Students organise Queer kiss-in in Cellar

The Oxford queer community has organised a kiss-in at The Cellar nightclub on Thursday 5th March, in response to homophobic abuse experienced by two gay students at last week’s hip hop night.

The two students, who have requested to be identified only by their first names, Sacha and Josh, were reportedly asked to leave by a bouncer, after they were seen kissing on the dancefloor. A man attending the club on the same night head-butted Josh, after yelling homophobic insults at the couple.

However, Tim Hopkins, the Venue Manager at The Cellar, denied allegations that a bouncer had asked the students to leave, telling Cherwell, “We are sorry this happened and disgusted at the homophobic man’s verbal abuse and alleged physical actions. We won’t tolerate this sort of attack. The great thing about The Cellar is [that] it’s for everyone.

“I would also like to make it clear the security didn’t ask them to leave. They did get the other man to leave. The homophobic incident was from a member of the public and not involving any Cellar staff. Yes, the security had to deal with the incident the best they could, and maybe mistakes were made.”

The Queer kiss-in was organised by the Oxford University LGBTQ Society Committee. Rowan Davis, the society’s Trans rep and member of its committee, explained, “Kiss-ins have a long and proud history in queer activism, allowing LGBTQIA people to occupy and control spaces otherwise denied to them. Clubs are a political space for marginalised groups and this event will allow us to stand in solidarity with those affected by anti-queer violence in Oxford.”

Davis continued in support of the kiss-in, “This is exactly the sort of participatory, non-violent direct action we should be encouraging, and I hope it sends a message loud and queer that the actions of those that oppress us are not going to stop us from being who we are and where we want to be.”

Sacha also spoke in support of the organised kiss-in, saying, “It’s a fun event, which will bring together many different people. It’s also a forceful response, but framed in a very friendly, gentle way. It’s quite ostentatious – but the point is not to hide. ”

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He continued to praise the wider LGBTQ community’s reaction to the abuse he faced on Thursday 26th February, saying, “The people who responded to my Facebook post [on the LGBTQ reps Facebook group, recounting the homophobia in Cellar] have been extremely supportive. I always felt that my welfare was their priority. The LGBTQ community is made up of very different people, but it really felt very united in that moment.”

The incident has been reported to the police, who have documented it as a homophobic crime. They are conducting an investigations into Cellar’s policy, as well as the alleged assaulter. Cellar’s management has also met with the victims, and has stated its commitment to ensuring that both staff and clubbers are aware that The Cellar should be an inclusive space for all.

The Cellar has informed Cherwell that “the changes we are making to hopefully make The Cellar feel safe again for gay people” are to “reiterate our policy to all our Bar staff and security team” and to “install a better camera in the side bar”.

The Venue Manager further commented, “People are allowed to kiss in The Cellar no matter what sex they are. If anyone is homophobic, they should leave or keep their views to themselves. Staff should keep an eye and an ear out for this sort of abuse.”

The kiss-in was held on the same evening as student night Supermarket, co-run by Lu Williams and Annie Teriba. Teriba told Cherwell, “Being somebody who organises club nights at Cellar, I was saddened to hear what happened that evening. The rest of the team share the sentiment. We immediately contacted the manager at Cellar to talk about our future there, and had a meeting with him on Monday. We weren’t happy with the club’s response and stressed that Cellar have a duty to protect LGBTQ+ people from queerphobic abuse.

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“He had barred the man who attacked the students and is speaking to security staff to make sure that there isn’t a repeat. We will push for Cellar to take up the Good Night Out pilot being put together by the LGBTQ Campaign and WomCam.

“Knowing what it feels like to be harassed and attacked for daring to defy what is expected by cis-heteropatriarchal norms, I’m really glad that the LGBTQ Society has organised a kiss-in which we will support in any way we can. [I] think this is a reminder that, while queer clubs are incredibly important for our community, we must continue to fight to make all clubs queer friendly. We will not accept being tucked away in a corner and we will not let our queerness be policed.”

The Oxford University LGBTQ Society President, Otamere Guobadia, commeted, “When we came up with this Queer kiss-in we envisioned it as romance meets resistance: a disruption of heteronormative status quo. I think that when we queer spaces like this we reframe the narrative about the presumed normality of straightness.

“I think that the incident speaks not only to the necessity of queering straight spaces and opening them up to difference, but to the necessity of queer spaces in general.

“We are not in a post-patriarchal world. Minorities are still very much prone to violence, and even in the most liberal of spaces, patriarchy pervades, and masquerades itself as inclusivity and neutrality. Yes, it is a powerful thing to disrupt and challenge heteronormativity in this way, but it is a wonderful thing to feel that ones love and expressions of romance can be depoliticised, that expressions of romance can just be. Queer spaces provide for normalisation of experience, an elimination of the violence and finger pointing, that queer people are not afforded in straight spaces.”