Centred around Canal Street, Bloom Street and Richmond Street, Manchester’s Gay Village has become a mecca for gay and straight people at all times of the year – and the place clearly comes into its own during the annual Pride Festival held on the last weekend of August when it is the focal point for an extended long weekend of celebrations.
Whatever time of the year, it’s a great place to be and as a gay man it’s obviously a place I’d recommend as a must-visit destination if you want to be among like-minded people. However, it does at times feel like it has become a tourist attraction and a gold fish bowl – often populated at weekends by hen parties doing the ‘gay thing’ for a bit of a wheeze. Make no mistake however, this is what it says on the tin ‘a gay village’ and rightly proud of the community of bars, clubs, restaurants and shops that make up its character.
That said, the fact that everyone is welcome really does reflect the friendly that the village conveys - and mid-afternoon in the summer really does feel cosmopolitan, with loads of people spilling out from the bars overlooking Canal Street, which provides a focal point for chilling by a stretch of cool water.
You can enjoy the Village on many levels, particularly during the day when many of its cafes and bars are open for relaxed informal dining and drinking.
After dark the gay side of the village comes to the fore and for the less-open minded it can be a bit of any eye opener, particularly if you arrive on an evening where particular groups are meeting in some of the more strictly gay bars like The Rembrandt, Company Bar and The Eagle.
A fun and vibrant place to be during the day if you want to be part of a relaxed gay community that is happy to do its own thing – eating, drinking and relaxing. In the evening, the village naturally prepares itself for a different type of fun and clearly aims to meet the needs of a more specific gay clientele with its night clubs and bars attracting different types of gay groups.
No visit to the village can be made without taking time to introduce yourself to the reflective statue of Alan Turing, the maths and computer science genius behind much of the Bletchley Park code-breaking centre in the Second World War. Sitting on a bench in the grounds of Sackville Park, just of Canal Street, this statue is a salutary reminder of how far gay rights have come since the second world war. A gay man by his own admission, Alan Turing was arrested by police in 1952 for a homosexual incident and given female hormones (chemical castration) rather than go to prison. In 1954 he died of cyanide poisoning.
In September 2009, an official public apology was made on behalf of the British government for the “appalling way he was treated”. This came after an extensive internet campaign which has since led to a further development with a Private Members Bill put before the House of Lords in May 2012 to grant Turing a statutory pardon. Latest indications suggest this will succeed.
So, whatever you do in the gay village, remember that it wasn’t always this free and easy – and the man who played a key role in cracking the codes that helped us win the war paid a high price for his homosexuality.
Enjoy but never forget.
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