So Peter Tatchell has eloquently summed up the debacle surrounding tomorrow's World Pride in his article London Mayor Accused Over World Pride Fiasco, outlining how an event that could have been so spectacular lapsed into disheartening confusion and ended a pale shadow of its initial vision. But a paragraph that particularly caught my own eye was the following, involving Westminster Council's actions in anticipation of Saturday's celebrations:
Westminster council has sent what reads like a threatening letter to gay venues warning them that their licences could be revoked if they play music that is "audible outside of your premises" and if they allow customers to drink in the street. Ignoring the exceptional circumstances on Saturday, venues are expected to operate on Saturday "as on any normal day." All celebrations must take place "within licensed premises," the letter says. Westminster council has not explained how up to 250,000 people are expected to cram into 20 Soho gay venues with a maximum capacity of 5,000 people.
Only two years ago I was trying to write an article upon the seemingly overbearing bureaucracy Westminster council was exercising upon LGBT businesses in Soho at the time. These included actions which may fairly have affected all businesses in Soho, such as an obsessive concentration on the particular placement of outdoor furniture, to solely LGBT-orientated proceedings, such as the attempted removal of rainbow flags. Yet none of the publications I was writing for at the time wanted to touch the article for fear of repercussions from the Council, which similarly deterred LGBT business owners from contributing.
Obviously Westminster Council has a duty to protect its residents and look to the security of the streets during an event such as Pride, but implementing actions such as those outlined above appeared to be actively hammering the final nail into the already dodgy coffin of the day's festivities. Soho, as many of its residents will enthusiastically attest, is made what it is by its vibrant nightlife culture and thriving LGBT community. It would be counterproductive to have an overseeing institution which does not support this.
And the update in 2010 which piqued my initial interest in this issue? Well it stemmed from the public sphere of Facebook, of course, where else? Gary Henshaw, owner of the well-run and socially responsible Ku Bar business, posted on his wall on August 11, 2010: 'Westminster Licensing at it again... harassment, tit for tat bullying. They wont leave it until they close Ku. It's a total disgrace... I need some powerful support.' Although Mr Henshaw was reluctant to expand further upon his status at the time, in discussion as he was with his solicitors, other comments made on the thread were enlightening.
'I used to be a press officer to Westminster licensing,' wrote Andre Walker, on 12 August. 'I was absolutely disgusted by their behaviour, they deliberately... tried to cut and revoke licenses. They do not want the West End to have a night time economy... You can probably guess that I resigned from the Council after three months!'
'I'm tempted to agree,' said Edward Hirst on the same day. 'I moved out of Soho a long while ago. My experience was that if you weren't the kind of person they wanted in the borough they would trample your rights until you bugger off elsewhere. I felt virtually forced out by the council and ended up in sunny Hackney.'
These comments stem from 2010 and I am not trying to hide the time difference here, but I feel they may still have a relevance to current events given the news and reporting surrounding World Pride last week. Note that Mr Walker in his comment does not accuse Westminster Council of actively targeting LGBT businesses, rather all West End nightlife businesses in general. And I myself am not accusing Westminster Council of being bullies, I am merely highlighting a question within the facts presented that may show them to have acted in an unreasonable manner. It is up to the readers and public to make up their own minds upon the truth of the subject.
But perhaps, in closing, it is worth remembering that we are discussing the same Council here who, also in 2010, prosecuted taxi firm Addison & Lee for putting up cigarette bins trying to keep the streets tidier. Sometimes one is justifiably reminded of the phrase 'bureaucracy gone mad'.
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