Discover more from Tripe + Drisheen
Cork city's LGBTQ+ community searches for creative and safe spaces
When Chambers changed tack last month it left a void which the city's LGBTQ+ community is still looking to fill.
For almost forty years, Cork has consistently had a nightlife venue for the LGBTQ+ community. It began with Loafers on Douglas Street, which opened in 1983 and was an anchor for the gay community until its closure in 2015. Following that, Chambers on Washington Street was a go-to spot. Chambers is part of Rearden's Group, a consortium of bars owned by businesswoman Margaret Kenneally
But bars come and go all the time. However, it was the manner in which Chambers did a U-turn last month that made headlines and led to protests on Washington Street.
All apologies, and promotions
For Freshers Week, Chambers was rebranded as Sinners; LGBTQ+ paraphernalia within the bar was removed and the weekly drag shows were cancelled. The series of changes led to protests opposite Chambers on the Courthouse steps, with drag artists chanting that “you can’t paint the gay away”.
Rearden’s Group subsequently issued apologies, with one of their consultants also joining a Town Hall meeting on September 22 in an attempt to make amends. However, no public apology was issued by Margaret Kenneally nor by Rearden’s Group until September 26, weeks after Chambers temporarily changed lanes to become Sinners.
When an apology did come, it was posted as a story on the bar’s Instagram account. It was boilerplate apology fare:
“My team in Chambers always try to offer the best service and a safe space to all our customers but I failed this time. I got it wrong.”
It continued: “It was never my intention to alienate anybody. I realise I offended and upset many of our loyal and regular customers and I am very sorry. I should have handled this better. We are all aware of what happened and I have learnt from it and I will take extra care in the future.
As an additional apology, we are running a weekend long promotion in Chambers for all our customers. While I know it can’t exactly make up for the hurt I caused, I hope it will go some way to making amends,” the apology continued, before being signed off by Margaret.
Beyond commercial spaces
“There are lots of spaces that don't feel safe for LGBT people,” Ailsa Spindler, project co-ordinator at the Cork Gay Project told Tripe + Drisheen.
Spindler said that what happened with Chambers emphasises the need for community spaces that are not beholden to commercial interests.
“What we really need is a community and community run space that gives people the sense of being somewhere safe,” Spindler said.
“You hear stories of some of the security staff on the door being quite objectionable to LGBT customers, we heard of incidents in the toilets where people have been challenged about their gender identity, and when I say challenged, I mean, you know, violently challenged, and that's not what you expect in a place that is supposed to be tolerant and open for LGBT people,” they said.
“We're not taking a position on whether people should or shouldn't go, but what I would say is that it's got to be a safe space, it’s got to feel like a safe space for people to want to go back there. The image of Chambers took a big hit, and it will take quite a lot of effort on their part to convince people that they are genuinely supportive of the community,” Spindler added.
Drag artists have been finding new homes since the Chambers incident, with shows now taking place in The Pavilion, The Liberty, and The Oyster Tavern.
While the artists declined an interview with Tripe + Drisheen about the new spaces, former Chambers resident drag artist Liam Bee said that “we’re focusing now on moving forward and producing shows.”
Bee and fellow drag artist Krystal Queer host ‘The Gay Agenda’, a weekly queer night at the Liberty, on South Main Street. A fundraiser for a new space is ongoing.
“We're trying hard and I'm optimistic that we can find spaces. I think there's a tremendous interest within the community about how we can tackle this with our resources. The meeting that we had at the Gay Project a couple of weeks ago, there was a big turnout, lots of people really interested in what they could do to support something, we had councillors there,” Spindler said.
“I gather that a motion has been tabled for the next council meeting to actually look at how the city can support this, so I think we can be optimistic, but it's not a simple fix.”
At the monthly Cork City Council meeting held this week a motion was tabled on Monday by Solidarity-People Before Profit councillor Brian McCarthy calling for a “LGBTQ+ safe space, both during the day and for nightlife, as a matter of urgency.”
“We have to be careful with motions, sometimes they can only be words,” Labour Councillor John Maher told Tripe + Drisheen. “My own opinion on this is that there needs to be more spaces, but that we need to decide what we want.”
When asked what the council could do, Maher admitted it was a “tricky one”
“That's my fear of motions. What we're doing is we support the interagency awareness week, we fly the flag, and we partner with the Gay Project, we partner with sexual health awareness.”
“When you have so much vacancy around Cork city, the opportunity could be there for one time use while the owners of buildings are deciding what they can do, but I suppose fundamentally our community needs to figure out what it is that we want.”
Cllr Maher acknowledged that what a community-led space would look like is complex: for example, should it serve alcohol, or not?
“It's very complex,” he said, adding, “I think we need to be grounded. I think we need to take a deep breath. We need to figure out what it is we want.”
“What I’d say just now is be calm, cool down and let's continue the dialogue, like the Gay Project started and, I think that's fundamental and as a City Council we should be promoting spaces where maybe we come across a building.”
Rearden’s Group declined to comment for this story.