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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Let's turn RBS into a bank for the public interest

A tarnished symbol of global finance could be remade as a network of local banks. 

The Royal Bank of Scotland has now been losing money for nine consecutive years. Today’s announcement of a further £7bn yearly loss at the publicly-owned bank is just the latest evidence that RBS is essentially unsellable. The difference this time is that the Government seems finally to have accepted that fact.

Up until now, the government had been reluctant to intervene in the running of the business, instead insisting that it will be sold back to the private sector when the time is right. But these losses come just a week after the government announced that it is abandoning plans to sell Williams & Glynn – an RBS subsidiary which has over 300 branches and £22bn of customer deposits.

After a series of expensive delays and a lack of buyer interest, the government now plans to retain Williams & Glynn within the RBS group and instead attempt to boost competition in the business lending market by granting smaller "challenger banks" access to RBS’s branch infrastructure. It also plans to provide funding to encourage small businesses to switch their accounts away from RBS.

As a major public asset, RBS should be used to help achieve wider objectives. Improving how the banking sector serves small businesses should be the top priority, and it is good to see the government start to move in this direction. But to make the most of RBS, they should be going much further.

The public stake in RBS gives us a unique opportunity to create new banking institutions that will genuinely put the interests of the UK’s small businesses first. The New Economics Foundation has proposed turning RBS into a network of local banks with a public interest mandate to serve their local area, lend to small businesses and provide universal access to banking services. If the government is serious about rebalancing the economy and meeting the needs of those who feel left behind, this is the path they should take with RBS.

Small and medium sized enterprises are the lifeblood of the UK economy, and they depend on banking services to fund investment and provide a safe place to store money. For centuries a healthy relationship between businesses and banks has been a cornerstone of UK prosperity.

However, in recent decades this relationship has broken down. Small businesses have repeatedly fallen victim to exploitative practice by the big banks, including the the mis-selling of loans and instances of deliberate asset stripping. Affected business owners have not only lost their livelihoods due to the stress of their treatment at the hands of these banks, but have also experienced family break-ups and deteriorating physical and mental health. Others have been made homeless or bankrupt.

Meanwhile, many businesses struggle to get access to the finance they need to grow and expand. Small firms have always had trouble accessing finance, but in recent decades this problem has intensified as the UK banking sector has come to be dominated by a handful of large, universal, shareholder-owned banks.

Without a focus on specific geographical areas or social objectives, these banks choose to lend to the most profitable activities, and lending to local businesses tends to be less profitable than other activities such as mortgage lending and lending to other financial institutions.

The result is that since the mid-1980s the share of lending going to non-financial businesses has been falling rapidly. Today, lending to small and medium sized businesses accounts for just 4 per cent of bank lending.

Of the relatively small amount of business lending that does occur in the UK, most is heavily concentrated in London and surrounding areas. The UK’s homogenous and highly concentrated banking sector is therefore hampering economic development, starving communities of investment and making regional imbalances worse.

The government’s plans to encourage business customers to switch away from RBS to another bank will not do much to solve this problem. With the market dominated by a small number of large shareholder-owned banks who all behave in similar ways (and who have been hit by repeated scandals), businesses do not have any real choice.

If the government were to go further and turn RBS into a network of local banks, it would be a vital first step in regenerating disenfranchised communities, rebalancing the UK’s economy and staving off any economic downturn that may be on the horizon. Evidence shows that geographically limited stakeholder banks direct a much greater proportion of their capital towards lending in the real economy. By only investing in their local area, these banks help create and retain wealth regionally rather than making existing geographic imbalances worce.

Big, deep challenges require big, deep solutions. It’s time for the government to make banking work for small businesses once again.

Laurie Macfarlane is an economist at the New Economics Foundation