Newcastle’s LGBTI nightlife has had many ups and downs throughout the decades. From the days when we had several successful venues, such as The Criterion and Pipers, to the most recent Unity and Gateway Hotel combination, our community has always had a place to call home.
That was until this week, when The Gateway Hotel, our last remaining venue, announced its closure and change of direction.
I have heard a lot of my friends and people in the wider community say: “We have marriage equality now, we don’t need gay bars?”
I can see how many would come to this conclusion. However, this thought process is, at best, simplistic.
Queer people are everywhere, from television to music, and are having amazing success in mainstream entertainment. Look at Courtney Act, who started out performing in Sydney’s Oxford Street clubs, and is now considered a reality TV star after appearances on Australian Idol,Rupaul's Drag Race, MTV and, most recently, won UK’s Celebrity Big Brother.
With all this acceptance, is there still a requirement for gay venues?
There definitely is.
The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is not immune to this chain of thought. Instead of celebrating the amazing work of the brave men and women who attended the protest 40 years ago (and who were violently arrested and beaten by police), corporate Mardi Gras has shoved them aside and they have become a footnote in history.
In the past 40 years, our gay venues have been places to showcase LGBTI pride and culture. Here drag queens are treated like royalty, mental health support from our peers provides a safety net and safe sex is promoted without stigma or shame.
It is true that gay clubs are no longer the only place where LGBTI people can feel accepted. They still, however, fulfill a purpose as havens for our community. They are for the young gay man just thrown out by his parents (yes, this still happens); the non-cisgender person who does not feel safe in any other venue; older lesbian couples who have known no other social scene, and they are for the performers who love to entertain their community. These are the people who still need gay bars.
Decades from now, I am going to look back fondly on the support I received in gay venues around this country and cherish the life-long friendships formed here. For myself, and many others, these venues are the only place we truly feel safe. It is where our history is celebrated and where our fight for equality began. I worry for the next generation of gay men who come out. I worry not for the average straight-acting gay guy, but for the ones who, like me, are flamboyant. Where is their safe space where can they be themselves?
As Newcastle transforms into a progressive global city, whose night-time economy is the focus of our current council, we need to ensure that LGBTI individualism and culture is not destroyed by gentrification.
An opportunity remains for a new venue to support my community. A successful venue of this type would provide specialised entertainment and would listen to its patrons.
The LGBTI community will support a venue that truly wants to celebrate their culture and arts.
If you have a venue like this, I encourage you to reach out to our community. We would love to help you make your new gay venture a success.