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Can a proposed new Lesbian club 'legally' exclude trans people?

Can a proposed new Lesbian club 'legally' exclude trans people?

Jamie Wareham
Jamie Wareham
TL;DR: A new private members club that plans to "legally restrict" transgender people from attending has announced plans to open. But whether its plans are legal is a complex question. Meanwhile, they’ve been overshadowed by a huge community welcome for a new trans-inclusive lesbian bar La Camionera.

Jenny Watson, founder of an “adult human females” speed dating event has announced plans to open 'Britain’s first lesbian members bar that will only allow "biological women" to join.'

The bar, the 'L Community', will operate as a private members club so it can set rules that prevent trans women from signing up - The Telegraph

However, leading discrimination barrister Robin White has told QueerAF that excluding trans women - or anyone with a protected characteristic from a space-  isn't legal. But that doesn't necessarily mean the law won't allow this club to exist.

Meanwhile, a new lesbian pop-up event has announced plans to open a full-time lesbian bar and café in Hackney after a huge turn out that saw queer women, lesbians, transgender and non-binary people spill out from the basement to the streets.

Can L Community legally restrict transgender people from entering?

The Equality Act directly covers the memberships of clubs and associations. Speaking to QueerAF, White explained that while having a club for people with one protected characteristic is lawful, the law doesn't allow you to exclude people because of a protected characteristic.

The law allows for spaces protected for a single characteristic, to create safe spaces for marginalised communities. But crucially, it sets out you can't form that space by excluding people because of their identity.

White told us that the legality of the proposed private members club could be questioned on this matter. There is also a question of whether L Community founders could create a protected space for people of multiple characteristics, as the current wording in the law does not contain a plural.

However, for White, it's the way this new club will determine who can be a member that asks the most questions:

"What is the test to be? Will you have to show your birth certificate? What about those who have a GRC and have legally changed their sex marker? Or do you have to look ‘female enough’?

“My concern is how they will police it. I have a butch lesbian friend who many people assume is trans, so what happens? Will there be an 'appearance' policeperson at the door? If someone disbelieves them, how does this all work?"

White suggested that venues like this would perpetuate the well-documented issues with bathroom bills: "we know that it wasn't trans women who were being inconvenienced. It was natal women who were seen to be male presenting."

Huge crowd of trans-inclusive queer women flock to new lesbian bar La Camionera

Widen the lens, and this story sits in a bigger picture of a decline of lesbian bars, which have long struggled next to their gay male counterparts.

"Lesbian bars are often in basements because they tend to be cheaper and unused over main bar spaces - alongside a presumption they will not get as busy as gay male spaces", Co-founder of OUTspoken Speaker Network Polly Shute told QueerAF.

"But the success of La Camionera which saw hundreds flock to the bar this week shows there is a market - and that queer women will show up to spend money". This success is particularly important given that this event is proudly trans-inclusive. The event has now announced plans to open a permanent space - La Camionera

Broadcaster and QueerAF contributor Shivani Dave told us the excitement towards La Camionera extends to its approach to creating an overground accessible venue too. While on the proposed 'L Community' members club, Dave says they’re reticent to give it the time of day, largely because “you know that nobody fun, clever or interesting is going to be walking into this bar". If the club does open, Dave is planning a mass kiss-in to protest it. 

Analysis: Most Lesbians and queer women are trans-inclusive and want venues they support to show this

This story is complex, and the ‘L Community’ concept has not been tested in court - it may never be. Because it's a sensitive area, we must be careful to apply any 'legal or not' analysis at this stage. Still, if it goes ahead unchallenged, it could form another shaky legal or moral precedent for anti-trans and anti-gender activists to use all over the UK.

Like many anti-trans initiatives, it has garnered a great deal of media attention - while events that cater for queer women and lesbians gather little.

Like the campus-wide movement of students against anti-trans academics who meet in small rooms, the popularity of a new trans-inclusive lesbian bar speaks volumes about where the majority of lesbians and queer women stand on trans people. 

It will be interesting to compare the photos of both venues’ opening nights.

What happens on campus in further and higher education is often a sign of what's to come in society.

That's usually a theory that I draw a great deal of hope from. But in the current climate, that mood music is more complex.

But as Maisy Neale sets out ahead of National Student Pride 2024, the wider political clampdown on LGBTQIA+ people in the UK is impacting campus life.

Still, while a few academics with fringe anti-gender views try to push prejudiced views onto campus through the guise of 'academic freedom', students are pushing back.

This undervalued section of the UK voter base is politically aware and prepared to take action to secure their futures.

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