A Misguided Hate For The Straight

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.

Sam Mustafa

*Pseudonyms have been used to protect the privacy and anonymity of those interviewed.

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13 Comments on this post.
  • Alex O
    2 April 2012 at 20:11
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    Great article. It’s silly to segregate individuals because of their sexuality, and I mean that in both directions. Doing so can only serve as a barrier to overcoming prejudice and increasing understanding.

  • Oscar Watson
    3 April 2012 at 10:26
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    SOME of what’s discussed here could be called prejudice or even revenge for the treatment of gay people in str8 spaces for years. We had to FIGHT for our own spaces only to have their safety threatened by str8 aggression. So bleating that its “unfair” won’t hack it at least for me. Str8 people need to RESPECT lgbt space and understand they’re there as guests, not audiences to be entertained by the “antics” of lgbt people. I’m a big bloke who’s quite masculine I suppose, but if another pissed str8 woman approaches me in gay space and asks if I’m “really gay” or perhaps “haven’t met the right lass yet” she may get more than a slap!

  • Hanif Leylabi
    3 April 2012 at 12:29
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    The key thing for me is the power relations in society. LGBT people suffer institutional discrimination which results in things like poorer mental health, higher suicide/self harm rates, and legal barriers to equality like not being able to marry. LGBTphobia is all of these things put together. Just like black people are more likely to be worse off in education, poorer, and more like to be stopped and searched. All of these things together form racism.

    Raciam and LGBTphobia aren’t just bad words used against us. They are structural phenomenons with historical roots. So LGBTphobic, and racist language is a reflection of this really-existing structural discrimination. Discrimination which actually makes us more likely to kill ourselves. The same can’t be said for heterosexuals or white people.

    I have seen homophobia from straight people in LGBT venues. So long as homophobia exists, LGBT people will seek ‘safe spaces’ so they can express themselves.

    I personally believe that we can only beat LGBTphobia by allying with straight and cis people in wider progressive movements, like trade unions etc. I don’t think straight people are the enemy, and I don’t think the answer is to try and create a mini LGBT world where we can escape LGBTphobia. I think we need to confront it.

    But sometimes, you just want to relax, and go on a night out with your partner and not be afraid to hold their hand. And so long as LGBT people are beaten up and even murdered for simply being LGBT, I find it hard to understand how anyone can begrudge us wanting to maintain certain places where we feel safe.

  • Dave J
    3 April 2012 at 13:29
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    Oscar, I disagree with pretty much everything you’ve said. But what annoys me most is you using ‘str8’, instead of ‘straight’. Egads man, have a little respect for the language before you start advocating heterosexual apartheid.

  • Alex O
    3 April 2012 at 14:41
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    @Oscar Watson: I don’t think many, if any, hetrosexual people go to gay clubs/bars in order to be ‘entertained by the “antics” of lgbt people’ as you put it. The article never stated that that was the motive for doing so.

    I find your insistence upon using ‘str8’ as opposed to ‘straight’ rather odd.

    Finally, the final sentence of your comment in which you threaten any women questioning your sexuality with ‘more than a slap’, whether intended humorously or not, is worrying.

  • Tyler
    4 April 2012 at 17:36
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    I Think this whole topic is dangerous. Heterophobia is the desperation of a privileged majority to cry victim and declare that homophobia is no longer an issue because “look they can discriminate against us too”.

    Heterophobia merely facilitates a downplay of the very present risks of homophobia that see teenagers committing suicide every week.

    I think it is utterly worrying and smacks of the same uproar you’ll find in the daily mail every time a black person makes a comment that can be portrayed as racist against whites. The fact of the matter is that these instances are largely irrelevant whilst we live in a white dominated society. In much the same way, the issue of heterophobia will continue to be irrelevant until there is true gay equality and gay teens wont be killed because of who they are or wont be driven to killing themselves.

