‘A Trojan Horse Draped In A Rainbow Flag’

Below is the text of the speech delivered by Amy Roberts (co-chair, Friends of the Joiners Arms) at Tower Hamlets Development Committee, August 2017.

Councillors, thank you for giving me an opportunity, as a representative of the LGBTQI community of east London, to speak on this proposal.

I’m here today because queer spaces matter to me. These are spaces where I feel safe. In the 13 years that London has been my home, I have been called a dyke by passers-by and been victim to a violent homophobic attack on the street. On nights out in non-queer spaces I have had pictures taken of me by strangers when I have been dancing with another woman and had my gender brought into question when I walk into female toilets. There are countless other examples I could give you of how I have been made to feel vulnerable, inferior, unsafe, because of who I am, the way I look, and because of the people I love. And I’m not alone. My experiences, and much worse, are echoed by countless others.

I cannot put into words the immense feeling of liberation when I walk into a place like the Joiners Arms. London has lost 58% of its LGBTQI spaces in the past 10 years, including 70% of spaces in Tower Hamlets. We DESPERATELY need these spaces in order to feel safe and thrive as a community.

I’m sure you’ve seen in the media over the last couple of days, a lot of celebratory remarks about how groundbreaking it is to have the queer character of a venue as a condition for planning approval. And perhaps it is. But we need to recognise: what’s proposed is NOT a viable replacement for east London’s most iconic queer venue.

Experts, including CAMRA and independent LGBTQI operators, have assessed the proposed A4 space. Everyone reached the same conclusion:

With no basement storage space, no off-street smoking area, no ancillary accommodation, and a condition that it closes EARLY seven days a week, we cannot possibly hope to have a space resembling or replacing the highly-popular, late-license community pub that was The Joiners Arms.

Further, the proposed Heads of Terms do not provide any legal protection: control over the selection and approval of the queer operator and the commercial terms of the venue remains entirely in the hands of the applicant.

Councillors, you are fully aware of the Trojan Horse tactics employed by developers to gain local authority approval, whereby a pub is promised but fails to materialise. In our view THIS is nothing more than a Trojan Horse draped in a rainbow flag.

Tower Hamlets NEEDS a queer community venue that caters for people before profit.

936 days after its closure, we want nothing more than the Joiners to re-open. We want nothing more than the queer community to witness the establishment of an LGBTQI venue that will replace just one of the DOZENS that have been shut across London. We want nothing more than to end nearly three years of campaigning with a victory for our community, after we’ve endured countless cuts to our vital services and an ongoing rise in hate crime. We want nothing more than a safe, fun, liberating space where we can meet, make friends, fall in love and dance.

But this MUST have the diverse voices of our community at the front of any proposal. The Joiners Arms has served communities in Tower Hamlets for over 150 years, 20 of which served the queer community, what is another 6 months to get this right?

We ask you to reject this current proposal in favour of finding a long term, viable alternative that will truly re-provide the Joiners Arms for our community.

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