Updated: Friday, 23rd August 2019 @ 11:02am

‘Heterophobia’ or innocent mistake? Manchester sociology lecturers wade in on Canal Street door policy debate

‘Heterophobia’ or innocent mistake? Manchester sociology lecturers wade in on Canal Street door policy debate

Exclusive by Danielle Wainwright

‘Sorry guys you can’t come in’… a phrase heard often by thousands of eager Manchester clubbers who fall victim to ‘door policies’ that can see you rejected solely on your clothing faux-pas.

Yet, MM reporter Ben Moran’s opinion piece claimed that some Canal Street venues appeared to be not letting people in based on them 'not looking gay enough' – seeing both straight and gay people being rejected by door staff.

His article blasting some Gay Village door staff was met with support from clubbers who themselves had been told 'sorry members only tonight', but was slammed by others. 

And following his controversial comments, two Manchester University sociologists have waded in on the argument expressing their issues with Ben's article and some readers' comments.

Dr Paul Simpson, gender and sexuality lecturer, described some readers' comments as ‘venomous’ and blames violence from heterosexuals in the village for Canal Street’s very strict door staff policies.

“I fully support LGBT people's concern about possible violence mainly from young heterosexual men but also the symbolic violence from heterosexual visitors that stems from more ingrained, habitual homophobia,” he said.

“This kind of violence can be expressed quite routinely through particular glances, 'tourists' who go to have a look at the gays and trannies, as well as statements assuming that LGBT people fall short of the heterosexual norm or benchmark of full human status.

“If heterosexuals enter this space, they need to behave respectfully - many do so but this is not guaranteed. This is why we still need some safe spaces in the village where we can feel relaxed as lesbians or gay men or bisexuals or trans.

“This is separatism as a necessary means of relaxation and time-off from the heterosexual gaze but falls short of pointless, injurious separatism.”

Yet Dr Simpson believes that segregating the village would be a disaster for campaigners and gay rights activists who work tirelessly to abolish homophobia.

“I look forward to the day when there is really no need for the village or Pride parades and we can safely socialize and express affection anywhere regardless of sexuality.

"Because of ingrained homo/lesbo/bi/transphobia, there is lot of work to be done to educate heterosexuals before we can say we are anywhere the point where gayness is as consequential as being left-handed.

“In my experience, many heterosexuals I meet think they are avoiding homophobia simply by being nice to us and many are either very defensive or else just don't get that they can express prejudice through assumptions and habitual behaviour."

Dr Simpson’s colleague Andrew Balmer, sociology lecturer at the University of Manchester, shares similar sentiments on ‘segregation’ and firmly dismisses the idea of keeping the gay village for the LGBT community only.

“I don’t think it would be appropriate or even possible to control the Village community to that degree,” he said.

"The financial and cultural success of the village is certainly down, in part, to its openness and inclusiveness of all sexualities and indeed other social groups.

“It never has been and never could be a ‘members only’ area because it’s part of the city that belongs to everyone. Some bars manage a certain image and so the door policies try to reflect that, just like in the city centre some bars have a dress code.

“I think that it is sensible to try to keep the village as inclusive as possible, but important to maintain a safe and celebratory place for minority LGBTQ people.

Mr Balmer points out that all clubs, whether in the Gay Village or not, follow a door policy to eliminate the risks of violence or abuse, however he states that sometimes door staff ‘get it wrong’ which should be limited but ‘not completely overcome’.

“I suspect that even if there wasn’t an official door policy intended to judge sexuality it would still be implicitly there. Door staff have to make quick decisions and a lot of that will be based on their instinctive intuitions about a range of factors, including riskiness, sobriety, image, and – I imagine – sexuality,” he said.

“A good comparison would be to the way in which some gyms and swimming pools have ‘ladies only’ times or areas because of the way in which gender discrimination and social norms around women’s bodies make gyms and swimming pools places of potential exclusion for women. It isn’t ideal but it is important given the current status of our social relations.”

Dr Simpson added: “I do feel for bouncers who have to make snap decisions on the basis of superficial criteria - how someone presents themselves.

“They are bound to make mistakes and they get the flak if anyone is offended by refusal.

“But, Ben Moran's treatment by the G-A-Y bouncer was inexcusable and indicates that bouncers need gender and sexuality equality training to move their understanding beyond stereotypes. Or else they could just behave more graciously.”                         

But both sociologists have vehemently protested of Moran’s take on ‘heterophobia’ claiming that heterosexual people have little knowledge of LGBT history and the injustice that have befallen homosexuals such as blame for the AIDs epidemic.

“I disagree with the ludicrous statement about 'heterophobia'. Whilst we still have a lot to be angry about given a long history of mistreatment I don't think I've encountered in my 35 years on the gay scene, LGBT people who despise or would discriminate against heterosexuals,” he said.

“Some straight people who go there get off on claiming how tolerant they are towards LGBT people but they often lack any real understanding of the continuing difficulties we face."

Mr Balmer added: “The argument that it wouldn’t be acceptable to have a bar called STRAIGHT that only let in people based on if they looked straight so it isn’t acceptable to have a bar called GAY that only lets people in if they look gay would not be the same as a straight bar with the official policy of excluding gay people.

"That’s because straight people never have been and are not now marginalised for their sexuality, whereas gay people have long been so and continue to be excluded.”

Image courtesy of Gene Hunt via Flickr, with thanks.

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