    The notion of not having gay bars also, is quite frankly laughable. Whilst not everyones cup of tea, they provide an environment free from the homophobia i’m sure many people in this group have experienced on a straight night out. Even if there was equality the idea would still be laughable because, lets be honest, people like getting with people and thats easy for lesbians and gays when they can assume everyone in the club is of the same orientation as them and not face a violent rebuttal should this prove not to be the case.

  • Ben McCabe
    4 April 2012 at 18:10
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    “Heterophobia is the desperation of a privileged majority to cry victim and declare that homophobia is no longer an issue because “look they can discriminate against us too”.”
    “The fact of the matter is that these instances are largely irrelevant whilst we live in a white dominated society.”

    I’m not sure I completely agree with your comments here. Are you making the point that because the majority of society is white and/or heterosexual (I’m pretty sure that race has nothing to do with sexual orientation) that majority cannot be discriminated against?

    I think that turning it into a ‘them and us’ debate is not necessarily the best thing for constructive debate on the subject. Whilst I completely agree that homophobia is by far the bigger problem – and there is a real need for big steps to be taken in our society to combat homophobic behaviour – I also believe that nobody should be discriminated against, whatever their race, religion (or lack of), sexual orientation or even if they should choose to dress in Gothic clothing – whether that person is part of a minority or a majority. If the demographic of the country was largely homosexual black Goths (just for argument’s sake) then would it be acceptable to discriminate against them simply because there were more of them? Of course not.

    I don’t think that the issue of heterophobia is irrelevant at all. If you are against homophobia then you should equally be against heterophobia – it is only fair and reasonable. It is like disarmament of countries – it is only unilateral if all sides take part.

    I do agree with you on the notion of gay bars though – that makes perfect sense.

    In all honesty, it’s about time we as a country grew up and stopped picking fights over petty differences like sexuality. Doubt it’ll happen anytime soon though, unfortunately.

    PS – Really not sure where race comes into it re: ‘white dominated society’. Not sure why being white would make people more homophobic…?

  • J Smith
    4 April 2012 at 19:10
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    I’m not sure about a misguided hate for the straight, perhaps just a misguided article altogether. Homophobia exists due to the fact that homosexuality is an attribute of a minority, which causes confusion and, to a certain extent, fear of said minority by certain individuals in the majority. Given that we all live in a heteronominative society it is ludicrous to suggest that LGBT people could be confused and/or fearful of heterosexuals in the same manner as homophobes, seeing as LGBT people have grown up surrounded by heterosexuality and therefore would never harbour the same feelings of disgust and hatred found among the latter.
    The sloppy use of the term ‘heterophobia’ will only detrimentally effect the ongoing efforts of the LGBT community who painstakingly strive for equality. This article simply gives anybody inclined to homophobia yet more ammunition by unjustly portraying the LGBT community as discriminatory through the selective use of quotations from interviews and dubious statistics. Perhaps despite the author’s intentions, I can’t help but feel that this article will worsen relations between LGBT and heterosexual readers for the pure sake of causing unnecessary controversy.

  • Sami
    4 April 2012 at 21:17
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    This is ridiculously privileged. It’s like when white people get in a tizz about not being able to use the word ‘nigger.’

  • Oscar Watson
    5 April 2012 at 10:05
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    I’m criticised for my use of LANGUAGE???? Well, let’s go the whole hog and insist on heterosexual, lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans. Challenge my argument- but my grammar? What I wrote is based on experience of both running and attending gay bars. I live in city where hotel staff tell their punters that “if they want a laugh” they should check out the nearby gay bars and the largest, latest club is gay, where door staff admit pissed groups of HETEROSEXUALS because bar income is more important than the safety of LESBIAN GAY BISEXUAL TRANS customers. Perhaps being black adds to my awareness of and anger against social privilege: I refuse to apologise for being pissed off by pissed people who spoil my nights off from living in a majority HETEROSEXUAL society.

