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Inclusion and Exclusion: The Role of Birmingham’s ‘Gay Village’ in the ‘Othering’ of Non-Homonormative Identities

Exploring the lived experiences of the LGBTQ community in Birmingham's Gay Village, specifically looking at the inclusivity and exclusivity of entertainment venues in the village.

Gay village research large

Researchers

Research background

Research has begun to explore LGBTQ venues in relation to a number of issues including substance use and sexual health (Grov, 2012; Palamar et al., 2008). Little has been done to explore the ways that ‘homonormative’ identities (Podmore, 2013), (White, male identities), are produced and normalised within mainstream LGBTQ venues. The LGBTQ community in Birmingham is currently experiencing significant ‘othering’, delegitimisation and stigma through the ‘Birmingham Schools Protests’. We address this gap by using ethnographic case studies across four LGBTQ venues in Birmingham’s ‘Gay Village’ to understand how the physical space, and communities within spaces regulate and exclude particular identities. This is important, as a growing recognition of gender and sexual non-conformity leads to more diverse minority communities, policy and practice initiatives should work towards creating ‘welcoming communities’. We intend to produce outcomes that may have a positive impact upon the inclusivity of Birmingham’s Gay Village that may include more inclusive advertising in-venue and more diverse entertainment.

Research aims

  • Explore the impact of informal social control and exclusionary behaviour upon LGBTQ individuals’ experiences of the ‘gay village’
  • Critically reflect upon the spatial environment of Birmingham’s ‘gay village’ across four different sites and the impact this has on who can, and cannot, access Birmingham’s ‘gay village’

Research questions

  • What is the ‘lived reality’ for LGBTQ people who experience ‘othering’, social policing and exclusion from Birmingham’s ‘gay village’?
  • How do LGBTQ peoples experiences of informal social control differ, or appear similar, based on which site within the ‘gay village’ they access?

Research methods

This research is exploratory in nature, and therefore adopts a case study methodology. Four sites within Birmingham’s ‘gay village’ have been selected as sites of data collection: The Village Inn, Eden Bar, Nightingales and The Fox, geographically covering all four sides of Birmingham’s ‘gay village’. Triangulation will be employed in which data will be collected through direct observation, participatory observation and semi-structured interviews. All methods will be approached through an intersectional lens where the experiences and narratives of a diverse population in relation to participants identity characteristics will be sought. This allows us to observe how access to LGBTQ venues is socially policed and ‘homonormative’ identities are constructed that exclude those with multiple minority characteristics.

In conducting direct observations, the research will observe how identities are socially policed in practice. The advantage of this approach is to collect naturally occurring data, however, observing practices from afar only manages to capture a ‘snapshot’ of community interactions. Participatory observation will be conducted to provide researchers with access to the ‘backstage culture’ of community identities (Goffman, 1999). Observations will be conducted in all four venues two times. Each venue will be observed on a weekday evening, and once on a weekend evening. 

Eight semi-structured interviews allow the researcher to understand how ‘homonormative’ identities, and the resulting ability to access Birmingham’s ‘gay village’ is constructed discursively. All data collected will be subject to comprehensive coding via thematic analysis.

Projected outcomes

The study has been designed to produce outcomes that have significance to the communities in which the research is conducted, as well as academics. Firstly, we aim to increase awareness of the exclusionary nature of some LGBTQ venues and identify ways that both the physical space and informal social policing lead to the exclusion of some people, and reinforces the normality of particular social identities. Secondly, we aim to produce tangible outcomes in relation to adapting the way that LGBTQ venues market themselves, an example of this can be taken in the form of in-venue advertisements which currently tend to feature white, toned men which may contribute to the exclusion of other people. Additionally, we will reflect upon the way venues use space to appeal to a wider community of LGBTQ people and avoid contributing to the marginalisation of those who already experience ‘othering’, exclusion and isolation.