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Introducing Britain's First UKIP-Endorsing Gay Pub

We talked to the landlord of Wakefield gay pub the Harewood Arms about whether his decision to lend his bar to the right-wing group for party meetings might put some customers off.
April 7, 2015, 9:40pm

Photo via The Harewood Arms Facebook page

This post originally appeared on VICE UK.

Good news for LGBT bigots, as this weekend it transpired that, when the great flood comes to wipe gays off the earth, they'll be safely sipping their pints in the Harewood Arms in Wakefield, Yorkshire. It was reported byPinkNews yesterday that the LGBTQ friendly pub have announced that they're officially endorsing UKIP.

Many customers have reacted with anger that a gay pub is now going to be a meeting venue for a party which has a long history of homophobic gaffes, ex-members, and official policies. And fair enough, but have these people reined in their outrage for long enough to realize that UKIP have been particularly vociferous on the plight of the humble British pub? What's a gay landlord looking aghast at the state of the pub industry to do?

Presumably one thing not to do is piss off a lot of your clientele. One Facebook user, Andrew Bogg, commenting on the original post, said that "When we go to a pub we want to feel safe and to be ourselves. A pub holding rallies for UKIP will not make the LGBT community feel safe."

Image grabbed via Facebook.

And you can see why. UKIP's alienation of the gay community continues apace. Kendrick "Dickie" Bird, UKIP's candidate for Banbury, is currently keeping the party's PR department busy with his alleged homophobic comments, the latest in a long series of scandals ranging from Councillor David Silvester's notorious claim that the 2014 floods were caused by same-sex marriage, to the resignation of UKIP's LGBT chair Tom Booker, who felt that he simply "couldn't defend the party anymore."

Then again, the party does boast one openly gay MEP, David Coburn, but his poster-boy credentials are slightly weakened by his vocal opposition to same-sex marriage which, according to him, "makes a mockery of the holy sacrament." There is also an organized network of LGBTQ supporters, "LGBT* in UKIP," which supposedly has around 600 members. So maybe it's not so weird to have a UKIP gay pub after all.

Wondering how the Wakefield gay pub's political siding might effect business, we spoke to the landlord of the Harewood Arms, Matthew Easton, about his UKIP endorsement.

VICE: So could you talk us through the process of a pub endorsing UKIP?
Matthew Easton: I mean, it was a personal decision, and at the start I was wary about mixing business and politics. Up until now, I've always been very politically neutral; I've never voted before this year. But I went on one of these websites where you can answer questions about your views, and they get matched to policies and most of the policies I agreed with were on the UKIP side.

But I came to this decision when I looked more in-depth at what they had to offer—I looked through them very much as a pub landlord and a nightclub owner. I thought to myself, "What are they going to do for me, as someone in this industry? What are we going to get out of them?" And I guess, the decision… it's a bit of a "marmite" thing. UKIP are one of these parties that you like or you dislike. I understand that UKIP are a bit more extreme in some of their views, and that they have let some eyebrow-raising people into their party.

So, you're happy backing UKIP as a pub landlord. Are you happy backing UKIP as a person who identifies as gay?
I get asked this question very, very regularly; as a gay person and as someone who runs a gay venue, I've had people ask me again and again why I want to vote for a party that's so anti-gay. But I've looked into their policies and they're not actually that bad from an LGBT point of view. As for the party members that have said homophobic things in the past, most of them have been got rid of. The party does act on it but, you know, that bit doesn't get into the press. It's the same with the comments that [party leader] Nigel [Farage] made on the TV debates, where the press just jumped all over him.

You're referring to Farage's scare-mongering comments about HIV-positive immigrants. Do you consider these comments homophobic?
No, not really. His point was about health tourism, even though I'm not really that interested in that side of UKIP's policy, I'm interested in the pub industry. I mean, I would have preferred it if he'd said cancer or something that wasn't stigmatized for the gay community. And some friends of mine that are involved in UKIP have said the same thing, that he probably could have come up with something better.

So you don't think Nigel Farage was consciously targeting gay people, specifically gay immigrants, even though, as you say, he chose a disease which carries a lot of stigma in terms of attitudes to gay communities?
No, because if you actually read the transcript his point was health tourism. I don't think he was saying that gay people are all AIDS-ridden, he was talking about people coming here and claiming drugs without paying tax. I didn't see it as homophobic at all, although I know PinkNews and everybody else did.

Photo via the Harewood Arms' Facebook page.

What does it actually mean to be a UKIP gay pub? If I went for a pint at the Harewood Arms would I know?
No, you wouldn't know it was a UKIP-supporting pub. And this is the point that I've made on the Facebook page. People have said to me that they're not going to come in any more. And my response is that we're not going to make people wear a purple T-shirt and a yellow rosette. There's nothing in the pub. We haven't put posters up, we haven't put flags up.

It's a varied crowd and a varied staff. Where the pub comes into supporting UKIP is that we have agreed to let them use the pub one evening to invite all the local candidates round, for a meet and greet session. There'll be a couple of other times where they'll use the pub for a bit of campaigning. But on other days it's just an ordinary pub.

Are you worried about alienating your customers given some of the responses you've had on social media?
Probably not, no. One thing that has surprised me was that, checking the Facebook page, we've only lost four likes since I changed the banner to the UKIP " Save The Pub" image and we've actually gained 150, although they're probably not all from Wakefield, admittedly. I don't think we are going to lose people.

How much support would you say there is for UKIP among the LGBTQ community you come into contact with?
Well, it's certainly not just me. They have got an LGBT group and my friend Nathan, who's the vice-chair of the group, is a candidate for the Pontefract constituency. Some of their opinions that have made people raise their eyebrows have come from individuals, and thats how UKIP get linked to homophobia. The thing I like, and I think other people like this as well, is that their policies are very clear. They make it simple, they don't try and confuse you with anything and they're straight-talking.

But can you keep making excuses for the opinions of individual members when it's been such a recurrent pattern? Doesn't it say something about the kind of people who are drawn to UKIP?
Well, one incident I remember is when PinkNews jumped all over the UKIP candidate that linked same-sex marriage to the bad weather we were having. And I found that quite amusing myself, but that wasn't UKIP's opinion; that was the candidate's. The party get a very bad reputation because people like that say things that get in the press, and they get jumped on a lot more than if a Labour MP was to say that.

But do you think there's a similar amount of Labour MPs who would make those kind of comments?
No, probably not.

Are UKIP doing well in Wakefield at the moment?
Looking at the polls, we're neck and neck in second place with the Conservatives at the moment [ actual stats here]. I expect that Labour will sail through this year, as they have done every year, because Wakefield has always been a strong Labour-supporting area. But there's definitely been a big surge in UKIP support in Wakefield.

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