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Why G-A-Y nightclub owner was wrong to scapegoat Somali people for crime in central London

29 Dec 2016

On Tuesday, Jeremy Joseph, owner of popular British LGBT “G-A-Y” nightclubs, took to his public Facebook page to comment on a fatal stabbing in central London that took place over the Christmas break.

Joseph cited his anger towards the attacks as the result of an increase in “the scum gangs, somalians [and] drug dealers” in the Soho area. He went on to state his 2017 New Year’s resolution to be “[claiming] Soho back & [getting] the scum off the street” as well as calling for the Metropolitan police service to get more government help in fighting crime in the city.

The status garnered attention from many of Joseph’s friends and customers who agreed with the sentiment and argued against opposing comments from those who deemed the status to be “racist and antagonistic” for scapegoating Somali people as the root of the problem. Many of those in favour of the post appeared baffled by the criticism and favoured the oft-repeated argument of “political correctness gone mad”.

As much as I’d like to shake my head, bury the pang of sadness and pass this off, this time I cannot. Jeremy Joseph is a business. He is the founder of G-A-Y bars and clubs across the country and in 2013 he bought out HMV’s shares to become the sole owner of the G-A-Y conglomerate. He has worked within the UK LGBT club scene for over 20 years, has built up trust and commitment with a major community and from that has built a gigantic establishment within UK culture. Because of this, his comments cannot be ignored.

As a previous customer (and daughter, niece and friend of customers and members) of G-A-Y venues, a black queer woman and one of many many people fed up of prejudices within mainstream (read: white) LGBT culture, it’s clear to me that the weight of Joseph’s comments are damaging to the community of people he claims to work for and with.

In his status, Joseph nestled an entire ethnic group of people between the words “scum gangs” and “drug dealers” within a sentence about a murder. He stated this as a fact, and did not imply anything other than an increase in Somali people being responsible for crime in central London.

This is not true. It is inflammatory, insensitive and above all alienates black people and erases Somali people from being a part of the mainstream British LGBTQ+ community, a point that Mr. Joseph should himself be working to avoid doing, both for business and moral purposes.

As the comments poured in, cabaret artist, self proclaimed activist and regular performance judge at G-A-Y “Baga Chipz” chimed in. They stated that “crime and homophobia come’s in all creeds colours and backgrounds” but their share of homophobic abuse has “every time [been] by someone of Somalian heritage”. They noted that all Somalis are not “trouble makers and homophobic” but followed this with the question that “it must certainly stem from upbringing, Religion or culture?”. Isn’t it strange that the negative actions of some white people are never immediately assumed to be the outlook of all white people?

After a couple of hours, Joseph took down his original post “because it offended some people”. He claimed that “sometimes you say something that you know what your trying to say, but is taken in a way that you didn’t mean to come across”. Joseph went on to state that he didn’t mean it to have “racial undertones”, as well as mentioning that offence was never his intention. Intention or not, offence was caused and little has been done to convince people that this kind of stereotyping is not a quality transferred in G-A-Y’s businesses practices. (When gal-dem reached out to Joseph for a statement on his problematic status he did not respond.)

G-A-Y is the largest LGBT club chain in London and one of few running consistent events multiple times a week. The deadly concoction of recession and gentrification has reshaped the London party scene and shut down some of the city’s best loved LGBTQ+ pubs, clubs and bars (RIP Madame Jojos <3).

But G-A-Y has managed to stay afloat as a staple venue, drawing in a younger crowd with cheap drinks, overseas entertainment and free entry to see RuPaul’s Drag Race contestants if you manage to race down Old Compton Street to get a wristband before 11pm. For those searching for bright lights, more than two floors of music and a place to ~be themselves~ in central London it’s a shame that G-A-Y is what is now left. Joseph owes it to LGBTQ+ people of the UK (and the world, to be honest) to pioneer the culture and be inclusive of all sub groups within the community. This includes not publicly scapegoating any ethnic group for criminal behaviour in an area which his businesses sit.

This weekend I hope black people choose a different venue to party at. I hope the murky walls of the upstairs “urban” room at G-A-Y Heaven are missing black couples. I hope the podiums are empty and the continual sounds of Sean Paul’s greatest hits are only heard by bar staff. I hope G-A-Y’s pockets feel the consequences of this racial scapegoating so that maybe Joseph will realise how important not alienating part of your audience is. As one Twitter user aptly stated, you “cannot cry foul when people stereotype and stigmatise… but see racism as ‘telling it how it is’”.

G-A-Y is O-V-E-R for me.

If you’re black and identify as LGBTQ+ and are looking for a more inclusive safer space to party in London, I highly recommend following events run by BBZ London, Magic Clit and English Breakfast London