Another elephant in the room discussion

About the event

What better way to celebrate lesbian visibility than to get all nostalgic for a club that closed 36 years ago, whilst conscientiously avoiding the fact that no lesbian clubs exist anymore?

The main reason lesbian clubs have closed is undoubtedly because gender identity activists insisted that they be inclusive of men. These spaces were mostly very tiny places, like the Glass House in Euston (literally just a room), or the Candy Bar (you could stand with your arms out and touch both walls), or once a month on a Sunday, but they did get custom. Once you stick men into such tiny spaces though, women simply won’t return, and I suspect this is true of lesbians who think themselves fully inclusive of transbians too. Club organisers and business owners were threatened and the spaces simply couldn’t be sustained.

To mark Lesbian Visibility Week, we are delighted to invite you to join Queer Britain and DIVA magazine for a fascinating online event.

Queer Britain, in partnership with DIVA magazine, presents The Gateways. 

From the 1930s to the ’80s, The Gateways club was one of the most important cultural hotspots for lesbian and bisexual women, attracting a heady mix of clientele including artist Maggi Hambling, singer Dusty Springfield and film star Diana Dors. It featured in the iconic 1968 film, The Killing of Sister George.

Chaired by House of Pride’s Co-Founder, Alex D’Sa and featuring Gate’s patrons, Trudy Howson and DJ Ritu, together with Lucie Warrington and Jacquie Lawrence, producer and director of a forthcoming film about the club, there will be an opportunity to put your questions to them during the event.

From Eventbrite blurb

About the hosts

Queer Britain is a charity involved in setting up a ‘LGBTQ+ museum’ – dread to think what their + exhibitions might entail.

A charity working to establish the UK’s first national LGBTQ+ museum, a place as exciting as the people, stories and ideas it explores and celebrates. It will be an essential place for all regardless of sexuality or gender identity, to find out about the culture they have been born into, have chosen or seek to understand. It will help complete the Nation’s family tree.

Blurb from Queer Britain’s website

What does ‘culture they have been born into’ mean? There’s a bar and club scene, and that’s about it. Or in the case of lesbians, not even that anymore.

DIVA is a terrible magazine which describes itself as ‘the leading brand for LGBTQI women and non-binary people’ and is owned by Linda Riley, who also owns the Jack the Ripper museum in the East End. Can I believe my eyes but Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, a woman who is nominated annually at the DIVA awards (Linnielove’s junket for her frens), is in this month’s Lesbian Visibility edition. It also ‘features’ Sandi Toksvig. How does DIVA manage to turn a profit with such paltry offerings?

About the panel

Alex D’Sa from House of Pride was the chair of the discussion. She set up House of Pride because she was concerned about the lack of spaces for queer women to meet and wants to rectify this. The project focuses on ‘non-binary and queer women’ – two completely interchangeable categories which could apply to all combinations of straight, gay, male and female.

DJ Ritu runs Club Kali, open to everyone who is LGBTQ+ (so everyone basically). She also has a radio career. Club Kali’s most recent tweet at the time of writing is presented below without comment.

Trudy Howson is the LGBT poet laureate, a post created by Camden’s LGBT Forum (yet another LGBT community charity with an incredibly thin presence and I wonder which of her mates is on it). She has held that lofty position since 2016 and is expected to churn out poems on all the relevant LGBT themed days. So a full time job in other words. She is also co-chair for Westminster LGBT Community Forum which is sponsored by Westminster Council and has police involvement. The Gateways was the first lesbian club Howson ever went to.

Lucie Warrington, the producer of the documentary The Gateways.

Jacqui Lawrence, is also producer for the documentary, and has worked extensively in TV production. She is also Creative Director for DIVA MEDIA GROUP. Lawrence says she is committed to making lesbians more visible. She is married to Dawn Airey, something of a bigwig in the media sector.

All of the women introduced themselves by telling us that their pronouns were she/her. Pathetic.

The discussion

I hate nostalgia but even worse is people faking it. I have never heard of this club, although admittedly it does precede me somewhat.

The Gateways club opened in 1933 and closed in 1985. Of the women present only Howson had had been a regular and DJ Ritu had visited it twice – once extremely briefly and then its closing party. Which doesn’t exactly recommend it as a place of fun.

