Tower Hamlets council has saved the UK’s last remaining gay fetish club by blocking plans to have it redeveloped it into a 12-storey apartment block.
According to The Guardian, the local authority ultimately decided that getting rid of the long-running bar – and subsequently turning it into a 46-flat complex – would “harm the long-term provision of a nightclub that serves the LGBT+ community.”
Located in Wentworth Mews on Mile End Road, The Backstreet has prided itself on being a sanctuary for “gay men who are into leather or rubber” for the last 34 years.
“When I discovered the fetish scene by going to the Backstreet as an 18-year-old, it saved my life,” an anonymous man wrote in a letter to the council, in the run-up to its decision being made.
“It gave me a community that made me feel welcome, and embraced me flaws and all. It stopped me thinking I was odd or an outsider, [it] gave me confidence in myself, and gave me some incredible friends and mentors.”
Interestingly, the housing scheme proposed by the developer had stipulated that it would be willing to preserve The Backstreet in the basement of the new tower. But Tower Hamlets council were concerned that the updated location would lead to endless noise complaints from residents above and ultimately, the club’s closure.
Talking to the aforementioned publication, Labour Party Councillor Rachel Blake described the establishment as “an important community asset” and explained that “going the extra mile” to keep it in existence was important to her and the rest of the borough’s committee.
“It is the last true gay fetish club, and diversity matters to us,” she added. “This kind of venue really matters to us, it matters to Tower Hamlets and to the whole of London. It is very important to have safe spaces for the whole community.”
UK hate crimes are on the rise.
The Deputy Mayor continued: “When there is a rise in hate crime, we must stand up for those with all backgrounds, and it is important that people can enjoy themselves in a safe space without external judgement.”
Just last month, The Guardian reported that the number of homophobic attacks had more than doubled throughout England and Wales in the last four years. It is estimated that the amount of transphobic hate crimes has tripled within the same time period, from 550 in 2014 to 1,650 in 2018. Over 40 percent of all assaults committed last year were violent.
“There is a tension, and even within our own LGBT community, there is a tension. I believe it’s a direct result of people feeling unsafe due to rise of the rightwing political movement,” Taz Edwards-White, a representative for equality and diversity charity METRO, told the outlet.