When I arrived in Swansea in 2016 I was excited to experience the LGBTQ+ scene. So, when attending my first LGBT+ society event I was quick to ask what LGBTQ+ venues existed in Swansea. Turns out the “scene” was one pub and one club. Well, a few months later and the one club (OMG) had closed their doors. In recent years, a series of other LGBTQ+ venues have also closed; Talk of the Town, Champers, The Lockup, even Swansea Pride has ceased to exist. But why are these venues closing, and is there a way to resurrect the Swansea LGBTQ+ night scene?
My experiences in OMG itself are few and far between. The handful of times that I did attend, it was quiet with overpriced drinks and trashy music. So, after two or three double overpriced vodkas my friends and I would normally decide to head into a bar further into Wind Street, which was often playing the same music, had cheaper drinks, and was a LOT busier (though the distinct lack of a drag queen was clearly disappointing).
Interestingly though, when OMG did close, a lot of my friends that had refused to frequent the venue or, like myself, rarely went, were bitterly disappointed by the closure. I shared their disappointment. Not because I desperately wanted one more night to spin around the sweaty poles or get stuck to the carpeted floor but because it was yet another LGBTQ+ venue gone, and it left a big hole in Swansea’s once thriving LGBTQ+ scene. Leaving Swansea with a resounding zero LGBTQ+ clubs, and just one pub.
However, this doesn’t seem to be an issue only affecting Swansea. Indeed, the Urban Laboratory at UCL recently reported that nearly 60% of LGBTQ+ venues in London had closed since 2006 and LGBTQ+ venues in many other cities are suffering the same fate. But, why?
Part of the issue seems to be economic based. One of the most commonly cited reasons for the closures have been rent hikes. But it seems that in general LGBTQ+ venues are closing quicker than non-LGBTQ+ focussed venues. So, could demand be the real issue? As I mentioned above, it was rare to see OMG busy (and I personally never did), while other Swansea night spots regularly hit capacity, attracting a varied crowd of both heterosexual and non-heterosexual students. Is this therefore a sign that as society grows closer towards an acceptance of LGBTQ+ people, assimilation itself prevents the need for LGBTQ+ specific venues, as these venues subsequently attract smaller crowds? The lack of use of these spaces paired with the recent economic instability makes it seem plausible that these spaces are closing as the economic crisis hits these spaces hardest.
Looking back at the birth of LGBTQ+ venues, they were spaces created that allowed individuals to be open and free, express their gender and sexual identity. To meet others that were in the same position as them. To allow them to escape their oppressive society. Their attendees were made to feel like they were a part of something bigger; queer spaces grew activists, and these went on to break the barriers in society that we now enjoy. Most LGBTQ+ persons know of the Stonewall riot and the “pits and perverts” fundraiser (LGBTQ+ fundraiser for the welsh miners which features in the film, “Pride”); these and other forms of activism were born from LGBTQ+ venues. It was the subculture and the underground comradery that helped to fuel what was a significant shift in society and allows us to live in a now more open and accepting society.
It therefore seems saddening that once bustling venues, with growing and vibrant communities and subcultures are disappearing, but if this is due to a lack of necessity, then the dying LGBTQ+ scene seems understandable. However, referring to society as “accepting” of the LGBTQ+ community is questionable. Not only do LGBTQ+ people still face stigmatization from heterosexual society but LGBTQ+ people face it from within their own community. A quick flick through Grindr or Tinder paints a harrowing tale; you will find numerous profiles that contain openly biphobic, transphobic, weight shaming, racist, and misogynistic comments. These comments are a clear reflection of the way that LGBTQ+ culture exists, and it’s disappointing to see that the community itself is splitting.
LGBTQ+ venues have historically been male focussed, and as a result their clientele follows suit. Yet, it is this individuals that are least likely to face stigmatization from within and outside the LGBTQ+ community. It is those that do not face stigmatization that presumably frequent non-LGBTQ+ venues most, thus the venues themselves are focussed on a clientele that is most likely to frequent their competitors, yet those individuals that are stigmatized from within and outside of the LGBTQ+ community have little option when it comes to safe spaces where they can freely enjoy their evening.
Is the closing of LGBTQ+ venues a reflection of the inability for these venues to once again offer what the rest of society cannot? It seems (to me) that LGBTQ+ venues in general offer very little different to their heterosexual focussed competitors. However, in London this is becoming less of the case, many London niche venues have recently opened that are not focussed on cis males; clubs that have been created as safe spaces for people that are queer, non-cis, trans, or people of colour, for example, are thriving, regularly pulling large crowds that are attracted to the ability to go to a night spot where their smaller community exists (and thrives). This is unsurprising considering that the UCL Urban Laboratory report highlighted that there is a lack of nightspots serving women, trans, and queer, and intersex people of colour (QTIPOC) and that the LGBTQ+ community most values spaces where “diverse gender identities and sexualities are affirmed, accepted, and respected”, it seems that to succeed diversity is key.
In Wales it seems that nearly all LGBTQ+ venues are cis male focussed. Maybe this is where Swansea can find its voice, offering a safe space where gender and sexual identity diversity is championed, a night spot that is not cis male focussed, but truly diverse. A night stop that truly reflects the diversity of Swansea.
Whether this is the answer to the demise of the Swansea LGBT+ scene is yet to be known, but it seems clear (in my opinion at least) that a safe space is still needed for some under the LGBTQ+ umbrella, and it is our responsibility to provide that. It would be beautiful to see the Swansea LGBTQ+ scene rebirth as a modern and diverse scene, which genuinely caters for LGBTQ+ people, and everyone that comes under that umbrella, rather than just cis males.
Samuel Mann is a 2nd Year PhD Student in Economics (Researching Sexual Orientation and Economic Wellbeing) and LGBT+ Open Place officer for 2018/19