Earlier this week, Jeremy Joseph, owner of the legendary LGBT nightclub G-A-Y, posted a comment on Facebook which surprised me for two reasons – the racial overtones of the remarks, and the numerous supportive comments from his followers that it garnered. Joseph’s outburst read to me like just another remark in a long history of comments by white gay people about those who are not white, feeding racism and resentment within the LGBT community.
In his post, Joseph commented that, in the nine days since he had been away for Christmas, there had been two stabbings in central London. He went on to say, “one was fatal, the scum bags, Somalians, drug dealers are on the increase”, and that his New Year’s resolution was to “claim Soho back”.
The post has now been taken down, and Joseph has apologised. But as a black gay man, I took several things from this incident – whether intended or not.
First, a man with Joseph’s profile and influence, and an audience of young gay people, has no filter. At the time of posting, a man in his position did not think it irresponsible to post such a public statement, or stop to consider how it could impact on non-white people in his community. Second, aside from the fact he spoke of “Somalians” rather than Somalis, Joseph’s post appeared to link an ethnic group to “scum bags” and “drug dealers”. And finally I was left wondering, who does Joseph want to claim Soho back from? I’ve been used to that sort of rhetoric from Nigel Farage and Donald Trump, not a well known figure in an already marginalised social group.
Can you imagine if someone had written a similar post about LGBT people? Gay activists would rightly be up in arms, just as they were earlier this week over Richard Hammond’s clumsy “ice cream” remarks. Yet, many white gay people supported what Joseph had written. Hypocrisy within the LGBT community is as widespread as racism, and I speak as someone who has experienced both first hand.
One commentator wrote that maybe a “safe space” was needed in Soho for those who took offence. It was meant facetiously, but I think they have a point. I’m all for inclusivity, but people of colour are simply not welcome within the mainstream LGBT community. The sooner we admit this, the better we can deal with the problem. You only have to look at comments on gay social media, such as “No Blacks, No Asians”, together with the lack of non-white faces on the gay scene. What gay Somali would want to visit G-A-Y? I wouldn’t.
There’s a reason UK Black Pride exists, along with non-white LGBT groups such as BlackOut UK for black gay men. When you’re not welcome at gay clubs and organisations, you have to create your own. It is no coincidence that many gay or bisexual people of colour have low self-esteem, depression and other issues, as they face racism in the LGBT community and the wider world too.
After his post was removed, Joseph said he was sorry for causing offence to “some people”. For me, that’s not a meaningful apology because it fails to see the bigger picture. It’s an apology for being called out. Later, however, he posted a more fulsome apology, admitting that he should not have highlighted that some of these gangs are Somali, even in the heat of the moment.
Before writing mindless posts such as these, white gay men in particular should pause to think about what it might be like to be both black and gay, experiencing both racism and homophobia together. But I know for many, it would be asking too much. As one supporter of Joseph said: “I liked it and I think you were right (kiss)”.
LGBT people cannot ask for equality on one hand and discriminate on the other. It undermines our cause, and our integrity. People of colour do not enjoy equality within the LGBT community; they are an excluded, marginalised group. There is much work to be done to eradicate the rainbow racism that is rife.
Published by The Independent on 30 December 2016.