Debate: Should queer spaces be for LGBT people only?

Yes: Molly Moore

“Why are there so many gays here?” “Are you really gay?”

These are but two of the strange utterances I have overheard and been asked whilst sweating glitter and dancing my queer butt off at Plush. “Plush is a gay club?” I hear you whisper, to which I reply, “Plush is a proudly queer space.” As such, it is no surprise that as a club it hosts LGBTQ+ Society’s Tues-gay club night, nor is it a shock that people of the same gender can regularly be found making out on the premises. Indeed, at the entrance you’re even greeted with a sign explicitly informing you that you are about to enter a queer space. I greatly admire the steps taken by Plush to create an environment which makes people aware of the nature of the establishment they’re about to enter. What I don’t quite understand is the volume of people who seem surprised that there are LGBT folks in Plush once they have walked through the door.

I kissed my girlfriend at MNB (shock horror) once. We were harassed and assaulted by at least three diff erent guys, including one who made the absurd assumption that somehow, by kissing, my girlfriend and I were inviting him to join in with us. The worst part is that in a club widely regarded as ‘very straight’, my girlfriend and I were then essentially told in no uncertain terms by our heteronormative society that we should expect this kind of thing, that it is in some way normal, and the perpetrators of acts of violence should not be held responsible. We weren’t in Plush, after all. And maybe two girls were only 
kissing for the bantz? But would you believe me if I told you the same thing happened to me in the recently-deceased Babylove – yesteryear’s LGBT space of choice? Or that in Plush, a guy once told me he would fi nd it sexy to watch me make out with another girl?

Queer spaces are not void of lurid behaviour, leery guys, and the lingering threat that someone of a diff erent gender might attempt to chirpse you. However, those responsible for carrying out disrespectful actions in queer spaces towards queer people seem almost unanimously to be cisgender and heterosexual. As an out queer woman, I choose to wear my identity as armour. I inhabit my own queer space. Yet all too often, my personal space comes under attack from people who don’t respect the nature of queer spaces, or neglect to understand how rare such environments are.

I challenge any non-queer Oxford student to name the spaces they would consider to be inherently queer. Did someone say Plush? LGBTQ+ Society Drinks? Well aside from internalised college meetups, liberation campaigns and drinks events, queer spaces are almost non-existent in Oxford and beyond. With that in mind, I’m sure it’s easier to understand why LGBT people so value the right to have our own spaces, free from invasion by non-queer people. When LGBT charities are dropping like fl ies due to government cuts, like anti-domestic violence charity Broken Rainbow or LGBT mental health charity PACE, it becomes increasingly more important to preserve the environments in which queer people are told we matter, are valued, and can have our voices heard. While such spaces are rapidly decreasing, non-queer people seem to be feeling the overwhelming need to invade our safe spaces simply for the sake of a good night, or because it’s in some way their right.

Cisgender, heterosexual people are at the top of the social food chain, and growing up, the world assumes that everyone adheres to these ‘norms’ unless otherwise stated. Maybe in a world in which queer people don’t have to ‘out’ ourselves I’ll be receptive to non-queer people entering LGBT spaces. The unfortunate reality is that the world doesn’t appear to be changing fast enough for such a thing to happen. The issue is a complex one after all, as queer identities are nonbinary, diverse, innumerable, and outside of the defi nitions societal hegemony has constructed. Queer people may visibly appear to be ‘straightpassing’. For example, they may appear to fit the definition of a typic a l ‘heterosexual’ couple. But how are we to know if that’s really the case? We know that it is impossible to enforce policing of anyone’s sexuality or gender, and I don’t believe that is something LGBT people should be advocating. Our bodies and identities are policed already; our bodies are property; our bodies are toys, objects to be judged and laughed at.

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The safety of LGBT people is paramount, and as Women’s Welfare Rep for the LGBTQ+ Society and Christ Church JCR’s LGBTQ+ Welfare Offi cer, my main aim is to protect the right for queer people to be safe. Sadly, this is not possible when non-queer people assume the right to enter queer spaces. LGBT people shouldn’t have to give evidence for our identities. Instead, we should be able to trust that the people around us aren’t cishet and easily off ended by queer culture. Our identities are fetishised and mocked in places we are told belong to us, and we’ve had enough.

I’m not asking for segregation when I say that only LGBT people should be allowed in queer spaces. I’m demanding respect for our identities, alongside the preservation of our culturally signifi cant and vital spaces. Yes, we know Plush is a great night out. But it’s our night out. I’m tired of hearing tales of stray heterosexuals wandering into the Plush toilets to vent in fury at “all the gays” they’ve seen on the dancefloor. However, until society ceases to spew its ingrained heteronormative and cissexist values, there is no room for non-queer people in queer spaces – especially when I have to battle through hordes of horny straight men just to be able to kiss my girlfriend safely. My identity is no one’s plaything, and so many LGBT people depend on exclusively queer spaces just to feel valid, visible and alive. Queer only spaces are our lifeline.

