Regular customers of Rainbow House, a queer club in Melbourne’s LGBTQIA heartland in Fitzroy, won’t see the usual familiar faces behind the bar this weekend after staff walked out in droves on Sunday.
Seven members of staff – the entire bar staff, the glassy and the cloakroom manager – collectively resigned at the start of their Sunday evening shift after a week of growing tension between them and the venue’s owner Alaattin Usluwho passed Ferdinand.
Several took to social media to say they had quit in solidarity with the site’s director Steve Valentine, who they say was fired and replaced on Friday for no reason.
They said its removal made them feel the venue was no longer a safe and welcoming space for queer, trans and gender diverse people.
“Until a week and a half ago I thought I had the best job in the world,” the former staffer said. Blair Toch says PEDSTRIAN.TV.
“When [Fernando] told me a week and a half ago that he was planning to fire Stevie and I asked him not to, I immediately [felt] that without Stevie there, it wouldn’t be safe.
Stevie posted on Instagram over the weekend that he had promoted a safe space at the site – something other staff members agreed with in their own social media posts.
Fernando, however, denied firing Stevie and said it was a misunderstanding.
English is not his first language, so he told PEDESTIAN.TV he wanted someone who could communicate better with him on the team.
He said he told Stevie at the end of May that a new member of staff would be starting next week in the same role and that he wanted Stevie’s help in training that person over a week-long period.
He said that’s when Stevie decided to leave. But Stevie told PEDESTIAN.TV that Fernando said after a week of training he would be out of a job.
Messages sent by Fernando in April show he was looking for another manager.
Fernando said on Wednesday he didn’t know why his staff left and would welcome one of them.
“I messaged, open all day, come in…it’s up to you,” he said.
Fernando still calls the venue a “community center” and said that even without his usual team he will continue to open as normal as he is confident he will find friends to cover the shifts.
Regardless of the actual circumstances, one thing is clear: the staff who walked out no longer believe Rainbow House is the safe space it once was.
“We lost a very precious place,” Tosh said.
Rainbow House has reopened after closings at the end of 2020 with a new venue manager, Aliyana Kauri (also known as Dawn Lee) at the helm. Kauri wanted to transform the gay bar into a place that welcomed queer and marginalized people of diverse gender identities.
“As a trans woman of color, I don’t often have those opportunities, so I wanted to give a safe space to queer people who are often overlooked — queer people who aren’t white, gay men,” he said. she told PEDESTIAN.TV.
“I wanted to make sure that… we all had our space.”
But in 2021, Kauri said she was also fired after an altercation with others, including venue security guards.
Kauri said she didn’t speak publicly about the event at the time due to trauma, but decided to share the story on Instagram over the weekend after the social media wave around the walkout Staff.
“I saw it and shared it because I felt so vindicated,” she said.
“To see this happen with Stevie, I wasn’t shocked at all.”
Tosh said Rainbow House became popular through the efforts of Kauri and Stevie. She said it was a place she felt comfortable partying as a trans person before applying for a job there.
“The artists we offer are more diverse than any other bar and we’ve been able to provide work for a lot of women and trans people, people of color and people with disabilities,” Tosh said.
“I was coming in as a patron four nights a week because of Aliyana and the security she gave the space.”
She expressed a deep sense of loss for the venue because bars like this were ‘very rare’ and for the staff out of work.
But she said hundreds of people have reached out with love and job offers that have given them hope.
“My staff and I all feel very supported and we will continue to try to make every space we find ourselves in as safe as possible for every person.”
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Image: Rainbow House / Facebook