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Tackling Isolation and Fostering a Genuine Sense of Community Must Be the New Frontier for the LGBT Movement

27/06/2015 11:35 BST | Updated 27/06/2016 10:59 BST
ASSOCIATED PRESS

As hundreds of thousands of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people gather in the capital to celebrate the annual Pride in London event, they do so in changing circumstances. We have never had so much, as typified today by the US Supreme Court ruling in favour of same-sex marriage, which comes just over a month after Ireland's powerful marriage referendum victory.

But things are changing socially too, and in more complicated ways. The significance of gay bars and clubs in our lives is evolving. Over the last few years various venues have closed their doors. East London hipster favourite The Joiners Arms, Barcode Vauxhall, Soho's cunningly named Manbar, The Green Carnation, lesbian venue The Candy Bar and, most surprisingly, Camden's The Black Cap have all shut up shop. This is a seismic change. Historically, the gay community has had to exist in bars and clubs, driven into the nightlife because we had nowhere else to go. Today, hairy bulky men - fetishised as 'bears'- are popular but historically we've been more like moles, only able to come out at night. It simply has not always been safe enough to gather or socialise out in the open. All this is changing. Whether the chicken or egg came first no one can be completely sure, but more and more gay people are socialising online and through apps.

Technology has its upsides. A friend of mine told me he hated having to go to bars to meet other gay people but doesn't fear the rejection on his iPhone quite as much as he does in the real world. But not being able to communicate with people in the real world can contribute to a loss of a sense of community, and problems such as isolation have arisen from this. A report this week from the University of Leicester showed that many LGBT people who don't live in proximity to gay bars and clubs of bigger towns are harassed and intimidated on a daily basis. Some of them feel so unsupported that they are too scared to report it to the police because they fear it will just make it worse.

This is why community groups are more important than ever. The Albert Kennedy Trust help young homeless LGBT people kicked out of their homes by homophobic parents, and it is still a crucial service today, as is Switchboard, the UK's longest running helpline for LGBT people, which relaunched last night with the help of Tom Daley who has just become a patron of the service. Space Youth Project in Bournemouth barely has enough resources to help the isolated young people they support. In London, the drugs crisis among gay men feels like it has largely gone unnoticed by the larger groups who have left it to smaller organisations, such as Antidote, the LGBT drugs and alcohol service, 56 Dean St and GMFA.

Individuals are taking matters into their own hands too. Let's Talk About Gay Sex and Drugs is a brilliant open mic night run by an inspiring young writer-performer Pat Cash, in which people can come and speak for five minutes about anything that is related to the subject matter. Simon Marks runs a group called A Change of Scene as part of the brilliant 56 Dean St Wellbeing programme, which facilitates discussion about subjects as diverse as Grindr, drinking too much and eating disorders. It encourages gay people to understand that we can actually get to know each other outside of bars, clubs and without the aid of apps.

That is why to mark Pride this year Attitude, the magazine I edit, has launched the Attitude Pride Awards, which celebrates the people from the community working on the ground inspiring people and changing lives. 11 of them feature on our special Pride Awards cover. Glitz and glamour, celebrations and rainbow flags as far as the eye can see are all great. An important part of Pride is about showing newcomers that we are here, we exist. But we also need to support the everyday people who do the really hard work. As the prevalence of gay bars and clubs become less important in our lives, as we grow up, individually and collectively, tackling isolation and fostering a genuine sense of community must be the new frontier for the LGBT movement.