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Gay Britain: Manchester club scene turns against heteros

The bars and clubs of the Canal Street area in Manchester, feeling threatened by the popularity of gay culture among the North-west's revellers, are turning straight men and women away.

Paul McCann asks if this is heterophobia or positive discrimination.

The attempt by the Conservative Party to reposition itself as gay-friendly is probably the last piece of news the Manchester gay village needs.

Bars and clubs have started turning away straight customers in what some have described as wave of "Heterophobia", but which the clubs see as essential to the survival of the gay community, according to a documentary to be screened by Channel 5 tomorrow night.

Clubs like the Paradise Factory and Poptastic, and bars like Manto now employ drag queens and gay doormen to decide whether customers trying to gain entry really are gay.

"We're not anti-straight," says Andrew O'Dwyer, manager of the Paradise Factory, which turns away 400 people every weekend. "They can come in as long as they come with gay friends. But what happens is if you get too many straight people in you get a change in atmosphere, the vibe changes.

"It also means you could spend the whole night chatting someone up only to discover at the end of the night that you're not going to get anywhere."

"We get accused of discrimination, but it is positive discrimination, to try to maintain the atmosphere that attracts people in the first place."

John Hamilton, manager of Poptastic, says its easy to tell who is gay: "By the way they are dressed, by the way they act, their mannerisms and asking them who they kiss and where they go."

Mr O'Dwyer insists that his door policy doesn't mean that only gay "clones" can be admitted. "Rosie, who does the vetting on the door, is a gay person who spends a lot of time in gay clubs and bars and just gets to know the faces. And there are people we turn away who start to get abusive - shouting "faggots" and "queers" - so you know you've made the right decision."

The attraction for straight men and women is that the gay clubs offer a less threatening atmosphere than heterosexual venues. "They know it is a nice easy-going atmosphere and its a place where they can just chill out," Gordon Edwards, a doorman at the Paradise Factory told Channel 5. "You don't get the normal, how can you say it, idiot blokes, like you'd normally get in a straight club."

Mr Edwards even believes some straight men come to gay clubs looking for women. "The nicer girls who normally get hassled all night, they come here knowing they're not going to get hassled, so you get a straight lad who uses his head a bit and comes here."

Mr O'Dwyer is also concerned about the kind of straight men he lets in - in case they take offence at being approached by gay men. "If a woman gets her bum touched by a man she's offended. If a straight man has his bum touched by another man it an cause quite a bit of offence."

Mr O'Dwyer blames the success of the annual Manchester gay Mardi Gras, which this year attracted 130,000 people to the gay village, and means there is now a rash of bars opening or planned that will not be strictly gay.

"There are people opening bars here who are almost homophobic, they are just cashing in. Some of the breweries are making an effort to maintain a gay atmosphere, but they're still just interested in money."

"Then there are restaurants like the Mash and Air, which is very nice, but is attracting the yuppie Cheshire set who would never have been seen here before".

l What's The Story? Channel 5, Sunday 7pm.