Image Credit: Lucy Cooper
When I applied to universities, there were a few things I looked out for. The course content, the type of accommodation, the amount of student nights. One thing that I didn’t consider in much depth was the size and extent of an LGBTQ community, but as I continue throughout my degree, it has become increasingly apparent that York has room for improvement.
York has never been a particularly wild spot for queer individuals. Of course, the LGBTQ+ Social and YUSU LGBTQ+ network regularly host great social events and offer support to students from across the community. But there’s no doubt that, compared to some cities, York has been lacking in its queer spaces. There’s not even a single dedicated gay club (I love you, Flares, but you doesn’t count xox).
For too long, the importance of queer spaces have been understated within wider society. Being accepted and celebrated by straight peers is important, but does not replace the feeling of being surrounded by other LGBTQ+ people. When entering my first gay club in London, the energy was electric. Drag queens were performing on stage; people were wearing what they felt most comfortable in; and everyone was happy to be completely themselves, in a liberating way that is still, unfortunately, a tough ask for many gay people in day to day life. It was only by being surrounded by so many people who were like me that I realised what I had been lacking in my life growing up in a small countryside town, and — to an extent — in our small Uni city.
For many straight people, it might be difficult to put yourself in a head-space where you can truly understand the benefits of queer spaces. However, it is truly liberating to realise that there is a whole club’s worth of people who will celebrate you for you, and who have been through similar experiences with coming to terms with their sexuality. When I tell my friends that I need to move to a larger city when I graduate, I don’t think many truly realise how important an impact it can have.
Not only can it feel freeing, but having queer spaces — particularly nightclubs — can make many members of the LGBTQ+ community feel a lot safer to express themselves and live without fear of homophobia and drunken abuse, thanks to a more accepting audience and things like trained staff members and door staff.
Having said all this, in York it is clear things are improving. In the past few years, both an LGBTQ+ book-shop and the new Lunar Cafe, another LGBTQ space, have opened. It seems like there are pushes to make York a more inclusive and welcoming space for people of all sexualities. More recently, YUSU announced the new LGBTQ+ nights in Flares during term time, and Kuda have introduced a monthly LGBTQ+ night. Although these might not be the same as a permanent space, it is an invaluable attempt to create a queer culture in the city and university.
Alongside this, nightlife in general has been reinvigorated. The incorporation of new venue Ziggy’s to the YUSU weekly club nights helps inject a breath of fresh air into a nightlife scene that had been suffering from fatigue. As the clubs reopen after a year of Covid closures, it seems like life after dark in York is coming back with a bang.
Last year, I wrote about how York has an unfounded reputation for being boring. However, there was still no doubt that there were fears for the future of city life past midnight. Finally, as we have more and more club nights in a variety of different venues, it seems like York really is starting to have more in the way of exciting and varied nights out.
However, these changes have not come without issues. The recent grand opening of the first LGBTQ+ night in York in Kuda was tainted with glass throwing and homophobic abuse, leading to three arrests and two people being hospitalised. This sad state of affairs just further proves that, although any developments in queer spaces are welcome, they cannot be quickly organised to tick boxes and left to fend for themselves. Whether these attacks were just drunken brawls or something more sinister, actions need to be put into place to ensure safe queer spaces. Staff need adequate training to know how to ensure an inclusive environment, and bouncers need to ensure that they follow a strict zero-tolerance approach to homophobic behaviour.
For members of the LGBTQ+ community across the globe, safe inclusive spaces — whether that be nightclubs, shops or cafes — are essential for meeting others and feeling accepted. There is no doubt that York is improving every day, but the momentum should not be lost.