It’s a surprisingly mild October night and I’m out in Soho with a few (straight) friends to celebrate a birthday. As fans of G-A-Y’s drink offers, we head out to the pink-lit bar itself. But upon arriving, our night of frolics and cheap drinks is ruined: we are refused entry. Told that we would only be allowed in if one of us could provide a membership card, I looked in frustration behind the bouncer as more stereotypically ‘gay’ looking customers – none of who were producing membership cards – were allowed in. It seemed to me that we had been refused entry for looking ‘too straight’ and that I, a lesbian, had fallen victim to implicit heterophobia.
Now, this is by no means the first time G-A-Y’s entry policy has been called into question. Owned by Jeremy Joseph, G-A-Y is the flagship of London’s gay scene and provides a fun world of camp-ness and cheesy pop music. But in 2011 Joseph expressed his concern’s that G-A-Y’s trademark atmosphere might be ruined if it was overcome by the young, straight females flocking to a One Direction concert booked at Heaven. The nightlife promoter tweeted: “My birthday wish is for little girls to realise that G-A-Y is a lesbian and gay club so there’s only one direction and that’s no direction for them”. In a later tweet, he wrote: “hoping the name G-A-Y, isnt too Subtle???? It’s G-A-Y not Str8”. A look at a post on Reddit, primarily concerning door policies at Manchester’s G-A-Y, suggests instances in which Joseph’s feelings have been actively enforced. One user writes: I’m straight and when I go to G-A-Y with my gay friends we’ve resorted go holding hands to get in. It’s ridiculous. We don’t start any trouble or go in already too drunk. Not on. There would be a shit storm if it was the other way round (and rightly so) but unfortunately this is really common in the village.”
So this is the question: should straight people be allowed into G-A-Y? The main problem is that G-A-Y has become a slick, well-defined brand in itself. It has a strict criteria: to provide a safe space for gay people. And so in this respect, I am sympathetic. If G-A-Y allows entry to any old folk then the aims of this brand, which Joseph worked so hard to establish, might become futile.
…has resulted in gay clientele, like myself, being wrongly refused entry…
But then I remembered something: since 2007 in Britain it has been illegal to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation in the provision of goods, facilities and services. Yes, gay venues can turn anyone away who they believe to pose a risk in their behaviour towards gays and lesbians, and I agree with that. But by refusing entry to people for looking ‘too straight’, G-A-Y is exercising the very kind of discrimination which human rights campaigners set out to prevent. Such a policy is also difficult to regulate and has resulted in gay clientele, like myself, being wrongly refused entry. I have no doubt in my mind that Joseph would be fervently against discrimination on the grounds of one’s homosexuality; so why should his feelings be any different the other way around? It is illogical. Indeed, it is wrong that little is mentioned of the heterosexuals turned away from gay bars; whilst there would most likely be a public uproar if homosexuals were refused entry to regular bars because of their sexuality.
I understand that Joseph wants to protect G-A-Y’s LGBT identity. But the world is changing. The once-divisive line between the heterosexual and the LGBT community is being erased. Friendship groups have become a vibrant mix of heterosexuals, homosexuals, bisexuals and transexuals. So many acronyms are being added onto the LGBT, LGBTQ, LGBTTTQQIAA banner that it’s only a matter of time before an ’S’ – to represent the straight community – is added too. Christ, we can even get married if we want.
…Just as vegetarian restaurants aren’t filled with steak-lovers…
By relaxing its door policies, G-A-Y won’t damage its brand as a safe space for gay people. It will remain a gay bar. Yes, heterosexuals will come in, but I doubt that they will do so in large numbers. Most of G-A-Y’s customers have an affiliation with the venue: they are with a gay friend or are gay themselves. Just as vegetarian restaurants aren’t filled with steak-lovers, churches aren’t filled with atheists and UKIP isn’t filled with raving liberals: G-A-Y won’t become filled with straight people. And even if it does: who are we to stop them?
So I feel torn – because I always want to be able to visit a haven packed with LGBT people. That’s just natural: like a football fan wants to attend matches in a stadium crammed with other football fans, and not excitable teenagers waiting to see Beyonce. But sometimes feelings aren’t enough. It is unacceptable to discriminate a person on the grounds of their sexuality, whatever that sexuality may be. G-A-Y needs to re-think its entry policy, or else it will be in dire straights.
Check out the discussion on REDDIT