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The RVT boycott is an own-goal for LGBT activists

Last week, the proprietors of the Royal Vauxhall Tavern (RVT), one of London’s oldest and most iconic LGBT venues, announced the bar’s sale. The decision followed a tumultuous period of backlash after the venue reinstated, then again cancelled, their Eurovision final screening. This blunder demonstrates the dangerous fallout of poorly thought-out activism.

Criticism over Israel’s participation in Eurovision led to many viewers boycotting the competition. Activists claim that Israel should be barred due to its military activity in Gaza.

The boycott had little impact. Despite cancelled viewing parties and public statements from artists and fans, it did not notably impact the revenue of the event. Israel critics like Olly Alexander and Bambi Thug still chose to perform.

The goals of the boycott were ill explained by supporters. It emerged as nothing more than a virtue-signalling exercise, one which was extended to the RVT.

The intention of boycotts is to inflict economic damage to compel behavioural change. While successful in this aim, the results are misdirected. Did Eurovision ban Israel from participating? Of course not.

Israel's policies remain unchanged, their military actions, unaffected. Benjamin Netanyahu cares little about what fans of a song contest have to say on Instagram.

Instead, the impact has been felt by the venue owners – a classic own-goal for LGBT activists. Unlike global conglomerates like Starbucks or McDonald’s, which can absorb the financial repercussions of Israel-related boycotts, the RVT – a historic, queer-owned local business – now faces grave uncertainty. The pub’s owner even stated that he doesn’t know what is going to happen.

A venue which saw the likes of Lily Savage, Freddie Mercury, and (allegedly) Princess Diana through its doors now navigates an uncertain path. A venue which people frequent to escape politics has succumbed to the overwhelming pressure of an influential minority.

These are the same activists who complain about the concerning decline of LGBT venues. Recent data from the Greater London Authority showed that 60 per cent of LGBTQ+ venues have closed between 2006 and 2022. The impacts of the pandemic are still being felt in London nightlife. The boycott of a local venue, meant for the very demographic which turned against it, is the last thing the queer scene needed.

These are the same activists who complain about the concerning decline of LGBT venues. Quote

The RVT could not be more detached from conflict in the Middle East. Nonetheless, LGBT activists remain seemingly convinced that targeting a local gay-owned business was a morally justified act.

The bar’s management grappled with trying to appease all of their clientele. They oscillated between cancelling and reinstating the viewing party, heeding the disparate voices of both older and younger patrons. Yet, even after cancelling the viewing party for the final time, several drag performers pulled their acts, and those that did not faced public shaming.

This demonstrates the bullying and intimidation methods that have become all too frequent in recent years. If one does not subscribe entirely to the ‘right’ side of an argument, you are demonised.

The intrusion of politics into the public sphere marks a shift from when such matters were private. Nowadays, failing to align with the ‘right side of history’ risks ostracization. This centrifugal trend only deepens divisions and forces conformity to the prevailing and perceived ‘just’ views.

This demonisation is exemplified in the treatment of Israel’s entry. The 20-year-old singer was shunned by fellow competitors and faced mass protests outside her hotel. She was punished merely for being an Israeli citizen. Where is the distinction between the people and the government?

The hypocrisy of this boycott is stark and undeniable. Activists quick to criticise Israel had nothing to say about Azerbaijan’s participation.

Azerbaijan is an undemocratic state responsible for blockading 120,000 ethnic Armenians in Artsakh last year, leading to mass displacement, civilian deaths, and accusations from international legal experts of genocide and war crimes. Yet, activists did not bat an eyelid. Outrage was selectively directed at Israel.

I am not claiming that this is symptomatic of antisemitism (entirely). Rather, that activists obsessed with social justice often know little about politics. Yet, they are quick to jump on the bandwagon when another issue of injustice is circulated on social media. Many commentators have rightly asked, when did drag queens become experts on foreign policy anyway?

This case underscores a broader issue within these movements: the readiness to harm those they aim to support if they hold dissenting views.

I hope those who supported the boycott reflect on this mistake. Herd mentality should be avoided and activists must ensure they do not undermine the very sanctuaries they seek to protect.

Screenshot 2023 10 03 173328

Ellis Coughlan is a Senior Political and Media Consultant at Bridgehead Communications. 

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