LGBT+ venues just about survived the first lockdown – a second could be fatal. The government must take action before it’s too late

Justine Greening campaigns to save LGBT+ venues after lockdown

Justine Greening, former Minister for Women and Equalities and the UK’s first openly gay female cabinet minister, writes for PinkNews on the importance of safeguarding LGBT+ venues amid the ongoing pandemic.

Back in June, I called on the government to put in place specific protections and funding for LGBT+ spaces, which have been so badly impacted by coronavirus.

Since then, venues have had all of the costs associated with re-opening and have then been forced to operate on reduced hours with the new curfew rules.

The iconic Royal Vauxhall Tavern in London summed up the position of LGBT+ spaces in the capital and beyond perfectly, saying: “We’re reduced to a four-hour window but our overheads are astronomical.

“The venue’s downstairs capacity has fallen from 140 to 75, and income is down by 65 per cent.”

This would be a difficult time for any business, but for one of Britain’s oldest and most esteemed LGBT+ venues, the picture is particularly bleak.

The government must take the lead and protect LGBT+ venues in London and beyond, says Justine Greening.

Earlier this month, mayor of London Sadiq Khan approved £128,500 in sector-specific grants for LGBT+ businesses in the city, to help rescue the venues hardest hit by the pandemic.

These spaces matter more than most. They’re often some of the only places where people from our community come together.

Imagine a young person coming to terms with their sexuality – these venues are the only place you’re likely to meet people just like you.

Research from UCL and Sussex University showed that lockdown has provoked a mental health crisis among the LGBT+ community, with 69 per cent of respondents suffering depressive symptoms and the LGBT Foundation’s helpline received 25 per cent more calls during lockdown.

I suspect this is the tip of the iceberg for the impact of lockdown on our community and the effects will be felt for many years to come, which underlines the importance of these spaces for our community to come together.

British former Conservative Party politician Justine Greening. (Supplied)

British former Conservative Party politician Justine Greening. (Supplied)

We have made progress since the launch of Together Tomorrow in June, but there is much more work to be done.

The mayor of London has put in place a short term package of support for London based venues like the RVT – but it is venues in smaller cities and towns across the country which are the lifeline that isolated LGBT+ people need.

These venues have had little in terms of financial support and are now being hammered by a tightening of restrictions. These venues have just about survived the first lockdown but a second could end up being fatal for far too many venues.

The government must now take the lead, rolling out a similar grant scheme across the country.

Throughout this crisis, I have said we need bespoke solutions to the unique challenges we face. Grants for these venues will not only protect these spaces for future generations of LGBT+ people but will also protect thousands of jobs.

We find ourselves at a unique moment in the history of the LGBT+ movement and community.

On the road to equality, there’s so much more progress that needs to be made, but these cultural assets will be lost forever without further and continued support for our hospitality and cultural industries, so let’s make sure we also keep working to protect what we already have – that matters too.