Management at Family Bar is promising to take new measures to tackle sexually predatory and aggressive behaviour from straight men inside the iconic Auckland gay club.
Operations manager Grady Elliott says he and owner Wayne Clark held a meeting with an expert in alcohol and drug-related harm reduction after she approached them. They are planning on putting up posters in and outside the K’ Rd gay bar outlining it is a queer space and the importance of both respect and consent.
There will also be signage making clear there are designated trained staff members to approach if patrons feel unsafe for any reason, whether they’ve been groped or assaulted, suspect their drink may have been spiked or if they’ve simply had too much to drink.
Those staff will be made visible with what they’re wearing, Elliott says. “We’ll be big on the message if someone’s in trouble or needs help, talk to [a manager] or talk to a doorman.”
He will also be speaking with the venue's security team to reiterate protocol at the door, but said he already had faith they were doing a good job. "They’ve been here for 10 to12 years, they know most people by name. The doormen do say 'hey you’re coming to a gay bar, behave yourself'.”
Monty Montgomery met with Clark and Elliott about the methods they could use to make the bar safer late last week. She says she’s excited to see what management do to improve things but has concerns they don’t understand the magnitude of the problem.
An article in the latest issue of Metro magazine looked at the influx of straight men into Family Bar, and the issues Auckland’s queer community had with some of their behaviours.
Queer women recounted constant groping and unwanted touching and being leered at while kissing other women, and queer men said they’d been called “faggot” and other homophobic slurs. There was a sense the venue was no longer explicitly a queer space.
“When you read the whole thing it was quite emotional and it was fair comment,” Elliot said of the article. “There are a few people making moans and groans and we are listening to it, so how are we going to react to it, and how can we clean up and make ourselves a little bit squeakier.”
Clark is currently on holiday and could not be reached for comment, but Elliot said he was on board with the changes.
“What [the article’s] done is open the conversation. There are concerns out there and we’re very open-minded. Instead of shutting the door and saying no thanks, we’re doing just fine thanks, we’re saying 'ok some simple changes and small things might make it safer'.”
In response to questions from Metro earlier this month, Family Bar sent a statement saying in part that complaints came from a very small part of the queer community “that wish to segregate themselves from having any contact with heterosexuals”. Many in Auckland’s LGBTQI community rejected that characterisation of their complaints.
When asked whether the bar stood by their earlier statement, Elliott said he still believed that was true for a small minority, but he did accept that others’ complaints were to do with being groped or harassed.
Last week Monty Montgomery, who runs the drug and alcohol harm reduction organisation Deepspace, approached management to talk about changes Family could make. She doesn’t frequent the bar herself because of bad experiences she’s had in the past, but would be pleased to see it become safer for everyone in the queer community. “It’s a queer space and I don’t want to see it dissolve.”
She’s suggested training so at least one staff member on any given shift knows what to do if an assault or other serious problem is disclosed to them by a patron, and has recommended signage at the entrance and on the backs of every toilet door – something which seems simple but can have a huge impact. After all, everyone has to use the toilet at some point on a night out.
Despite feeling excited to see how they implement her advice, Mongomery does have concerns Clark and Elliott don’t understand the way the queer community has changed in recent years, and that they don’t realise how widespread the problem of groping is for women, in particular. The community itself isn't as segregated into gay and lesbian bars as it used to be and Family needed to look after its women customers, she says. "It’s not your gay [male] family any more it’s your queer family.”
The spotlight was now on Family to make improvements, and Montgomery said for her the ideal outcome would be to turn up at the bar on a Saturday night and see a truly diverse crowd, full of members of Auckland’s rainbow community having a fun time in a safe space. “You could do so much with that place and it would be incredible.”