Are gay bars a barometer for LGBTQ integration?

GAYThe Westgate public house in Gloucester closed this week. So? Pubs close all the time. But The Westgate was Gloucester’s only gay bar and its closure has left Gloucestershire without a gay bar. Read more here

Inevitably, there was some wailing and gnashing of teeth associated with the closure and I am sure that the die-hard regulars will miss it. There is also a valid argument for everywhere having a safe place for young LGBTQ people to experiment with their new sexual identity. It’s one of the reasons why Liberate in Jersey put on their monthly LGBTQ-friendly events so that young people can meet other islanders like them who lead happy, successful lives. For those of us who are LGBTQ our community is, in some ways, our family. Very few of us come from an LGBTQ family in the way that a black person comes from a black family, say. Having LGBTQ elders in the community, who can guide and support, and knowing where to find them is important for young LGBTQ people.

However, the lack of a gay bar in a county is not necessarily a bad thing. We haven’t had a gay bar in the Channel Islands for over ten years. What the closure of The Westgate and the last bar in Jersey many years ago indicate is that there are not sufficient people wanting to use the bar to make it pay. The LGBTQ community has not suddenly stopped going out, having a drink and socialising. They are still out there but they are out there mixed in with everyone else. We no longer need to be ghettoised into our own bars and clubs. We can enjoy the wide variety of pubs and clubs (openly with our partners) that our locale offers. Pubs and clubs that suit our musical tastes, our wallet, our palates and our interests – just like everyone else. The closure of gay bars is a sign that the struggle for integration and acceptance of LGBTQ people is being won.

Gay bars are quite a narrow and acquired taste. They don’t suit everyone and, in small LGBTQ communities where there economically can only be one or two gay bars, they inevitably have to cater to the whole rainbow and that means the mainstream gay scene. They lose any edge they had very quickly and become a rather predictable cycle of drag acts. This means that the lesbian clientele tend to have their culture subsumed by the gay clientele’s culture, turning them off quite quickly. Where London and Manchester can have gay bars that are leather bars or dyke bars or twink bars or queer bars, small communities can’t support this variety.

No community wants to see it’s culture die out but there are ways of ensuring a culture continues that don’t depend upon pubs staying open. You don’t need a Welsh bar in every town to ensure that Welsh culture continues to be shared and handed down. So, let’s not waste our energies in mourning the closure of another gay bar and instead think of ways in which we can rejuvenate LGBTQ culture and share it with young people.

Give it twenty years and if anyone opens a gay bar it will be marketed as a theme bar with a straight and LGBTQ clientele: a bit retro, a bit quaint.

For a different view on gay bars, see Eleven Types Of Gay Bars And Why They Matter More Than Ever

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