Getting It Right for Our Gay Community

Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England), March 26, 2004 | Go to article overview

Getting It Right for Our Gay Community


Byline: By Sara Wallis

Gays, lesbians and bisexuals will have the chance to holler at the first ever Gay Say Day - to be held in Newcastle.

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Tyneside has seen its first council hosted gay marriage - and now Newcastle will set the stage for a unique gay event.

John King, 31, and 33-year-old Andrew Madden, of South Shields, `married' last February in a commitment ceremony at Newcastle's Civic Centre.

It was the Civic Centre's first of its kind, a commitment ceremony between two men who promised, in front of their friends and family, to stay together forever.

Gay communities are screaming out for recognition. And even more public figures are `coming out' to teach tolerance to the region.

Enter Have A Gay Say Day. The first event of its kind to give gays and bisexuals the opportunity to demand their rights in a public forum. And it's happening right here in Newcastle.

"I don't like the word `minority'," says Newcastle City Council's Gay Men's Project MESMAC manager Richard Marrin. "I prefer to say `community of interest'.

"This event is about making Newcastle a more socially inclusive, vibrant and cosmopolitan society.

"It's widely acknowledged that gay-tolerant societies prosper economically - and the key to technological and economic vibrancy lies in a community's openness to new people and ideas.

"Newcastle is a hub for lesbian, gay and bisexual people so it is an appropriate and positive move by the council to ask that community for its views.

"This is a first for Newcastle as a city of proactive communication and hopefully it will raise awareness. We get programmed from birth that we should have a career, a house, a marriage, 2.4 children, and all in the right order. But most of us don't get anywhere near that. But people are still expected to do it. It is heterosexism.

"There have now been changes in legislation and things are getting better. This government is the government that has done the most to push through changes for lesbian women and gay men."

The event hopes to gather the views of North East lesbian, gay and bisexual people who live, work or socialise in Newcastle.

Newcastle City Council want the North East LGB community to contribute their views on how they wish to interact and contribute to the city council's strategy and future policy making.

Up to 300 lesbian, gay and bisexual people are expected to attend the ironically-named Have a Gay Say Day on Saturday. Delegates will have the opportunity to speak to the council's senior managers and councillors.

So what exactly is the LGB community going to ask for? "Facilities in the community", says Richard. "Some people might prefer to go to an LGB community centre - it's all about having individual choice. You have women-only facilities to make women feel safer, so why not have gay-only facilities?"

I asked Richard if the LGB community asking to be treated the same as everyone else or differently?

"We are not asking for different rights, we are asking for the choice. People should be given the opportunity to choose whether they want to use a specific LGB facility or if they are happy not to.

"It's about building the links between the different groups, educating people and dispelling the myth of the stereotype. There is a lack of education."

Coun Nick Forbes is an openly gay member of the council and chair of Newcastle City Council's Equalities Board. He says Have A Gay Say Day is a significant move towards a more inclusive society.

"In Newcastle we take the views of all our residents very seriously," he says, "but we realised that the LGB community had not been consulted in ways that other sections of the community have been.

"The council is firmly committed to equality for everyone, no matter your age, gender or sexual orientation. …

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