Words: Steve Brown
Manchester fetish clubs claim they are being targeted by police and local authorities.
Over the last six months, campaigners have been in a battle with police and local council authorities after Manchester Council launched a public consultation to ‘fully understand what the area [Canal Street] means to local people, visitors and local businesses to inform how it can be protected in the future’.
However, campaigners and organisers of fetish nights claim pressure from local authorities is part of a wider campaign to ‘sanitise and gentrify’ the Village, according to the Manchester Evening News.
Adrian Perrett, who has run fetish night Club Alert! for more than 15 years across various venues in the Gay Village, argued the dispute over the legality of his night is damaging Manchester’s reputation as a tolerant city.
He said: “I’m sure a lot of it is about big development. Whether it’s conscious or not, they’re trying to gentrify the Village.
“From the top down, there is a plan to drive out the seedier side of things and make the Village a Disneyland pastiche of what it was.
"A darkroom is a curtained off area where you're allowed to do whatever, sex if they want, sometimes we have equipment like slings.
"But the important point is these are private members' clubs. My understanding of the legal situation is a private members' club can operate and have sex.
"Legally I don't think we're doing anything wrong. I certainly wouldn't risk a venue's license if I thought I was doing anything illegal."
Adrian – who has also launched a petition calling on authorities to reconsider their position - also states that if Manchester loses the fetish nights, it would cause more gay men to go to chemsex parties.
He continued: "If you don't have those darkrooms in the Village, that will push people to go to chemsex parties and there's a huge issue around that.
"We have a first aider on site at every event, we provide safer sex advice, we work with the LGBT Foundation.
"Gay men will have sex somewhere, where will they go if they don't have these events? It feels like we're going back to the bad old days."
Following last year’s Pride event, the licencing authorities reportedly received complaints about fetish nights, which sparked the current argument.
Since then, licencing officers have visited a number of events over the last couple of months and police have sent letters stating they believe the nights are not complying with the law.
Andrew Underwood – the co-owner of Eagle bar that runs a similar fetish night – argued that straight swinger’s clubs are not being looked at in the same way.
He said: “You've got straight swinger's clubs, they're not looking into them, we can't quite understand their take on it when it's been fine up until now.
"In London and Birmingham lots of people openly promote the sexual element and that goes on no problem.
“It seems Manchester has got a different view when we all work from the same law. We've been going for ten years with no issues - what's changed?"
The club nights have been backed by Piccadilly councillors, Jon-Connor Lyons, Sam Wheeler and Adele Douglas, who said in a statement: "As the three local councillors, and members of the LGBTQ+ community, the businesses involved have our full support.
"Licensing is about public safety, and we have seen no evidence that practices at these events are unsafe.
“We have secured a meeting with executive members of Manchester City Council to resolve this situation.
"At a time of austerity, council staff and GMP should be concentrating on those areas that our residents care about, such as commercial waste and street crime, not what consenting adults do in a members-only setting.”