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With increased tolerance and inclusion of LGBT people into the mainstream, Aaron Darkwood asks if it’s time to hang up the disco balls of the gay clubs and bars…

As I write this, I’m sat in a very open-minded café bar on the south coast of England. It’s gay-run, has a mix of staff of all sexualities across the LGBT spectrum, and an assortment of races and cultures… and I love it! Looking out of the window before me lies the local gay scene, with its bars, and clubs, its saunas and adult shops and more. Each year there is a gay pride, which I take part in, and each year the scene is moaned about, complained about (by its venues and its patrons) and shrinks just a little bit more. So why does it even exist?

Many years ago, back in the black and white days, the gay scene existed because of necessity. A gay boy simply couldn’t go to a straight club and dance, be open and kiss someone of the same sex right there in public. Sadly, in many parts of the world and in some dark corners of the UK, that still exists, but where does the future lie for the gay scene? As the 21st century reaches out and embraces us with its conformity, equal rights attitudes and more, will the “us and them” attitude just dissolve into nothingness? Gay bars have, over the last decade, branched out to other corners of the spectrum, firstly allowing women in (before my time, but I know gay bars were men-only for some years), then the bisexuals and now straight people. More desperate for money and income rather than the selectiveness of the clientele? Is money now a driving factor, or have attitudes changed suffice that a segregation is no longer needed?

Can gay-only venues continue?
Only last week a 20-year-old friend of mine said he now goes clubbing in straight clubs rather than gay ones; is this the path of our younger members? As it seems now, gay bars and clubs are primarily driven by age; the clubs have the younger end of the LGBT community, and the bars driven by the senior 40+ types. Some men (mainly men) in the community still don’t feel comfortable with the gay scene even, choosing to instead conduct their romantic solicitations in cruising grounds, cottages, toilets and more.

So putting money to one side, and noticing that locally the most popular venue in the gay area is this mixed café bar, has the dawn of the new century altered people’s perceptions? In chatting with several other gay men today, their views were shared that they rarely went out onto the gay scene, and didn’t feel that attitudes carried in gay-only venues could continue. I share that view that some gay people (I use gay to represent all LGBT areas) do still cling onto old-fashioned ideas about segregation, and they themselves object to straight people entering into ‘their’ territory. Which is ironic, as those same people would explode in protest, if straight bars were to openly discourage gay patrons.

Breaking barriers?
I feel that so long as we have gay venues, we continue the ‘them and us’ barrier. But are the straight venues liberalised and modern enough to take a mixed audience such as the place I now sit within? Maybe when new bars open up or have a refurb, they should open with a statement that they’re an open sexuality establishment, that the venue is equal opportunity for anyone to drink/eat within?

The thoughts and feelings from my friends I spoke to were that if as gay men they went into a straight bar and chatted to a guy, there was a risk of great offence being taken and a confrontation, and this was the reason they gave for not going to such places. To a degree I share and accept that thought, although I think that when ‘on the prowl’ out in a bar by any person of any sexuality, there is a degree of eye contact and body language that is usually established prior to making any kind of conversational advance…

But if these venues of the future stated that they are open to all, then the clientele should get on board with this also, so that if a guy gets chatted to by another guy he simply can say he isn’t interested, without taking extreme offence by it. After all, gay guys get chatted up by women all the time, and they certainly don’t explode in anger!

I feel that the future lies in these mixed establishments, where sexuality just isn’t an issue. It’s quite rewarding to sit and watch the afternoon customers go about their business. Gay couples coming in, there are two men sat to my left, a lesbian couple exchanging coffees and chat across from me. There is a family catching up and grabbing some food, and some grandparents and little children being served by a transsexual chef. Humans are just being humans, all going about their daily life as they should, with sexuality not entering into anything. 


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Guest

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My partner and I, as far back as the 80's, lived and ran a business on The Lizard in Cornwall. Nothing to it Comments such as "Where's your other half" and such were common. Having said that we 'fit-in'. Not into leather, not cruising, so picking us out from the crowd wouldn't be easy.

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Guest

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Interesting read. I can imagine that since it is becoming easier to meet people almost everywhere openly these days, the need for gay exclusive venues is less. Further, as we can find alternative and sometimes better ways to meet like/minded people, venue owners should return to the basics of business: adding value to their customers, thereby staying relevant. In the past gay venues may have survived due to the lack of alternatives rather than because we wanted to go to them.

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Guest

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I do find that finding a good gay club is rare these days, straight people now fill the gay clubs and many times gay people from all aspects of the LGBT get some verbal comment not always a positive one and it happens in gay clubs or bars! It's sad to see and hear since we promote individuality. Even when I've gone to straight clubs it's the same the odd bad look or comments which ruins the night, it's turning harder to find good gay clubs or bars these days.

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Aaron_Darkwood

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Not in Brighton, but thanks for the generalisation. Gay communities are difficult regimes, sometimes the larger the city, the more broader minded the people, and for the most part this is true. I have been to Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh, London (never been to Brighton) etc and people are mostly accepting. Small villages where everybody knows everybody, once you have shocked them in the coming out stage, you would be accepted there too. It's those inbetween towns. In the UK it seems the North of England still live in the past to a degree, based on opinions and actions, but that closet isn't as needed as people believe it to be.

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Guest

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How do you know that Aaron is in Brighton? I was guessing that too, but could be another place!

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Guest

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You're in Brighton; London is not Britain, Brighton is not England. Safe spaces are still useful outside Brighton, outside London, in the rest of Britain, the rest of England.

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Aaron_Darkwood

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Thank you, and interesting point "Guest", but just because a guy is in a gay bar doesn't mean he is interested in you. Thus the same would apply if that same guy was in a straight bar, on the bus, in the library or anywhere else really. If someone in the queue at Tesco is hot and i want to make contact or talk to him, then often I will do. You don't need a special bar to do this.

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Guest

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Great article and interesting point. I still think that even though we are more integrated with the heterosexual community than ever before, the LGBT community still need their own spaces to express themselves and meet other gay people for relationships. After all, there are far fewer of us than in the straight world so not always so easy to meet other gays! :)

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Guest

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Great article!

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