As attitudes to LGBTQ+ culture began to shift, the 90s saw London’s inclusive nightlife thrive.
However, over the past decade the city has seen a dramatic decline in LGBTQ+ venues. Tower Hamlets is one of the areas hit hardest, losing seven out of ten of its LGBTQ+ venues according to a report by UCL.
2015 saw the closure of the Joiners’ Arms, a pub that had been central to the East London LGBTQ+ scene since it first opened in 1997.
The closure was to make way for luxury flats, a move that is becoming a regular occurrence throughout the city, however Tower Hamlets council have insisted that site developers must include a late-license LGBTQ+ venue.
This is the first time the sexual orientation of a venue’s customers has been included as a condition of planning approval. Locals are hoping this progressive action will spur councils across the city to make similar changes, and stress higher importance on keeping LGBTQ+ venues up and running.
Other key venues across the city that have been lost over recent years include The Black Cap, the Queen’s Head, Barcode Soho, Madame Jojo’s and the Oak Bar.
Tower Hamlets resident and member of the LGBTQ+ community, Sophie, told EastLondonLines: “More and more venues are closing down, and you could say it’s because we’re sort of in a more accepting society now – much more than it was decades ago – and that would be great, but it’s taking away such a big part of our community.
“To lose seven out of ten of the venues in this area in a ten year period? That’s ridiculous. LGBTQ+ venues have always been places where people can go to feel safe, just because a society may be moving in the right direction it doesn’t mean everyone feels safe to truly be themselves.”
But why are the venues closing? Large-scale developments, rising rent and business rates, and venues being made more inclusive and non-LGBTQ+ targeted are just some of the reasons for the dramatic decline through the city.
Ciara Walsh ran two LGBTQ+ venues, one of which has recently been closed down. She told ELL that the rise in dating apps is one of the reasons why the venues are losing business, which, along with rising rents, mean that venues are impossible to keep open.
“There’s only one lesbian bar in the whole of London. People don’t need to go to a gay bar or club to meet people anymore. They have Grindr and Scruff. Lots of venues are inundated with ‘straight women on hen parties’, it’s disrespectful, but venues sometimes need to let them in because they need the revenue.
“In one year we lost Madame Jojo’s, Escape, Shadow Lounge, The Black Cap… Greedy landlords selling to property developers to build flats. There’s nothing left on the scene now. The Yard in Soho has been having problems over the last year with the council – noise complaints, it’s almost like the council want all the venues closed.”
Dr Ben Campkin, Director of UCL Urban Laboratory, said of their recent study: “Our research evidences the rich variety of LGBTQ+ night-time venues in London and the continuing need for these spaces, which serve an important range of functions for neighbourhood and community life, culture and wellbeing.”
Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said of the “shocking” figures found in UCL Urban Laboratory’s study: “I hold LGBT+ venues in very high regard and have made it clear that protecting them is an integral part of my plans to grow London’s night-time economy and culture. The importance of LGBT+ venues cannot be overstated in the role they play in helping members of an often-vulnerable community to take pride in their identity, and enriching London as a whole.
“We want to make it as easy as possible for LGBT+ venues to exist, and as difficult as possible for them to close. That is why I called for an annual audit of LGBT+ venues and, together with my night Czar Amy Lame, we will do all we can to halt the closures of these precious venues and encourage others to open.”
The appointment of Amy Lame as London’s first ever Night Czar in November 2016 was seen as a huge step in stopping closures across the city. She said in a statement: “I’ll be working hard to stem the flow of venue closures across the capital – 50% of nightclubs and 40% of music venues in London have been lost since 2008.
“The closure – and threat of closures across the capital – to so many clubs, pubs and music venues must stop if London is to retain its reputation for world-class nightlife. I can’t wait to get started championing the capital as a 24-hour city for ALL Londoners! “
“I want to say loud and clear – if you own or visit an LGBTQ+ venue which you believe is in trouble, reach out to me before it’s too late.”