Middlesbrough recently celebrated its first gay pride events (some pics at: http://www.gazettelive.co.uk/videos-pictures/2007/09/17/middlesbrough-s-first-gay-pride-event-84229-19803607/ ) but today PinkNews reports that the mayor of Middlesbrough wants to go further and at a recent Council Executive suggested (or so it reported) that he wanted to see a gay village. This raises the question about apartheid once again that perpetually haunts these ideas. Is it better to be “integrated” etc etc. My own view has fluctuated over the years. As a teen coming out, having an ‘exclusive’ gay space (and some of the gay bars in Sheffield were so dire in the late 1990s that you wouldn’t really choose to be Attercliffe at 1am in the morning) was important in allowing me and so many others I knew to experiment and explore their sexuality. I think it remains important today. that said, the social stigma of being “gay” has changed dramatically in the decade that followed and it could be argued that the need for such “safe” space is less than it was. Nonetheless, particularly in northern and working class communities there remains a lot of prejudice that necessitates the need for “safe space”.

These venues are also an important part of expressing identity. I am struck by the clear and distinct identity that is presented in the gay bars of cities like Berlin but which has lost out to greater commercialisation in cities like Manchester. At the moment I think there is a need for these spaces, and personally I prefer a village environment rather than the transient one night a week affair you get in smaller cities and towns but these spaces need to be clear about their identity and celebrate diversity.

Whatever form such space takes, I and many others will no doubt praise the Middlesbrough mayor for asking the question: “What are we going to do to cater for the gay community?”.