18 March 2022

Tower Hamlets Council is threatening to shut down leading kink and fetish nights

Kink and queer-friendly fetish events are coming under attack in London.

Tower Hamlets council is attempting to shut down some of the country’s leading nights, including popular club events, Klub Verboten and Crossbreed. The council — which covers Spitalfields, Whitechapel, Bethnal Green, Mile End and more — has gone so far as to contact venues threatening legal action if they continue to operate. 

On March 16, Tower Hamlets Council contacted the organisers of both nights in a bid to “prohibit nudity and semi-nudity in safeguarded venues.” In a statement to members shared on Tuesday (March 15), Karl Verboten (who shares his surname with the event) claimed that authorities are “relying on an outdated and moralistic license condition” in order to stop the nights. “This type of condition was designed to stop unlawful lap dancing in venues across the borough, and not prohibit informed, consensual adults from nudity in safe and well-monitored venues,” he continued. 

Verboten added that an event planned for today, March 18, will likely be cancelled “unless everyone is fully clothed and no sex or play takes place.”

Speaking to HUNGER, he confirmed that they are still unsure whether the event planned for tonight will go ahead. “We’re working on it. The council has threatened the venue by saying that they would break the law if they permit the event to go ahead, and the venue doesn’t want to risk their license. Currently, the argument is that the venue’s license contains a condition that does not permit nudity or semi-nudity. Tower Hamlets completely ignores that this condition was there to regulate performances, not guests.”

“We are disgusted as the legal context that Tower Hamlets Council provided to define semi-nudity is highly discriminatory towards trans and non-binary people of our community. The council also fails to explain how we should enforce this apparent condition,” he continued, adding that they are outraged that in 2022, the council are “attempting to dictate to informed, self-regulating adults what they can and, crucially, what they can’t wear in a private club.”

“Is the sight of an ankle, bare shoulders, buttocks, cleavage and bare chests matters of legitimate public interest? For years local councils have tried to weaponise whatever fragment of a paragraph they can think they can use against us. It’s been wild. The council is rolling the ball to the venue so no one seems to know what will happen tonight. In the ideal scenario, some politician will message today saying that we can go ahead.”

It is not an offence to be nude in public in the UK. However, it can become one if it can be established that it occurred with the intention of harassment or to cause alarm and distress. At both Klub Verboten and Crossbreed, vetting is heavy with stringent door policies, bouncers licensed by the Security Industry Authority (SIA) and externally training safeguarding teams who conduct talks with guests, prospective or otherwise. 

On Wednesday (March 16), Crossbreed founder, Alex Warren (who is also known by their DJ name, Kiwi), sent out an email to their mailing list members, doubling down on Verboten’s claims. “As some of you may already be aware, Tower Hamlets Council have targeted Klub Verboten’s event this weekend and are trying to shut it down,” they wrote. “Yesterday we received an email from Tower Hamlets putting pressure on us, quoting the same archaic laws and attempting to shut us down. We stand with Klub Verboten and all queer space’s against state-sanctioned oppression.”

Both Klub Verboten and Crossbreed are sex-positive spaces that are blurring the lines between sexuality and live music. Events have previously taken place in E1 and The Colour factory, which have both been contacted by Tower Hamlets Council. Klub Verboten, which launched in 2016, describes itself as a “provider of contemporary sex-positive spaces”, with its roots lying in “the spacial, sonic and visual exploration of BDSM & fetish practices”. At both events, consent and safety are of utmost importance. As Crossbreed’s manifesto emphasises: “We welcome open minds and respect for others. We have no tolerance of prejudice or bigotry of any kind. Consent is not just a ‘word’, it is our right. Here, we are all equal, we welcome queerness, individuality, kink, sex positivity, love and kindness.”

This is not the first time that Klub Verboten has faced such threats, the founder tells us that they had similar conversations in 2019 and that the council is generally uncooperative when they try to reach out. “It’s shocking,” he says. “They have this attitude of ‘we’ll threaten them, and then they will go away’. That’s been the case since 2019. Our spaces have already been restricted. The bigger issue here is that events like ours could only operate when councils turn a blind eye, and that’s not what we’re about.” 

As to whether this could end up targeting further events, Verboten is candid: “They all speak. They’re all obviously looking at the case.” Now, he is imploring the council to come together and speak to people like himself as adults. “Can we come together and put in regulations that keep people safe? Or do we go the way of heavy discrimination and stricter enforcement? The latter could be what happens, and it’s likely if it is only councils that have their say on the matter.” 

Outrage at the unfolding situation is visible on social media; members of the kink and queer communities have been using the hashtags #savekinkspaces and #savequeerspaces in order to raise awareness of the threats to their nightlife and safe spaces. This is heartening for Verboten, who has long been calling for greater awareness and acceptance of the community he works so hard to champion. “We’ve received a lot of support from the community, which is crucial at this point. The council is not thinking about us as a majority, and now we’re showing them that we are the people who teach their children, and the people who they sit next to in the office. There really are a lot of us, hopefully, they sense that now.” 

  • Writer Nessa Humayun
  • Images Courtesy of Klub Verboten

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