Two gay Oxford students were the victims of homophobic abuse at The Cellar nightclub on Thursday 26th February, after they were seen kissing on the dance floor.
Both students have requested to be identified solely by their first name.
Sacha, one of the victimised students, explained to Cherwell, “I was dancing on the main dance floor, and then me and this guy went to the other room, where there are a few tables and seats. We sat in a corner by a table and started kissing.
“A man, who was roughly forty five years old, tapped me on the shoulder. From the minute I got tapped on the shoulder, I knew it was going to be something homophobic. I was expecting it in a way.”
The man reportedly said to Sacha, “What the fuck are you doing?”, to which Sacha replied, “I’m kissing.” The man then told Sacha and Josh, the other student involved, that “This is not a gay club”, prompting the two students to stand up.
Sacha explained that at this point, “I just saw that it [the conversation] would degenerate, so I went to the bar and looked helplessly at the guy standing behind the bar. Then a strong, muscular man joined in. He was much more aggressive than the other man; he was shouting insults at us and threatened to punch us. My friend didn’t want to back down. We weren’t going to let this go.”
The man who had been shouting homophobic insults at the gay couple then purportedly head-butted Josh. Sacha elucidated, “He just went for him. It wasn’t strong enough to make him bleed or break his nose or anything, but he went flying back, and we were both in shock afterwards.
“You don’t really realise to what extent something is shocking or intolerable until the next morning – we tried to carry on as if everything was normal. We went back to the main room, and started dancing. We kissed again, and this is when we were approached by a bouncer, who asked us to leave.”
Allegedly, the bouncer asked the students to leave as they had been kissing in the middle of the club. Sacha recounted to Cherwell how the bouncer said to him and Josh, “I’m not looking for trouble, but you might make some people angry. You’re provoking other people.”
However, Tim Hopkins, the Venue Manager at The Cellar, denied that the couple were asked to leave, saying, “The students said they would leave anyway. The Cellar is a forward thinking place, we’re not homophobic. This was probably a bit of a misunderstanding. The bouncers did chuck out someone who was uncomfortable with the two guys kissing.
“People can kiss in The Cellar. Our policy on kissing is that it’s absolutely fine, but we tell people to hold it down if it’s any more than kissing. If you’re gay and you want to kiss in The Cellar, you can. It’s a case by case situation – if there’s a heterosexual couple in the corner, and it gets a bit frisky, we’ll ask them to calm down a bit.”
Hopkins reiterated, “We wouldn’t kick out some gay people for kissing in The Cellar. We’re a friendly music venue that embraces all walks of life and cultures and whatever. We don’t discriminate at The Cellar.”
After leaving the nightclub, Sacha told Cherwell, “I was so fuming, looking for someone to complain to. I wanted to go back in.” However, the bouncers refused Sacha entry. Sacha continued, “I must have looked too angry or violent or gay or whatever.”
Describing his anger at the bouncer’s treatment of him and his friend, Sacha said, “It was absolutely insane. The Cellar is probably one of the most promiscuous, incestuous places in Oxford.” He further added that he had believed the nightclub to be, “Alternative and open-minded”.
Former Merton LGBTQ rep Alex Beecham commented, “I was angered to hear that two friends of mine had been subjected to such appalling homophobia in The Cellar and by their staff, and was surprised as I have often seen same-sex couples kissing there and have myself considered The Cellar to be one of my favourite places in Oxford. Many in Oxford’s LGBTQ community will avoid that club to its detriment unless the management reacts appropriately to ensure that we do not have to fear the threat of violence and intimidation.”
As his College’s LGBTQ rep, Sacha posted about the incident on the College LGBTQ reps Facebook group. He commented, “I was completely lost, with no idea what to do. Reactions from friends in College were extremely supportive, and on the wider LGBTQ reps Facebook group – they were great as well.”
The President of the Oxford University LGBTQ Society, Otamere Guobadia, expressed outrage at the news, telling Cherwell, “To be a minority, even in Oxford, our self-proclaimed ‘bastion of progression’ is to be in constant vigilance. There are the daily microagressions that feed into wider prejudices and contribute to othering and alienation, but then there are these very real very tangible acts of violence; acts that threaten our bodily integrity and what little sense of welcome we have in society.
“My college [Univ] flew the rainbow flag for the first time in its centuries long history today, and yet under these spires we are still being denied our right to determine their own lives and loves. We will not let this go. Our bodies have a right to take up space, and own who we are in public spheres, and to say that this is horrendous is an understatement. Fuck queerphobia and fuck establishments that perpetuate it.”
Hopkins told Cherwell, “If they’d [Sacha and Josh] like to have a chat with me personally, I’d be happy to do that”, further adding that The Cellar would review CCTV footage of the night to assess the claims of homophobic assault.