While Brighton takes the crown for being the gay capital of the UK, Manchester proudly holds the title as the gay capital of the north, acting as one of Britain’s most liberal and accepting cities. With an abundance of queer nightlife options, intense weekend-long events, and the campest drag scene in England, it’s easy to see why people from all over the UK flock to the north. Manchester acts as a safe haven for queer travelers, with niche locations that cater to everyone in the LGBTQ community.
Manchester’s LGBTQ scene began to thrive publically as early as the 1800s, when “fancy dress” balls allowed individuals to dress up as the opposite sex, creating a space to explore gender identity while surrounded by like-minded people. These events were often secretive, however, as anti-cross-dressing laws created tension between the police and the queer community. On a fruitful night in 1880, 47 men were arrested after attending a fancy dress ball in Temperance Hall, their charges being soliciting and enticing each other to commit “improper actions.”
More awareness for the community occurred in 1940 when the Union Pub (now named New Union) hosted drag nights to entertain US soldiers during World War II, attracting a sizable LGBTQ clientele while doing so. Despite this, gay clubs within the city remained secretive and hidden away for a long time, often found on desolate side streets and with inconspicuous signs. It wasn’t until 1990 that Manto opened its doors, the first gay club to be transparent about what it was: a gay club. Large, plate-glass windows acted as a political and social statement to bring awareness to the LGBTQ community, allowing passersby to view the inner goings of the pub. As a result, numerous more LGBTQ venues and safe spaces appeared along Rochdale Canal, eventually forming Manchester’s famous gay village: Canal Street.
Along the way, a number of activist groups and organizations began to station themselves within the city. The first arose in 1973 under the name The Manchester Gay Alliance. Originated by the Lesbian and Gay society at Manchester University, the organization provided resources for those in the LGBTQ community, including a switchboard people could call for advice and support. Following in its footsteps, the Manchester city council created the Equal Opportunity Committee in 1984, which paved the way for the first pride parade just a year later.
Nowadays, Manchester is at the forefront of queer acceptance in the UK and home to a large and proud LGBTQ community. Pride flags decorate the city’s streets, hanging from hotels, waving proudly outside bars, and interlaced within colorful street murals. And while the entire city is rainbow-centric throughout the entire year, pride season is the time that Manchester truly comes alive. More on that later.
Politically, Manchester is extremely liberal and protective of its thriving LGBTQ community. In 2003, the city council’s LGBTQ staff group was established, protecting LGBTQ rights within the workplace — as a result of this, the Stonewall Organization labeled Manchester’s city council as one of the top 100 employers for workplace equality. And recently, as of 2016, the city’s first openly gay mayor, Carl Austin-Behan, was elected.
Canal Street and Gay Village
It is undeniable that Manchester is famous for its active gay nightlife, and at the heart of it all is the notorious Canal Street. This prosperous gay village is the epicenter of all things queer in Manchester, with over 40 LGBTQ venues scattered along the Rochdale Canal.
While the nightlife options along Canal Street are like no other, Manchester is also home to an abundance of alternative safe spaces. Within the LGBTQ community, safe spaces are often found in alcohol-based venues, such as clubs and bars — and as much as a big ole’ gay night out can be piles of fun, it isn’t for everyone. For those who don’t drink and those who are too young to, Canal Street has a bounty of other queer-focused locations available, such as venues for queer youth to meet and explore their identity and events celebrating activism and gay literature.
Bars, nightclubs, and drag shows
Originally opening its doors in 1992, Cruz 101 is one of Manchester’s oldest and most popular gay bars. Initially, attendees would have to apply for membership 48 hours prior to their visit to be granted legal access to the club. That soon changed, however, after a lengthy court battle resulted in instant membership being permitted at the door. This ruling acted as a monumental moment for queer nightlife within Manchester, paving the way for more gay bars to open up along Rochdale Canal.
Nowadays, the lively club is split up into two levels: the main floor and Sub101. On the main floor, you’ll find crowds dancing away to cutting-edge house and dance music. Sub101 is located on the lower level, providing a more “underground” feel. When not operating as a part of the main club, Sub101 hosts special events, so check out the site to see what’s on.
Where: 101 Princess Street, M16DD
Vanilla is one of the only gay clubs in Manchester that caters specifically to lesbians,