COMMENT: Time for a gay schism?

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It has been a bad month for gay identity. Whatever that is. From gay police to overweight pop idols, it seems everyone has something to say about how best to express their sexuality.

Tony Grew examines what it means to be gay in 2006

If I was to wear an earring, what would that indicate to you? According to gay police officer Neil Bloomfield, it is an indication of sexual preference. He took his employers to a tribunal because male officers are not allowed to wear earrings, while women officers are.

While I applaud Bloomfield’s valiant fight against sexual discrimination, I do wonder just how it is that he has formed the impression that anyone who sees a gold stud in a man’s ear immediately assumes they are up for bum fun.

The thrust of his argument was that as an out gay man, all his colleagues knew what the significance of his ear ornament was. By asking him to remove it, they were being anti-gay.

No, PC Bloomfield. They were enforcing the stated dress code, which you were aware of when you joined the police.

Bloomfield’s case was settled because there clearly was a difference between what was asked of female officers and male ones. The case was one of sexual discrimination.

It wasn’t a case of homophobia. It was a complete embarrassment for many sensible gay people who think that Bloomfield and his ilk need to chill out a bit.

Every time someone goes crying to a tribunal over something as trivial as this, it debases the entire process and creates fodder for the tabloids.

The lower end of the British press are always happy to misrepresent gay people, from championing the latent homophobia of Little Britain to their gloating coverage of the recent George Michael shenanigans.

Many people face serious discrimination at work because of their sexual orientation. Being told to abide by the dress code does not fall into that category. Bloomfield’s spurious claim that his gold earring is key to his sexual identity is laughable, not to mention baffling. Maybe it’s a Southampton thing.

Earlier in the month we had the unedifying spectacle of George Michael defiantly telling the tabloids of his ‘right’ to perform sexual acts in a public park.

Apparently committing public order offences in places where women, children and other people are likely to be is his right as a gay. It’s, like, burned into our gay DNA. We all do it apparently, or want to.

George, as you know, came out of the closet only after he had been arrested in a public toilet for exposing his genitals to a male undercover police officer.

He was forced out, and then immediately moved into damage limitation mode, part of which was embracing his gayness. He was not so keen to disclose when it might have hurt him or his record company. What an inspiring tale for gay youth.

Public toilets and parks are not the property of a certain type of socially deviant homosexual man – and I speak as someone who has been to a cruising ground in my past.

When I walked upon Bloomsbury Square, I was aware I was breaking the law. It was exciting. It also has consequences, both for the cruiser and the people who have to live next to the square.

I found that while the chase of the park was something different, it was also very anti-social, very lonely and ultimately deeply unfulfilling. There is nothing more tragic than the sight of grown men desperate for sex.

Cruising is not a human right. Cottaging is not a human right. They are a throwback to a time when gay men were marginalised and criminalised, forced to congregate in dark places to meet one another.

Note to George: check your calendar. Stoned as you are, even you must have realised that gay people no longer live on the margins of society.

There are now areas of Hampstead Heath that ordinary members of the public have to avoid, because a small group of anti-social gays think their desire to use it as an outdoor sex club is more important than the rights of everyone else. How can we defend such selfishness?

Why is it ok for gay men to take over a public amenity and then intimidate straight people into not going there?

Changing attitudes, along with the advent of the internet, have rendered cruising obsolete. There can be no rights argument that says gay people are a special case.

When straight people congregate in car parks or secluded areas, in a practice known as dogging, exactly the same laws apply.

We should applaud this equality in the face of the law.

Gay people in the UK have been granted rights beyond the wildest imaginations of most homosexuals on this planet. The law protects us in every aspect of life, the police are keen to combat homophobia and protect the lesbian and gay community

Why don’t we help them by taking responsibility for our actions? Why don’t we start acting like citizens and not criminals?

The gay press have some culpability here too. People being assaulted is always a terrible thing, but we should stop making it sound as if being in a park at four in the morning with your dick hanging out is a perfectly normal place to be. It isn’t, and we do need to make that point when reporting on assaults.

Cruising grounds are magnets for people who want to steal from and assault gay people, and it gives them ideal cover to do so. The entire thing is stupid and risky, and we need to discourage it.

It is plain wrong for Peter Tatchell and George Michael to talk about rights unless they are equal rights. I do not hear many straight people talking about how they have the right to go into a public convenience and have sex.

Worse was the parade of embarrassing gay men who went on BBC News24 to tell the world how much they like to cruise in public parks. My cheeks were burning with shame as Richard and Judy hosted a discussion about the rights and wrongs of George Michael’s position.

Is this the image of gay men you want? That we are all sex-mad and slightly simple-minded? For years sensible gay and lesbian people have argued that we are just the same as everyone else. We just wanted to be able to settle down and get married and live in peace.

Then the dirty mac brigade hijack the airwaves, showing their inability or unwillingness to adapt to the new social reality.

The concept of all gay people being one community has always been spurious. But I can feel a proper schism coming. I suggest we can split into two groups: sleaze and non-sleaze.

If you don’t know which one you are, ask your friends.

But one key test should be – do you know the name of the last person you had sex with?