This vision has been developed by the Queer Spaces Network – an informal group of people from a wide range of backgrounds committed to supporting and developing LGBTQI+ spaces in London.
- London is one of the great global cities and it should also be a world-class queer city.
- However, in recent years, several factors have come together that threaten London’s vibrant LGBTQI+ (queer) community creating an urgent need for an effective policy response to maintain its integrity as a safe, respectful and supportive home for a community that remains acutely vulnerable to social exclusion.
- The queer community is inclusive of many different people who often express complex sexuality, sex and/or gender identities, but are united by the experience of social ‘othering’, where expression of these identities at home, at work, or in public can result in shaming, bullying, physical exclusion or harassment and violence.
- In response to these experiences, the queer community has developed a unique culture, expressed and nurtured in specific spaces which often act as sanctuaries, allowing freer expression of individuality and the sharing of common experience.
- The dynamic and fruitful experience of queer spaces is often difficult to replicate in other venues not designated for the purpose: it depends on an organic and fragile combination of social, cultural and urban factors.
- London falls behind many of its global peers when protecting and supporting the queer community, including in failing to provide a dedicated community space, unlike New York, Berlin, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
- Thus, queer spaces are important for the welfare and wellbeing of queer people in London and act as essential community spaces, especially as queer people have significantly worse mental health than the general population, which is likely exacerbated by the chronic experience of social othering.
- This includes high rates of anxiety and depression, self-harm and suicide. Young LGBT people are also significantly more likely to have attempted self-harm and considered suicide. Older queer people are more likely to be socially isolated. Without the right support, many queer people turn to alcohol or drugs to combat loneliness and the experience of shame, resulting in higher levels of harmful substance use.
- In recent years, the substantial rise in property prices and costs of private rental has resulted in speculative developers buying up queer spaces and attempting to convert them into more lucrative residential or retail units.
- Research conducted by UCL Urban Lab with the Queer Spaces Network and The Raze Collective, highlighted a recent intensity in closures of longstanding queer nightlife spaces, especially those for women and black and minority ethnic communities.
- Examples include The Black Cap in Camden, Madame JoJo’s in Soho and the Joiners Arms in Tower Hamlets (which have been closed) and The Royal Vauxhall Tavern (which has been bought by property developers whose plans remain unclear).
- High rental costs have exacerbated the significant problem of homelessness amongst queer young people (who make up 24% of young homeless people) and associated closure of queer spaces means less community support is available.
- Support for queer spaces is an issue that straddles the night time economy, protecting vulnerable minority groups, and promoting social integration.
- London should be a city with a thriving queer cultural scene, with spaces protected for queer culture through a supportive legislative and planning environment.
- All queer people should feel safe and secure, both in public and in dedicated spaces, with the ability to express their individuality without fear of negative discrimination.
- All queer people must be able to access relevant community support through equal access to queer spaces, and to achieve this the GLA must make queer culture a priority for the city, to support and promote a vibrant queer culture, and the empowerment of all queer people, with all the social and economic benefits this brings.
Actions for the GLA:
To achieve the above vision, we are asking the GLA to take the following actions:
- Designate all LGBTQI+ spaces pre-dating 1986, and others as determined through a process of research and community engagement, as legacy venues with protection against redevelopment, as per the model in San Francisco.
- Direct all local planning authorities to ensure no net loss of LGBTQI+ spaces year on year. We expect this will require support for an audit of existing LGBTQI+ spaces.
- Work with the LGBTQI_ community and local planning authorities to review their lists of designated and non-designated heritage assets to offer protection to suitable sites with LGBTQI+ heritage.
- Direct the Night Czar to hold quarterly surgeries dedicated to LGBTQI+ spaces to listen to the ongoing concerns of the community and monitor progress against this vision.
- Direct the Night Czar to engage with LGBTQI+ business owners to better understand their specific needs in terms of licensing, policing and interaction with local government.
- The GLA should commission joint research into better understanding the needs of the queer community in London; how LGBTQI+ people interact with public and private spaces; and what further action needs to be taken to improve the safety and wellbeing of queer people in London.