Gay Men, Gentrification and Political Conflict: Shoreditch, London (2015)

February 18, 2016 in General

This is a story of three gay men, as told recently in Attitude (January 2016). It started in Belfast (1999), where two working class twin brothers, Alan and Gary came out within a year of one another. Unfortunately, Ulster is rancid with fundamentalist homophobia and that led the two young men to escape to London, that pluralist, diverse metropolitan hub on the mainland. Fast forward to September 2015, when Alan and Gary opened an upmarket boutique cereal shop in Brick Lane, Shoreditch. Unfortunately, that shop became the centre of a storm of controversy. It had nothing to do with the fact that Alan and Gary were two gay men. The brothers acknowledged that they were engaged in ‘gentrification,’ but interpreted it as meaning that the arrival of new business and enterprise would revitalise an existing depressed area of the city, stimulating additional foot traffic and clientele for existing Brick Lane businesses. Unfortunately, others didn’t see it that way.

Enter “Class War,” a direct action socialist group dedicated to creating local hostility to gentrification v2. However, their interpretation of what constituted gentrification was wholly different. For them, it was middle-class colonisation of ‘reclaimed’ inner city suburbs, disrupting existing neighbourhoods through driving rents and rates up and causing the departure of working class residents for distant, even more marginal suburbs. Alan and Gary shrugged when asked about the closure of existing gay businesses, such as Shoreditch’s former Black Cap gay pub. They seemed very much into the privatisation of aspiration and enterprise culture.

Turn the page and one witnesses one of the self-styled “Class Warriors,” Adam Clifford (36)- also gay. He went to drama school on a scholarship, but identifies himself as working class East End. He denied his sexuality until ten years ago, even getting married to a middle class woman and having children. Initially, he didn’t get on well with his dad after he came out to his family of origin, but his radicalisation seems to have spurred reconciliation and closer relationships. Yes, Clifford said, he did throw a can of paint at the Cereal Killer shop, but that was because it was out of reach to Shoreditch’s poorer residents. For him, the ‘class enemy’ is personalised, and he noted that growing economic inequality meant that unhealthy polarisation had set in within the British gay community. Clifford said he rejected gym bodies, cosmetic surgery and the whole paraphernalia of gay male hyperconsumerism that has resulted from destigmatisation and liberalised social attitudes- which coincide unfortunately with the normalisation of cut-throat neoliberalism. Still, he’s hopeful about the return of collective agency. He’s standing as a Class War council election candidate. Despite his hard edge, it’s difficult not to acknowledge the idealism and justice of some aspects of his cause, despite the personalisation and incidental attack on a gay business. As I feared, neoliberalism is fragmenting our communities along class lines and acceptance of atomised individualism.

Source: Patrick Cash: “The Gay Cereal Killers” and “Class Warrior” (76-79, 80-83) Attitude 265 (January 2016)

Cereal Killer Café:

Class War Party:

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