Why are there so few accessible LGBTQ+ venues

Gwenyth Withers

Being both Disabled and a member of the LGBTQIA* community brings additional challenges. Still, one of the most frustrating is the distinct lack of accessible queer spaces and venues. 

Parapride highlights that ‘approximately 40% of the LGBTQ community identify as having a disability, yet there are no fully accessible LGBTQ spaces in the UK’. A fully accessible space would cater to all disabilities, including those with hearing or visual impairments, chronic conditions and learning disabilities, alongside more visible conditions. 

Being turned away from the pub

Kieran and his friend wanted to visit one of Soho’s oldest gay bars, The Admiral Duncan.

The pub was the centre of the UK’s largest homophobic hate crime when, in 1999, a Neo-Nazi set off a nail bomb inside the pub. This bomb killed three people and wounded around 70. The attack left many people with lifelong disabilities, with several requiring wheelchairs. It would be easy to assume that this would encourage the owners to create an inclusive, accessible venue. Still, Kieran found that this was not the case.

“I was supposed to be meeting some friends at The Admiral Duncan in the mid-afternoon. One of my friends and I travelled there together. When we arrived, the bouncer told us there was a private function.

“Once we found a different pub, I rang our friends to tell them about the change in plan... To my surprise, they were sitting in the Admiral Duncan part way through their drinks. There was no private function.”

Kieran believes that he and his friend were turned away at the door because they were visibly disabled.

“We were all gay men who were visiting a famed gay friendly pub. The only difference between the two of us, and our other friends, were our disabilities. It was absolutely humiliating.”

Impact of using inaccessible venues

Understandably, Kieran was even more appalled by the lack of accessibility given the pub’s history. He chose to attend a Stonewall Anniversary event at the pub, attended by the charity’s CEO and Actor, Ian McKellen. At the event, Kieran handed out flyers to highlight the detrimental impact of using inaccessible venues.

He was invited for a chat with Ian McKellan and Stonewall’s CEO. Kieran explained his reservations about Stonewall using an inaccessible venue. This conversation was used as a jumping off point, with the charity endeavouring to only use fully accessible venues for all events from that point forward. Kieran states that this pledge has since been rescinded in exchange for ‘endeavouring’ to use accessible venues.

The Admiral Duncan is working towards improving accessibility and now has a portable ramp for the front step. This can be constructed if somebody behind the bar is asked, or if after 5 pm, the bouncer is notified.

How difficult it is to find inclusive venues

However, this story highlights a broader problem, where disability awareness and access aren’t guaranteed in the queer scene. Many venues do not even have the option of step-free access, meaning that many who rely on wheelchairs and walking aids cannot use these spaces.

Disabled Drag Performer and Artist, CHUB RUB, wanted to put on an accessible event in Brighton.

“I wanted to make an accessible, diverse night, which was low-pressure and relaxed. I needed to source an affordable, safe venue for the first night, but I couldn’t find one despite my best efforts. I was devastated that the first Drag Sleepover did not have step-free access.

“I issued a public apology, and fortunately, we raised enough from that event to pay for a more expensive but accessible venue for future shows. However, when we held our event, the lift was not working. The third event was accessible.

I was thoroughly disappointed at the lack of accessible venue options. It should not be this difficult to make an event disability friendly.

While many activists and key players within the UK LGBTQIA* community work towards venue and event accessibility, there is still a long way to go. It is the role of venue owners to adapt and improve venues alongside educating their staff on disability awareness. 

Organisations like Leonard Cheshire can help educate employers and staff about disability and inclusion. They campaign for inclusive practice in all sectors to improve the quality of life for all people with disabilities. You can learn more about our support for organisations on our Training and Consultancy pages.