Has Acceptance and Diversity Been Lost in the Gay Village?

Iain North speaks openly about his perspective on Manchester’s Gay Village and what bringing together different communities from across the city could do for it

I read an article not so long ago referencing Manchester’s Gay Village. The author, Andrew Collier, described a Village that had once been an almost idyllic setting of progression and safety; one which, through my own perception and tinted idealism, was inclusive and accepting; one where you’d expect to find an eclectic blend of subcultures unified, but not defined by, their sexuality.

This is pretty much the image I had in mind when I excitedly planned to move to Manchester 7 years ago to study at university. In fact it was, secretly, the main reason I picked Manchester over my other potentials. My knees were trembling as much from the nervousness of leaving the family home cocoon, as they were from the excitement of experiencing a freedom to express that part of me that had become so angrily repressed throughout my teens. To be gone were the days sitting awkwardly in the room watching one of those ever controversial gay scenes on T.V., or the awkward moments when my parents would grill my brothers about current and previous girlfriends without addressing the luminous pink elephant that was, by this point, so large it practically protruded from the windows of the room. I was to be free to hang around with another bunch of people who had also probably felt a similar awkward isolation, all in one neat little village community. What could be better?

And I was free – at least, I felt free for a little while. I enjoyed what was on the surface: the cheap drinks, the busy student nights, and the chance to mingle in a community that felt, at least at a glance, accepting and diverse. I could be “me”.

“It hurts being rejected for not normalising by a community that prides itself on accepting the queer”

However it became more and more apparent that what I was enjoying was actually an idea I’d created of the Gay Village – an illusion, or at least, an augmentation of what was actually there, and consequently I started to get bored as I began to realise it wasn’t quite the diverse, accepting haven I once thought. I hardly ever felt I could go there with my straight friends as they felt unwelcome and the music was not to their taste. I have been rejected from gay clubs with the old “members only” line, which essentially means “sorry you don’t conform to our idea of gay people” and I’ll tell you it hurts being rejected for not normalising by a community that prides itself on accepting the queer. I apologise if this all sounds a bit dramatic, but it really started to feel like there wasn’t anything unifying beyond the fact that there existed a more dense population of gay people. To make matters worse, “the Gay Village has the ignominious title of winner of the most reported thefts and assaults in the 67 divisions of North Manchester” as Collier points out which he suspects may be a knock-on effect of the economic crash back in 2007, with bars loosening door policies, as well as the Village becoming a prime destination for flocking hen parties.

Thankfully, there are venues in the village that offer something a little different. The Molly House is exactly the kind of venue that I feel there should be more of in the Village: great food and drinks, lovely staff and an eclectic playlist. It feels like a bar that happens to have gay people in it, not something marketed around some offensive, corporate stereotype. Then there’s Taurus, which not only offers top-notch food and drinks, but is also one of the leading venues for fringe performance and theatre in Manchester. The tagline on their website reads: “situated in the heart of the Gay Village on Canal Street, Manchester, where the canal meets the community” which perfectly fits with the M20 event I’m helping to happen on 15 November.

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With the help of Taurus, I can start to contribute something towards change rather than bitterly moan, which is very liberating. This idea I’ve had for some time has been to bring more alternative/live music and arts to the Village, and something both the M20 Collective and LGF community organiser Polly Steiner have been more than happy to help initiate. The event is intended to be as much about simply sharing music as instigating a local cultural change and as such, everyone is welcome.

With gay nights happening outside the Village such as Rock Hard at Retro and the nights that used to happen at Legends before it was sadly closed down, it’s clear that there is a demand for alternative events for gay people (who knew?). So: why not bring it to the Village and make the place stand for the acceptance and integration that it once did?

Iain North

 

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2 thoughts on “Has Acceptance and Diversity Been Lost in the Gay Village?”

  1. I think the crime figures represent the area around canal st as well – I live further down princess st and the fifth avenue/factory/Joshua brooks are included in the canal st statistics, the police are called out regularly. I think also that many cc revellers congregate towards the village on their way home looking for taxis south or for something to eat – it seems strange to me to think that the village is more violent because its a gay area. Has our “tolerance” meant we welcome those that would take advantage? I worked in the village 2001-04 and found it to be the idyll you describe. Other marginalised groups frequented the village because nobody would stare or disturb them – deaf and dumb groups, any social background, any political alliance. We knew how to live and let live. But not everywhere in the village had a sense of egalité, some bars we never went to. And that is where the fallacy lies – the village is a group of pubs and clubs – businesses. These aren’t the heart of community. They have a duty, a need to survive financially. They create and serve certain niches in order to prosper, but they aren’t community. Community is us. We think that these pubs owe us something when they don’t. We demand so much but for no reason other than an entitlement. We are community. Community can thrive in some of these venues, some of us are business managers and generously build community into their venues, but that cant be our only hope, outlet and entitlement. Queerchester started a wonderful arts project this summer and I cant wait to see how that grows. It was amazingly supported by some village businesses, and it brought many together in a rewarding, genuinely pride felt way, but it started with one guy who has a passion and vision for promoting a grassroots gay community. We cant blame the businesses for what may be wrong in the village, not completely. We can blame ourselves for thinking that a village, a community should exist to give us what we want and need without putting anything back into it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good to see the new Taurus Live Events through M20. It is important people bring change to the Gay Village. There are great businesses and some really bad short termism business that do not care other what they can make in the moment. “Unthinking drinking” makes a banal Village and sometimes a dangerous one where it is easy for criminals to exploit (though many question the viability of the media/politically targeted Gay Village and where these crime figures actually include – such as indie clubs and bars nowhere near the area). The Village desperately deserves infrastructure other than drinking. Some of the Village is VERY stale and unimaginative.
    I do feel the Council has to do more and wonder whether the decline is convenient for a business area and transport infrastructure that a previous Councillor told me they saw the blue prints for. I’ve been called a ‘conspiracist’ by many, but something has been very lacking in terms of political effort for the area! An example is 10k for ten years worth of pride parades is a poor sponsorship.
    Leadership has too long been lacking as has ingenuity for the area and I would suggest that is an understatement politically. We started the Queerchester initiative and the first August Arts trail and I fundraised for Molly House wall. Queer We Are did an amazing alternative 5 days event over Pride as an alternative arts festival. More public arts must come soon. The more people stand up for the Village the better. It is all well and good to moan and for “uber cool” people to claim they are too ‘fantastic and fashionable’ to enter the area.
    There are so many issues that exacerbate this decline, troubles and diversity. Issues such as taxis, takeaways, non LGBT homeless charities, straight strip clubs, the failure of the community project via Locality and withdrawn, non continuance of funding, lack of drug ingredient testing policies for clubbers (like the Warehouse Project to stop gangs selling dirty street drugs) and visible policing. There are many civic issues like fair investment and urban planning, empty premises used for land speculation despite offering nothing to the community (40% off the Village empty) and other licensing issues make the area more vulnerable.
    It is great to see this new night and hopefully many more people can do live events, have aspirations and make inspirational community events for area. Criticism is necessary to identify how the area can overcome this impasse, not only caused by the recession, by many insidious influences. Glad to see M20’s new attempts and people will only help the Village if they get involved. Be prepared for critics but keep on keeping on anyway! There needs to be many people working to make the area better and no one initiative, group, leader or individual can do this alone. Co-operation, ideas and inspiration are key.

    Liked by 1 person

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