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By Isobel Van Dyke
he year is 1920, the location is 20 Rue Jacob on the left bank of the Seine, Paris. It’s a Friday evening and you are dressed to the nines, cloaked until you walk through the door.
You scurry inside and are greeted by a cult-like chorus of women draped in white cloth and reciting ancient Greek poetry. To your left sit a gaggle of brooding writers, competing with one another to look the most pensive. They have short hair, cut above their ears, they wear the top half of a traditional penguin suit, but skirts where you might otherwise expect to see trousers.
The skirts were a styling choice made for them by a law that forbade women in France to wear trousers “unless the woman is holding bicycle handlebars or the reins of a horse”, (astoundingly, this law was only repealed in 2013). Your host for the evening is the notorious Natalie Clifford Barney, who dances between the groups of artists, poets and actors, her hair long and wild, filled with the secrets of Paris’s queer underworld.
‘We have come a long way since hushed basement meet-ups, the hanky code, and coded queer zines that would be anonymously faxed across the country.’
Laws around queerness have meant that for hundreds of years the LGBTQ+ community has had to carve out hidden spaces for themselves, veiled from the eyes of society.
Queer people would travel from across the globe to visit Natalie Clifford Barney’s famed salons – a place to meet like-minded creatives, to exchange ideas, literature, artwork, to be critiqued and challenged. A place that you left feeling energised, excited, hopeful and, most importantly, less alone.
Today, growing up queer comes with varying degrees of loneliness. For years, nightlife has been a tonic to this isolation. Gay bars in cities such as Paris, Berlin and San Francisco provided spaces for the LGBTQ+ community – even so, these bars were far from a sanctuary when so often they were subject to violent police raids.
‘As much as we want to go out, dance and drink in clubs, it is vital that we have access to spaces that don’t revolve around just late nights and alcohol.’
During lockdown, and still now, many young queer people are trapped at home in unaccepting, misunderstanding, or toxic bubbles. A widespread longing to be around other LGBTQ+ people is palpable. And as much as we want to go out, dance and drink in clubs, it is vital that we have access to spaces that do not revolve around just late nights and alcohol. Places that are accessible to people under the age of 18 too.
We have come a long way since hushed basement meet-ups, the hanky code, and coded queer zines that would be anonymously faxed across the country (i.e Vice Versa, whose founder’s name “Lisa Ben” was an anagram for lesbian).
Below, we list seven LGBTQ+ networks that you can join now.
Header image: Le Monocle nightclub in Paris, 1920s. Photograph by Brassaï. (Getty)
The Cocoa Butter Club is a performance production company, showcasing and celebrating Black performers and performers of colour. Founded in 2016 by Sadie Sinner and Cassie Leon, the duo decided to launch their business after realising there were no Black lesbians booked on the cabaret stage at London Pride. We recently chatted to The Cocoa Butter Club in our feature on Black women founders – find out more here.
Romance FC is the Hackney-based football team that you’ll want to be a part of if only for its kit. Founded and managed by stylist Trisha Lewis, the team trains twice a week, in Tottenham and in Hackney, and has worked with Adidas, Nike and even Pharrell. You can even buy the merch at Farfetch.
The women’s, non-binary and Trans folk’s basketball team was set up earlier this year and seems to be growing in popularity day by day, helped along by its thoroughly entertaining Instagram account. Queens of Peckham is hosting a fundraiser tournament on Sunday, 11 July to help raise funds for gender-affirming surgeries and to help create a new space for queer people in south London.
Schools OUT UK is an online network for LGBTQ+ teachers across the country. It is the charity behind LGBTQ+ history month and has the overarching goal of making all schools safe spaces for LGBTQ+ staff and students. If you are at school – either a teacher or a pupil – Schools OUT is a great support network to have on your radar.
Swimming can be incredibly anxiety-inducing for many queer people struggling with their bodies. Out To Swim is an LGBTQ+ aquatics club based in London, Brighton and Bristol. It is hosting a queer sports day (free and welcome to all) on 1 August at Clapham Common South. The day is an opportunity to connect with other LGBTQ+ women’s sports teams.
One of the queer sports collectives joining Out To Swim at its sports day is Knockout Boxing. Based in north and central London, Knockout is the non-profit LGBTQ+ boxing club that trains three times a week and is open to all abilities.
This is less of a network to join and more of one to support. Founded in 2012, Barberette is a gender-neutral hair salon based in east London. It caters for all genders, sexualities and styles without judgement. This year, founder Klara Vanova opened a sister salon in Prague.
Lockdown has increased feelings of isolation amongst LGBTQ+ folk. Read our guide to London’s top places to go to network with the community.
By Isobel Van Dyke