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Camden’s last remaining LGBTQ+ venue Her Upstairs shuts mysteriously without warning

PUBLISHED: 13:12 22 August 2018 | UPDATED: 09:52 24 August 2018

Rhys' Pieces at Her Upstairs. Picture: Asher Fynn

Rhys' Pieces at Her Upstairs. Picture: Asher Fynn

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Camden’s last remaining LGBTQ+ venue, drag club Her Upstairs, has shut its doors under mysterious circumstances.

Her Upstairs closed abruptly earlier in AugustHer Upstairs closed abruptly earlier in August

During its two years in Kentish Town Road, Her Upstairs became a favourite on the scene for its inclusive atmosphere and colourful drag acts four nights a week. The eight square miles of Camden now have not a single gay bar.

In a Facebook status on August 8, the owners of the club said they said they couldn’t disclose precisely why it was closing for “legal reasons”.

They wrote: “We regret that we have had to do this so abruptly and without giving our incredible community a chance to say goodbye to the space.

“Our queer spaces are so vital, but it’s the people, not the bricks and mortar that make the space. We may be lacking in a physical space but we feel each and everyone of our family with us no matter where we go.”

Tim Other works as part of Raze, a charity to support queer performance in the UK. He said he was “devastated” when he heard it was closing.

“It was always a really welcoming place,” he told the Ham&High. “You could arrive at 6.30pm, a show would be on from 8pm and then there was a club afterwards. It had a really lovely client base.”

Rhys' Pieces at Her Upstairs. Picture: Asher FynnRhys' Pieces at Her Upstairs. Picture: Asher Fynn

He said Camden needed an LGBTQ+ venue because, despite progress, many people from the community still don’t feel safe.

“A lot of LGBTQ+ people have an experience of being ‘othered’ in wider society,” he said. “That could be having people making comments or homophobic abuse, which has been on the rise recently.

“People going into other venues can be intimidated. What these spaces do is provide somewhere where people of all persuasions can enjoy and be themselves.”

Rhys, who has trodden the boards at Her Upstairs as part of their act Rhys’ Pieces during Destiny’s Child themed night #WeNeedToTalkAboutMichelle, said they were “really, really sad” when a friend called to say Her Upstairs was closing.

“It had a great sense of community,” they said. “The audience was wonderful, and in some queer venues in London there is a cliquiness and that can be a problem, but that wasn’t the case at Her Upstairs. There was still some of the older generations and queers, and that’s a mix you don’t get in some places.”

As a performer, Rhys found it unique. “It’s one of the pillars of my cabaret background,” they said. “It’s one of the few places where you could get tutelage. It’s a tragic loss.”

Black Cap campaigners fight to re-open Camden's famous LGBT venue 3 years after it was shut down, with a pavement protest. Pictured holding their paper Regina Fong wigs 14.04.18.Black Cap campaigners fight to re-open Camden's famous LGBT venue 3 years after it was shut down, with a pavement protest. Pictured holding their paper Regina Fong wigs 14.04.18.

Another Camden LGBTQ+ favourite, the Black Cap, closed in April 2015.

Campaigners still hold a vigil each year to raise awareness and try to keep it open.

The Black Cap Foundation said in a statement: “Camden used to be a vibrant centre of LGBTQ+ activism, creativity, and culture. If there’s anywhere our artists and communities should be safe and flourishing, it’s here. It’s shameful that Camden now has not a single queer venue left.”

Dylan B Jones edits weekly gay nightlife magazine QX. He told us he’s always been surprised at how few LGBTQ+ venues there are in Camden.

“As far as I know there’s never been a big scene in the borough,” he said. “In the 1970s it was about the West End and now it has moved to east London. Perhaps there’s no firm reason – perhaps in 20 years it could be north London. It is a strange phenomenon.”

But he believes the mayor of London and night czar Amy Lamé should be providing more support to LGBTQ+ venues.

American drag artist Bianca Del Rio performing at the Black Cap four years ago. Picture: Neil McCrae/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)American drag artist Bianca Del Rio performing at the Black Cap four years ago. Picture: Neil McCrae/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

“There is a big focus from the mayor’s office on protecting the venues that are there already,” he said. “However, they need to be giving more support for places to open. Amy Lamé needs to do more to further them rather than just conserving them.”

A spokesperson for the mayor’s office said: “LGBTQ+ venues play a vital role in supporting the community, making London an open and welcoming city, and contributing to our culture and economy. The mayor has been working hard to protect these venues and encourage new ones to open, and, after a decade of decline, is pleased the number across the capital stabilised in the last year.

“There is still more to be done to stop numbers falling, but he continues to do all he can to offer support, including publishing the most pro-LGBT+ planning framework the capital has ever seen and establishing a world-first Culture at Risk Office.”

Share your memories of Her Upstairs and the Black Cap: letters@hamhigh.co.uk

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