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Redefining community, restoring identity: the role of social class, ethnicity and migration in the lives of gay men in London

Duration: April 2001 - December 2003

HIV health promotion tends to concentrate on individual rather than structural determinants of health and rarely addresses how such determinants effect an individuals' capacity to manage HIV risk. HIV health promotion may therefore compound health inequality by addressing limited sectors of the gay community. Moreover, such a concentration on the individual fails to account for the cultural and social diversity that exists within the population of gay men. That is, although the population of gay men in London is mainly White and professional (as is the population of London), it is also as multi-ethnic and multi-cultural as the broader London population. Although we regularly celebrate the multiculturalism of the capital, we rarely consider the gay community in this way.

The Redefining community, restoring identity project aimed to redress this imbalance by conducting three linked studies which investigate how social and cultural factors such as class, ethnicity, language and migration shape gay male identity and influence gay male social life in London today. These studies problematise monolithic and (we believe) unhelpful concepts such as ‘gay community’ or ‘gay scene’ and show how the population of gay men in London is riven with cultural, political and social differences.

Over 100 men were recruited through the commercial gay scene and HIV and gay community organisations to make up three samples.

Sample 1: Working Class gay men
To be included, both the respondent and his immediate family must have all left school aged sixteen or under and be employed in ‘blue collar’ occupations (N=70).

Sample 2: Ethnic minority gay men
Two samples comprising of twenty British-born Black Carribean gay men and twenty White Irish gay adult migrants to the UK (N=40).

Sample 3: Gay migrants
A small sample of adult migrants to the UK, the majority from Southern Europe and South America and whose first language was not English (N=18).

The same core interview was conducted with all participants with additional questions for particular groups. Men could be prospectively or retrospectively assigned to a study sample. Therefore, certain men were included in more than one sample.

Each of the three reports which have been published from the study stand alone, but are best read with reference to each other. The first examines the relationship between being less well-educated, working class and having a gay identity. The second examines the experiences of gay migrants to London. The third investigates ethnic minority identity and gay identity (specifically examining the experience of British-born Black Carribean men and White Irish immigrants to London).

Taken together, the reports challenge the dominant view of the gay community and challenge gay and HIV community organisations to broaden their policy objectives. A range of social, structural and policy interventions are recommended.

The study gave rise to three separate final reports called:

Key contact: Catherine Dodds

Tagged under: All gay & bisexual men