A gay man and several lesbians walked into a bar…
…or, to be precise, the Green Room diner at the National Theatre on London’s South Bank.
It was late afternoon on Friday 5 July 2019, the day before the city’s main Pride event. Earlier the same day, the National Theatre (NT) Twitter account had announced they were ready for the weekend and posted a photo of the theatre decked in the rainbow flag. Another rainbow flag hung behind the bar of the Green Room.
A group of people – mainly women – had spent the day protesting outside Stonewall’s Children and Young People conference, a few minutes’ walk away. At the end of the afternoon, they took pics of themselves outside the Hayward Gallery, in front of posters promoting some creepy exhibition. Then some of them went on to the Green Room, others went to a nearby food fair and got a bite to eat there, while a few others took the huge placards they’d held at the protest back to the vehicle they were using. They all eventually went on to meet up at the Green Room.
Those who’d gone straight to the Green Room had bought drinks and were sitting outside in the sunshine by the time the others arrived. Of the later arrivals, only a man in the group got served. It seems a member of staff took exception to the women, some of whom were wearing lesbian T-shirts. They were refused service.
According to the account left by one of the women on the NT’s Facebook page the following day:
Another of the group, Anne Ruzylo, told this website:
Naturally, when the story broke on social media – initially with the barest of details – it attracted a lot of bewilderment, outrage and accusations of lesbophobia. Could it possibly be true that they were refused service because of a T-shirt?
Of course, the very reason lesbians wear it is that they are standing up to lesbian erasure by the trans lobby, whose ideology dictates that when heterosexual men start claiming to be women, they become lesbians and are entitled to be in lesbian spaces. It’s even been known for them to expect lesbians to consider them as potential sexual partners. Seriously!
It’s not unknown for a woman wearing a definition T-shirt to be banned from a pub. But this is the National Theatre on the eve of the Pride refusing service to lesbians.
What the hell is going on?
The first comment from the NT on what had happened was made in response to a tweet from one of the group.
This gives the impression that members of the group were seriously misbehaving, that they were disturbing other customers by “demonstrating”, which suggests chanting, holding up placards, etc. as well as distributing campaign materials. That would be bad enough but… they were abusing staff and other visitors too??
Well, no. The NT tweet doesn’t actually say they were doing any of those things. They simply took some wording from the visit guidelines published on their website and asked that people respect them. By tweeting them in response to someone saying they’d just been refused service, they implied that those particular guidelines had been breached and this was the reason service was refused.
If anyone had in fact been engaged in those particular activities, the NT would surely have posted a rather different comment. Something like this, perhaps?
I believe that the NT tweet was intended to deflect from allegations that Green Room staff had discriminated against people for being lesbians. It was a shamefully mendacious public comment to make but worse was to come.
From this recording, we learn that the bar was closed for service soon after 5 pm but staff continued to serve drinks away from the bar to anyone who wasn’t with the group. We also learn that no explanation was offered for the refusal of service. Nor, as we see from this video, could the security officers sent to eject this group of peaceful, sober and mostly middle-aged and older women, enlighten them as to why they were required to leave.
In the meantime, a Twitter storm was raging. Julian Vigo tweeted that she had phoned the NT to “politely express concern”.
Then she said, “We have two members of staff who are lesbians who didn’t want to serve them”…So, when I asked if she was aware that these women were allowed to protest for the rights of lesbians and still have a drink in their establishment, she said that they didn’t want them there.
I asked if the Green Room has a policy to act on hearsay or gossip, the woman claimed that they did not discriminate adding, “nobody wanted to serve these women”. When I asked how such decisions would be arrived at and why management would not override (or dismiss) those who act in such a discriminatory manner, she hung up on me.
What? No mention of demonstrations and distribution of campaign materials? No abuse of staff and visitors? No. Just some discrimination on the grounds of their opinions, which staff members interpret as “anti-trans”, even though there are plenty of trans people who acknowledge the truth of them.
Anyway, NT staff ended up calling the police. In this video, we see that the exchange between the group and a police officer is generally good-natured.
The most revealing exchange, however, is captured in this footage, where the police officer explains that he was told by the manager that someone in the group had said that “lesbians can’t have dicks”. This had offended some of the staff, who reported it to the manager. The manager’s decision was that everyone in the group was to be refused service and asked to leave. Whether this was even actually said by anyone in the group remains uncertain. I’ve heard from a couple of the women that they don’t think it was.
Later that evening the NT tweeted this remarkable statement:
“Impinges on their ability to feel supported and safe.”
Anyone unfamiliar with the ‘feelz’ culture, in which the right to hold opinions – set out by Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights – is less important than the feelings of those who disagree with them, would be forgiven for thinking that these feminists were guilty of something more than wanting to have a peaceful drink in T-shirts bearing the dictionary definition of what they are.
Those of us who know this culture all too well will see this statement for what it is: deceitful.
But, believe it or not, it gets even worse.
The following day, an article appeared in the Observer section of the Guardian website written by Arts & Media correspondent, Vanessa Thorpe.
It quotes Lisa Burger, a chief executive of the NT, saying,
And, in case it’s not obvious, here’s why that statement should be taken with a pinch of salt:
Firstly, there is no objective evidence for any of it and some weighty evidence against it.
