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Opinion: Gay bars should be welcoming to everyone, gay or straight

By Attitude Magazine

IMG_6230A recent night out with a female friend didn’t go to plan for Thomas Richardson when the pair, mistaken for a couple, were barred entry from a gay venue…

Picture this: you’re on a night out with friends, knocking back a few drinks, having a laugh. You roll up to a gay club and: DENIED. You’re not too drunk, you’re not being disorderly, so what’s the problem? It may be that you don’t look ‘gay’ enough to get in.

This happened to me last summer when I spent the weekend in Manchester with a female friend. We booked a hotel room with a double bed (she was the big spoon), we had a bottle of champagne, dolled ourselves up and had dinner at a fancy restaurant. Afterwards, we made our way onto a buzzing Canal Street. Surrounded by muscle-bound men in tiny vests and drag queens with legs that could give Christine Baranski a run for her money, we were lapping up the party atmosphere. That was until we reached GAY, and tensions arose.

“You won’t get in there, love,” shouted a voice from behind us as we approached the doormen. Whoever that voice belonged to – they were absolutely right.
“Members only tonight, guys,” the panel of doormen told us, blocking our entry. Being the polite Brits that we are, rather than kicking up a fuss, we walked away calmly. We talked it over later with a group of Mancunians we met. They, perhaps like the doormen, assumed we were a couple.

“They probably thought you were together, that’s why you didn’t get in. You look too straight,” said one regular on the strip. It made sense; a guy and girl from out of town and, given our ensemble, we looked like we had been on a fancy dinner date – which we kinda had. Sure, my friend is straight, but I’m not. If I am, I’m going about it completely the wrong way – literally. By this point, it was hard not to suspect that we were denied access because of assumptions made about our sexuality.

Certainly, there are reasons to justify the unspoken ‘gay only’ policy some venues seem to adhere to. Gay bars and clubs offer a friendly environment in which members of the LGBT community can feel safe and free from homophobic abuse which is still all too common in other venues. Some could argue that gay bars are called gay bars for a reason – they exist specifically for the gay population. Should a gay bar be full of straight people, does that not essentially make it just like any other bar? Taking away that element subsequently takes away its purpose, there’s nothing about it that makes it special, nothing about it that makes it our own. And if we feel unsafe on our own turf, then where else can we go? Especially within the current climate of a rapidly diminishing gay scene we must ask ourselves, are we losing our sense of pride?

But surely prejudice is not the way forward? I took this question home with me to my University town, Lincoln. Compared to Manchester, Lincoln has a very small LGBT community with only one gay bar, The Scene. I spoke to the co-owner and Lincoln Pride organiser, Tom Mullins, about his opinion on the matter.

“It’s wrong to make a judgement and deny a customer access because they don’t look ‘gay’ enough. It’s a form of discrimination,’ Tom told me.

Despite The Scene being the only gay bar within the city, Tom assures me that it is welcoming to everyone, regardless of sexual identity. When I proposed the idea of the policy being used as a preventative of homophobic abuse, which is surprisingly still evident within gay bars, Tom observed that nine out of ten straight people who go in gay bars are accompanying gay friends, so the policy isn’t gearing towards preventing homophobia.

“We have a lot of straight customers,” he adds. “Our regulars come because they feel safe regardless of whether straight people are in or not.”

LGBT venue owners: welcome everyone with open arms, get them a double vodka coke and show them just how fabulous we truly are. After all, segregation is so last century.