Monday, 25 June 2012

LGBT and Police Discrimination

I heard a fascinating account of a night out from someone who has in the past attended the Soup Run.

The man in question went out for a night out with his friend who is a lesbian. The two decided to go to a gay club in Brighton called 'Revenge'.

So, they both got dressed up for a night out. The man and woman arrived at Revenge, but, at the door, while the lady was accepted, the man was turned away.

I asked the gentleman in question whether any reason was cited for his not being allowed into Revenge. I asked whether he thought it was because he was black or because he has dreadlocks, or was not dressed appropriately or something.  No reason for his not being allowed into the club was given, just that 'he can't come in'.

"I don't understand it," he said, "I'm heterosexual but how can they tell that just by looking at you? It was like they had a profile and I didn't fit it or something. And even if I am heterosexual, why should that bar me from going into a gay club? My lesbian friend wanted to stay and have an argument with the guy on the door about it, but I told her to leave it. We turned around and left and it put a real downer on the evening."

Perhaps if he'd have oiled up, shaved his head and body hair, donned some fake angel wings, hired some portable strobe lighting and gone topless he might have got in. So much for diversity and inclusion in Brighton.

Prejudice and discrimination came up again in our conversation as we talked more. The chap was sitting with a group of people who regularly sit at the back of St Peter's Church on London Road. I explained to him that I had sat here last week with a friend for a while until two community support police officers arrived on the scene with a small blue marquee not unlike that pictured (below, right).

There sat the PCSOs watching the homeless and hostel dwellers of Brighton talking, drinking cans and generally socialising. So, I walked over and asked why the PCSOs had established a small base looking over the affairs of Brighton's poor. They replied that this was a 'hotspot' for 'street-drinking and anti-social behaviour'. They said they know many of the homeless and like many of them but that it was their job to patrol and set up pitch so that no 'anti-social behaviour' was going on.

They admitted that they exercised a certain amount of discrimination. A couple enjoying a glass of wine was different, they maintained, to several people who residents might feel threatened or intimidated by. I responded by asking whether it was right to agree with the prejudices that people hold against the homeless. They said 'perhaps not' but that if they left people alone to do their own thing then there would be arguments and fights.

So, I went back over to the other side of the road and saw George and Diane who were sat away from the party scene. "What's that they've put up, then?" said George, "A beer tent?" George described the police as 'control freaks' concerned only with the image of Brighton. "It's all for the tourists," he said, "but they don't realise they draw more attention to the homeless by pitching up a massive blue tent." Having told me that they exercise restraint and prudence when dealing with 'street people', they then told me that they'd just told the crowd that they had 15 minutes to drink up and go elsewhere. True to their word, a quarter of an hour later they were over to tell the poor to clear off. The poor keep the PCSOs in their job, however, because the next day the exact same crowd gather in the exact same place and the exact same response comes from the police community support officers. It's almost like Brighton is trying to maintain its image by 'dealing' with the fallout from an enormously hedonistic culture. Suffice to say that drugs and alcohol in Brighton are clamped down upon to different degrees depending on your social status.

St Peter's Church, London Road
The chap I talked with today agreed that Brighton is not half as liberal as it makes out. For a town that marks itself out as a 'hotspot' for hedonistic culture, it can be awfully puritan. "I don't know why they're onto the crowd who drink here. After all, its all fenced off. People walk by and they're not hurting anyone."

He said that recently he had been searched by the police for drugs and he assumes it is because he is black, has dreadlocks and hangs around near St Peter's from time to time. "I get it all the time," he said, "People coming up to me and asking if I've got drugs because I'm black and I've got dreads. The truth is I haven't done any drugs for 25 years and have never been a dealer. I'm 45 for Heaven's sake."

The thing about law and rights (from the little I know) is that it is meant to be something universal. It either applies to everyone or it does not, so the idea of discriminating between a couple drinking cava on a blanket in the afternoon sun and a homeless man with some friends seems nonsensical - legally speaking. Anti-social behaviour is in the eye of the beholder. What might simply be inoffensive to one person could have another person in terrible fright because, 'O Heaven's above! It's a group of homeless people congregating. There are more than two of them and some of them have a beer in their hand! Call the police! I'm terrified!'

It goes without saying that on the weekend of Gay Pride, coming up in August, all these street drinking laws are discarded for a gigantic p*ss up and drug fest in Preston Park as cans lay strewn across London Road and the general region for an almighty Council clean up the next morning. Does this make any sense? Well, it makes no moral sense. It only makes financial sense because it brings in tourism and trade. Hey, you know, there might be some people in Brighton who don't feel that comfortable when a massive hoard of homosexuals and lesbians descend upon Brighton in August in scenes which could be construed as some as publicly a little indecent, but those people who object, if they even exist, are obviously bigoted, discriminatory and nurture an irrational phobia of men and women gathering together to get blasted, behave and dress immodestly, congregate in huge crowds and socialise in a very public manner.

Some of the homeless are even on ASBOs which stop them from congregating with a drink in their hand in the company of more than one other person. With all this hullabaloo about making same-sex sexual activity socially respectable or beneficial, I'm sure it wouldn't take a genius lawyer to argue for the right to drink a beer in a public area and congregate with a group of friends in the sunshine outside as a 'human right', but we've moved beyond common sense now because human rights are the State's domain. The State permitteth you to buy a can of lager, but the State taketh away the can on lager if you're homeless and drink it in public.

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