The Gay Scene: End of an era or a re-birth?

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I submitted this article before the tragic events occurred in Orlando but after the attack I’ve decided to edit it slightly and reissue as this is definitely relevant. In this entry I’m talking about the need for the gay scene when put alongside the ‘straight’ scene. One positive thing that could come out of recent atrocities is that people come to see and appreciate gay venues and ‘the scene’ more.

Almost all the time now you see various people saying “well if gay people can go to ‘straight’ bars and not get kicked out then why do I need a dedicated gay bar?”. In 2014 the BBC even had an article labelled “Do gay people still need gay bars?” which looked at the history of gay venues and some of the purposes they serve.

But to these people that don’t see the point and question others for going on “the scene” I say yes it is brilliant that we as a community can walk amongst our fellow communities and mingle without fear of attack or exclusion but I don’t think that’s quite true for everyone and gay bars aren’t just for ‘having a drink’.

In the UK, gay bars were seen safe haven during a time when being LGBT was illegal or still something that would result in you suffering verbal or physical abuse. So yes they were bars and pubs but they were also places where people could socialise with others, have a drink and feel ‘secure’. When the Admiral Duncan was attacked in 1999 it shook the community and people lost their lives but ultimately that determination to have somewhere safe for the community lead the venue (and others) to continue to this day.

In the UK today yes we have far less abuse than way back when and indeed being LGBT is no longer illegal (we can even get married) so our world is a bit more brighter. But does that mean that the LGBT community is dead and gay bars (“the scene”) along with it? I was at the vigil for the Orlando victims in Soho and I can safely say our community is very much alive and kicking.

If you in your life can live and breathe your sexuality with no fear of bullying, abuse, or negativity of any kind then I envy you as that is indeed something to be treasured and proud of. And I can see that for you there probably isn’t much of a ‘need’ in that sense for a specific gay scene. But if you do face abuse of any kind, or bullying, or negativity then surely having somewhere where you can express yourself, meet friends and have a drink isn’t a bad thing?

For some of you reading this your local bars will vary greatly from other areas. For example, whenever I visit Canal Street in Manchester I am always envious of the consistent and visual sense of community that the bars, their owners and their customers have. Generally, they stick together to support the street and the community in which they serve. But when you come down south, London doesn’t really have that sense of community amongst the bars. So while each venue is different and does engage with its punters they do seem to operate for themselves only coming together in a real crisis. If all gay scenes operated the same way as Manchester I think the question for what purpose do they serve wouldn’t come up as much, if at all.

So the scene means different things to different people. Historically it has been a shelter and does continue to be for some people. But in today’s ‘more tolerant world’ while there is a need to be a shelter there is also a need for the scene to be a place for the LGBT community to come together, meet, greet and have fun. What is so bad with that?

Personally for me I have only ever suffered directly very mild homophobia (my bullying at school was for my distinctly Harry Potter like looks) but I have worked with and supporting those who have seen some extreme homophobic bullying, even in this day and age in 2016. For them, places like gay charities, the gay scene and other places where being LGBT is not judged these places are a lifeline and a key part of their life.

On a more practical note (as a single gay man) we are also forgetting one of the key things that bars and clubs provide – a chance to meet people! Even the straight community go out to bars and clubs ‘on the pull’ to either have some fun or meet a potential date for another day. If there is nothing but mixed venues not exclusive either way your chances of striking lucky with a gay man (or woman) and not hitting on a straight person in error aren’t great. So if you can’t meet people on a night out what’s left? Grindr? Tinder? I’ll stick with my 12 cats thanks!

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So for me, I prefer having a gay venue where I can actually meet and interact with people in real life and actually have a bat in hells chance of hitting on someone and it actually being someone I have a remote chance with. The fun and excitement of eyes meeting across a busy room, initial questions and discussions, and even a drunken (usually) first kiss.

I also often hear people saying that they don’t go anywhere near the scene as it’s “full of queens and bitchyness”. Well if that is your opinion then you’re focusing on the wrong things. Every bar, pub, local venue has its dramas and its cliques, the scene is no different, so to accuse gay bars of being unique to everywhere else says more about you than it does about the gay scene. If you don’t need the scene then fine and you should be proud of that but don’t attack something you don’t understand or don’t appreciate. Yes, there is that element but to many people it’s their home.

The gay scene and its venues are part of our communities’ and this country’s legacy and to so many they represent a place of sanctuary so I say long may they continue!

My heartfelt condolences go out to those we have lost in Orlando. I am proud of how our global community has come together. Never shall we be beaten.

Love wins!

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Opinions expressed in this article may not reflect those of THEGAYUK, its management or editorial teams. If you'd like to comment or write a comment, opinion or blog piece, please click here.