• 10.-12. October 2022
  • Exhibition Centre Berlin

15 September 2021, by Angus Winchester

How Inclusive is Your Bar?

LGBTQIA inclusion in the bar scene is an important concern for Hannah Lanfear and Lo Marshall. At BCB 2021, they will bring this topic to the stage.

 

At this year's Bar Convent Berlin (BCB), Hannah Lanfear and her wife Lo Marshall will be giving a talk on the Main Stage titled "Queering Hospitality: Does Your Bar Welcome Every Body?" and are raising awareness about the importance of an open and inclusive bar culture. Angus Winchester caught up with both of them for an interview.

So the first person ever to ‘teach me’ how to make a drink was a gay man who called himself Royella and talked in a falsetto. My first ever manager was gay. Some of the best waiters and bartenders I ever worked with were gay or lesbian. I have partied in gay clubs, employed drag queen DJs and my cousin Russel is now my cousin Jody. All these experiences and more have made me smart enough to realise that sexuality and gender identity does not make a jot of difference to me but its also made me stupid enough to think that in this day and age this is common way of thinking. 

As the BCB's "Global Director of Education", I get to choose from public input as well as invite key speakers and topics to talk about. This year, I really wanted the topic of inclusion to be on the agenda. My dear friend and steely eyed caterer Hannah Lanfear and her wife Lo Marshall agreed to be speakers at the upcoming BCB. Below are some of her thoughts and a teaser for their session that I urge all to attend.

 

How did you decide on your title and content? It’s a vast topic that is rarely covered so why choose this angle?

Hannah Lanfear: There is so much that we could learn in the way of acceptance from LGBTQIA venues when it comes to acceptance and making space for people. From greeting guests to the bathroom offering, cocktail bars do not always make queer people feel comfortable, begging the question, if the goal is hospitality and we make people feel unwelcome, is our hospitality conditional? 

 

© Hannah Lanfear, founder of The Mixing Class, a company dedicated to training in the beverage industry. It focuses on promoting diversity and socially responsible hiring practices in the cocktail and spirits industry.

In many aspects of society and day to day life the experience of the LGBTQ community has improved. Is the change faster or slower in the Hospitality Industry?

Hannah: Honestly when I started bartending I don’t remember people being public about queer sexuality in our industry at all. And while it isn’t the case that we need to know who is sleeping with who, this is about identity and ensuring that those who work in bars are free to connect with their identity. Are we going to make women or non-binary people wear heels and dresses if they don’t want to? Are we going to give trans or non-binary team members only gendered bathrooms to use? If you haven’t thought about these things maybe you should dedicate some time to.

Do you already see positive developments here?

Hannah: There have been some incredible steps forwards. Forward thinking bars like Tayer + Elementary purposefully only have ungendered bathrooms. The discussion on how do we drop gendered language from our greetings to guests is up and running. Do we have to call groups of people ‘ladies and gents’ if it might make someone feel unaccepted?

Do the problems stem more from the workers or the guests in Hospitality?

Hannah: Drunk people are known for getting too personal and starting to ask questions that can overstep. By the nature of bartending we are often around inebriated people. Being gay means outing yourself on a regular basis but as a bartender it’s kind of annoying to have to give away that very personal information to someone who is cracking on to me. Particularly when I don’t know what their response to that will be.

Then again, often issues can arise from chatter among colleagues. I think it’s so important that if you hear your colleagues make comments that aren’t inclusive or that are unkind personal comments about your guests that you kindly shut it down. We are all learning to be better and how to find the right language, and some of us might need a little bit of support to get there.

© Dr. Lo Marshall, Assistant Director at The Mixing Class. In their research and public talks, they focus on inclusion and social inequalities in nightlife, especially for the LGBTQ+ community.

What should bar staff keep in mind to make everyone feel welcome?

Lo Marshall: A lot of ways we have learned how to hospitable toward people are unintentionally exclusionary. “Good evening ladies and gents:” might seem innocuous, but it isn’t an inclusive welcome, for example. You might make assumptions based on appearances but it becoming more and more common to reject these binary titles, regardless of appearance. It might surprise you but a lot of women also hate being called ‘lady”!

Trans and gender non-conforming people often feel anxious about, and have experiences of, being mis-gendered by staff and guests, which can make them uneasy in hospitality spaces. The knock-on effect may be that these guests don’t stay for that extra drink, or won’t return. Bar staff can’t fully control how guests interact with each other, but it’s important that staff lead by example to create a welcoming space. This includes having the back of LGBTQIA+ guests if there is an issue. That trust goes a long way!

Hannah: Bars like Barking Dog in Copenhagen have unwittingly cultivated a huge queer following thanks to their team, and at the end of the day that support can be seen on the bottom line.

As sexuality is far less obvious than race or disability are the problems of implicit and unconscious bias as ‘serious’?

