Sunday, February 25, 2024

Some believe one of Victoria’s only safe spaces for queer folks isn’t what it used to be

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Victoria doesn’t have a plethora of safe spaces for 2SLGBTQI+ people looking to dance and meet potential romantic partners. 

For a long time, Paparazzi Nightclub was the only place to do just this, but in recent years,  concerns have been raised among the community for which the club was intended that things have changed drastically. 

“I’m not sure if you or anyone noticed, but something has changed about Paparazzi Nightclub in downtown Victoria,” stated Brandon Robbins, longtime patron of Paparazzi Nightclub.

“I have been a patron of this place for many years and continue to be a patron despite the rumour mills, quiet boycotts and scandals over the years.”

Robbins is concerned that the club has shrugged its former self-proclaimed duty to the 2SLGBTQI+ community by not producing as many queer arts shows which were put on by and for queer folks.

The latest thing Robbins told Victoria Buzz was disheartening is how Paparazzi has changed over the years was when he was hired to do work on the club’s website and was tasked with removing a lot of the language that set apart Paparazzi as a queer-friendly space to an all-inclusive space. 

“It was really just simple language like how it was a venue for queer art, because it was a home for drag and still is for one weekly show in particular,” Robbins told Victoria Buzz. “They didn’t want to be labeled a drag venue at all.”

“Then I realized the [Pride] flag that was outside had been taken down and even some of the [queer culture] symbology just wasn’t there anymore.”

The ownership and management team of Paparazzi refuted Robbin’s claim that he worked on their website or had any hand in their social media. They recognize him as a long time patron but they say he never worked for them aside from setting up drag events.

“Robbins was never employed or hired to update our website or remove content,” said Paparazzi’s management team in a statement.

“We would like to clarify that this information is completely false. We don’t even have a website, so the question of updating it does not arise.

“As a business we strongly believe in inclusivity and diversity, and we do not discriminate against anyone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. We have always been an all inclusive space”

Victoria Buzz reached out to Robbins to clarify if he had been hired to work on a website for Paparazzi Nightclub and he says that he had indeed. He and his business partner in website creation made a website for the club when they had none and once it was complete, Paparazzi told the two they could not afford the invoice.

Once the club refused to pay, the website was taken down, according to Robbins.

Robbins says without Paparazzi as a specifically queer-friendly safe space, it leaves many within the 2SLGBTQI+ community without a place to celebrate their own identities and find romantic partners in a safe way.

“How are [2SLGBTQI+] people supposed to find partners when we are forced to sort of weed through the masses, and feel safe doing so,” Robbins asked. 

“If you flirt with a straight guy you get punched in the face.”

“The whole reason [Paparazzi] existed at all was as a place of safety and that acceptance where you could go with your partner and be affectionate and not be harassed or assaulted, and that’s the whole reason why ‘gay bars’ exist in the first place,” he added. 

Now, with the Pride flags taken down along with the queer-culture iconography being removed and the Paparazzi brand changing to be a place that is welcoming to all, Robbins believes a massive hole has been left in his community.

Vicious Poodle and Friends of Dorothy are both other options for queer-friendly spaces but Robbins says they aren’t quite the same as what Paparazzi was like in its former glory. 

“Vicious Poodle is actually the queer space of Victoria,” explained Robbins. 

“Friends of Dorothy has the illusion that it’s a queer space. It’s run and owned by queer people, but the patrons aren’t.”

When queer spaces become all-inclusive, it means those folks don’t have anywhere else to go and that can be a slippery slope when it comes to keeping queer spaces for the communities they are intended to serve. 

“As much as [the queer community] wants to be welcoming to everybody, it does have its consequences,” he added. 

Vicious Poodle also can’t fill the void of Paparazzi because it’s inherently a different business altogether. It isn’t a late night dance club although it is a safe haven for many people within the queer community by day and into the early evening. 

Despite Robbins’ claim that Friends of Dorothy is not a space meant for queer patrons specifically, the business has been and continues to be a champion of the drag scene in Victoria.

Victoria Buzz reached out to Paparazzi Nightclub to inquire about why they decided to change their business model and management released the following statement:

“We appreciate your interest in our nightclub and would be happy to provide you with more information about how we prioritize the safety and well-being of our patrons, particularly members of the LGBTQIA2S+ community.”

“Paparazzi is a locally owned establishment operating as an all inclusive space for over 16 years! The safety of our guests is a top priority. That’s why we have implemented a number of measures to ensure that our guests can enjoy a fun and welcoming atmosphere without feeling threatened or uncomfortable.”

“For example, we have a strict no-tolerance policy when it comes to harassment or discrimination of any kind. We don’t discriminate against sexual preference or screen folks for this at the door. Everyone and anyone is welcome in our space.”

“We also have a team of trained security personnel on-site at all times to monitor the premises and intervene if necessary.”

“We pride ourselves on being a diverse and inclusive nightclub that welcomes people of all backgrounds and identities. Whether you’re looking to dance the night away, watch a show with local artists or simply enjoy a drink with friends, we are committed to providing a safe and welcoming environment for all.”

With Victoria’s Pride Parade just six weeks away, Paparazzi’s involvement is still up in the air, although Robbins says that is the one time of year the club is filled with people from the 2SLGBTQI+ community, enjoying the space as it once was.

Whether or not Paparazzi will put up a Pride flag for the occasion is unclear at this time.

UPDATE:

Victoria Buzz spoke with Brandon Robbins as an interview for this story, but his views and opinions are echoed throughout the community. Many of these voices and opinions can be found on the online forum, Reddit. In numerous posts, Victorians call into question whether or not Paparazzi is still a queer-friendly space.

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Curtis Blandy
curtis@victoriabuzz.com

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