Do we still need gay bars and clubs? 

The answer to this question, and therefore this post, could be very short: yes! However, the reasons behind this are vast and complex. Some people may ask: ‘In a mainly open and accepting society why do we need separate social spaces for the LGBT+ community?’. In this post I hope the be able to explain why these spaces are still essential.

When I decided I wanted to write on this topic I ran a 24 hour Twitter poll with the question ‘Do we still need gay bars and clubs?’ With two simple answers: ‘Hell yes!’ and ‘No, let’s mix!’. The wonderful LGBT+ twitter family kicked in and the poll received 1,948 votes.  The results were overwhelmingly in favour of LGBT+ social spaces, with 83% of people voting for ‘Hell yes!’.  Many people also took the time to comment, outlining the reasons behind their votes. Thank you.

I first started going to gay bars when I started university. As a fresh-faced 18 year old arriving in Norwich, I regularly spent my Saturday night at The Castle or The Loft; my eyes were opened to a world I had not yet been a part of. People were friendly, the music was fabulous and it was a safe space where you could just be you.  Going to these places was an important part of my self-acceptance and really good fun!  One of the main arguments for needing LGBT+ clubs and bars is allowing people to explore their sexual orientation in a safe environment; it is a way of meeting like-minded people and potential partners. People may argue that in the age of online dating apps the need for clubs and bars to meet people is reducing but for many, connecting with people virtually is not enough. Fast forward a few years and my visits to any form of club are far less frequent but I am definitely partial to a night out at Flaunt, Norwich’s newest addition to the gay scene.

A couple of Twitter comments made a very important point about gay bars and clubs serving as a reminder of how far we have come in terms of equality.  Some people may suggest that in a more open and accepting society the need for separate LGBT+ social spaces is reduced. Conversely, it can be argued that these places stand as historical affirmination of, and a tribute to, the progress society has made.  The LGBT+ community is no stranger to violence; police raids at the Stonewall Inn in New York in 1969, a fire sweeping through the UpStairs Lounge in New Orleans in 1973, a bomb exploding at the Otherside in Atlanta in 1997, the 2016 shootings at the Orlando nightclub to name just a few. These examples all demonstrate why LGBT+ friendly spaces are still relevant and necessary. Gay bars and clubs across the world stand as monuments to previous and ongoing struggles, creating a sense of community, acceptance and belonging.

All groups within society crave their own space where they can connect with like-minded people: religious groups have places of worship; readers have book clubs; singers have choirs. Why should the LGBT+ community be any different? Flaunt in Norwich is packed every Saturday night and attracts a diverse crowd of people drawn together by their acceptance of varying gender identities and sexual orientations. Worryingly, one of the comments I received from a transgender woman suggested she has felt uncomfortable in gay bars due to incidents of transphobia.  Stories like this make me angry. We should be one, large community that is supportive of all its members; gay bars must be inclusive for all. This got me thinking: by referring to them as ‘gay bars’ are we inadvertently excluding members of our family? Would LGBT+ clubs be a better phrase?

Lastly, they are just good fun! So many of the comments I received highlighted that nights out at LGBT+ social spaces are entertaining, exciting and enjoyable. Bars and clubs are quite often at the heart of any LGBT+ community and it is essential that we continue to give these places our custom.