Lez Miserable: "The fundamental problem with 'Straight Pride' is that homophobes have no idea how to party"

For Eleanor Margolis, Gay Pride will always be Out Pride - a day when gay people are proud of who they are in spite of what the most conservative elements of society want them to be.

Straight Pride: it exists. No really, it’s an actual thing – hence the capitals. And I’m actually a bit late to it. It’s been around in various forms since the dawn of Gay Pride. But now it has a Twitter account so it must be pretty damn official. Initially I thought it was a joke invented by some gays with a fantastic sense of irony. Only the other day, when a friend linked me to the Straight Pride website (which calls for real-life hetero marches) did I realise that certain people actually want a medal for having missionary sex atop John Lewis bed sheets. Straight Pride UK, with its risible Twitter following of under 500, is hardly intimidating. But it does raise a few important issues.

Aside from being a gay-bashing version of the White Power movement, the fundamental problem with Straight Pride is that homophobes have no idea how to party. Racists, at least, seem to know how to have a good time. OK – bellowing semi-literate nationalist rhetoric into a wheelie bin may not be everybody’s idea of fun, but you have to hand it to those cheeky EDL monkeys; they never look bored. A Straight Pride march, on the other hand, would look something like this: hetero couples dressed as semi-detached mock Tudor houses plod down half-empty streets to that sad trombone music from retro cartoons, on repeat. Dead-eyed children wave the Straight Pride flag (six stripes of mildly differing shades of beige) while listlessly tossing stale twiglets into a crowd of thirteen people and an elderly corgi called Doreen.

As a concept, Straight Pride is rather like Brunette Pride or Lactose Intolerance Pride. Then again, isn’t Gay Pride absurd for exactly the same reason? This may come as a surprise, but I’m not proud of being gay. Neither, of course, am I ashamed of it. It’s not something I chose, won or achieved, so why congratulate myself for it? Perhaps if my school had given me a “Least Heterosexual Girl” certificate along with my GCSEs, I’d be more boastful about my sexuality. But in reality, I’m about as proud of being gay as I am of the concavity of my bellybutton. For the most part, pride is bizarre. The most baffling is the regional kind. I’m glad I’m a Londoner, for example, but how the foof could anyone be proud of a geographical accident of birth? The only localised thing that I’m vaguely proud of is supporting Nottingham Forest. But that is both a choice and an affliction.

I am, however proud – exceedingly so – of being out. And as long as we live in a world where coming out requires bravery, all out LGBT people should feel the same. What’s important is that we draw a distinction between pride in our biology and pride in our actions.

In its most basic, unquestioned form, Gay Pride feeds into the idea that we choose our sexuality. How else could we possibly be proud of it? While it’s important to celebrate everything that comes with being gay – the culture, the community and the flouting of social norms – pride in gayness in itself is hypocritical. When we say that we’re proud of being gay, we pander to the people who are proud to be white, proud to be human, or proud that the last dump they took was shaped like Taylor Swift. These people require us to be proud of our sexuality in the same way that they are of theirs. What would actually make us cleverer than the Straight Pride bunch is outright refusing to be proud of being gay.

No part of me wants to abandon the Gay Pride movement. I’ve been to nearly every London Pride (and a few Brighton ones) since I was seventeen and I’m not going to stop. Hell, a couple of times I even went for reasons other than getting laid: political reasons and that. But for me, Gay Pride will always be Out Pride. It would be wrong for me to demand that all oppressed minorities stop being proud of who they are, but I’d like to suggest a caveat. We should be proud of who we are in spite of what the most conservative elements of society want us to be. Pride without achievement is always problematic; our achievement is our in-spiteness.  

The 2012 World Pride parade in London. Photograph: Getty Images

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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