Where are these placards they allegedly refused to put out of sight? As we can see from the Stonewall protest they’d been at, they were holding enormous boards and a few small home-made signs. All I see in all of the available footage is what looks like one small wooden pole, which might be attached to one of the home-made signs but we can’t see the sign because it’s upside down and under the table i.e. out of sight.
What does Burger mean by “disturbances”? We are not told. My guess would be asking for an explanation for the refusal to serve them and not leaving the instant the security officers asked them to but asking if they could finish their drinks (those who had them, obviously).
It is surely beyond doubt that, if they had really been causing anything that could reasonably be described as a disturbance, at least one member of staff and more than one customer would have recorded it on their smartphones because that is what people do in 2019! It is precisely because these people were being shabbily treated that members of the group got their phones out and started recording all this helpful footage, particularly that of the police officer giving the supposedly real reason they were being asked to leave.
Thirdly – and this is the most appalling and potentially defamatory allegation – what was this allegedly “abusive behavior” towards the staff? Were they shouted at? Sworn at? Called nasty names? Assaulted?
Of course not!
Remember, the man who was part of the group was served without question. The women were only refused service when they confirmed to a staff member that some had been part of last year’s lesbian protest at Pride and, possibly during the ensuing conversation, someone may or may not have shockingly proclaimed that lesbians are sans pénis. The staff member who took Julian Vigo’s phone call said nothing about any abusive behavior.
Finally, who are these “multiple witnesses” and what exactly did they supposedly corroborate? Is Burger saying that other customers testified that these women were causing a disturbance? Because, again, that is what it sounds like and that is what some people who read the Observer report now believe, even though we are not provided with a single specific quote from any of them, let alone any recording, while we do have footage of the women remaining remarkably calm, polite and good-humoured, even as they are being told they won’t be served.
The last thing we read in the Observer story is that Anne Ruzylo “has been approached by the Observer for comment.” Oh, really?
Not according to the evidence, courtesy of Twitter.
Apparently, there is a Twitter account using both Anne Ruzylo’s real name and her Twitter handle of @sargesalute but cunningly replacing the lower case L with a capital I. The profile bio reads ‘trans women are women’ in block caps. It should be patently obvious to even some pea-brained hack that this is not Anne’s real account but one of those malicious impersonations, yet Vanessa Thorpe tweeted at it, asking Anne to follow her so she could send her a private message. As it isn’t Anne’s real account, Anne didn’t see the request.
For the record, I believe this was a genuine mistake on Thorpe’s part and would have felt sorry for her, had she not gone ahead and filed her crappy story anyway.
The upshot of all this is that there are now many people who believe that Anne Ruzylo – a woman I know to be mild-mannered, good-humoured and thoroughly decent – and some 15+ other people were involved in obnoxious and abusive behavior towards others. (A couple of examples can be seen here and here.)
I don’t have words to express how angry, disgusted, appalled and despairing I am that people – I mean NT staff including Lisa Burger, the Observer’s Vanessa Thorpe and whichever editor is responsible for publishing her report – can behave like this.
And just to be clear by what I mean by “this”: Women were refused service solely on the grounds that NT staff disagreed with their views. The NT put out three weasely-worded statements that I believe were deliberately intended to suggest there was fire under the smoke and the Observer published a report of the NT Chief Exec’s words without the other side of the story, even though Anne and others who’d been present had been posting about what happened on social media.
Do they have an inkling of what it can do to someone to circulate falsehoods about them on social media? To have people believe those falsehoods and re-circulate them over and over? Because I do. And, in my heart of hearts, I think they do and I think they don’t bloody care! The very definition of bigotry is intolerance of other people’s opinions and I believe that the staff members at the NT are the real bigots in this story. What’s more, I believe they will be delighted at the thought that they are responsible for causing anger and distress to women who have the courage to stand up for women instead of pandering to male entitlement.
It is thanks to people like the NT staff that I have lost my faith in humanity.
Thanks to people who’ve taken the trouble to complain by email to [email protected]
I am horrified to see that correspondents are receiving a standard response that not only doubles down on the fabricated version of events they put out on Friday but audaciously calls it a “fuller account”! How do they sleep at night?
This is it:
We have multiple accounts from witnesses. They corroborate that a group who attended the Green Room restaurant on Friday 5 July were ultimately asked to leave the premises as a result of a series of disturbances. These began with their refusal to put placards out of sight that featured messages which upset other customers and contravened our visiting policy, and culminated in abusive behaviour towards our staff.
The clothing, gender or sexuality of the group was not a factor in the decision, which was reluctantly taken on the basis of the group’s behaviour and what was said. The National Theatre must be an inclusive place for everyone, and that means asking visitors to conduct themselves in a way that respects that principle.
I hope that this fuller account of what happened gives you reassurance that the National acted with due consideration in the circumstances.
Director of External Relationships and Partnerships
National Theatre, Upper Ground, London SE1 9PX
T: 020 7452 3280 (direct) 020 7452 3333 (switchboard)
Update: 08.12.19 Legal action launched in row between National Theatre and lesbian group Telegraph
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