'Bars and pubs should be welcoming spaces for everyone': Lily Waite, The Queer Brewing Project

Laura Foster

Laura Foster

30 June 2020

An advocate for queer and trans representation in the beer industry, Lily Waite discusses her experiences in the on-trade, how she uses beer for positive change and what more she wants to see the industry do to make the LGBTQI+ community feel safe

'I’ve worked in a few pubs. I fucking love pubs. I still find myself missing pub work, and every other week or so think about getting a part-time job in one. I faced more homophobia and transphobia behind a bar than anywhere else, so in that sense it was a negative experience.

'Otherwise, apart from dickhead customers and the general negatives of bar work, it was pretty positive. There’s a tendency for hospitality staff, especially in pubs and around alcohol, to be treated poorly by entitled, and just ignorant, customers. When you look visibly different, this can be much worse. When you add alcohol to the mix, it can embolden certain people to behave inappropriately and abusively. In my case, I had people shout at me across the bar, asking what my gender was, getting aggressive with me, and otherwise humiliating me. On the other hand, I also had kind and supportive customers.

After working in beer for a while, I began to see that this energy could be put to use in a different field

'I didn’t so much choose beer as a way to increase visibility for queer and trans people, I fell into working in beer after graduating university, and after getting into craft beer as a hobby. As such, beer came after my interest in 'activism' for people like me.

'Whilst at art school, I worked on projects platforming and highlighting trans artists, and made work about the treatment of trans people in our hostile society. After working in beer for a while, I began to see that this energy could be put to use in a different field.'

Brewing for equality

'The Queer Brewing Project came about after a collaboration I brewed with Marble Brewery under my own name: after seeing the response and the effect it had on LGBTQ+ friends, I saw how I might use beer for positive change.

'The drinks industry has a huge role to play in combating numerous issues. As beer writer Melissa Cole says, which goes for wine, spirits, and other drinks too: "Beer is social lubricant, and beer is also social glue" – why can’t beer be a vehicle for social change? If we all convene over a pint or a glass of wine at birthdays and celebrations, and even just at the weekend, why can’t we use that to a greater impact? Everything is political, and the drinks industry should be too.

Everything is political, and the drinks industry should be too

'I think in general I’d like the drinks industry to be less homogeneous. It’s still generally male-dominated, it’s still predominantly straight and cisgender, it’s always been mostly white.

'For all the talk of diversity and inclusion, it seems that few concrete practices have been put into place, and after the token diversity panel has finished and the rainbow flags have been taken down after Pride, it just goes back to the way it’s always been, and minorities fall to the wayside once more.'

Fair gains

'Bars and pubs should be welcoming spaces for everyone. Though I obviously see the need for queer bars and the like, I can’t help but see safe spaces like these as a failure of society.

Work to confront your own prejudices so when it comes to interviewing candidates, those prejudices don’t come into play

'Gender-neutral toilets should be implemented wherever possible.

'Educational resources should be made available to staff, and diversity training should be compulsory. Members of staff should be made to feel comfortable challenging prejudice from racism to sexism to transphobia, and managers should be able to back staff up and support them – I’ve felt uncomfortable speaking out in the past because it goes against the flawed "the customer is always right" mentality.

'I think hiring practices, too, must be reevaluated: look beyond the same channels through which jobs are advertised; seek to hire people with transferable skills from different communities; work to confront your own prejudices so when it comes to interviewing candidates, those prejudices don’t come into play.

'These might seem like excessive and tiresome solutions to a problem people may not realise they have, but we all must work to make the industry a fairer and more equitable place.' 

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