The death of Victoria’s LGBTQ+ nightclub is cause to mourn, but where do we go from here?
CW: This article discusses harassment against the LGBTQ2S+ community.
A safe space where LGBTQ+ patrons could meet, drink, and dance, Paparazzi Nightclub was known as a gay club since its inception.
Recently, though, the nightclub’s status as a distinctly queer space has diminished, with more non-LGBTQ+ guests than ever before visiting the night out hot spot.
Alex, whose name has been changed upon request for privacy, is a local performer who frequented Paparazzi pre-COVID when it was still a largely queer establishment.
“It definitely doesn’t have the same energy as it used to,” they said, adding that the loss of this space is “huge.”
“Paparazzi is a locally owned business for the past 16 years,” said a representative from the club in an emailed statement to the Martlet. “Throughout our operation we provided, and will continue to provide, significant support to the local LGBT+ community.”
However, Alex is not the only one who feels a sense of loss toward the club. Reddit user ironiccowboy posted on the platform responding to a thread discussing how the venue is no longer primarily for LGBTQ+ patrons, saying “I think it went through the classic gay bar death where first the straight women come looking for a chill place, then the straight guys come and ruin it, and then the Queers leave. Happens in every city time after time.”
John, whose name has also been changed upon request, is a UVic student who identifies as a straight man. In an email to the Martlet, he explains that he and his friends never used to frequent Paparazzi because it was known as a gay club, but recently, they’ve been suggesting it for a fun night out.
“I don’t think I would quantify it as a definitively queer space,” he explains. “I think [the fact that my friends suggest it] is a telling indicator, as a straight guy, about the experience that I can expect.”
Alex explains that straight patrons — namely straight women — have always visited gay bars and clubs because these venues are safe spaces for them too.
The club also acknowledges that its “guests make up a cross section of Greater Victoria,” adding that patrons are not asked to divulge their gender or sexual orientation.
However, according to Alex, the issue arises when straight visitors’ attitudes change from allyship to entitlement to the space.
“When [you as a straight person] are being invited and welcomed into a community that has been oppressed at the hands of straight people, I feel like there has to be a sense of mindfulness in how you approach that space,” they say.
This shift in patrons’ attitudes is what can lead to potential harassment and discrimination on the basis of queerness, Alex explains — and they are not the only one who feels this way.
An anonymous social media poll about the nightclub’s queer devolution generated an influx of replies, sharing in melancholy sentiment.
“Feeling the loss,” replied one user. Another corroborated this, sharing that they’ve experienced more harassment at paparazzi than other clubs.
While Friends of Dorothy and Vicious Poodle continue to thrive as hot spots of queer nightlife in Victoria, Paparazzi was the only spot in town where you could always go to dance.
Reddit user lownleyangel expresses that “management is very clearly choosing to appeal to the masses” as of late, rather than adhere to their original status as a gay club.
While for some this is cause for massive concern, Shelita Cox, drag performer and longtime producer of Drag Sunday at Paparazzi, came to the defense of the nightclub.
She explained in an interview with Victoria Buzz that Paparazzi’s management team has been actively trying to maintain their roots as a queer establishment, even partnering with Good Night Out Victoria, a non-profit that offers “workshops on preventing sexualized violence in the nightlife industry.”
According to Paparazzi, the nightclub has a zero tolerance policy for harassment and encourages patrons to bring complaints to their attention.
“The security, safety, and comfort of our guests is paramount,” reads the emailed statement. “If anyone brings harassment, intimidation, or violence allegations to our management, we will deal with them immediately and call police if needed.” The spokesperson also added that the club practices inclusive hiring.
However, according to Alex, the question was never whether or not Paparazzi remained welcoming of the LGBTQ+ community, it was whether the club did enough to protect their queer clientele — and for them, the answer is no.
Alex, as a “feminine-presenting, assigned female at birth lesbian person,” says that they hadn’t experienced violence or harassment at Paparazzi until very recently, but that their trans friends and loved ones have been feeling the wrath of Paparazzi’s clientele transformation for years.
They go on to note that this is a common phenomenon — that issues of discrimination often must reach a class of more “privileged” queer people (like cis or cis-presenting folks) before they are taken seriously.
Alex points out that as the club continues to welcome queer patrons, but distances itself from its status as a primarily LGBTQ+ venue, the right thing for Paparazzi to do is to be transparent about what to expect when visiting the establishment.
“It is safer to just be honest about what Paparazzi is now, than to keep pushing a narrative that it’s something that it’s not and [putting] queer people into a potentially dangerous situation,” they say.
Paparazzi should be recognized as a cautionary tale, Alex explains, not only about the importance of protecting queer spaces, but about the cruciality of listening to marginalized voices and taking preventative action.
“If trans people are saying that there’s a transphobia problem in a nightclub, or in a queer space, or at a queer event, take it seriously. Talk about it. Fix it. Don’t just wait until it’s become a big enough problem that it’s affecting [everyone].”