Power To The Women – We meet the powerful women working on London’s LGBTQ scene

Photos by Jan Kloss

In a male-dominated world they manage, perform, create, keep us safe and generally run the show. But what is it like to be a woman working on the gay scene in 2017? What challenges do they face and how do they deal with them?

Are women treated fairly and equally in the LGBTQ community? Is there still a culture of misogyny amongst gay men that we don’t talk about enough, or are attitudes changing for the better?

Jason Reid put those questions and more to the experts, the women of the gay scene…

Mzz Kimberley 

Cabaret Performer & Actress

I find that there’s still a lot of misogyny on the gay scene today. You’d expect the LGBTQ community to be a bit more adaptable and open-minded, but I think it’s just in some men’s nature to act this way.

Being a black trans woman can have its ups and downs. When I was working at Heaven, some of my colleagues found it really hard to accept that a black woman could conduct business and be successful, which in turn made money for the club. Unfortunately some Caucasian people just can’t cope with strong and intelligent black women. We are expected to sit in the corner, shut up, and do as we’re told. I don’t go by those rules. It makes me want to work harder and achieve more.

On the topic of women being represented fairly and equally on the scene, let’s not kid ourselves here; they’re not. There’s a song by James Brown called ‘It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World’ – that could be the theme tune for so many gay men. Thankfully, things are slowly changing and women are starting to come to the fore. But in order for real change, women need to stick together, be visible and keep creating.

There have been times when I’ve walked into a gay venue and literally every single head has gone up to see who is coming in and I’ve been tempted to scream, ‘SORRY, it’s a woman’. Gay men DO dominate the scene. It’s not their fault, but they can help change attitudes by coming together and not pandering to that pack mentality. There was one occasion when I was asked to take part in a shoot for the cover of a magazine. The theme was ‘the rainbow’ of the gay scene. But apart from me – a trans-woman – there were no other women involved. I was shocked and saddened by that. It’s important to understand that women should be represented and that life is not all about Caucasian men with muscles.

I’m so pleased that the queer scene, the real queer scene, is growing. I feel like I really fit in there. It’s not about your gender, or whether you’re gay, straight or trans, it’s about people coming together. If we really want to see change on the scene we must ALL come together and support each other. Women will always be there for you gay men, even when that attractive twink next door isn’t.

Catia Ciarico 

Head of Light Entertainment, RVT 

I work with everyone and anyone in the spirit of co-operation, respect and collaboration and as long as I get that back, nobody gets hurt. When I first started working on the gay scene (ten years ago), I did encounter some intolerance, which was disappointing. Thankfully things have changed quite radically since then; there are far more women on the scene and in my experience it has become more tolerant, open and inclusive.

There’s still an element of women being mocked for laughs – mocked, that is, for being women and having clichéd behavioural patterns ascribed to them, which are sent up – it’s very uncomfortable to listen to. Women have been the easy butt of jokes for a long time and that really needs to stop. But that isn’t a criticism of the LGBTQ scene, it happens on the straight entertainment scene too.

Although I have experienced some misogyny, generally queer men have an understanding and openness that is strangely lacking on the straight scene. There tends to be much more openness and less editing and coded politeness, which I LOATHE in every day life. That openness can also be explosive but I don’t mind that. There’s nothing wrong with getting a little punchy once in a while.

I’ve worked in entertainment for a long time and the queer scene is my favourite scene to work on because it is open and forward-thinking. This is largely due to the fact that queer/gay people from all walks of life have spent a long time experiencing oppression, whether physical, verbal, legally or mentally, so the scene is far more adept at challenging this and bucking the status quo.

Marnie Scarlet 

Drag Queen & Fetish Wear Designer 

Generally I’ve been quite lucky, most of my experiences have been positive. Any negative comments I do receive usually come from men, sadly, because they need to prove they’re straight by saying something ‘funny’. I defuse the situation by saying something equally funny back, or by just putting them in their place and telling them it’s not okay to say such things.

Sadly, misogyny is ingrained in society, and therefore it does exist on the LGBTQ scene. My main beef would be with the term ‘fishy’, which I know has been addressed by Holestar and Dis Charge. It’s an outdated term that really should not be used by anyone. On the odd occasion I may get bad-humoured, off-the-cuff remarks. If you wouldn’t say it to a non-dragged up woman then you shouldn’t say it to a drag queen. Gender demeaning humour is cheap, and in my opinion shouldn’t be done. Also, just because someone is dressed up, that does not give you license to touch without permission. 

I’ve performed at and hosted many cabaret events over the years and I’ve actually never been asked if I was a woman or not. I feel accepted in the LGBTQ community and I’m extremely blessed to be a part of it. London has a very open and vibrant attitude, and in my experience people are respected regardless of age or persuasion

Vickie Shirley 

Head of Security, Her Upstairs 

I’ve worked in a range of different types of venues, both gay and straight – however, the queer environment at Her Upstairs is completely different. I’ve never felt more comfortable at work than I do there. There’s no expectation for me to be or act a certain way. In the other venues it was mainly homophobia that I had to contend with – from blatant comments in straight venues, to micro-aggressions in gay venues.

I think the main issue is that I’m a female identifier in a stereotypically male-dominated industry. That can be challenging for some. However, in a queer space like Her Upstairs, that doesn’t happen. I have the freedom to run the door and my team in line with the venue’s ethos, which is something I have never been able to do before.

I get to dress how I want, have my piercings out, and I’m encouraged to show off my fabulous hair – landlady George even treats me to the dye job. I don’t really face any problems from the people I work with or the diverse crowd that frequent Her Upstairs. You occasionally get the odd smirk from a passer-by on the streets of Camden but when I’m flanked by Meth and other fabulous creatures, I go into mother mode.

Heather Elliot

General Manager, Halfway to Heaven 

I see the gay scene as a safe place where you can be with friends, enjoy a night out and party freely with no agenda. Without wanting to sound too clichéd, it’s the perfect place to just be yourself.

Working on the scene and managing Halfway to Heaven as a straight woman has made me appreciate why there is such a sense of community. Once you break down barriers and stereotypes, you understand how real the struggles have been over the years. The LGBTQ community has had to fight so hard to be equal and it saddens me that, although massive progress has been made, the fight is still not over.

I’ve had homophobic comments and slurs thrown at me, people making assumptions as to who and what I am based purely on where I work and my circle of friends. This is why Pride is so important – it’s the toughest yet most rewarding time of the year.

It’s important that everyone has a voice in all walks of life. Being part of the scene allows me to able to listen, learn and to also give my opinion when it’s needed. I know I’m not a lone voice out there and this is comforting.


Nine of our favourite female queer allies



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