  • Dave J
    5 April 2012 at 10:23
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    I’ve never got in a tizz about not being able to use the word nigger. Wait, did I just use it? ARRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHHHH*vapourises*

    Anyway. This is the sort of thing that really doesn’t bother me anymore. I personally think if gay clubs have a ‘no straight people’ policy then they lose out themselves, not just in terms of money but in terms of diversity and interest. But that’s the bar owners’ problem, not mine.

    If, as Halif says, gay people genuinely believe that they can’t relax anywhere but gay-exclusive ‘zones’, that’s quite the condemnation of society. There’s a difference between the debate over the right to marry, and genuinely feeling physically unsafe when you’re walking down the street. I’d be interested to know whether that’s a bit of hyperbole creeping in – it might be, seeming as he seems to associate being gay with being stopped and searched more often by the police (really?), and LGBT-phobia with white people, which seems a little bit unfair.

  • Tyler
    7 April 2012 at 12:18
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    Sorry Ben, I should of made the two examples more separate. Race doesn’t come into it at all I was just using race as another example to illustrate the point. I think the majority can be discriminated against but this will always be insignificant precisely because they are an overwhelming majority and have the institutional advantage (in the case of heterophbia for example it would be the overwhelming heteronormativity of our current society). I do agree that discrimination in any form is not acceptable.

  • Joseph
    23 September 2014 at 16:34
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    This article angers the hell out of me.
    There are endless venues around Nottingham for anybody to go and enjoy. There are probably five LGBT venues dedicated to providing a “scene” for LGBT people.
    Let’s just be truthful for a minute here. NG1 on any given night is now an absolute nightmare to navigate. The majority of straight clientel are in there because nowhere else is open in Nottingham that late.

    I’ve stopped going. The amount of homophobic remarks, dirty looks and actual physical threats of violence I have encountered in there over the past two years has been shocking. I’m a pretty burly bloke who can look after myself. A shy awkward 18 year old feminine lad wouldn’t stand a chance in NG1. As a gay man I feel less comfortable in this “gay” space than I do in a club that doesn’t claim to be gay….and I’ll tell you why. Because in non gay club no one is checking me, no one is honed in on my “gayness”. No one is judging me on my sexuality. In Ng1 past a certain point of the night 70-80% of the clientel is straight.
    Not your traditional “friends of gay people” straight. Steroided, coked up gangs of straight males in there to prey on women. Indeed most of the women in there past that point are there to be preyed on. a high percentage of these people seem to be “friends of the bouncers”. The amount of times ive been stood in the never moving queue in the cold as endless groups of lads with a nod and a wink stream straight in with a trail of girlfriends beggars belief.

    The entire article above is so hideously privileged an echoes many a comment I’ve had from certain women in NG1 who strutt about the place like princesses with no spacial awareness and manners, peacocking like they own the place.
    Put yourself in my shoes for a minute. Since this article has been published things have moved sooo far to the straight end of the scale that NG1 no longer advertises itself as a gay space. We’ve been downgraded to Gay Friendly.

    Some would argue this as a step forward. I disagree. When do we make all the other venues in town gay friendly? When am I free to kiss my boyfriend on the dancefloor in Oceana or Lloyds bar or Rock City. I’m not without fear of abuse.
    Why does the venue that LGBT have to be the venue that compromises it’s values and promise to a community. I would argue it’s a financial matter.
    They made a bed for themselves by opening their door. The more the rough straight crowd moved in the more the gay crowd moved out, through fear and persistent lack of respect. We opened our doors in the name of progress and now the things that protected us as a community are being used against us in pathetic articles like this. I’m not tarring everybody with the same brush. There are of course the straight crowd who need no label to seperate themselves. The good ones, the ones who get it and are supportive and friends who want to share a night out with you in a gay space. We’re not talking about those though are we. If you’re not out with gay friends why on earth would you want to be in a gay club?

    You should be really ashamed of yourself Sam Mustafa..and it seemed the trigger was kissing someone you love on the dancefloor. Welcome to the woprld of a gay person every in every single public space in the UK apart from Gay venues. There’s one less place for me to do that now. Enjoy your heterosexual privilege.

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