Gay Sydney: Clubs, Bars and Queer Culture
Outsiders consider Sydney to be something of a queer mecca: a city that hosts wildly popular events such as the annual Mardi Gras parade, celebrates exhibitionism on dozens of packed beaches, and charms visitors of all stripes with progressive culture and laid-back locals. In many respects, it is one of the best places in the world to be queer, boasting a proud history, a vibrant alternative arts movement, and strong legal protections for minorities. Same-sex marriage is apparently just around the corner.
But Sydney’s LGBTQI scene is in the midst of upheaval – and it has left some newcomers bewildered. In recent years, conservative governments at state and federal levels have emboldened Sydney’s less-tolerant residents. Meanwhile, the introduction of laws that restrict late-night socialising in central Sydney’s party precincts has severely damaged Oxford Street, the city’s traditional gay strip. The edgier queer hub of Newtown, in Sydney’s inner west, has suffered from an influx of mainstream revellers who have been displaced by the same laws that harmed Oxford Street. Many Newtown residents say they now feel less comfortable in the area – and a recent, highly-publicised assault on a transgender woman at a Newtown venue has compounded their unease.
As a result, queer culture in Sydney is dispersing and heading underground. Venue operators are seeking spaces in emerging precincts such as Marrickville and Redfern, and some promoters have adopted a nomadic stance, moving their events from club to club as the situation evolves. The queer arts scene is strong, with many young practitioners embracing a DIY ethos in response to the uncertainty (local community radio remains a lifeline for those looking to hook in to the arts scene). And, while Oxford Street is definitely hurting, a handful of Sydney’s “traditional” queer venues continue to thrive there in spite of the challenging climate.