England has a remarkably good track record on LGBTQ rights in comparison to many other countries and with laws against discrimination based on sexuality and gender identity, it means that the country is a relatively safe haven. There are plenty of budding queer events and spaces around the country too, allowing LGBTQ people to feel as cultured as they do safe.
Sadly though, in the country’s capital of London, LGBTQ spaces are dwindling. Between the economic recession of 2008, which has been hungrily swallowing up unprofitable businesses ever since and gentrification, the queer friendly spaces that those in the capital once knew and loved are being taken away.
One the one hand, business are losing money as people make new queer spaces e.g by using hookup apps or social media to find one another and therefore don’t need LGBTQ bars and clubs to meet other queer people. Gentrification meanwhile, is the process of wealthier people and developers coming into urban spaces and taking them over and so as the money moves in, those with less of it have no choice but to move out.
The issue with this is that queer culture still needs to thrive – even when it’s going on on Twitter or Facebook or anywhere else, in person it still matters. The fact that it is being threatened is a great source of concern for those who visit queer London’s queer spaces and who have also been employed or had performances at these places for years. Furthermore, the rising number of homophobic attacks in the capital highlight the need for safe spaces for queer people.
Cabaret compére Benjamin Louche explains:
“It’s extraordinarily short-sighted to think that decimating cultural centres in pursuit of quick profits won’t come back and bite you. With venues closing, those that are still holding on feel pressure not to programme anything too challenging or unusual; this narrowing of output can only be a bad thing.”
While writer and performer Rosie Garland (better known as Rosie Lugosi the Lesbian Vampire Queen) adds that:
“Some of it is connected to the economic downturn for sure. Fringe venues and fringe events exist on the boundaries. Whatever is liminal is the first to get knocked back when the money runs out. Those of us who live on the edges of things have less money to go out in the evening, which leaves the streets to the suits.”
It’s never been more important to keep finding new meeting spaces, to keep fundraising, to keep going. Those who say we don’t need spaces to meet and be our different selves have clearly never felt isolated. Those who say that we’re all safe in mainstream clubs are being suckered in by the assimilationist lie. Those who say the battles have all been won never really had any battles to fight.”
So what can be done to combat the loss of London’s queer identity?
Community group The Queer Alternative (TQA) pushes for LGBTQ visibility in alternative cultures (punk, rock, metal etc.) and founding member KG Orphanides states that “we need to support the venues we still have” and that “as individuals, we need to support venues and promoters: go out to events, spend money over the bar.”
Although Candy Soho, Manbar, Royal Vauxhall Tavern are three famous queer spaces that have been shut down or sold off, spaces like the Black Cap have been saved by the council (it was going to be turned into a block of flats), queer/cabaret venue The Glory has just opened and the Save Soho campaign is also ongoing. That’s certainly hopeful, but if we do not heed Orphanides’ words, London’s queer losses could soon become even greater.