Sweatbox, a gay bathhouse in London, UK, has shut its doors because of the coronavirus pandemic. Its owners stated that they felt it would be “highly immoral” to remain open.
At the time of writing, the UK capital is not in lockdown. Pubs, clubs and restaurants are allowed to stay open if they decide to do so. However, on Monday, the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, advised the public not to go to bars and restaurants and to practice social distancing.
This led many of London’s LGBTQ venues in a quandary: to remain open or choose to close?
Related: New York City and Los Angeles close all bars and restaurants
Some famed gay venues in the city had already decided to suspend operations until the crisis abates. This included Eagle London in South London, which posted a message to its social media on Sunday stating: “With the steady rise in cases and the stress on the health system we feel the time is right to protect our customers and staff from this ongoing threat and close the venue.”
On Tuesday, Jeremy Joseph, promoter of London’s biggest gay club, G-A-Y, blasted the Prime Minister as a “c*nt”. He and others felt that warning the public to avoid bars without ordering venues to close meant they faced potential financial ruin and would not be able to claim on their insurance policies or state-assisted sick pay.
“BORIS JOHNSON – YOU ARE A C*NT,” Joseph wrote on Facebook. “Telling People to avoid pubs, restaurants & theatres but not closing them, in other words, Unofficially closing venues but making sure Government isn’t liable for staff To get sick pay.”
This was followed by G-A-Y announcing it was closing its venues, which include the G-A-Y Bar in Soho and G-A-Y Late. Joseph employs around 200 people across his four venues in the UK (he also has a bar in Manchester).
The government has since announced some grants and loans for small businesses struggling to cope in the wake of the pandemic.
On Tuesday, Sweatbox, which operates a gay gym and sauna in central London, announced it was closing. The venue underwent an extensive refit last year costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“It is with great regret, sadness and a lot of anxiety that Sweatbox has felt compelled to close its doors to the public until such time as the policy of Social Distancing has been lifted,” it stated on social media.
“Whilst we may not agree with the way the government has handled it, we do believe the science. The nature of gay saunas are specifically non-conducive to Social Distancing. Far more so than even pubs or cinemas. Therefore, we think it would be highly immoral to remain open during this time.”
It went on to say, “The effects of this closure are devastating on both the business and our staff. But this is a crisis of unparalleled proportions. We will be fighting tooth and nail for both the survival of our business and the welfare of our staff.”
Related: LGBTQ people at heightened risk from coronavirus, warn advocacy groups
Although Sweatbox was the first gay bathhouse in London to announce its closure, it was followed yesterday by statements from Pleasuredrome, Chariots Vauxhall and Sailors Sauna that they too were closing. No closures statements have yet been posted by Locker Room sauna in south London or E15 Club in East London.
Many other gay venues have announced they are now closed, including The Glory and Dalston Superstore in East London. The Royal Vauxhall Tavern, another of London’s most famed venues, has indicated it will remain open unless forced to close.
In the UK, at the time of writing, there have been over 2,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and just over 100 deaths. The majority of cases are in London, with over 900 cases and 34 deaths. Health experts believe the true figure of those infected in the UK could be 55,000, but many have not been tested or are not showing symptoms.
Transport for London (TfL) has announced it is reducing services and closing 40 tube stations. There is speculation the capital may be forced into lockdown over the coming days. In the US, major cities including New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco have ordered the closure of bars and restaurants.