Nightlife is intertwined with the LGBTQIA+ community, for decades offering a refuge from discrimination. With few daytime spaces dedicated to the LGBTQIA+ community, nightlife has played an integral role in expressing one's identity without fear of harassment or judgement. Therefore, the closure of venues led by or designed for the LGBTQIA+ community can have a significant impact. Between 2006 and 2017, a reported 62% of LGBTQIA+ spaces in London closed. While this figure is slowly on the rise with 51 venues reported in 2019, it must be noted that any loss will have major implications with fewer 'safe spaces' for the LGBTQIA+ community to feel safe, valued, and accepted.
Key reasons behind these closures have included licensing and relicensing matters and property redevelopment. However, broader issues, such as a lack of protection in property law and even potentially discrimination against venue operators can play a part in the long-term survival of such spaces.
Why is it important to preserve LGBTQIA+ spaces?
Many LGBTQIA+ venues hold a significance in both individual and community history. The opportunity to share experiences, build relationships and express yourself in a setting free from discrimination has been central to the popularity and importance of these spaces.
While attitudes are evolving, hate crimes based on sexual orientation have risen 41% over the past year and the statistics show an even higher increase of 56% for transgender people (see Home Office).
LGBTQIA+ spaces are significant, not only for people as individuals, but hold historical value within the community. For example, The Black Cap was open from 1965 to 2015 and had a long and storied history of supporting the LGBTQIA+ community and providing a space for emerging performances. In 2015, it was awarded asset of community value status by the Camden Council, which noted that the pub played "the role of a community centre for the local LGBT people in the absence of such a dedicated facility”. However, within a week of this announcement, the venue announced it was closing, amid speculation of possible redevelopment of the site and surrounding buildings.)
Why are they disappearing?
While it could be believed that closure is due to financial issues and business viability, a study by UCL into LGBTQ+ nightlife in London shows only 5% of LGBTQIA+ clubs and bars shut down because of this reason. The research cites redevelopment as a reason for 38% of the closures, along with 7% being due to rent increases. Gentrification also plays a part, as neighbourhoods once known as a central hub for the LGBTQIA+ community effectively price people out. It should be noted this is a challenge for pubs and clubs more generally, although LGBTQIA+ clubs are closing at a higher rate (14%) compared to other spaces.
Protecting and preserving LGBTQIA+ spaces
Moves to preserve LGBTQIA+ spaces are on the rise, including at all levels of government, through policy and funding. After much campaigning, the Royal Vauxhall Tavern received Grade II listed status in 2015, becoming the first LGBTQIA+ venue to do so. Heritage Minister, Tracy Crouch stated that it was "not only of architectural interest, but the venue also has a longstanding historic role as a symbol of tolerance and alternative entertainment." This landmark decision could pave the way for more protection for venues with such historical significance to the community.
In 2018, the Mayor of London announced his cultural infrastructure plan, with the aim to support and grow cultural places for future generations by 2030. Part of its plan is to create new cultural infrastructure, support culture at risk and increase investment. In 2020 the Mayor launched a £2.3m Culture at Risk Business Support Fund to support businesses at risk from COVID, with £225,000 dedicated to support up to 56 LGBTQIA+ venues (including the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, Dalston Superstore and George & Dragon) and called on the Government to do more to secure the future of these spaces.
LGBTQIA+ spaces play a vital role for a community that has often been persecuted, threatened, and undermined. Whilst there are promising signs for a sustained future for these spaces, further support through policy and funding will ensure their longevity.