Combating the death of the gay bar

London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan and Night Czar Amy Lamé reveal their plan to bring back our lesbian venues


Women outside the Candy Bar in Soho, which closed its doors for good in 2014


More than half of London LGBTQ+ venues disappeared in the last decade, and female venues are among the worst affected. But Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and Night Czar Amy Lamé have a launched a plan to combat the seemingly never-ending death of queer establishments.


A shocking new report, commissioned by the Mayor of London and Greater London Authority and carried out by University College London Urban Laboratory, showed 58% of LGBT venues have disappeared since 2006. Back then there were 127 venues in operation - today there are just 53.


“It is completely and totally unacceptable,” said London’s Night Czar Amy Lamé, adding that although she’s shocked, she’s not surprised - and Sadiq Khan has called for urgent action.


Pledging to do all he can “to halt the closures of these precious venues and encourage others to open,” Khan has announced a plan to help stabilise and grow the number of queer venues in London. This includes encouraging bars and clubs to sign up a new LGBTQ+ charter, carrying out an annual audit of venues and instructing Lamé to make protecting these venues a priority.


Ruth Hunt, Chief Executive of Stonewall, explained the importance of the scheme: “Many of these venues are steeped in LGBT history and serve as a much-needed safe space for members of a community that still faces the very real threat of discrimination and bigotry in other pubs, bars and clubs.”


Speaking to DIVA, Lamé said: “LGBT people can go anywhere, but we choose not to - because any LGBT person who has been to, say for example a large chain pub or to more popular places like that, knows that it can feel very unsafe.


London Night Czar Amy Lamé

“It’s important for us that we are able to retain our culture, that we are able to retain our identity where we have safe places where we can fully express ourselves, be exactly who we want to be.”


Dr Ben Campkin, Director of UCL Urban Laboratory, who carried out the report, said the research evidenced the continuing need for these spaces - and that diversity within the community remains an issue.


“Looking at the fine-grain, women’s and BAME-specific LGBTQ+ spaces, already under-represented, have been disproportionately affected,” he said. “There is an ongoing lack of established premises run by and for women, trans people and people of colour – even while there are long-standing and new events that move from venue to venue and serve important social functions for these groups.”


“I think SHE Bar stands as pretty much the only women’s bar in the West End and it certainly changed from how it was, but I am really hoping that this plan will encourage more venues geared towards women to open and also for LGBT spaces to be more female friendly.”


“We have to get the balance right and that is also what the five point plan is about,” Lamé said, referring to the new LGBTQ+ charter that venues, developers, pubs and property owners will be encouraged to sign.


The charter, among other things, asks venues to display rainbow flags and provide a welcoming environment - and Lamé says it’s about making these spaces available to all, stressing it is important they also look at providing disability access and gender neutral toilets.


As for why LGBTQ+ venues in particular have been so hard hit by closures, Lamé said it comes down to a mix of factors but that it seems these venues are particularly vulnerable - possibly because they don’t necessarily depend on local communities.


“Some places close due to business rates and rent reviews, others have closed because of developers, international property speculators, property owners who get angry that they are not able to turn it into flats so they just close it; there is a multitude of reasons.”


What has to be done, she said, is that the ones that are closed are replaced like by like - and they have had some success already.


Molly Moggs was the latest addition to the negative trend when it shut in March earlier this year but following consultation with Lamé the pub will be reopening as an LGBTQ+ venue following refurbishment. “It is a huge success story for us,” said Lamé of the venue which became the first to sign the new charter.


Looking to the future, she said she will be “really, really happy” once a new gay venue opens - and that she hopes other cities take note. “We are doing everything that we can here in London and we are lucky that we have Mayor that takes LGBT equality absolutely seriously… I hope that, for example, the new Mayor of Manchester might be inspired.”


If Lamé could wish for anything in a new establishment she says she’d like a women's bar that’s not in a basement. “It's quite a hard ask, actually - but I'm really open to anything.”


Last but not least, Lamé urges the LGBTQ+ community to stay vigilant of any rumours of potential future closures - and to let her know.


“I am really depending on our community to help me with this… If you see something, say something.”


The Mayor’s LGBT+ Venue Charter


1. A visible rainbow flag should be displayed on the outside of the venue

2. The venue should be marketed as an LGBT+ venue

3. The venue will provide a welcoming, accessible and safe environment for all

4. Management and staff should be LGBT+ friendly

5. Programming should be LGBT+ focused


This five-point pledge is endorsed by Stonewall, Pride In London, UK Black Pride, Queer Spaces Network, as well as several promoters and operators of LGBT+ venues. 


This map illustrates the loss of LGBTQ+ venues across the city.


Only reading DIVA online? You're missing out. For more news, reviews and commentary, check out the latest issue. It's pretty badass, if we do say so ourselves. //

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