Manchester’s gay village could become a ‘sanitised Disneyland’ if darkrooms are closed, campaigners warn
The Manchester gay village could be pushed “back to the bad old days” under efforts to “crackdown” on fetish nights with darkrooms, campaigners have warned.
Council authorities have been investigating a venue which host darkrooms following public complaints, with fetish night organisers complaining of a war on LGBT+ sex.
Adrian Perrett has been running Club Alert! in Manchester for 15 years, but says that it has not been able to take place since August 2019 because of a “apparent sudden change in attitude from Manchester City Council licensing department”.
“There appears to be a ‘crackdown’ across the village on events which include darkrooms,” he wrote on the event’s website.
Speaking to the Manchester Evening News (M.E.N), Perrett said that he’s “sure a lot of it is about big development”.
“Whether it’s conscious or not, they’re trying to gentrify the village,” he added.
From the top down there is a plan to drive out the seedier side of things and make the village a Disneyland pastiche of what it was.
Andrew Underwood, the co-owner of The Eagle bar, said that there has been “a heavy-handed approach” from licensing officers who have visited him eight times in six months.
He told M.E.N: “You’ve got straight swinger’s clubs, they’re not looking into them, we can’t quite understand their take on it when it’s been fine up until now.”
Venues in the Manchester gay village say they have received letters from police, reportedly stating that they don’t believe they are complying with the law.
Without gay village darkrooms, LGBT+ people could turn to chemsex parties.
Perrett’s understanding of the law is that private members’ clubs are allowed to operate darkrooms.
Both men stress that their events are a safe space for LGBT+ people looking to enjoy fetish clothing and engage in consensual sex. Without them, Perrett worries that people will turn to chemsex parties as an alternative.
“Gay men will have sex somewhere, where will they go if they don’t have these events?” he said.
“It feels like we’re going back to the bad old days.”
He and Underwood have the backing of three local LGBT+ councillors: Jon-Connor Lyons, Sam Wheeler and Adele Douglas.
“Licensing is about public safety, and we have seen no evidence that practices at these events are unsafe,” the Piccadilly trio said, adding that they have organised a meeting with executive members of the council to resolve the situation.
Manchester council says it is following procedure.
A Manchester City Council spokesperson told PinkNews that its job isn’t to license events, but rather venues, and that it is following procedure following complaints.
“The council’s licensing team has been in contact with a venue in the gay village following complaints from the public,” the spokesperson said.
“Venue licensing and compliance is in place to ensure public safety and to prevent crime and disorder and the city council has a responsibility to fully investigate complaints when they are submitted – monitoring visits are a standard part of this process.
“The Manchester gay village has played an important role in the city’s history and contributes a huge amount to the vibrancy of the city centre.
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“Following up this complaint is in no way an act to discriminate LGBTQ+ people or an attempt to erode safe spaces for the community in the gay village.”
Police say policy hasn’t changed.
Greater Manchester Police chief inspector Zac Fraser told M.E.N: “We work in partnership with Manchester City Council’s licensing team and any complaints will always be investigated accordingly.
“There has been no change in our policy or stance as part of the licensing team and the safety and security of our communities will always be of paramount importance to us.
“The gay village is an integral part of Manchester’s thriving multi-cultural city centre and we will continue to ensure it remains a safe and supportive place for Greater Manchester’s thriving LGBTQ+ community.”
PinkNews has contacted Greater Manchester Police for further comment.