ONE of my favourite chapters in Sydney’s LGBTI history is the late 1970s. After a spate of assaults targeting gay men, the motorcycle group The Vixens decided to get together to patrol Oxford Street and protect their brothers from the homophobic bashings.

The sense of inclusiveness that exists in Sydney’s LGBTI community surprised me when I first arrived here a year ago.

Everybody’s welcome at the different rainbow venues around town and LGBTI-focused events are mixed and open.

You see, I grew up in Melbourne and despite being a stubbornly proud Melburnian, I’m disappointed to say I don’t have the same experiences in my hometown.

On a recent trip back home I hit the town with my crew and predictably we ended up at The Peel.

While this nightclub has an exemption from the Anti-Discrmination Act and is allowed to refuse entry to a person based on presumed sexuality and gender identity, it is infamous for its treatment of female patrons.

Often women are forced to line-up in a separate queue to get it in.

I was once told I wasn’t allowed to be alone without my gay male friend in the venue even needing to be accompanied to the restroom.

Women are refused entry, they’re told not to overtly express their sexuality and last week I had to sign a legal disclaimer saying I understood I was going into a male gay space.

“How do you know what I identify as?” I asked the bouncer.

“It’s pretty obvious you’re not a gay man,” they replied.

“Please don’t make presumptions about those things, I may be non-binary and you’re projecting your heteronormative concepts of sexuality and gender onto me and I just want to go in and dance to Whitney,” is what I wish had come out of mouth while I was lining up at 3am.

Things have improved a lot at The Peel. I remember a long time ago when the bar staff wouldn’t even serve a woman, but I think it’s unfair I can’t hang out with my good friends in the same venues.

Now before the online trolls come for me, read the following carefully:

  • I know it’s important to have spaces for people to feel safe when they go out (but guys, uteruses aren’t so scary).
  • I’m not against male-only or female-only venues. Many places have those rules and it is totally acceptable.
  • Yes, there has been a history of drunk straight women, particularly on hens’ nights, coming to gay clubs and drag shows where they act like drunken dickheads and treat our community as a form of entertainment.

So don’t @ me, ok?

The problem I have always had with Melbourne’s LGBTI night scene is that it is closed minded. I remember not being treated nicely in my baby queer days – there was an ‘us and them’ mentality.

When I moved to Argentina I didn’t bother seeking out LGBTI venues until I was dragged to one by a friend because I assumed I wouldn’t be welcome. It was the first time I experienced the feeling of being welcome in a gay venue.

When I used to work on cruise ships, I dreaded working my first Atlantis cruise because I was unsure I could deal with a boat full of shady queens. But I was pleasantly surprised when everyone was lovely – except for when the coffee machine broke the morning after a big night.

The ongoing acceptance of discriminatory policies, like ones enforced by The Peel, shows that perhaps Melbourne still has a bit of a way to go in realising all the letters of the LGBTI community are actually allowed to interact, even in public.

This state of affairs is ironic given the Victorian Government is so progressive; it appointed the country’s first Sexuality and Gender Commissioner, committed to ongoing funding of the Safe Schools program, would have funded extra counselling services for LGBTI people in the event of a plebiscite and will open the state’s first official Pride Centre.

I’m all for venues being exclusively male or female or whatever, but pick a side The Peel.

Bite the bullet and go 100 per cent male or accept the fact that gay men interact with ladies and like to go to clubs with them.

Stop using your bizarre policies to justify treating women like shit.

You can follow Shannon Power on Twitter at @ShannonJPower

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