Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
'From fanaticism to barbarism is only one step' - Diderot

Saturday 4 February 2006

'The Economist' does gay

The Economist has a couple of articles in the 'Britain' section of its latest issue (both 'premium content' available for subscribers only, I'm afraid, and both only in the UK 'print edition') covering different aspects of being gay in today's Britain.

The first article talks about the gay economy and uses the 'gay village' in Manchester to illustrate many of the points it makes. For example, that a number of city councils around the UK, such as Manchester itself plus places such as London, Birmingham, Newcastle and Liverpool, have recognised that the mere presence of a recognisable gay community 'lures investors and jobs, particularly of the high-technology kind' and have been called "the canaries of the creative economy". At the same time, though, the revenue of many popular gay venues in Manchester is falling, largely because of the increasing ease of making contact with other gays through online means in recent years, but there are other factors, too: increasing tolerance throughout the city generally means that gays feel less restricted to patronising only 'their' area; female drinkers who are straight often come to the gay village because they feel unthreatened there and often hold 'hen parties' - these are not always welcomed by gay customers - and inevitably attract groups of straight men; the gay village itself is now more tolerant and less restrictive in applying 'gay only' door policies. What this all boils down to, I suppose, is that gays are becoming more accepted by mainstream British society and the 'gay economy' is maturing.

The other article touches on gay statistics, specially in the light of the legislation in force since December 2004 which makes it illegal to discriminate at work on the grounds of sexual orientation. It is apparently hoped to include a question about sexual orientation in the next UK census (scheduled for 2011), but there is debate about what exactly should be asked - as The Economist puts it, should it ask about 'desire, activity or identity'? However, before that the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is to start monitoring firms' compliance with the law - then perhaps the kind I thing I wrote about here will become less prevalent. Assuming this works, then more gays and lesbians may begin to become more comfortable about being open about their sexuality in a work-place and employment situation. The Economist also mentions the fact that census forms are currently filled in by the "head of household" rather than the individuals within it and that this is thought to mask, or even distort, the results in many areas - for example 'religion' - and this may colour the results relating to sexual orientation, too. On the other hand it suggests that worries about the validity of the results obtained from recent censuses in matters relating to ethnicity and religion has been less affected by reticence about giving honest answers than statisticians were worried might be the case. For myself I will see how I feel in 2011, and how I judge the 'climate of opinion' to be then, when deciding how to answer this kind of 'optional' question.

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