A few weeks ago, two of my friends (both of whom are straight) were on their way to a local gay club, where some guys were waiting outside to target LGBT+ people.
They decided it would be a good idea to try and rough them up a bit. Thankfully neither of them were hurt, but one of my friends lost his glasses and they were both pretty shaken up about the whole thing. It’s safe to say they didn’t end up in that club that night and they’re wary about going back again.
This was a shocking experience for me to hear about; up until this point, me and my friends have never really had negative (especially not violent) treatment due to our gender, sexuality, or where we were deciding to club. I just took it as a given that these things didn’t really happen anymore where I live, and you’d have to be very unlucky if they did. But these men targeted my friends just on the assumption they were gay,. It really highlighted to me just how important safe spaces are and ensuring that they are protected. I’ve been taking them for granted and I’m not about to do that anymore.
I remember the first time I went to a gay club; I was 17, some guy came up to me and my friend and asked why two straight girls were there. A great start. Once we made it clear we weren’t straight, he decided to “look after” me all night while my friend made out with his friend. It wasn’t the best night out I’ve ever had but it was the first time I’d been in a space where girls could kiss each other and no one was gawking or perving, where there were drag queens selling drinks and plenty of people who definitely didn’t conform to gender norms. I’d been exposed to all of these things in snippets in real life and in online communities, but nothing compared to this. I was so happy, and I felt a sense of calm and belonging there, despite the fact I was lumbered with some weirdly protective gay guy while my friend made out with someone all night.
Safe spaces don’t harm people who aren’t
part of a community or minority,
they make the world an easier place to live
for those who are part of marginalised groups,
even if just for a few hours at a time.
Since then I’ve only had a few safe space experiences. One of which was Pride Cymru, it was like my first gay club experience but a whole lot bigger and better. I had a great time at Fan Club Nottingham, which I talked about in issue 4 for being full of girls, glitter, cake and awesome music. The Louise Rider Cup Roller Derby was an impressive array of the most colourful leggings and hair combinations I’ve ever seen. All of these experiences were pretty magical, they lived up to their name of feeling safe and inclusive and were nothing short of a good time.
I hear people metaphorically shit on safe spaces a lot, claiming that they’re trying to exclude straight people, cis people and men from things when in fact they’re always the most inclusive places I’ve been. Although that over protective guy assumed we were straight, he didn’t have a problem with two straight people being in a gay club. Some people like to talk about how women, people of colour, LGBT+ people, and other marginalised groups, already have all their rights, that safe spaces shouldn’t be there to wrap us up in cotton wool and tell us we’re amazing, that we should just buckle up and live in the real world. But the “real world” is a scary place to be sometimes, especially as a part of a marginalised group.
Violence against us can and does happen, as well as a lot of verbal abuse, which I’m sure most of us have faced at some point. Nothing can compare to the feeling of ease, acceptance, and community that I feel when I’m at a safe space gig or out at my favourite gay club. There’s no group of guys surrounding and cheering if I’m kissing a girl, people will stand up for me if someone has the nerve to try and harass me and people aren’t going to be sneering about a guy wearing a skirt. I can be unapologetically myself and if anyone tries to take issue with that then I know I’m in a safe place to speak up.
Of course no safe space is perfect, the number of times I’ve been groped by gay men in clubs because “it’s non sexual”, and therefore “totally fine”, is ridiculous. Bad things do happen in safe spaces, they’re not benevolent places, they can’t be, but I am not going to let anyone take my safe spaces away any time soon, in fact I’m all for building many more! Have queer coffee mornings, trans clothes swaps, inclusive days out for people with disabilities – bring safe spaces out of the club scene and make them inclusive of those who are too young or don’t like nights out.
Safe spaces don’t harm people who aren’t part of a community or minority, they make the world an easier place to live for those who are part of marginalised groups, even if just for a few hours at a time.
I will be going back to that club, not just because I like a good gay night out, but also because I don’t want anyone to think that they can take my space away through intimidation and violence. A few thugs aren’t going to ruin a space where I feel amazingly myself.
Protect local safe spaces, even if they weren’t made specifically for you, they will be incredibly important to someone in your community and I guarantee you will always be made to feel welcome.
Photography: Izzy McLeod Post-processing: Rae Tilly
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