Thursday 20 June 2013

In/accessible Europe (5): Glasgow Gay Nightscene

Last year I blogged on disabled in/accessibilty in Manchester's Gay Village. Manchester City Council are not interested in determining what venues in Manchester are accessible, whether for its own residents or for (potential) tourists. Manchester's main LGBTI organisation, The Lesbian & Gay Foundationis similarly disinterested, although they have given me the opportunity to write about the issue for them. With one in eight folk in the UK being disabled, one can but assume in the absence of any research that one in eight of Manchester's population, that one in eight queer folk are also disabled. Businesses and thus taxpayers are losing out on a mainly untapped market. Disabled folk's lives are diminished by not being able to fully participate. And this is despite it being eighteen years since the original Disability Discrimination Act was introduced in 1995.

The following is a reblog with permission from the author Rob McDowall of LGBT Network. It highlights related issues in Glasgow's LGBT service industries.

[Image description: gay rainbow flag background; international disabled symbol on top.]

Is being LGBT and disabled: The final taboo?

You may have heard of the story of Robert and Nathan Gale who were refused access to Glasgow’s Polo Lounge on 14th June due to Robert being in a wheelchair. The couple decided to attend the gay club to celebrate after winning an award at the Scottish Charity Awards for their work on the Scottish marriage equality campaign and soon discovered the door staff and manager had other ideas.

Glasgow’s gay scene is dominated by one organisation with the lion’s share of the most well-known and well attended gay bars being owned by millionaire businessman Stefan King’s G1 Group. Aside from the usual consideration of lack of competition some believe there can be positives in marketplace domination which can result in cheaper prices for the customer due to the stronger buying power the establishment wields. Having lived and socialised in Glasgow for the last twelve years I have noticed the increasing grip that G1 has on Glasgow’s gay scene and have seen the prices rise, choices reduced and the ‘shut up or stay out’ attitude flourish. Gone are the days when complaints are seen to provide an opportunity for improvement and when the business will take great care and attention to ensure the customer is happy. In Glasgow many gay people are only too aware of the hasty sanctions dished out by G1 managers for daring to write a letter or email of complaint.

As someone who lives in chronic pain following a horse-riding accident as a child, I use a crutch most of the time and can find it very difficult on a bad day to ascend and descend stairs. It is equally difficult to try and squeeze into a small cubicle while keeping my foot against the door due to the broken or absent locks within the Polo Lounge toilets. I refuse to stand at the urinal due to the two-way mirror to the right of the urinals which would give anyone walking into the toilet clear sight down the line of urinals. Happy to report however that the growing disgust over the two-mirrors in the female toilets of G1’s Shimmy club has led to the two-way mirror in Polo Lounge’s male toilets being covered up with a black vinyl and gold material—not very fetching, but it serves its purpose

