Featured image by @Greenheaddesign
I have this story. It goes back to my birthday when I was seeing a friend that I have had feelings for, for a long time. We agreed to see one another for a full day of just the two of us, and even though it had been a while since we saw each other, it all just clicked into place with the greeting hug at the train station. I had gone to York for the day and I’ve been to York many times, with different, friends, families and old partners. We had a few drinks throughout the day, but it really wasn’t that far into the day when we started to hold hands as we walked around the city. Then it wasn’t long until we were kissing, in public, in broad daylight…and nothing happened. Sometimes I justify the fact there was no trouble to the fact I am a giant and I am broad, but perhaps it was something else. Ultimately, nothing ever came of that day other than a few arguments over how it wouldn’t work.
I’m not one to shy away from my feelings, and if you gave me a man who was comfortable enough to hold my hand or kiss me in public, in broad daylight, I’d be more than happy, because I don’t hide myself from the world. Even though I know the risks, I know that at any moment anyone could come up to me and punch me in the face, I’d still hold another man’s hand or kiss him. I don’t see it as wrong. I’m not making anyone watch, I am just expressing my affections for someone in an appropriate way.
For many of us though, that threat of violence or harassment, is a daily struggle and leads us to feelings of fear. During the day there are very few places of safety for anyone in the LGBTQ community, and a few years back, we had to sacrifice even our night time places of safety. What exactly am I talking about? I’m talking about the use of the term “gay-friendly” to represent a gay venue.
I remember, when I first came out 12 years ago, and was lucky enough to get into clubs without ID, that these clubs weren’t “gay friendly”, they were just “gay”. I never know what quite happened for anyone to decide they should be changed to “gay friendly” but to me it was harmful, even if the clubs and bars remained largely “gay” in clientele.
I have no issue welcoming anyone into any space so long as they are positive people who don’t aim to cause trouble, we’d already been putting up with hen parties for years, coming in to gay venues because it was less threatening and provided a sense of fun, because we all know we homosexuals like to have fun. But over time even this changed. I remember going out regularly and you could see throughout the year when the LGBTQ community stopped going to their own places because now there was the threat of the heterosexuals.
I believe it came from the term “gay-friendly”. Anywhere could be “gay-friendly”, but not everywhere advertises it…just gay venues. Shouldn’t it be “straight-friendly”? Our venues are often our own places of safety on a nighttime, and we know we don’t have anywhere during the day. Everything should be done to protect these places of safety for us, for our use so we can continue to express ourselves in a safe place. In all honestly, I hate the term “gay friendly” and I don’t think there should be a “straight friendly” either. I believe there should be something else.
I believe that clubs and bars should aim to be “inclusive safe spaces”, that is, no matter what your sexuality, race, gender, disability or any other defining feature, you should be safe no matter what. You’re getting harassment, you should be able to approach a member of staff, and rather than you being made to feel like you should leave, the situation should be resolved and the one causing the harassment be asked to leave instead. I think in this day and age, to fight against bigotry, is paramount, and the attack has to be multi-pronged.
No matter when you leave the house, you should feel safe, and that just isn’t a reality; and using terminology such as “gay friendly”, making out as if we are completely different and should be tolerated rather than celebrated or just integrated fully into society. Yes, a gay club would still be referred to as a gay club, but it should be part of this inclusive safe space. We don’t have to stand apart, we can stand together, and know full well that everyone that comes into this inclusive safe space, knows that no matter who you see inside, you should respect them.