Recently, two of my more flamboyant gay friends were at an event hosted by queer promoters The House of Mince. The DJ they’d gone to see was one known around Europe for playing notoriously queer parties.
While fixing their makeup in the bathroom, two men entered, looked them up and down, and then one said “I think you’re in the wrong bathroom, faggots.” My friends are pretty resilient, they didn’t care that much, but at an event where the DJ has video clips featuring dancing dicks and flamboyantly gay angels, you wouldn’t really expect to be called a faggot by someone clearly out of their comfort zone.
This scene has become increasingly common in Sydney as the state’s lockout laws have chased the queer community from their own spaces, or, as occurred to my friends, resulted in them being harassed in a place that was once considered safe.
Whether it’s an apparent reduction in violence in Kings Cross (and the reduction of the Cross to a ghost town), or the closure of multiple venues, the lockouts have had an impact on Sydney’s nightlife. And while these impacts have been felt city-wide, the lockouts have particularly affected Sydney’s queer community.
Oxford St, Sydney’s iconic gay strip, is dying, and people of all shades are flocking west to Newtown, outside of the reach of the lockouts.
As hetero drinkers are pushed out of the city, they’re overtaking previously queer drinking spots.
It’s not only bodies on the dance floor that are the problem. It’s creating an economic disincentive for previously queer-focused venues to stay that way.
The events manager at the Imperial Hotel (famous for its presence in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) recently noted the venue had boosted its revenue by reaching out to a hetero audience.
The problem with the pink dollar is that it’s niche. There will never be as much pink dollars as regular, straight up, hetero dollars, and as queer or weird as suburbs like Newtown like to think of themselves, chasing that hetero dollar is now top priority on Friday and Saturday nights, driving the queers out of house and home, and club.
Wednesday nights on King Street and Enmore Rd have long been a stalwart for the lesbian community, with “ladies nights” dotted up and down the strip. However, as the lockout laws have forced Kings Cross crowds into King Street, Newtown is unrecognisable on weekends.
Local student Steph, who is conducting research into queer spaces in Sydney, avoids her own neighbourhood. "I go out regularly on weeknights to places like Tokyo Sing Song and The Sly Fox (both in Newtown), but I'll only ever go out on weekends if there's a specific event on,” she says.
“Otherwise I don’t like being on King St on a Friday or Saturday night. The atmosphere is so different, and I’m sick of getting hassled. The other night I walked past someone who then turned to her friends and said ‘Oh my god, I think that was a dyke.’”
A huge part of queer, camp, or gay culture has always been self-expression. Self-expression that, to some extent, is subversive. Whether it’s a man dressed in women’s clothes to challenge ideas of masculinity and femininity, or a burlesque performer apparently extracting a shit-covered dildo from her arsehole mid-performance in order to challenge notions of beauty and sexuality, the queer community has long hosted subversive performance.
By its very nature, this kind of performance is less popular in a mainstream sense. Now it’s getting pushed sideways, to make room for that straight dollar.
This is the nature of the lockout laws. As they killed Kings Cross, they’re slowly strangling King Street’s creativity, forcing it midweek to make way for the beige weekenders flocking from the CBD.
For those like Steph – a student who works on weekends – it’s not much of an issue. The weekend instead becomes Wednesday and Thursday.
But the shift is just another indication of the lesser status of LGBTQI people in our society – we don’t even get to have the same weekend as our peers anymore.
As Mardi Gras season approaches, local bars are making a concerted effort to keep Fridays and Saturdays queer. But with unfriendly crowds roaming the streets, it’s easier for some, like Steph, to just stick to Wednesday and Thursday events.
On a Thursday night at Tokyo Sing Song, resident DJs Stereogamous have a sign that reads “Keep Newtown weird”. Unfortunately, it now seems that’s only possible during the week.
This article orginally stated that: "Last month, the events manager at the Imperial Hotel (famous for its presence in Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) told the Star Observer in no uncertain terms that she’s no longer interested in providing an LGBTQI space." and that "The Imperial’s function rooms now host almost exclusively non-LGBTQI events". New Matilda accepts that the Imperial hotel continues to host regular LBGTQI events. We apologise to the owners of the venue.
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