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We Need to Talk About LGBT Venues!

Highlights from our LGBT History Month panel discussion on the future of LGBT venues.

Published: 05 February 2016 | 12:00 AM Updated: 21 July 2021 | 4:32 PM
Speakers at the LGBT panel

Music venues across the UK are increasingly at risk from rising costs and complaints from residents of flats and houses built nearby after the venue was established. LGBT venues are particularly vulnerable and, because there are fewer of them, every closure is widely felt.

So, to raise awareness of our at risk LGBT venues and to celebrate their role in society as part of LGBT History Month, we hosted a panel at the iconic – and now listed – Royal Vauxhall Tavern with Bar Wotever. Check out some of the key themes and what our panellists had to say below…

“It’s vitally important we hold on to what we’ve got”

Things may be much better for some members of the LGBT community with advances in law and changes in social norms, says Ben Walters from RVT Futures, but they are worse in others. He states increases in hate crime and drug use, the lack of education and LGBT awareness in schools, and prevalence of mental health issues as examples. Venues are still important safe spaces for LGBT communities to meet.

“When your space begins to disappear, it can make you feel historically and temporally fragmented”

Claire Hayward works on Historic England’s Pride of Place project, mapping historic LGBT places in England. “About 450 of those are pubs and clubs and that shows you how important these venues are to LGBT communities”, she says. These spots don’t just have to be of local or national significance but personal too – from spaces you’ve shared with your partner to important community venues – and anyone can add to it. Why not host a pinning party and make your mark on the map?

“We have to protect our venues”

One way to do that is by lobbying for the Agent of Change principle to become law. Beverley Whitrick from the Music Venues Trust explains what it means, “the person that changes the status quo has to take some responsibility for it…. If you move in upstairs of a pub, you accept the pub was there before you”. In other words, developers building flats near a venue would be responsible for soundproofing the flats so that venues can carry on serving their communities.

“There’s been an element of firefighting, whack-a-mole, as these things come up”

Ben told the audience about the campaign to save the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, first by getting it Asset of Community Value (ACV) status to protect its use as a venue, and then by launching a successful campaign to have the building listed so no-one can knock it down. Their campaign drew support by local councillors, MPs, peers, charities, community groups, local resident groups, performers including Sir Ian McKellen and Paul O’Grady, producers, architects and even the local vicar. Key among them was getting the support of London Mayor Boris Johnson – which, Ben says, might be problematic for some but opened the door for other Conservatives to also voice their support. “It’s a kind of patchwork approach”, Ben says.

“There’s a housing crisis in London and there’s a cultural crisis where there aren’t the community assets that everyone needs”

Peter Cragg, from the Friends of the Joiners Arms campaign, reminded the audience of the power companies have. The new owners of the Joiners Arms mothballed the venue more than a year ago because they can. So the campaign got ACV status for the Joiners Arms and asked how they can bring local communities together to build a venue that serves all their needs. One model they are looking at is the co-operative model – something the MU is already supporting in music education.

“We need to be looking for more community engagement”

Ben highlighted the role of venues like bars as places where LGBT communities have traditionally gathered. Patrick Cash agrees – he runs a gay men’s health forum in London that meets at Ku Bar in Soho because so many people know the venue already. And given that LGBT music venues are often commercial entities that need to survive, it is important to make sure we use them.

“Fundamentally, it’s austerity”

Austerity is creating a tapestry of challenges, argues Ben, that cross every part of governance including culture, health, social services and housing and affect LGBT communities. Many of the panellists raised gentrification as an issue, and the injustice of those who build communities and businesses being turfed out for luxury housing that locals can not afford. “These are not things that are exclusive to queer people”, Ben adds.

If you’re fighting for a venue, or need advice working in the music industry, the Musicians’ Union is here to support you

Our Regional teams have local knowledge and industry expertise. Get in touch for advice on everything from contracts, to co-operatives, to what to do if you are facing bullying, harassment or discrimination in the workplace. We are your MU.

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