Britain’s LGBT+ scene is divided over whether to close their venues because of coronavirus but appears united in condemning the UK government’s approach.
And one of the scene’s most famous faces, Jeremy Joseph has launched an all-out attack on UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Joseph spoke out after Johnson advised people to stay away from pubs, restaurants and theatres but didn’t order them to close.
Joseph said: ‘Boris Johnson, you are a c**nt. Telling people to avoid pubs, restaurants and theatres but not closing them, in other words, unofficially closing venues but making sure the government isn’t liable for staff to get sick pay.’
And this morning, he announced he is closing all G-A-Y venues in London and Manchester, including legendary nightclub Heaven.
He said: ‘Johnson is not a leader. No clarity, no shutdown. But I’ve decided I no longer feel comfortable being open, so G-A-Y will be closed until further notice.’
Meanwhile, other businesses are facing the same dilemma. Should they close to protect staff and customers from the virus? Or should they stay open to keep staff in work and pay the bills?
The UK’s policy is in sharp contrast to other countries. Italy has suspended mortgages, rent and household bills. In France, President Emmanuel Macron is declaring that no business will go bust and is providing a massive financial package to support them.
Meanwhile Ireland has shut bars, clubs and theatres but gave them several days to prepare. It is also providing financial support.
Now all eyes are on UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak who is making a speech this afternoon at 4pm. After widespread calls to provide more support, businesses will be hoping for dramatic measures to help them survive the pandemic.
‘The hardest decision I’ve ever had to make’
Joseph told GSN he agonised about his decision this morning to close G-A-Y:
‘I know a decision like this will affect people. I know that I’m not going to be able to make everybody happy. It’s the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make and I sit here and don’t know if I’ve made the right decision.
‘Our insurance doesn’t cover closure. I know one particular venue that has a different insurance and they won’t close until the government closes them. I am not insured either way.’
Joseph is now saying he will take two days to decide a way forward. His story is instructive of the tough decisions many other business owners face.
As well as the staff costs, he has a £200,000 quarterly rent bill for his four venues in the coming weeks. He is also due to pay a £300,000 VAT bill in the next six weeks.
And his biggest concern is the 200 people he employs. Many of them are direct but 40 security staff and his cleaners are provided by external companies, but ultimately rely on G-A-Y for an income.
Meanwhile, the decision Joseph has made to close has divided his staff. Some felt uneasy working, others are concerned about their incomes.
He said: ‘We really need to unite. But why I called [Boris Johnson] a c**t last night is that he divided us. He should look after businesses as long as they look after their staff.’
He argues that the government should tell venues to close. Then they should freeze rents and all tax, including tax on staff pay, in return for businesses paying their staff.
‘The worst position for small business’
By contrast, London’s Royal Vauxhall Tavern, another hugely popular LGBT+ venue is staying open.
But in a statement, its chief executive James Lindsay noted the government’s advice to warn people to stay away has ‘restricted my companies’ ability to trade’.
He too is torn between the ‘devastating impact’ of the pandemic and the ‘detrimental impact on business, business recovery and job stability’ of closing up.
Lindsay adds: ‘The position announced by the government last night creates the worst position for small business, the hospitality sector and the night time economy.’
Meanwhile, several other LGBT+ scene businesses are staying open.
London’s Ku Bar remains open but with limited numbers allowed in. Likewise gay lifestyle shop Clonezone is staying open but with ‘antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizers’ available for customers.
But others are closing. Unsurprisingly, gay saunas are likely shutting up.
Chris Amos, brand manager at Pleasuredrome, one of the UK’s biggest gay saunas, said:
‘We have decided to temporarily close our doors from 7am today until further notice.’
However, he assured people staff would keep their jobs:
‘During this time, Pleasuredrome will undergo maintenance and cosmetic improvements providing work for our core staff and so to ensure Pleasuredrome is nice and shiny when you return.’
‘A lot of closures’ could be permanent
David Bridle, manages monthly LGBT+ free magazine Boyz. While it’s recently diversified, it has traditionally relied on the scene for advertising and has been distributed via queer venues.
He told GSN he expects to keep going but with the magazine slimmed down from 100 pages to 64.
However, he said all eyes will be on chancellor Rishi Sunak during his speech at 4pm. Without a package of support for businesses, many LGBT+ scene venues, along with multiple other businesses will go bust.
Bridle said: ‘I don’t know what the chancellor is about to announce. But I think we are going to get a lot of closures if it lasts as long as they are predicting.’