Lo: I think it’s important thinking inter-sectionally and non-hierarchically about how different forms of oppression overlap and relate. Many LGBTQIA+ also experience racism, and ableism, as well as other ‘isms’ like sexism and classism. It’s also vital to recognise privileges where they exist too, and show solidarity across our differences. LGBTQIA+ people are commonly discriminated against in ways that aren’t always visible or obvious to straight and cisgender people. LGBTQIA+ people experience higher prevalence of mental health struggles due to impacts of social prejudice and stigma, and LGBTIA+ experience particularly high levels of homelessness, family estrangement, and employment discriminations, for example.

How do you deal with it? Do you feel safe?

Lo: Sexuality isn’t always less obvious, I’m pretty recognisably queer and we shouldn’t need to pass as cisgender or heterosexual to feel and been safe. Equality laws help, but right now in the UK and elsewhere I can marry my partner, but holding my wife’s hand in public doesn’t always feel safe.

Hannah: Agree, in public spaces with your partner you’ll be constantly code-switching about whether signs of affection would be received with judgement or hostility and that’s an awareness that will cause you to be constantly vigilant, whether you a conscious of it or not. It’s so lovely to be in a space where you feel safe to relax that vigilance.

I have always said “I don’t care who you are attracted to as long as you can do your job” and have never not hired someone because of their sexuality. How badly does that make you wince and why is it wrong?

Hannah: Well I think it’s not so much that it’s wrong – there’s an egalitarian ethos at the heart of the statement which I like! However, I do believe it’s important to see and welcome in all parts of a person, whether it’s nationality, sexuality, or whatever else that makes them an individual. It’s important to allow for freedom of self-expression in a team. Bartenders are so often in their twenties at an age where they are still defining themselves. By allowing for norms that are tacitly heteronormative that could be restrictive in a way that’s harmful. I think that was part of my own experience as a young person wresting with my sexuality.

How should supervisors rather deal with it?

Hannah: I think it’s important that we subvert the idea of what a leader looks and sounds like. Because unconsciously we’ve allowed a system to prevail that can favour people who look and sound a certain way to be promoted over others, and to break that down means better inclusion of many minority groups, LGBTQIA persons included.

Lo: I appreciate the intention of this sentiment, and not being discriminated against of course(!) but there’s a danger with “I don’t care about…” or “I don’t see gender/race/sexuality…”. I’d rather feel seen and embraced in my fullness, not for my difference to be brushed under the carpet.  A crucial part of this is that I want to feel that my employer realises the negative things I’ll probably have to deal with because of who I am, and I want to have confidence that they have my back.

Who should attend your session and why?

Hannah: Anyone who would like to learn in a welcoming space about how to ensure they are using the correct language to address people, as well as how to ensure their hospitality and hospitality spaces are fully inclusive. So everyone!

While we ‘lump’ LGBTQIA together how different are the experiences of the component groups?

Lo: There are so many differences within LGBTQ+ communities linked to people’s sexuality, sex and gender, but also for a whole bunch of other reasons, like race, culture, class and disability, as well as different interests and character traits. I usually talk about LGBTQ+ communities, rather than a single community in recognition of this. We have similarities for sure, and I love being part of this “rainbow umbrella” and there a good reasons for this coalition, and solidarity is the glue that keep us together.

Hannah: Yes, likely really quite different. Each group will have challenges and potentially those challenges will overlap with other aspects of their life. The queer community has often had histories of being radically supportive of one another at times, and while our differences are important, that sense of solidarity among queer communities is vital. There is a lot of trans-exclusionary rhetoric from a very small faction of LGB groups but I think it’s really important to stand together against that and remember that we are united in striving for fairness.

Who are the role models for the LGBTQ Hospitality community?

Hannah: I don’t know I have an answer to this since being a role model often means just existing as a queer person in our industry to prove that we each should be there, but there is so much more queer acceptance and expression in younger generations of bartenders so I’d say they are the role models.

Other than attending your session how can people educate themselves about this issue?

Hannah: There are a number of online resources. Gendered Intelligence has excellent guides for employers for instance on trans inclusion which is probably the issue where most guidance is required for venues.

Lo: There is a brilliant inclusive toilets guide for nightlife venues by Galop and Good Night Out Campaign, which I recently consulted on.

One of you is an experienced hospitality Lifer and one is an academic – who’s words carry more weight?

Lo: We’ll probably have to arm wrestle for that title.

Hannah: Haha, I am more than happy to concede this to Lo. Lo is an actual academic on the topic, I’m just a bleeding heart! Having said that I would just like to finish by saying that our industry attracts people to cities from all over the world and many will have come from places where homophobia is the norm. We can get blazé to the need for LGBTQIA rights because we see it as a struggle that is already won, but for many it isn’t. There is no acceptance for queer people in Russia, Turkey, or Poland for instance. So, I really believe that it’s important that we continue this message of making our industry a safe and welcoming place, the world over. Because somewhere out there someone may be watching and to them it could really make a difference to know that the bar industry is united in supporting them.