The club itself was described as a very small, smokey and cliquey – so much like every other lesbian club that has ever existed basically, so hardly unique. Women found out about it largely by word of mouth. If I have understood correctly it ran a strict dress code where women had to dress either butch or femme, so basically you had to abide by gender norms and couldn’t just be yourself, which seems a strange thing to celebrate now.

Warrington who had started the ball rolling on making the documentary had only heard about The Gateways through a friend who was the son of one of the women who ran the club. She had planned to make a documentary short, but apparently a post on Facebook had generated a lot of feedback and memories, so it will now be a documentary feature.

Lawrence asked why such a documentary had not been made before and bemoaned the fact that gay men’s history is always given more prominence than lesbian history but then admitted that as a TV producer she had been responsible for such decisions herself. Oops! Lawrence said that there had recently been a fightback against lesbians because they had appropriated gay history – does anyone know what she is referring to? The only appropriation I can think of is Paula and Chelle becoming Paul and Chay.

Lawrence was also not happy that lesbians had not featured in the recent retrospective look at the decriminalisation of homosexuality, although she admitted that the laws didn’t apply to sexual acts between women. Which would explain that then.

Lawrence also wanted to tell trans lesbians stories. A famous lesbian had agreed to narrate the documentary I gather. I bet it’s that awful Miriam Margoyles. I can’t stand her.

The documentary sounds as if it will be heavily borrowing from Jill Gardiner’s book about the club but that she won’t be receiving any credit. How’s that for community spirit?

Alex D’Sa said that her company House of Pride was due to publish a survey at the end of the week about what non-binary and queer females wanted from their ‘lifestyle spaces’. I did the survey, which everyone can answer regardless of sex or sexual orientation. The clear aim of the survey is to identify those who would be prepared to pay money to join a private member’s club. Currently it was split 50/50 between those who wanted to pay and those who didn’t. Isn’t it strange how intersectionality just doesn’t extend to people who aren’t rich?

D’Sa wanted to know what other panel members thought about the (non-existent) state of the scene. The older lesbians on the panel said in the past you could easily go to a different club every night and went into quite a bit of detail about these – the Ace of Clubs, the Drill Hall, Fallen Angel, and so on. You might expect fewer spaces with the advent of the internet, but for all of them to disappear? None of them had any ideas why these clubs and bars, once so popular, had disappeared completely. Or rather they did, but pretended not to.

Question and Answer

Predictably this went straight to concerns about intersectionality.

Would people of colour be represented in the documentary?
Given the club existed for most of its history at a time when the country was even more white majority than it is now, it should be totally unsurprising that most of the memories will be from mostly white women. However, a special effort will be made to ask a Vietnamese regular to contribute to the documentary. Ritu reflected that when she went to clubs in the 80s she was often the only one from a black ethnic background in the room and put this down to unfriendliness, rather than cultural and religious taboos and coming from an ethnic minority.

Did the club have working class clientele?
Howson confirmed that there was a good mix of social classes at the club. Phew!

It was good that trans lesbians had been acknowledged earlier in the webinar, but no mention of bisexual women had been made. Would the documentary recognise bisexual women, or had they been ‘erased’?
Warrington said of the talking heads she had put together so far, none had identified as bisexual. Boo! Howson assured the questioner that plenty of married women visited the place. Hooray!

Final comments – more lesbian visibility needed

Howson said that things hadn’t changed at all since then (presumably 1985) until now. We needed to stick together as women. I found this a spectacularly disingenuous comment. There are lesbian celebrities, lesbian MPs and plenty of lesbians who are out in roles in the corporate world. It’s a complete sea change from the eighties. These people never want to give up the victim narrative.

Lawrence told us that women in the broadcast industry had had enough of lesbian invisibility and so they were working with MP Hannah Bardell (SNP) and they had just launched an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) to investigate the lack of representation and misrepresentation of lesbians in the media and the entertainment industries. The launch meeting was on Friday and the media partner would be DIVA.

I wonder what progress they will make on lesbian visibility when, by their own criteria, Caitlyn Jenner, former TV/sports personality, looks set to become the most prominent ‘lesbian’ politician in the world.

A few weeks after the event the recording of the webinar was posted – here.

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