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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A small dose of facts could transform Britain's immigration debate

While "myth-busting" doesn't always work, there is an appetite for a better informed conversation than the one we're having now. 

For some time opinion polls have shown that the public sees immigration as one of the most important issues facing Britain. At the same time, public understanding of the economic and social impacts of immigration is poor and strongly influenced by the media: people consistently over-estimate the proportion of the population born outside the UK and know little about policy measures such as the cap on skilled non-EU migration. The public gets it wrong on other issues too - on teenage pregnancy, the Muslim population of the UK and benefit fraud to name just three. However, in the case of immigration, the strength of public opinion has led governments and political parties to reformulate policies and rules. Theresa May said she was cracking down on “health tourists” not because of any evidence they exist but because of public “feeling”. Immigration was of course a key factor in David Cameron’s decision to call a referendum on the UK’s membership with the EU and has been central to his current renegotiations.  

Do immigration facts always make us more stubborn and confused?

The question of how to both improve public understanding and raise the low quality of the immigration debate has been exercising the minds of those with a policy and research interest in the issue. Could the use of facts address misconceptions, improve the abysmally low quality of the debate and bring evidence to policy making? The respected think tank British Future rightly warns of the dangers associated with excessive reliance on statistical and economic evidence. Their own research finds that it leaves people hardened and confused. Where does that leave those of us who believe in informed debate and evidence based policy? Can a more limited use of facts help improve understandings and raise the quality of the debate?

My colleagues Jonathan Portes and Nathan Hudson-Sharp and I set out to look at whether attitudes towards immigration can be influenced by evidence, presented in a simple and straightforward way. We scripted a short video animation in a cartoon format conveying some statistics and simple messages taken from research findings on the economic and social impacts of immigration.

Targeted at a wide audience, we framed the video within a ‘cost-benefit’ narrative, showing the economic benefits through migrants’ skills and taxes and the (limited) impact on services. A pilot was shown to focus groups attended separately by the general public, school pupils studying ‘A’ level economics and employers.

Some statistics are useful

To some extent our findings confirm that the public is not very interested in big statistics, such as the number of migrants in the UK. But our respondents did find some statistics useful. These included rates of benefit claims among migrants, effects on wages, effects on jobs and the economic contribution of migrants through taxes. They also wanted more information from which to answer their own questions about immigration. These related to a number of current narratives around selective migration versus free movement, ‘welfare tourism’ and the idea that our services are under strain.

Our research suggests that statistics can play a useful role in the immigration debate when linked closely to specific issues that are of direct concern to the public. There is a role for careful and accurate explanation of the evidence, and indeed there is considerable demand for this among people who are interested in immigration but do not have strong preconceptions. At the same time, there was a clear message from the focus groups that statistics should be kept simple. Participants also wanted to be sure that the statistics they were given were from credible and unbiased sources.

The public is ready for a more sophisticated public debate on immigration

The appetite for facts and interest in having an informed debate was clear, but can views be changed through fact-based evidence? We found that when situated within a facts-based discussion, our participants questioned some common misconceptions about the impact of immigration on jobs, pay and services. Participants saw the ‘costs and benefits’ narrative of the video as meaningful, responding particularly to the message that immigrants contribute to their costs through paying taxes. They also talked of a range of other economic, social and cultural contributions. But they also felt that those impacts were not the full story. They were also concerned about the perceived impact of immigration on communities, where issues become more complex, subjective and intangible for statistics to be used in a meaningful way.

Opinion poll findings are often taken as proof that the public cannot have a sensible discussion on immigration and the debate is frequently described as ‘toxic’. But our research suggests that behind headline figures showing concern for its scale there may be both a more nuanced set of views and a real appetite for informed discussion. A small dose of statistics might just help to detoxify the debate. With immigration a deciding factor in how people cast their vote in the forthcoming referendum there can be no better time to try.