In my capacity as Chair of the LGBT Network, I was contacted by three disabled patrons in April who reported similar entry refusals at Polo and I put pen to paper and sent a complaint letter to Polo Lounge and G1’s head office. Needless to say I am still awaiting a substantive reply. In what I have come to expect typical G1 standard operations my follow up emails, letter and telephone calls have failed to raise any reply at all, let alone a satisfactory one. G1 are no strangers to controversy; as mentioned above the Shimmy Club attracted widespread repulsion at the revelation that men could hire out a room which featured a two-way mirror facing into the women’s toilets and since the news broke Glasgow City Council have imposed a week long closure order by suspending the club’s liquor license for putting women and teenagers at risk from “predatory behaviour”. In April 2010 a blind musician was told she wouldn’t be allowed into G1’s Underground nightclub in Dundee because the club’s insurance “did not cover blind people” and her cane was “too dangerous” for other patrons.
The LGBT community are marginalised enough in a hetero-normative society and many seek a safe and courageous space where they can be themselves without any pressure, we are told, to confirm or to adhere to societal ‘norms’. Gone are the days of the dark, dismal and shoddy clubs that only the regulars knew about with entrances at the bottom of alleyways replaced by glitzy and glamorous, ‘loud and proud’ establishments with glamorous promotions, street PR teams and pride flags standing proudly above doorways. One only has to look to Manchester or Soho to see the influence the LGBT community have had on the area in which they live and socialise. Parts of the Merchant City is to Glasgow what Canal Street is to Manchester; a collection of ‘gay’ or ‘gay friendly’ pubs and clubs within a well-defined area. Glasgow currently has nine licensed premises which define as ‘gay’ or ‘gay orientated’ with all of them being within a 10 minute walk of Glasgow Central and Queen Street stations. In addition to the main ‘gay’ nightspots a number of establishments dotted within most areas of the city are very non-specific and offer a welcoming and tolerant nightclubbing or beer swilling experience to heterosexual and the LGBT communities alike.
You may imagine that with the Stonewall riots etched into our memories and years of blatant homophobia, intolerance and hate that ‘gay’ pubs and clubs would throw open their doors and welcome the LGBT community, in all their shapes and forms, with open arms… well, you would be wrong! Image is everything and, regardless of the labels we wear, intolerance is all too rife within the LGBT community especially when it comes to socialising in an LGBT orientated nightspot and you happen to be disabled. Disability is a label which comes in all sizes and fonts and some people identify as disabled while others don’t. It is a label like all others and it’s one which in one respect may improve one’s life with regards the ability to secure the support, care and assistance one needs to play a full part in society but is one which all too often can be used to hit one over the head and create division and barriers to the enjoyment and living of life. Disability is a reality for someone living as a disabled person and disabilities come in all shapes and sizes… gone are the disability registers and Hello is the Equality Act with its very open and legalistic definition of a disability and who may be treated as a ‘disabled person’ in law. Accessibility, or in the cases highlighted above, the lack thereof, is a major point of consideration for any disabled person when choosing where to visit and when, and while where your friends prefer going is important, for a disabled person the existence or absence of a ramp, accessible bathroom and wider doorways for access and egress may be the deal breaker. After one too many beers or shots many of us may end up crawling at the end of the night but who would expect to start their night by having to demonstrate their ability to convey themselves from point A to point B while causing themselves pain, discomfort, and probable embarrassment by crawling across the floor like Robert Gale in the Scotsman article mentioned above. It isn’t my idea of fun and I’m pretty confident it wasn’t Robert’s or his doting partner’s either.
Prejudice exists in all factions in society and is class, race and gender blind and sprawls across all territories and countries throughout the world. The presentation of prejudice may change from one region or country to another but the premise is the same and the effects on the victim and society are comparable. I am not a crazy far-left liberal who wants to create an ‘adopt a disabled person’ day or mandate for the compulsory closing of non-accessible establishments, all I am asking for Is for planning, common sense and compassion when it comes to accessibility and making reasonable adjustments for disabled patrons. I feel it is perfectly reasonable for a multimillionaire businessman to make adaptations to the building at the Polo Lounge which actually houses three G1 ‘gay’ establishments (or four if you count the club within a club) with all but one of them sharing the same toilet facilities.
I raised Robert’s and Nathan’s experience with the Equality and Human Rights Commission in Scotland and their Head of Legal told me ‘There is a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people when providing goods, facilities or services. What can be considered “reasonable” will vary depending on the circumstances, but service providers must anticipate the needs of disabled people and ensure they meet the law. Every effort should be made to make the business/service as inclusive as possible.
‘A disabled person should never be made to feel humiliated or disenfranchised by the behaviour of a service provider. Unfortunately the truth is that not all services or buildings are accessible to disabled people, but at the very least everyone should be afforded basic dignity and respect.’
The building housing the Polo Lounge at 84 Wilson Street, Glasgow is a Grade A listed building and while the Equality Act 2010 and its predecessor the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) does not override other legislative provisions in relation to making adaptations to listed buildings and those businesses occupying listed buildings are still required to make the necessary adaptations to comply with the Equality Act. Service providers are required to make the necessary application to the relevant local authority, in this case Glasgow City Council for consent to carry out the adaptations required to bring the facilities to a compliant standard. While G1 may assert that their occupation of a Grade A listed building would prevent them from making any substantial changes to the fabric of the building, this would be a defence of convenience and unless permission from the council has been sought and refused then the defence asserted becomes transparent.
I trust that with the media spotlight on G1 again, that Stefan King will take this opportunity to put things right and will properly engage with and listen to the often silent members of the disabled LGBT community most of whom it would appear from recent events and behaviours are not welcome in G1’s gay venues within Glasgow.
Robert and Nathan Gale setup a Facebook group which calls for people to boycott G1′s establishments and lists ways people can assist their campaign including writing to Glasgow City Council’s licensing board and attending a demonstration which is still to be planned. The couple has asked G1 for a written apology and compensation in addition to various pieces of information regarding disability access.
What do you think? Is the LGBT community accepting of disabilities? Do you have any experiences of G1 regarding access problems for disabled people?


For Update see here.

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