Comment: Who’s to blame for gay bars closing? (Spoiler: NOT US!)

After London gay bar Molly Moggs closed, one of its former staff asked if it was due to LGBT people not visiting enough. Rob Holley disagrees.

As a regular patron of Molly Moggs for over 15 years, and an activist, campaign organiser and London club night promoter, I cannot allow the idea that the LGBTQ+ community is in any way responsible for the pub’s closure to go unchallenged.

Former Molly Moggs staff member Kaye Crawford seems rightly sad and angry as yet another venue is snatched from LGBTQ+ people, particularly one of such significance. But I take exception to her take on the reasons why.

In her piece Kaye writes: “The Stag. The Green Carnation. Escape. Jojos. These have now been consigned to history and not because of cruel and ruthless developers but because of the LGBT community’s new intake of young queens and party goers who decided that what they really wanted was cheap booze, a meat market set in bland decor with Spotify for a DJ and Grindr for a companion.”

Comment: Who’s to blame for gay bars closing? (Spoiler: NOT US!)

If I’d had a pound for every time I’ve heard that during our ongoing battle to protect the Royal Vauxhall Tavern (RVT), I could have bought up every queer venue within the M25. This nonsense is many property developers’ smokescreen narrative. The new property developer owners of Molly Moggs must be laughing all the way to the bank!

No amount of pints and pork scratchings bought at the bar could compete against London’s property market, the stratospheric rents and deep pockets of property developers. Property developers want, and – this is crucial – need our community to buy into the idea that gay bars are relics of a bygone era, incapable of making money.

I’ve seen it played out first-hand in the fight, with my RVT Future colleagues, to protect the Tavern. One night I’d be DJing at one of the venue’s most popular nights, Push The Button, the entry queue snaking down the street – only to wake up the next day to read another statement from the Vienna-based property developing owners that “not enough people were using the venue”. Nonsense! The vast majority of London pubs (gay and straight) which close are commercially successful, but London’s crazy property market means converting the building into flats makes a bigger, quicker buck for their owners.

And as for dating apps… positioning Grindr as ‘competition’ to gay bars conveniently forgets that the vast majority of people using these apps go on dates in queer-friendly spaces like Molly Moggs. To say that Scruff is shutting gay bars is as absurd as suggesting that my cup of Nescafe will bring down Starbucks.

As for the need to have “our own” bars? LGBTQ+ people don’t always end up in their local wine bar for good reason. Acceptance in straight venues simply cannot be taken for granted. Hate crimes against LGBTQ+ people rose 147% in the three months following the EU referendum. This rise was proportionally and unexpectedly higher than that of violence against other groups such as ethnic minorities and foreign nationals. LGBTQ+ spaces were, are, and will continue to be essential.

It’s also particularly cruel to place any of the blame on younger queer people. I’d invite Kaye to pop down to venues the Royal Vauxhall Tavern, Her Upstairs or The Glory – you’ll find younger queer people storming the stage with everything from lip-sync battles and poetry, to avant-garde cabaret and Pokemon-inspired drag shows. These guys are losing the spaces we’d always taken for granted.

I’m not commercially naive. Nor am I against change, modernisation or sympathetic redevelopment. Of course there will be poorly-managed, grotty gay bars that shut down because they don’t move with the times. But for every one of those, there are ten pubs forced to close simply because they’re worth more to investors as flats.

We need to be clear: if there’s a steady stream of customers, then closure is no fault of the staff or the very customers packing out that pub. Ironically, the reason I didn’t spend more time in Molly Moggs is because there was never enough room! If a venue is operating at peak capacity, employing staff and entertainers, a well-run business that serves its local area, why isn’t this seen as an asset? Current legislation has little impact on unscrupulous landlords – pubs need much stronger protection.

Despite what people like Kaye seem to think, the closure of gay bars is not “inevitable”. The LGBTQ+ community is thriving and spending their hard-earned cash in queer spaces across the country. The RVT Future campaign saw hundreds of people contribute thousands of pieces of evidence to Lambeth Council last summer. When we asked our supporters to fund our legal and administration costs, the community donated £31,000 within two weeks.

There is no shortage of support for gay bars. There is, however, a glut of developers desperate to make a fast buck. Don’t buy into their nonsense – buy into your community instead.

We are currently on the hunt for benefactors to help us bring the Royal Vauxhall Tavern into community ownership, for more information email [email protected].

As with all comment, this does not necessarily reflect the views of PinkNews.