So I mean no disrespect to Tony whatsoever, when I say that the lockout laws are going to have little impact on improving the safety of our community, during Mardi Gras or after the festival and indeed these new laws could contribute to an increase in danger for our community.
I get concerned for our community members every time I see them out in Surry Hills, Darlinghurst. I am particularly concerned for the gay boys because I know, from experience, they are the ones targeted most by thugs and they seem particularly vulnerable to street violence. On weekends in particular, they are out in numbers on the Oxford St ‘strip’ – moving between venues and enjoying the relative safety of a quick walk from say the Shift to Phoenix or even to ARQ. The lockout laws will result in an increase of gay boys being shut out of venues and effectively being at the mercy of other would-be patrons of various venues on our streets. The lockout laws will result in an increase of people finding themselves locked out and with nowhere to go. In some ways these new laws effectively discriminate against our community and potentially make us more vulnerable to street violence.
That’s because the lockout laws cover an area of Sydney primarily used by our community for entertainment purposes. Our heterosexual friends can go off to Marquee at The Star or The Greenwood at North Sydney or any various other straight venues. But our community relies on ARQ, Stonewall, The Columbian, Phoenix, Palms, The Shift and Slide (to name a few) for our entertainment. If we can’t go to Surry Hills and Darlinghurst for our fun; where do we go? I say this because these establishments are not just entertainment venues, in reality they are our sanctuaries. The lockout laws will do nothing to improve the community’s safety. Indeed, thousands of people are going to end up on the streets at the time of the lockout and our community will find themselves dressed in gay garb mixing with thugs from straight venues.
Let’s take ARQ as an example. It is known for its well-trained security staff. They’re not over-friendly, but they know ARQ’s clientele and they’re sympathetic to protecting us, both on the street and inside the venue. The bar staff are pretty strict when it comes to not selling alcohol to obviously-intoxicated patrons. Places like this are our safe places. They are the venues where we can put our sexuality on display and not be censored through peer pressure or hindered by homophobic staff. If service can’t be provided to us in our safe havens, our sanctuaries after 3am then where do we go? The straight community has options that we do not.
I can’t imagine being free to express ourselves in straight venues without becoming targets of derision, taunts or outright violence. You would all agree it isn’t likely you would ever see two boys or two girls dancing intimately at the Coogee Bay Hotel or any other straight venue.
Until such times that the NSW Government considers some exemptions for our community, we are all very much restricted in our entertainment options.
So, I guess for now the best advice anyone can give for this weekend is to ensure you’re at the Party. The big one. That’s right, Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Party 2014 does not fall within the lockout area – so go get your tickets for the big event and see you all on the dance floor.