They were once considered safe havens where gay men and women could drink and relax away from the fear of homophobia. But gay pubs and clubs have become so over-run with straight revellers, attracted by the ambience of the gay scene, that they have been forced to introduce strict quotas of heterosexual partygoers.
Many clubs are now operating a "gay majority" door policy to ensure that such places as Canal Street in Manchester and Old Compton Street in Soho remain as gay areas. But these strategies have become so severe that genuine gay people are also being turned away if they do not manage to convince the bouncer of their sexuality.
Ben Townley, the editor of Gay.com, the leading gay news and lifestyle website, has been turned away himself. He said: "They are starting to ask people on the door but it gets confusing. All the straight boys are becoming metrosexuals. I have been told I can't go into a gay night because I don't look gay."
In a further twist, it will soon be illegal for bars to turn people away because of their sexuality, leading someto fear it could be the end for the gay club. Legislation announced last week intending to ban homophobia in hotels and hospitals will also prevent owners of gay pubs and clubs barring straight revellers.
Mr Townley said: "A lot of girls go to gay clubs because there is less attitude and less dodgy attention from blokes. It is getting quite annoying." Large groups of women on hen nights are now a regular sight in gay clubs across the country.
In Manchester's Canal Street on Friday night, heterosexual drinkers revealed a variety of tactics for getting past the bouncers. Glenn Youens, a 19-year-old hairdresser, said: "I used to have to hold my friend's hand in order to get in because they refuse to let you in if they think you are straight."
Howard Livsey, a gay 28-year-old, said clubs would introduce membership cards to ensure that the clientele remained overwhelming gay. Homophobia at other bars, he said, highlighted the importance of keeping a gay majority in certain areas. "We went to a straight bar a couple of weeks ago. We were humiliated by the door staff and called a bunch of poofs. This kind of thing will keep happening."
But according to Ben Summerskill, chief executive of the gay equality campaign group Stonewall, there is an increasing acceptance of gay people in "mainstream" pubs.
"Gay bars only developed because 'straight' bars were so unwelcoming to gay people," he said. "If it had been perfectly OK to go and sit in your local with your partner, it would not have been necessary. As these premises change, the imperative to go to a gay bar will, for many people, start to decline."Reuse content