Police probe after woman accosted for ‘taking jumper off in a bar’ in Gay Village in Manchester

A prominent group claims Manchester’s Gay Village is not as welcoming an environment as it should be for LGBTQ+ people of colour.

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Calls for change in Manchester’s Gay Village are being made, after a group made allegations of racial discrimination on a night out in Canal Street.

Members of the House of Spice, a vogue ball organisation based in the city, have reported Via to Greater Manchester Police (GMP) after an alleged incident at the bar on a Friday night out.

The bar says it is co-operating with the police investigation, which GMP has confirmed is ongoing.

However, the House of Spice reckons there needs to be a culture change in the Gay Village as the area currently is nowhere near as welcoming or safe as it should be for LGBTQ+ people of colour.

What does the House of Spice say happened on Canal Street?

The House of Spice, which uses its vogue ball work to celebrate South Asian cultures and provides a home environment for the members to support each other, said that half a dozen in the group were out on Canal Street for a few drinks and some relaxation after a meeting to discuss their upcoming performances on Friday 29 July.

They said they arrived at Via and some of the group went to the bar while others hit the dancefloor, where Jass Thethi decided it was a little warm and removed her jumper.

She said a security guard immediately came over and told her to put the top back on, even though the vogue house pointed out she had a bra on and there were a number of other topless people in the bar without being asked the same thing.

The House of Spice then alleged that one of them was subjected to a racist slur by a security person who they claim became aggressive towards them.

Jass said she felt the group was being watched intently by the security guard who told her to put her top back on as soon as they got into Via.

The group left Via and then went on to a second Canal Street bar where they sat outside before another security employee came over and said they had been asked to move them on.

What has the House of Spice said about the incident?

The House of Spice says it believes the incident was an example of how Manchester’s Gay Village can be a challenging place for people of colour to enjoy a night out.

Jaheda Choudhury from the vogue house said: “We need to look at what’s actually going on in the Gay Village: the misogyny, racism and transphobia lying just below the surface.

“This was a queer adult space with no children around and we shouldn’t have to worry about offending anybody with our queer bodies.

“What’s happening in the Gay Village is that if you’re white, cis and able-bodied you’ve got a place to be safe, but beyond that there’s a chance you will not be able to let go or let loose in a space supposed to be made for you.

“We’re not allowed to have a spontaneous night out, and taking off your top and showing your brown body might be too much. You’ve got to watch your language, your actions, everything, because someone is going to have a problem with it.

“If I go into the Village with a couple of white mates, or even if there’s one white friend with us in our group, the whole experience is different. That’s what’s really sickening about this.

“We’re actually better off going to places like the Northern Quarter because what’s relevant there is how you roll. I feel safer there and have been shown more compassion by bar owners and staff.

“We’re flabbergasted. It’s 2022 and the civil rights movement has happened, clause 28 is gone, we’ve been to the Moon and back, and yet this is still going on.”

Jass said: “This was the first time I had been out in the Village with a group of people who looked like me. Previously when I went out there I was always with a group of cis gay white men and I’ve realised that I felt safe then because their presence protected me.

“Maybe they made me more invisible to people who might not want me in that space.

People are already marginalised for being queer but then they are marginalised in the Village for being the wrong kind of queer, because they are bisexual or not butch-looking or trans.”

What else has been said about the incident?

Via said it is co-operating with a police probe into what happened and is also looking into the allegations itself.

A spokesperson for the bar said: “We have a fully inclusive policy in our venue and do not condone racism or discrimination in any form. We are investigating the allegations and will contact our contracted door team company should any further action need to be taken.

“We are also assisting the police in their investigation and will provide our CCTV footage.”

A police spokesperson said: “Greater Manchester Police are investigating a hate crime incident that occurred in Via Bar, Canal Street on 29 July 2022.

“The investigation is ongoing and no further information will be made available at this time.”

What does the House of Spice want to see happen next and what has the reaction been?

Jaheda said incidents like this have been happening for more than 20 years in Manchester in her experience of going out in the Village and there actually not been a great deal of progress on inclusiveness and diversity.

She also said she had hoped Manchester Pride would respond to the House of Spice’s social media posts about the incident in the run-up to 2022 and affirm that the event was safe and welcoming for people of colour.

However, Manchester Pride has not provided a comment on this incident in response to a request by ManchesterWorld.

A petition has also been placed on the Change.org website calling for more to be done to tackle racism in the Gay Village. It had attracted almost 700 signatures by Monday (30 August).

And the House of Spice’s Instagram post discussing the incident and calling for action has triggered some discussion on social media, with other organisations supporting LGBTQ+ people of colour and individuals expressing solidarity and sharing their own negative experiences in the Gay Village.

Jaheda also said there needs to be more diversity among the employees and management of Canal Street’s venues, and that could involve changing some of the lengths of contract and working conditions being offered or advertising jobs in the village in places where people of colour are more likely to see them and apply for them.

Jass said she hoped sharing her experiences would become something the Gay Village’s businesses could learn from to avoid the same things happening again.

She said: “This could be an opportunity to learn about not just how the Village treats bodies of colour but how they also treated trans people and disabled people.

“It could be an opportunity to really look with a magnifying glass at who is welcome there...

“This is a really good opportunity for the owners of the Village businesses to sit down and talk about some of these issues to try to resolve them. There are a lot of actionable things people could do and hopefully that would improve things for everyone.”

Jass also said she hoped talking about her experience would help other LGBTQ+ people of colour to realise they are not alone if similar things have happened to them and recommended finding groups and organisations who could support them, saying Rainbow Noir Mcr had provided for her.

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