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Greater Victoria’s lack of LGBTQ+ nightlife spaces ‘unfortunate,’ says student

UVic student wishes the city had more LGBTQ+ advertised safe spaces
Cleo Philp stands in front of Paparazzi Nightclub, which she describes as the “best-case study” of a spot that used to be branded as a queer space. (Ella Matte/News Staff)

When discussing Greater Victoria’s LGBTQ+ community, the elephant in the room that continues to be tiptoed around is the lack of safe nightlife spaces.

One of the five University of Victoria Students’ Society (UVSS) board of directors, Cleo Philp, uses the word “unfortunate” to describe the dwindling options of pubs and clubs.

“I think a thought that one of my colleagues shared with me is as the general public becomes more accepting of queerness and as queerness becomes a bigger part of the cultural zeitgeist, straight people and non-queer people feel more comfortable around it and therefore don’t necessarily grant the space that they used to out of intolerance,” said Philp.

The UVic student uses Paparazzi Nightclub as the “best-case study” of a spot that used to be branded as strictly a queer space. Formerly known as Prism Lounge, the nightclub was owned by long-time gay rights activist Gary Penny. Under his ownership, Prism was classified as a gay club through and through, and remained so until 2007 when Penny sold it. His one stipulation upon selling, though, was that the bar stays gay, according to an article from Xtra Magazine.

READ MORE: ‘No search results found’: B.C.’s queer communities lacking social spaces

Post COVID-19, Philp believes Paparazzi has become a space that isn’t specifically for people in the LGBTQ+ community and therefore feels less safe.

“I think some of that is it having that historical reputation as a queer space, and creeps that are there to fetishize queer people know that,” they said. “And they know that the establishment isn’t exactly going to protect the queer people because that’s the reputation they’ve developed.”

In response to the 2007 management shift, Paparazzi Nightclub told Black Press Media in a statement: “Paparazzi is a locally owned business for the past 16 years, throughout our 16 years of business we have operated as an all-inclusive space. We have also provided, and will continue to provide, significant support to the local LGBT+ community in ways such as our yearly donation to the Victoria Pride Society. We also maintain an open and inclusive hiring practice. Our guests make up a cross-section of Greater Victoria – we do not ask our guests to identify their gender or sexuality and have zero tolerance for any form of harassment, intimidation, or violence.”

Looking beyond Paparazzi, Friends of Dorothy (FOD) in Victoria calls themselves Vancouver Island’s premier LGBT2Q+ restaurant. Rudy Tomazic, founder of FOD believes “the world has changed so much that, I think one of the reasons Paparazzi maybe even made a change is that there’s not enough continuous support from just the community to facilitate a solid business. So although we don’t refuse people that are supporters or allies of our community, we always try and support people that are in the community and identifying within the community.”

Tomazic shares how one of his staff grew up in Ontario in the 1980s.

“There was queer space, and it was down a dark alley, and you kind of had to know someone to get in. Then when allies or straight people would come, they would actually refuse them at the door and just say they’re ‘full,’” he said. “Those days are gone too, right? If one of my allies or straight friends came with me and we went to a bar, and they said, ‘He or she can’t come in because they’re not queer, it becomes controversial again.”

The restaurant founder thinks it would be hard for Paparazzi to find only 250 queer people, that want to be partying and dancing every day of the weekend at the same place. However, he believes the Victoria needs a variety of queer spaces, particularly smaller spaces.

“I think we can handle more, and I think we’re gonna see more. There are other queer-owned spaces in town now, but they don’t advertise as just gay restaurants or gay bars,” said Tomazic. “I think that a venue like Paparazzi or that style of dancing venue would be great just in a smaller scale. The future is probably smaller, more intimate spaces that are very focused.”

On the other hand, Philp believes that Greater Victoria’s LGBTQ+ population is growing, and there is an appetite for larger dancing spaces. Last year, Statistics Canada released their first-ever census data on transgender and non-binary populations. The report found Greater Victoria had the country’s largest proportion at approximately 0.75 per cent of residents.

READ MORE: Victoria leads Canada in trans, non-binary representation, heeds call for education, acceptance

“There’s also the business case of Victoria that it’s too small to have a minority demographic, be your entire target audience when it’s a space as big as some of those nightclubs, but I’m under the impression that Victoria is getting a little gayer over time, just as the world is,” Philp said. “That means that Paparazzi used to likely have less clientele. So I can’t really see that argument being super valid because if there isn’t enough people to support a gay bar now when there’s definitely more queer acceptance, how was there five years ago?”

Files from Lauren Battagello

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About the Author: Ella Matte

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