No: Jack Schofield

With increasing LGBT liberation, a trend of rising LGBT positivity among young people in particular, and let’s face it, better music and a fun culture, it is not surprising that straight people wish to be part of queer spaces, be that genuinely out of support, just to have a good time, or to make them feel good about themselves as allies, without actually doing anything. Whether the queer community should provide for that inclination is a complex debate, and should be argued asking what will be best for the LGBT community, as that is all that matters here.

Firstly, tempting though it may be to claim, society is not so unsafe that we need to create an entirely separate community for members of the LGBT community. Rather, those of us who can should seek to be members of society precisely like anyone else, in such a way as to show cis, straight people just how common queerness is, and how it has no impact on a person’s ability to work hard and be a fun person that anyone would wish to be around. Nice as it would be not to be dependent on our homophobic society, we simply cannot cut ourselves away from it, and so we must allow cishet people into our spaces to show that queer people are not different, but a normal and valuable part of our society.

Furthermore, it is directly through allowing cis straight people into our spaces that they are most likely to become all the more sympathetic to the cause of LGBT liberation, which in turn will help improve society. I would certainly wager that the more queer friends one has, the less likely it is to be an issue for them. It is a well known fact that humans fear the unknown; anti-immigrant views are most prevalent in areas where no immigrants are to be found, for example. In this way, letting cishet people in ‘normalises’ queerness and thus reduces the need for safe spaces.

A further important point is that the LGBT community has something of a duty to help closeted queer people. Until you come out as lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans, you evidently claim to be cis and straight, and so it simply cannot be assumed that all professedly cisgender, straight people going to Plush, gay bars, or attending LGBTQ+ Society drinks are not, in fact, queer. In my own experience, occasionally attending LGBTQ+ Society drinks while closeted massively helped to give me the confidence to come out, and I believe we would be doing a great disservice to other people if we were to knowingly make that painful process even harder.

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Keeping events open allows queer people to have the broadest possible support network if and when they do come out, which is invaluable. Similarly, some queer people might want a friend to accompany them to their first few queer events, and that friend might not be queer themselves. This too should be borne in mind; consider the negative impacts that restricting entry could have on the very people such a policy would be supposed to help. I do, however, recognise that there are some queer spaces which should not be open to nonqueer people, such as support groups, whether online or in person. While a discussion group, such as NoHeterOx, should be open to all, there are other circumstances where LGBT people rightly want to talk openly only to those in the very best position to understand and help them in the right way, and that is those in the same boat as them.

In any case, while I strongly believe queer spaces should generally be open to all, this does not mean that anything goes. In queer discussion forums which are open to all, no cis, straight person should talk over a queer person, and generally speaking, cis, straight people should be there to listen and learn, and yes, to contribute a bit too. There is a simple reason for this: society at large is geared towards cishet lives and voices. Queer spaces must therefore remain places in which queerness prevails and queer people feel entirely safe to express themselves, however they wish. So if a straight man is hit on by a gay man in a queer space, they do not get to be off ended or awkward about it; queer people are allowed to assume any random person in a queer space is queer (in some way) while still accepting that they aren’t necessarily, because there is nowhere else in our lives that this assumption can be made.

Naturally, any person who is being homophobic or transphobic in a queer space should be required to leave, as the right of any person to enjoy queer spaces only goes so far. Regarding the controversy over the ever-popular Queerfest at Wadham last term, I agree it is unfair that an LGBT person wishing to attend a celebration of queerness and queer culture should miss out to swathes of cis, straight people, and that those ‘allies’ should reflect on their actions.

With this said – and I think cis, straight people wishing to make use of queer spaces would do well to have taken particular note of the last paragraph – I wish to convey a positive message that queer culture is something to be celebrated and something which can truly liberate us all. With gender roles in society seeking to limit every single one of us, queer and non-queer people alike benefit enormously from an increasing right to ‘be yourself’ beyond such things. Everyone would benefit hugely from coming to accept just how diverse humanity is and that there is creativity in and much to be learnt from the range of personalities which we all would naturally have, if we were given the message that being who we are, as we are, was fine.

Such a cultural change in society at large will make (and is already making) it easier and easier to come out as LGBT. As our relationship with labelling and fear of the Other reduces, queer identities will become less and less of an issue. This will only come about through openness on our part and our subsequent increasing visibility as everyday members of society