Gay Gentrification Versus Opportunities for LGBT Heritage Tourism

June 24, 2017 in General

Robert Douglas-Fairhurst has provided a sobering look at the consequences of gay gentrification in a recent issue of the UK current affairs journal Prospect (July 2017).

As those who peruse British LGBT online media can attest, articles about LGBT venue closures and redevelopment appear commonplace- so is gay ‘gentrification’ causing the ‘good life’ to recede out of our reach through escalating urban housing costs? In London, Soho used to be core LGBT geographic area, full of LGBT businesses and pubs. Not so today, however. Douglas- Fairhurst lists the number of venue closures- the Green Carnation, Barcode, Candy Bar and the Shadow Lounge- and suggests that there may need to be a shift to a new cluster of LGBT neighbourhoods to cope with the closure of venues and the gentrification of the surrounding area. Before Soho, it happened with Earls Court elsewhere in London, and the arrival of gay men in Soho coincided with the flight of sex workers and sex industry venues and the opening of gay pubs in the area, as well as an influx of local gay renters and house owners in new neighbourhoods. Much the same process has happened to other gay neighbourhoods elsewhere across Europe, such as Marais in Paris and Prenzlauer in Berlin. Even Manchester’s Canal Street gay village is under siege. And despite the desertion of Soho, new LGBT venues are opening up elsewhere in London. However, liberalised social attitudes and legislative reform have contributed to the flight of gay men from inner city districts that once provided the security of community social networks and organisations.

In one recent book, Peter Ackroyd takes us on a panoramic tour across lesbian and gay venues from the sixteenth century and the Buggery Act of 1530 (which made homosexuality a capital offence) to eighteenth century “molly houses” where gay men could be themselves, to ‘unofficial venues’ for gay male sexual liasons such as the Biograph theatre and a former public lavatory, to the Caravan Club in the 1930s, with anecdotes about Ludgate Hill shop assistants and famous London drag queens of bygone times, such as John Cowper (Princess Seraphina) and the infamous Victorian drag duo of Fanny and Stella, recently the subject of renewed biographical interest. He could also have mentioned the legendary London lesbian Gateways Club, a forty year venue that appeared in the prefeminist lesbian classic The Killing of Sister George (1965).

Which does raise some interesting questions. How viable would an overseas LGBT tourism campaign based around former venues of the past be for not only London, but also areas such as Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch in our own geographic contexts? Do we have the background information available? Why haven’t we tapped the potential within this unacknowledged but possibly latent tourist market, given that such ventures may already exist in longtime LGBT areas such as Oxford Street in Sydney and other Australian gay neighbourhoods? Certainly, Wellington has its own list of historical gay venues, but what about elsewhere in New Zealand? Are Pride and Gay Ski Week really the only commercial opportunities that we could use?

Appendix: Gay Wellington History:

In one book on gay Wellington of the past, the late, great and legendary Carmen Te Rupe (1936-2011) put in her usual magnificent appearance, in all her finery and grandeur.

It all began with the Royal Oak Hotel’s former site (71-81 Cuba Street), which housed three main bars. One former murderer, now known as Michael Avanti, used to pick up and rob gay men from one of the bars, and the booklet discusses the lesbian/gay/transvestite -drag queen habituees. Apparently, sex workers and queens got into regular fights over client conflicts. The bar also appealed to criminals, vagrants and sex workers.

On 16 College Street, the former Adams Bruce Chocolate Factory was once housed in the Fletcher Trust building. Factory manager Miles Radcliffe (50) was found battered and asphyxiated in its doorway one morning. Gay, he used the factory’s office afterhours to bring back men as a convenient private venue to have sex within.

Sadly, Minchin’s account has some more contemporary references. In May 1999, Jason Meads and Stephen Smith battered Stephen Whittington (14) to death in Te Aro’s Inverlochy Place, a small lane off Abel Smith Street. Both were later convicted of murder.

The famous Purple Onion Cafe (140 Vivian St) was a striptease joint, with a “Les Girls” transvestite act and casual prostitution. Georgina Beyer and Carmen were both employed there. Marion Street still provides a venue for Wellington street sex workers. Another Purple Onion Cafe is not related. On 86 Vivian Street, Carmen opened her International Coffee Lounge (and brothel), in which gay, straight and transsexual sex workers were available for those so interested. Despite police attempts to catch her out, Carmen eluded her often clumsy pursuers, closed the lounge in 1978 and headed off for Australia in 1980.

On June 5 1970, Michael Boyle (now Avanti) (17) stabbed Seaward McGregor (67), a steward, to death. Boyle later reformed after imprisonment for his killing and release in 1981.


Robert Douglas-Fairhurst: Goodbye to Gay London?” Prospect (July 2017):

Peter Akroyd: Queer City: Gay London from the Romans to the Present Day: London: Chatto and Windus: 2017.

Neil McKenna: Fanny and Stella: The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England: London: Faber and Faber: 2013.

William Minchin: Wellington: The Dark Side: Wellington: Steele Roberts: 2005.

Jill Gardiner: From the Closet to the Screen: Women and the Gateways Club: 1945-1985: London: Pandora: 2002.

Kelly Hankin: The Girls in the Back Room: Looking at the Lesbian Bar: Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press: 2002.

Shameem Kabir: Daughters of Desire: Lesbian Representations in Film: London: Cassell: 1998.

Jill Gardiner: “The Gateways Club” (December 2000):

Jewelle Gomez: Harvard Gay and Lesbian Review (31.07.99):

Sally Hussey: “Scene 176: Recasting the Lesbian in Robert Aldrich’s The Killing of Sister George: