Isabella Lewis asks, in a city of nine million, where are all the lesbian, bi, trans and QTIPOC bars?


Navigating the world as queer womxn, we and our trans and QTIPOC (queer/trans/intersex people of colour) siblings shrink ourselves. We hope that, if we voluntarily make ourselves small enough, we’ll manage to escape being crushed into a corner or made to retreat and cover up by the force of white cis men. But every time I step into one of London’s incredible womxn or QTIPOC-led parties something magical happens. Looking around, I see people blooming and taking up space without risking their lives to fight for it.

Lick 2nd birthday party

Recently London’s nightlife for queer womxn, trans folx and QTIPOC has boomed. Each Lick event attracts 600-1,200 party goers, Pxssy Palace runs lates at the V&A and there’s a rapidly growing selection of weekly lesbian nights. Every month I’m booking tickets weeks in advance because they always sell out. So, with such evidential high demand, why does the city have only one permanent womxn-centred space?

According to UCL Urban Labs, between 2006 and 2017 London lost 58% of its LGBTQIA+ venues. A Friends Of The Joiners Arms (FOTJA) spokesperson told me the same report found that, “spaces catering to womxn and QTIPOC have been disproportionately affected by closures during this time. Therefore, it’s LGBTQIA+ people who experience intersecting forms of oppression who are most adversely affected.”

Lese Majesté party by Friends of the Joiners Arms, photo by Alex Janaszewski

FOTJA, a campaign group which fights threats to London’s LGBTQIA+ spaces, puts these closures down to “rampant gentrification… uncontrolled rent increases and redevelopments.” As it all comes down to money, and running lesbian bars are generally considered bad for profit, it’s tempting to think venues catering specifically to womxn, trans and QTIPOC are simply financially unsustainable. But womxn, trans and QTIPOC parties selling out multiple times per month shows that those of us who occupy that demographic have both the appetite and the spending power to dominate London club culture. The trick is, according to Teddy Edwardes, creator of Lick, “if you have something good to offer!”

Edwardes says the demand for more diverse spaces is nothing new, “I don’t think we have seen a rise in popularity. There are just actually options for people now, other than the average white male dominated gay bar!” The difference between the booming parties and the failed lesbian and QTIPOC bars of yesterday are who is in the driving seat. These events are not after-thoughts to add to conglomerates of white cis male gay bars. With creators who occupy the intersections, who build spaces as much for themselves as for a commercial audience, these parties have filled a market gap.

Lese Majesté party by Friends of the Joiners Arms,photo by Alex Janaszewski

So why does it matter? Why shouldn’t we go to a couple of pre-planned specific nights per month and just go hang out in white male dominated bars the rest of the time? According to FOTJA, while the parties “are undoubtedly vital and needed, their very nature cannot offer the same familiarity, support and ultimate reassurance that a permanent space can.” More importantly though, we shouldn’t have to. We shouldn’t have to rely on once or twice per month to fully be ourselves. Occupying the world in all our glory is not a once-a-month deal.

Opinions expressed by contributors do not necessarily reflect the views of the editors of DIVA magazine or its publishers.

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