Support LGBTQ venues: Help our community thrive, not just survive

Yesterday it was announced that Her Upstairs, the North London bar will be closing it’s doors for the last time (at that address).

It’s incredibly sad to see another LGBTQ venue close in London, it was a brilliant space and a big part of the London scene. I know how much work they put into creating a space that welcomes everyone. This won’t be the last we see of them, thankfully.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for our safe spaces to shut down without warning. Between 2006-2017 we lost over half of our venues in London including Madam Jojo’s, the Black Cap, The Joiner’s Arms, Barcode Soho, Kazbar, the Queen’s Head, Candy Bar, the Oak Bar and Green Carnation to name a few. Reasons vary but the majority are due to rent increase, large-scale developments, licensing issues and rising costs.

Over the years we’ve sadly lost venues rich in LGBTQ history, more needs to be done to protect our heritage and preserve these spaces for generations to come. These venues are vital to our community, offering safe spaces, empowerment, platforms for local artists, meeting points, community functions and so much more.

Our venues are more than just drinking spots, they serve the community in ways straight people will never quite understand.

These establishments are more than just bricks and mortar, they offer protection for people who don’t always have it elsewhere. They offer safety and solace away from a world that doesn’t always accept or understand us, and a chance to spread our wings and build up our confidence.

I’m sure we can all remember the first time when we stepped out onto the scene. Walking through those doors and finally feeling like you can be yourself without fear of judgement. The liberation, the empowerment and freedom. Many of us also find our chosen family in these places and forge friendships that last a lifetime.

I remember my first time onto the scene like it was yesterday, I think a lot of us carry those memories with us. When you’ve been in the closet and battled with your identity for years, finally accept who you are and take those first steps in to our community, your life changes forever.

As a community we need to do what we can to safeguard LGBTQ spaces.

Some people will argue that these venues aren’t needed, but I wholeheartedly disagree. I think it’s great that more and more venues are LGBTQ friendly, but that doesn’t mean they are always hassle free. Sometimes you just need to be in a space that you know is 100% accepting of you.

I want to see the LGBTQ community thriving, not surviving. Not just for gay men, either. We need more spaces that cater for everyone. Queer, BAME, bisexual, lesbian, trans. EVERYONE.

We still live in unsettling times. The majority of LGBTQ people still afraid to hold hands in public, let alone let their hair down. Let’s not forget that after the Brexit vote hate crimes against our community rose by 147%.

Last year Sadiq Khan announced more protection under his new LGBTQ Venues Charter and commissioned research into why venues are shutting down. I’d like to know what extra steps he is taking to ensure businesses aren’t closing unnecessarily. Sadiq is a great supporter of ours and it does help knowing that he does what he can, but we also need to step up, stay vigilant and support our community.

Whether we like it or not venues will close naturally, but we need to make sure this isn’t happening when there are other solutions and ways to keep them open. Far too many venues have been lost over the years resulting in job losses, fractured communities and the loss of valuable safe havens in areas that don’t have any other options.

I’d also like to make a plea to any venue that is struggling – please reach out to your community. In recent years Yard Bar, the RVT and a number of others have been close to shutting their doors, but with the help of campaigners and the community they are still open for business today.

All I can say is go out and support your local venues when you can. It can be tough out there for independent LGBTQ businesses and we have the power to help keep them sustainable.

Follow Tom on Twitter – @TJ_Knight

If you’re an LGBTQ venue based in London and want to find out more about the LGBTQ Venues Charter – Visit the Mayor of London’s site here.

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