Text last updated 13 December 2017
Links last updated 13 December 2017
A disappearing sight, the rainbow flag identifying a gay bar | UK Student Life | 14139
What is this about?
Gay bars, shops and other gay spaces are closing down – why?
There is some disquiet over the closure of gay pubs and bars. Some members of the gay community are trying to save gay bars from closure. They want to preserve a gay-only space where they don’t have to worry about their behaviour offending anyone.
Gay bars have played a central part in the revolution in gay politics and campaigning which led to changes in the law giving gay men and lesbians their civil rights, to different extents, in different countries.
The Economist notes that
Places in which gay men and women can gather have long existed in different shapes and forms over the centuries. In 18th-century London taverns known as “molly houses” were places in which men could meet, dress in women’s clothes and conduct “marriage ceremonies” (although they were not technically brothels, sex often took place in them too). In the Weimar Berlin of the 1920s freewheeling transvestite shows, colourful drag revues and bars for men and women all jostled for attention, buoyed by a steady influx of foreigners escaping persecution elsewhere. In Paris gay life flourished in the decadence of Montmartre, with its Moulin Rouge cabaret and rows of smoky cafés and bars.
In America these bars popped up more and more after the second world war, during which millions of people, many of whom were from small towns or suburbs, were posted in big cities such as New York and San Francisco. When the war ended many gay people wanted to stay together. This is partly how homosexual districts, such as the Castro in San Francisco and Greenwich Village in New York, developed. In these neighbourhoods gays and lesbians had their own restaurants, book shops, church groups and newspapers.
Gay bars have been closing down, along with other businesses which catered only to the gay community, in increasing numbers, for a number of reasons, including:
Rising property costs;
Rising business costs;
Dispersal of the gay population from concentrated neighbourhoods into the general population;
Integration of gays into the mainstream and being accepted by regular venues;
A dislike of “the scene” and being ghettoised – cultural changes in the gay community;
Widespread use of the internet and phone apps to find and meet people;
Levels of crime in the gay area discouraging trade.
Since 2006 London has lost more than half its gay bars and clubs, falling from 125 to 53 according to the Urban Laboratory at University College London.
The BBC notes that there has been a closing of bars, pubs and clubs across the spectrum, with straight as well as gay venues closing.
The British Beer and Pub Association estimates that pub numbers have fallen from 60,100 across the UK in 2002 to 48,006 in 2013.
Pub closures are slowing across the UK, according to the BBPA, but common issues affecting pubs in general include “beer taxes amongst the highest in the world” and “changing social lives, with more people drinking at home” .
The Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) reported earlier in August that there are currently 1,733 nightclubs in the UK, down from 3,144 in 2005.
This is having an impact on the ability of the gay community to organise, as it loses facilities and spaces it could previously use.
Cliff Joannou, who edits London gay listings magazine QX, estimates that 25% of LGBT venues have closed in the capital since the recession. “And the gay community is small. Losing four or five in the space of a year is a big impact. And the more places that are threatened, the harder it is to maintain community – especially when whole locations are being lost. The sense of Soho as a gay village or Vauxhall as a gay village is going,” he says. “It’s like losing the Asian community from Brick Lane.” Guardian, 4 February 2015
This article looks at the changes in the law, society and the economy which have had an impact on gay venues in the UK.
The First Out Café Bar, London | Frank Baron/Guardian | 14140
Since April 2007 it has been illegal to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation when providing goods and services. This means whether you are lesbian, gay, bisexual or straight you have new rights in matters such as health, education, housing, adoption, goods, facilities and services, including hotel accommodation.
Courts have recently ruled on cases where gay couples had been turned away from, or denied a double bed by, bed and breakfast hotels. In one case substantial damages were awarded by the court, and in February 2012 the appeal was lost in the High Court. (The case is still pending in the Supreme Court.) In October 2012 a similar case was also brought to court with the same result.
At the time the regulations were enacted in 2007, The Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly explained the new regulations to protect from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation mean the legal end of gay or lesbian only bars.
It is still legal to establish a club for gays and lesbians, but it is no longer legal for any business or service provider to discriminate against anyone because of their sexuality. All gay businesses, organisations and services need to be wary of discriminating against any members of the wider community and to amend their policies and practices accordingly. At the time of writing there have been no significant problems.
The 2007 regulations were meant to help gay people integrate into the wider society. Gay-only businesses and services which do not admit or serve heterosexuals or other sections of society may be discriminatory. Gay-themed businesses and services which do not discriminate against any section of society should be compliant.
Gay activists and leaders of gay groups need to help the gay community understand and come to terms with a changed situation.
This page will be updated when more information becomes available.
Pink News, 87 Mar 2007: Government confirms protection but ends gay only bars
Daily Telegraph, 20 Feb 2011: Gay hotels investigated for breaching equality laws
Boston Globe, 2 Dec 2007: Last call for gay bars?
Guardian, 11 Oct 2011 – don’t let the gay club scene fall silentTucson Weekly, undated: Tucson’s gay bar history
Irish Central, 21 Jan 2013: Gay bars in Ireland closing as recession bites
Time, 4 Aug 2014: America’s ‘Gayborhoods’ Are a Lot More Expensive, a Lot Less Gay
Guardian, 4 Feb 2015: Closing time for gay pubs – a new victim of London’s soaring property prices
Pink News, 28 May 2015: Reading gay bar closes down and blames gay dating apps
BBC, 29 August 2015: Why are London’s gay bars disappearing?
The Economist, 24 December 2016: Gay bars are under threat but not from the obvious attackers
Financial Times, 12 December 2017: Grindr and Tinder: the disruptive influence of apps on gay bars