Back in 2007, Melbourne’s The Peel Hotel made international headlines with its legally-enforced and controversial door policy. Five years later, getting into the venue is still difficult… if you’re a woman.
The Peel had won a landmark case allowing it to legally refuse entry to heterosexual people. Sorry girls – no more hen’s nights. It was a first-of-its-kind decision in Australia and thought to be unique across the globe, as the venue’s owner sought to ensure his beloved bar remained a gay male-focused nightspot.
Last year that exemption to anti-discrimination laws was renewed, but to comply with privacy protection provisions of Victoria’s Charter of Human Rights, staff at the venue were simply advised they could no longer ask about someone’s sexuality at the door.
The Peel’s owner Tom McFeely insists his staff must still deny access to anyone they feel threatens the safety or comfort of patrons inside “or its position as an openly gay venue.”
As women continue to find themselves turned away from The Peel – or getting forced to line up outside while men are waved on through – frustration with the situation has spilled out onto Facebook where an End the sexist door policy at the Peel group now numbers 500 people. Many of the group’s members are upset that their female friends are being turned away from the venue on its busier nights, and accuse McFeely of “thinly-veiled misogyny”.
“The Peel is one of the few accessible (free) queer venues in Melbourne,” the group’s creator points out. “It is shameful that women (queer or otherwise) are bullied and humiliated on the street.”
McFeely took the criticism seriously, taking out full-page ads in local gay media, endeavoring to explain the bar’s policies.
“Let me state clearly and without apology that The Peel is a venue provided for gay men – and NOT for everyone,” he thundered. “Keeping it gay has never been an easy task, and it has ALWAYS generated controversy.
“The comfort, enjoyment, and safety of gay males is The Peel’s PRIME Directive.”
But what about their female friends or lesbians seeking a fun night out? “Another misconception is that gay male regulars cannot come to The Peel with friends. This is NOT the case,” McFeely’s missive continues. “They can. However, everyone is required to respect The Peel’s Prime Directive, and sometimes this may mean some people are asked to queue or to adjust certain behaviour.”
Speaking of ‘certain behaviour’, The Peel now gets specific about all this and more on its official website. Study all the rules below…
McFeely says the responses he’s had to The Peel’s door policies have varied widely from “a humbling and overwhelming show of support and encouragement,” to a “continual onslaught of legal threats and personal attacks.”
But it seems he’s not backing down anytime soon. The former Liberal Party candidate tells Same Same he acknowledges how controversial his rules are but he’s sticking with them.
“With regard to women and everyone else who is not a gay man, I would hope they take the time to digest my message and respect myself and my team for standing up for what we believe in,” he explains. “As well as this, The Peel is private business. Should we for example, demand that Suzanne’s clothing stores start stocking men’s Jocks?”
Heterosexual punters are well catered for with other Melbourne venues, so can very easily enjoy a night out with the lads or girls – but gay guys really benefit from having their own unique space to be themselves in, McFeely suggests.
“Although many individuals in society did not enjoy a well nurtured childhood, I would argue that in most part they were probably surrounded by a family that was essentially the same as them,” he elaborates. “But a lot of gay people grew up having to listen to disparaging names and insults being thrown around the living room when someone with a ‘lisp’ was on the telly, at the same time knowing it would have been impossible to even broach the subject of being gay. At least a black child doesn’t have to ‘come out’ to his black family for being black in the hope they are accepted.
“Perhaps this is why so many in the community refer to others as ‘family’. For many years now the customers and staff alike have been my family. One does what one has to protect their family, and I’m doing the same.”
Is The Peel’s door policy unnecessarily discriminatory, or simply protecting the interests of its gay punters as best it can? We welcome your thoughts below.