Trigger Warning: Sexual Harassment
Safe spaces are not new for club culture. Historically, they have often developed not only as a way to protect musical cultures, but also as a way to protect individuals who may face harassment on the basis of their gender, sexuality or ethnicity. This developed throughout the LGBTQ scene from the disco and house days – with clubs such as Paradise Garage and The Loft – through to the present day. LGBTQ people recognized as a necessity the need to create a ‘safe space’ to express themselves beyond the restraints of wider society - be that in clubs or beyond. This is an essential practice, with Berghain’s previous incarnation as ‘Snax’ and later ‘Osgut’ being a notable example of tolerant intra-club politics. This is important because the intersectional nature of those clubs was a key function of the music, perpetuating a dynamic and inclusive dance floor that enabled a fluid dialogue between people, rather than relegating the clubs to a heteronormative sphere. However, with the growing presence of ‘lad culture’ in modern clubs, many venues often fall short of these ideals while professing to be part of a similar process. This has had dramatic social, sexual and economic implications for clubs, as Julia Gray (co-director of Hollaback London) writes, “so many women and LGBTQ people submit stories of harassment and even assault in clubs and pubs to our website; and these experiences are now so commonplace that they’re actually putting people off going out altogether.” Thankfully, ‘Good Night Out’, the first ever London-wide campaign to end sexual harassment in clubs, has been working to return the idea of ‘safe spaces’ to the public lexicon, and has been instrumental in reintroducing this crucial concept. We spoke to Julia Gray earlier this week to talk about the project and its relation to the clubs that we love so dearly.
So for those who don’t know, what is ‘Good Night Out’ and how did it start?
Good Night Out is a campaign set up to work with clubs, bars and pubs to tackle harassment on nights out. We decided to run this campaign as we’ve been running an anti-street harassment campaign called Hollaback London for four years. We provide a website for people who have experienced harassment, be that sexual or otherwise, in public spaces across London, to share their stories and find some support and solidarity, and we wanted to extend this to an establishment-specific campaign. We want people to know they can report harassment that happens to them, and we want to make sure venues are doing the best they can for their customers. So a couple of key points about the campaign; first of all, we want it to be really positive. It’s not about scaring people or saying bad things happen in certain venues, it’s about making sure everyone has a good time, hence the name Good Night Out! The other key aspect is working really closely with the venues. It’s not just about paying lip-service to the campaign by putting up posters etc, it’s about working with us directly to make sure their policy is right-on, and sharing best practices.
So how do the mechanics of it work? How do you work to promote safe spaces?
We came up with a pledge for the campaign which reads: ‘If something or someone makes you feel uncomfortable, no matter how small it seems, you can report it to any member of our staff and they will work with you to make sure it doesn’t have to ruin your night.’ So first we have a bit of a dialogue with the venues, and talk about the policies they already have in place, and we build in our campaign pledge into their harassment policy. For us, it’s about what the person who has been harassed wants to happen. It’s not about chucking everybody out, or getting the two people in the same room and hashing it out, it’s about finding out what that person wants, making sure they feel safe, and working with them to make sure they don’t have their night ruined. So we work on policy with the venue, and then they officially endorse it by letting us publish their name on our website. We offer briefings to staff if they want it, and then we supply them with a training info pack and the campaign posters for display in the venue, which states the pledge and gives information about the campaign.
Which clubs are you currently working with?
So far, we’ve got Fabric, Ministry of Sound, Village Underground, Dalston bars Dance Tunnel, Dalston Superstore, Voodoo Rays, The Alibi, Shacklewell Arms, Birthdays, The Old Blue Last and we’ve got a few more Hackney places getting on board; The Oval Space, and a brand new venue called Shapes. We’re planning to continue reaching out to more and more venues and ask them to come on board, and we’re hoping to get it rolled out across London and eventually across the UK. We’ve had similar campaign groups from other cities get in touch and ask advice, which is great.
Seems pretty amazing how quickly it’s grown, have you been surprised by the response?
Yeah we were surprised. We were apprehensive about how the venues would respond, we didn’t want them to think we were suggesting anything negative about their space, but because we work a lot with Kirsti [Fabric], she advised us on how to and frame it as something really positive, and that’s worked really well, we’re just promoting the idea of everyone having a good time, and it remains about the music and having fun. It’s been amazing how supportive everyone has been, because it’s not just a case of saying ‘OK we’ll put the posters up’, most of the clubs have been really proactive and they’ve wanted us to talk to come in and talk to their staff, and have been really helpful with promoting the campaign.
** I understand there is a similar project in Washington D.C, ‘Safe Bars’ - are the projects related?**
The one in Washington is not related but we had heard about that and taken a bit of influence from similar projects; there’s another one is Baltimore and a few others. It was good to hear that other services like this were happening, and we took inspiration from that, and adapted it to the London scene.
Do you think this is a problem in all clubs, or is the problem evident in some clubs more than others?
For the bigger clubs, it’s probably a bit more of a problem because it’s easier to be ‘anonymous’, but to be honest, it’s pretty widespread, and harassment occurs in almost all clubs across the board.
Where are you hoping to take this campaign in the future?
Hollaback is an umbrella project, we run the London chapter but there are others in the UK and so we are hoping to work with those sites to role Good Night Out across the UK.
**Lastly, how can people get in touch if they want to get involved or if they have experienced harassment in a club themselves? **
As part of Good Night Out we’re running a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #goodnightout and we’re really encouraging people to tweet @HollabackLDN about their experiences whether good or bad. If we hear about experiences in a club that haven’t been dealt with properly, we’ll be able to contact them and try to get them on board. If there’s a club, bar, pub or any venue that want to be part of the campaign, they can tweet us or email us at London@ihollaback.org and we’re welcoming suggestions for any potential signatories to the campaign pledge.