Your say / LGBTQ+ nightlife

‘Bristol’s LGBTQ+ nightlife deserves more funding’

By Andy Leake , Tuesday Mar 5, 2024

Bristol’s queer nightlife is facing an accessibility issue.

Costs of venue hire, artist booking, deposits have been exacerbated by the cost of living crisis,  leading to higher ticket prices. A lot of young, queer people who would be attending these events are then unable to go. For a lot of events, final release tickets can reach £20 or even £25, a high price for those on low income.

But this isn’t the fault of those putting on the events – indeed, profits from running these events are minimal. In fact, most queer events do make a point of making sure no one is turned away for lack of funds. If people cannot afford tickets, alternative arrangements can be made for people to attend. However, this can only be used for so many people, before events start to become unprofitable.

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This needs to change. Nightlife is a point of entry for many people into exploring their LGBTQ+ identities. The queer community is a historically discriminated against minority, with anti-queer and specifically anti-trans rhetoric on the rise across the UK, making these spaces more important than ever.

Bristol’s Ballroom community has found a way to create accessible spaces for the city’s queer people of colour – photo: Darren Shepherd

Queer venues and events are vital safer spaces for attendees to be able to dress how they like and have open conversations without fear of prejudice.

And we’re not talking about gay bars like OMG or Queenshilling, which some argue have been coopted by crowds of straight people.

I’m talking about underground queer nights, where the focus can be on arts like vogue ballroom performances and cutting-edge electronic music. Collectives in Bristol where this can be found include PLU, Conqueer, Crotch and Queerky, among others.

Photographs of the freedom allowed by Bristol’s queer nightlife were exhibited by Doozy Magazine in November 2023 – photo: Milo Kunkle

When I first moved to Bristol, discovering the more underground queer nights helped me to build the extensive network of friends I now have.

These spaces for LGBTQ+ people are vital to see free, artistic expressions of queerness and connect with like-minded people. I know I personally benefitted greatly from these spaces. A lot of my article pitches result from conversations I’ve had at Bristol’s queer-friendly nights.

Nightlife as a cultural asset

Nightlife is an important part of cultural heritage. It’s not just a space to release inhibitions, it’s a space for artists to express themselves and inspire a new generation of creatives.

In the last 12 months, over 100 independent clubs have closed across the UK. The cost of living crisis has led to a decline in the industry, and with this, the life-changing capabilities of LGBTQ+ nightlife cannot be underestimated.

Other cities in Europe are sitting up and taking this seriously. Starting from February 1 this year, Berlin’s Senate Department for Culture and Europe introduced the Jugendkulturkarte (youth culture card). This gives the city’s youth, aged between 18-23 an allowance of €53 to spend across Berlin’s cultural landscape.

The card is valid across Berlin’s museums, theatres and nightclubs – including Schwuz – one of Germany’s oldest queer nightclubs.

Queer nightlife has been recognised as a part of Berlin’s cultural landscape that needs to be supported. With similar funding or initiatives, Bristol’s LGBTQ+ nightlife can continue to grow.

Bristol’s drag scene has developed in the past few years thanks to collectives including Femmegeddon, Slaughterhaus and The House of Savalon – photo: Charley Williams

Bristol’s queer scene can continue to flourish

Bristol’s queer nightlife landscape has exploded since Covid restrictions eased. Countless new collectives are springing up, filling every niche required to create an array of welcoming spaces to all members of the queer community.

Bristol is becoming known for its growing queer scene, including gaining recognition from renowned London queer nights including Queer House Party and Pxssy Palace, who both visited Bristol for pop-up LGBTQ+ club nights.

Studies have found that young, queer people are more likely to work in low-paying jobs, either within the creative industries or jobs in sectors such as hospitality and retail, while working freelance roles within the arts. Therefore, it’s not a demographic with large sums of money.

One of Bristol’s longest running queer event runners, PLU, recently announced they’d be ending their club nights – photo: @peoplelikeusdj

Whether LGBTQ+ club nights are profitable or not is a constant gamble. A large sum of money is invested into the night, with the hope that it balances out. As soon as these profits don’t balance out, the club night is no longer profitable.

The vulnerability of the LGBTQ+ scene

On all sides of the spectrum, from running events to the attendees, there is just not a huge amount of money available in LGBTQ+ nightlife.

The important cultural heritage of queer nightlife needs to be recognised. It is within queer nightlife that drag blossomed into a now globally influential art form. Performance styles like vogue have taken centre stage on shows like Pose. Fashion trends have evolved and been altered within LGBT+ club spaces.

And queer nightlife is necessary for people of all ages and backgrounds to explore and express their identities.

It is for all of these reasons that I believe money needs to be invested in Bristol’s queer nightlife. Current prices for events are unaffordable, and need subsidising. Investment could come through the national government, the local council, the Arts Council or other crowdfunding methods.

In the same way we fund galleries and museums, queer nightlife represents a growing and integral part of Bristol’s identity and it should be funded as such.

Andy Leake is Bristol24/7’s LGBTQ+ Editor. If you have a story you think Andy should tell, email [email protected].

Main photo: Matt Hickmott

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