Does Leeds’ LGBTQ+ Scene Cater Too Much For Straight People?

From New Penny, the oldest running openly LGBTQ+ venue in the UK, to Viaduct Showbar, where drag shows are performed every night, Leeds only has a handful of LGBTQ+ clubs. So, when Mission 2 rebranded into Tunnel and gradually removed the LGBTQ+ content from their image, it unsurprisingly caused controversy as the LGBTQ+ scene was already underrepresented. 

When I noticed the changes, I took to Tunnel‘s Facebook page to question whether their new branding signified a permanent move towards becoming another ordinary, straight-dominated club in Leeds, albeit one with drag.

I wrote: “During my first year of university, Tunnel offered a judgement-free club for myself and many other members of the LGBT community – a sanctuary and safe area in comparison to the straight-dominated clubs in Leeds. Over the last few months, I have noticed that all signs of LGBT branding have been removed from the website and now even the Pride video has been removed. The last experience I had there, myself and my friends entailed a lot of groping and unwanted advances from straight men, many of whom did not even know it was supposed to be an LGBT club.”

The manager of Tunnel responded to my query stating, “In a more modern generation, our aim is to be an inclusive venue which provides a safe space for each and every person from all walks of life…Tunnel caters to a wide demographic of LGBTQ+ and non-LGBTQ+ people.” The post quickly became heated with a number of comments in support of my observation and it became apparent that many people were dissatisfied with this response too. The main question I had in mind when reading the statement was – Why? Why do you feel the need to cater to a demographic that the rest of the world already caters for? This discourse extends beyond Leeds, with a number of popular gay clubs around the world either closing or rebranding. This issue serves to highlight the fact that we absolutely still need gay clubs and bars.

Never before have I heard a non-LGBTQ+ person utter the words “I really wish there were more straight-friendly clubs in Leeds!” Gay bars are the one public space that an LGBTQ+ person can enter without being fearful and without having to scan the crowd, worried that someone will cause trouble. There are so many people who seek solace in gay bars and have no other place to be open about their sexuality or gender.

People may believe that because attitudes are changing, there is no longer a need to cater to LGBTQ+ people but that is misinformed. Despite Tunnel no longer being branded as an LGBTQ+ club, there are still drag queen performances. By exploiting integral aspects of gay culture to appeal to non-LGBTQ+ audiences, gay culture is being reduced to nothing more than a zoo-like attraction. When I was last in Tunnel, my girlfriend and I kissed and a man behind us pushed our heads together to try to force us to kiss again. It was a demeaning and entitled act that spoke volumes. He acted as though we were performing for him, clearly demonstrating why LGBTQ+ clubs matter. 

Gay bars should be more about offering a safe space for members of the LGBTQ+ community than for straight men to watch lesbians and for straight women to throw bachelorette parties. We need to maintain LGBTQ+ spaces and preserve the culture. We still need places where we can collectively celebrate who we are and the things we have been through without holding back.

Adina Rees

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