You’re in a queue, tiptoeing towards the main entrance of a bar. As the door opens to permit entrance to the gaggle ahead, you catch a glimpse of green lasers and a few lines of the latest track. “ID please”. You know the drill. You retrieve it from your pocket and gingerly pass it to the bouncer, who stares at the photo that had been taken when you were 17. The bouncer’s eyes glance over your 21-year-old self like razors. An awkward silence is broken by a snigger escaping from the corner of his mouth. “Do you know where you are? Have you been here before? Your type isn’t welcome here.”
A new form of discrimination is on the rise, which is threatening the incredible progress made towards equality by LGBT campaigners. In a survey conducted in 2011, to which over 400 people responded, ‘heterophobic’ incidents were reported to have occurred from Blackpool to Brighton, including the LGBT Meccas of London and Manchester as well as our very own Nottingham, which in the past few years has developed a thriving gay scene around the Lace Market and surrounding areas. Heterophobia can be defined as discrimination towards those that identify themselves as heterosexual. But is this just a case of tit-for-tat – a backlash against a heteronormative society that has barraged the LGBT community with homophobic abuse? Or does heterophobia constitute something more – another wedge, which serves to segregate communities, perpetuate an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality and prevent mutual understanding and accession of equal rights for all? Or does a hate for the straight simply not exist?
In a survey conducted by Impact, 78.6% of people stated that it is wrong to refuse an LGBT person entry to a ‘straight’ or ‘mainstream’ nightclub. However, in comparison, only 67.1% of people believe that it is wrong to refuse entry to a heterosexual person to a ‘gay’ nightclub. This 11.5% difference in these figures would paradoxically suggest that heterosexuals are more tolerant of LGBT sexualities rather than the other way round. But what is the reasoning behind this?
Elliott Reed, the University of Nottingham’s LGBT Officer, believes that there needs to be “an exclusivity to some [LGBT] events” in order to create safe spaces for “individuals who only feel comfortable being themselves around other gay people.” He recognises the fine line between protecting Nottingham’s gay students from homophobia and the exclusivity of LGBT events to the extent of becoming heterophobic. Hence, he has implemented events such as the Not-so-queer Café, an informal forum for students of all sexual orientations that allows them to socialise and learn about others’ sexualities, bridging the gulf of understanding and symbolising the importance of integration.
However, a double standard does seem to persist. Derogatory terms such as “breeders”, which are used to describe straight people, are commonplace jibes thrown around carelessly. Similar to any offensive homophobic term, it perpetuates a damaging attitude of disgust, which is arguably what the LGBT community has been trying to escape with its fight for equal rights. Now, these hypocritical sentiments have manifested themselves in bars and nightclubs. Propaganda in Nottingham’s chic Lace Market area has gone from strength to strength since opening over two years ago. Yet, some people have labelled the bar’s clientele as “really heterophobic” and that certain bouncers there “regularly refuse entry to people because they’re straight.” Arguably, if the situation were reversed, it would have provoked mass criticism from the LGBT community and in an age of putative equality, the same should apply to heterosexuals. Jane* told Impact that she and her boyfriend had gone to Propaganda with a group of gay friends. “When my boyfriend and I shared a kiss on the dance floor, the bouncer approached us and said that if we were drunk enough to do that, we were drunk enough to leave.” Propaganda also operates a ‘membership only’ policy, which some people believe to be a device used to exclude heterosexuals from known gay bars. Representatives for Propaganda were unavailable to comment and did not respond to numerous requests for interview.
Louise Kelly, Information Officer for the LGBT charity Stonewall, states that, “The Equality Act 2010 protects people from discrimination on the basis of their sexuality and this includes heterosexual people,” suggesting that methods such as membership schemes could be a façade implemented to evade the nitty-gritty of the law.
Other bars have asked customers “to prove they are gay” on entrance. This highlights how an unhealthy and exaggerated obsession with segregation has caused conflicts between people from within the LGBT community. Ironically, the concept of asking someone to prove their sexuality gives rise to a new form of homophobic self-mockery, as it is based on the archaic notion that LGBT individuals fit conventional gay stereotypes. In short, the heterophobic anxiety of certain bars causes them to internalise homophobic traits and not celebrate the individuality and difference of their clientele; be they gay or straight.
Fortunately, not all ‘gay’ venues take this approach. Former employee of gay nightclub NG1, Joshua*, says that during his time there “somebody was employed to ask every person on the door their orientation and the results showed that between 11pm and 2am around 80% of customers were LGBT and then from 3am-6am around 70% were straight.” Despite this odd method, no one was refused entry. The exercise was simply carried out to assess NG1’s audience. As the most popular and successful gay venue in Nottingham, NG1 profits from its attempts at cohesion and takes advantage of over 80% of people surveyed who said that, regardless of their sexuality, they would be happy to have a night out at a gay club. Nevertheless, Joshua points out that he doesn’t think the employment process “was always particularly fair” and that during his time working at the club “two straight guys came and left” and were “mocked” for their sexuality, which implies that heterophobic attitudes have disturbingly started to seep into the workplace as an accepted form of ‘office banter’.
Nearly 70% of people surveyed believe that bars should not cater towards a clientele of any specific sexuality and it is important that we rid ourselves of this illusory construct that prevents us from mixing and understanding others’ lifestyles. Heterophobia as a reaction to homophobia only serves to widen the gap between people of different sexual orientations, which is counter-intuitive to the progress made for balance and peace. Heterophobia will only serve as another obstacle for us to overcome in the accession of equal human rights. Integration and acceptance are key and whilst many may currently be of the opinion that this is too idealistic or even unrealistic, in my book, two wrongs don’t make a right.
*Pseudonyms have been used to protect the privacy and anonymity of those interviewed.