Interviews

A new door opens: the queer security shake-up

Words by Allyssia Alleyne
Photos by Sophie Williams

There’s a long-overdue revolution happening in the world of queer event security. We caught up with those leading the charge to find out how they’re making nightlife safer for everyone

In nightlife, that first encounter with security can be a delicate dance. Get on their good side, and you’re set for the night; have a negative encounter, and your night is over before it’s begun. 

The man on the door (it’s usually a man) should be tasked with letting the good ones in and chucking the bad ones out – a great power that comes with great responsibility. And yet it’s not uncommon for that power to be wielded insensitively. According to a 2019 DICE survey, 64% of fans who went out more than once a week had been made to feel threatened or vulnerable by staff or security at events. 

For members of the LGBTQIA+ community, the security experience can be even more fraught. Misgendering, invasive bodily searches and undue hassles over ID where assigned sex may not match gender identity, are common, and occasionally, things can even turn violent. Earlier this year, four queer guests were allegedly beaten by a bouncer at a queer party in Hackney, and another man was allegedly beaten by bouncers outside a prominent gay club in Manchester. 

This is where Safe Only comes in. With a growing staff of “hot queer security guards”, the new London firm aims to provide a “for us, by us” alternative for queer parties and venues. Rather than relying on intimidation to keep people in line, the team takes a trauma-informed approach stemming from a place of compassion, mutual understanding and care, envisioning a world where security guards aren’t barriers to a good time, but facilitators of them.

“Security means keeping things secure and keeping people safe, but who are we keeping things safe for?” says Dani Dinger, who cofounded Safe Only with friend and fellow nightlife connoisseur Yiannis Katsorsi earlier this year. “It’s important that the people who are serving the community – in this case, us – actually have a stake in that community’s enjoyment, in that community’s liberation, because we do see parties as spaces for liberation.” 

Neither Dani nor Yiannis come from a security background, but they were moved to enter the field after witnessing and experiencing instances of discrimination, mistreatment and hostility at the hands of “laddish” security guards at the queer parties they went to.

Security
means
keeping
things
secure
and
keeping
people
safe,
but
who
are
we
keeping
things
safe
for?

Dani Dinger (left) and Yiannis Katsorsi are the founders of Safe Only, a new queer security firm.

“There were a few incidents that made me think, ‘Oh, someone needs to do something about this,” says Yiannis. “I’ve been discriminated against just for wearing a dress, I’ve been frowned upon, I’ve seen security using the wrong gender language to refer to people… There’s a bullying mentality that is very triggering if you have grown up being bullied by these kinds of people. You’re going out to have a good night and express yourself, and it just takes you back to those horrible moments.” 

Yiannis and Dani first came up with the idea while working the door together at Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, a queer venue in east London. “I always think it sort of started as a joke, but Yannis is like, ‘No, I was never joking, bitch,’” says Dani. The duo were “always bringing such great looks and being super-welcoming, and people were giving such great feedback about the experience of being welcomed by us, rather than by someone generic from an agency. I think that really motivated us.” 

Buoyed by the enthusiasm of the promoters and venues they floated the idea to, Dani and Yiannis registered Safe Only in February 2022, and by April they received their government-backed Security Industry Authority licenses. In late June, they completed their first official security booking, at Forest Gayte Pride. They've provided welfare (support for guests inside the club) and medic services at Chapter 10, and have an ongoing welfare partnership with the Technomate party collective.

The art of the first impression

The creation of Safe Only serves to highlight issues that many queer promoters and venues are intimately familiar with. The risks of intimidation and insensitivity are always top of mind for Xandice Armah, who cofounded Gal Pals, a party in London and Brighton centring queer women and non-binary people. 

“For some people, if you have the wrong thing happen on the door, you’re going home. And we’ve had that happen, where people have been like, ‘This happened on the door. I’m not coming back,’” says Xandice. 

Ryan Lanji, the founder of the LGBTQIA+ Bollywood club night Hungama, takes a similar stance on the significance of first impressions. 

“Security plays a really big part in making people feel like the night is truly theirs,” he says. “Imagine if someone’s walking to the club in high heels and a skirt and it’s the first time they’ve ever dressed genderqueer, and then when they get to security, they’re accosted, or they’re told to get to the back of the queue, and no one’s really paying attention to what they need. Say a guest has an altercation when they’re on the way, and someone is homophobic to them. When they get to the venue, the security should be able to acknowledge that problem, alleviate it, and then welcome them in so they feel safe in that space.” 

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Where experience meets education

Both Ryan and Xandice have plans in place to help ensure that their security teams are as considerate and aware as possible. Often, this means working with venues and agencies they know share their values, and with whom they have an established track record. Both schedule mandatory briefing sessions for security and other staff working their events before doors open, where they’re primed on subjects such as misgendering, sensitivity around looking at IDs, the rationale behind gender-neutral toilets, and which voices to prioritise in a disagreement.

“The briefing is a huge part of making sure we have as much control as possible over that first interaction our guests have. Because that interaction will paint your evening, irrespective of whether you have a good time inside or not,” says Xandice.

Ryan also ensures that there is always a friendly and flamboyant person working the door, to take the edge off: “Someone who has a lot of sass and authority and dresses in a way that makes people feel like it’s truly the entrance to a rabbit hole.”

While education and empathy are important, useful prerequisites, Xandice feels they can’t replace experience. Unlike straight or cis security guards, teams such as Safe Only have been on the other side. “They’ve likely had an experience where they're like, ‘You didn’t need to be heavy-handed. I didn’t need to have my ID handled in this way.’ They’ve gone into it because they believe they can extend the care that our communities deserve and are not receiving currently from security out in the wild.” 

It’s a reason why Ryan is excited to see how Safe Only develops. “The queer community is at the disposal of capitalistic structures, so at the moment we have to go with the least dangerous security option we can find," he says. "But if we all invest in one security company, that can grow and we can see a bigger change than we ever expected.” 

Imagining queer futures

At the time of writing, the Safe Only team includes nine people, including security and welfare, as well as three staff members brought on as consultants and training facilitators – but Dani and Yiannis hope to grow the team to 14 soon, and as many as 30 by the end of the summer. While the team is currently majority white, there are plans to ensure that as it grows, it also reflects the diversity of the communities it serves. “Now that we’ve got the nuts and bolts done, we’ll be doing much more targeted recruitment so that we are truly representative,” says Dani. 

The
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replicating
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fundamentally
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Along with providing security and welfare personnel, Safe Only is developing training for venues to equip their security teams and bar staff with basic knowledge of working with queer guests, as well as subjects including harm reduction and neurodiversity in nightlife. They also hope to provide a new model for security that doesn’t rely on traditional markers of strength and intimidation to enforce rules and maintain order. 

“The key thing for us is not replicating structures that we are fundamentally opposed to, which is basically what the problem is with many security teams at the moment. And that’s something that we, as queer people – and also as abolitionists – are not up for doing,” says Dani. 

“Parties are the places where we can really just exist briefly without those structures; they’re where the boundaries of the imagination that we’re forced to have in our day-to-day existence are temporarily removed. And so I think we’re just really leaning into that.” 

We’re on a mission to get people out more