The question, “Is it ever acceptable for straight people in large groups to congregate in an LGBT+ space?” is a contentious issue, and – in recent media – a divisive one. I’d like to make my position perfectly clear: there is something incredibly special about gay venues; something which, I believe, should be respected and protected by all.
This may be mistaken as ‘heterophobia’ by disgruntled straight people who are not used to being routinely discriminated against for their sexuality or gender identity. But it is failure to recognise this privilege which leads to ignorance about the reason these venues exist: they provide a haven for LGBT+ people to surround ourselves with like-minded people and express ourselves, away from the oppressive society where we feel we can’t. They are places where heteronormativity is not the norm, and we are no longer the minority.
Don’t get me wrong, equality for LGBT+ people has come a long way since the brave days of the Stonewall riots. The idea that LGBT+ people can go anywhere without fear of discrimination means that there are fewer and fewer LGBT+ spaces remaining. This lack makes it even more important to respect them for what they are: gay spaces – for gay people.
Of course, this is not to say straight people should be refused entry to all gay venues, or that straight people should not accompany their gay friends to such venues. It does, however, require straight people to reflect on their presence in these spaces. Just because one is allowed to do something does not mean morally it is the right thing to do, and by bringing large groups of straight people to LGBT+ venues, the purpose of such venues is lost. It undermines this respect for LGBT+ patrons who frequent them simply to feel safe and be themselves.
“We need to respect LGBT+ clubs like Heaven for what they are: gay spaces, for gay people”
It is this point which brings me to ICSMSU’s choice to return to Heaven, the popular gay nightclub, as its venue for their annual fresher’s pub crawl. Heaven is a cracking venue, and is thought to be one of the largest gay venues in the country – a fact which, incidentally, is not mentioned on the ICSMSU-generated event page. If the whole medical student body were respectful, clued-up allies it would be possible to argue that this influx would not threaten the safe space. However, given that our own Union venues are unable to provide a similar haven of safety for LGBT+ students – something evidenced by the ordeal faced by a non-binary student in the Reynolds bar last year, who was nearly forcibly-removed from the women’s bathroom,despite union venues claiming a zero-tolerance stance to discrimination in all its forms – it is difficult to argue this is the case.
Furthermore, it seems – if only in terms of sheer numbers – the quantity of drunk medics will so far outnumber any LGBT+ people, that the respect for why the venue exists would be lost. ICSM seems only to be furthering the fetishisation of LGBT+ issues, something which is seen year on year by the masses of straight people donning glitter and celebrating Pride with very little appreciation for what it really means.
LGBT+ spaces are fantastic and should be celebrated, but they are also not a zoo or a novelty for freshers to marvel at – and they should not be used to purport an ideal of progressiveness without real change or support. It is admirable that ICSMSU would want to pledge their support for LGBT+ people and issues by supporting Heaven as a venue; however it does beg the question if their efforts might be better spent evaluating their own community.
“Inclusivity and being supportive does not give you the right to monopolise the safe spaces of a minority group”
The LGBT+ medicine project last year raised the fact that there was no formal teaching about LGBT+ issues in the entirety of the 6 years of the medicine curriculum – many early years teaching was actively outdated. Furthermore, there is currently no LGBT+ officer in the ICSMSU committee, nor are there events for LGBT freshers or even older years – just saying.
It may be uncomfortable to hear, but inclusivity and supportiveness does not give you the right to monopolise the safe spaces of a minority group. Although we like to think we live in a society with true equality, we are not there yet – and we cannot be complacent.