ads that their support workers have to be female. Sure, gay clubs aren’t offering quite as vital a service as rape crisis centres do, but the principle’s pretty similar. Society is better off with gay clubs than without them, and without some means of ensuring that their clientele is mainly LGBT, they would cease to function as gay clubs. B&Bs, on the other hand, don’t cease to function as B&Bs if same-sex couples patronise them and choose to share beds, and any Christians who run those B&Bs don’t cease to be Christians if they permit it.
It’s important to emphasise that this categorically isn’t a libertarian argument; I don’t think gay clubs should be allowed to have discriminatory admissions policies just because they’re private businesses, I think they should be allowed to do so because it’s beneficial for society to have safe spaces for LGBT people. And the right to a place where you can associate with like-minded people and be yourself certainly needn’t just apply to the LGBT community; if the Bulls wanted to exclude gay couples from a prayer meeting they were holding, they’d be perfectly entitled to do so. But that’s a very different proposition from running a B&B. If B&Bs ever start to be considered safe spaces for minorities, that would be a different matter.