OPINION: Robert Brown, a gay man selected as Liberal Democrat candidate for Kemptown Ward by-election, talks to Scene

Graham Robson March 19, 2024

Gay man Robert Brown, who has has been selected as Liberal Democrat candidate for the Kemptown Ward by-election, talks to Scene magazine about the state of Brighton’s ‘gay village’ and the future of Brighton & Hove Pride street parties on St James’s Street.

Since standing in the May 2023 local elections, Robert has been working hard to help residents and businesses all over Kemptown. Robert says he feels “let down and ignored” by the current councillors elected to represent Kemptown.

If elected, what will you do to ensure a bright future of our ‘gay village’?

There are many things challenging the LGBTQ+ night-time economy which include rough sleepers, aggressive beggars, LGBTQ+ hate crimes, lack of street lighting, lack of street patrols (despite the police station being less than five mins away) . . .

As one of the venue owners told me: “more needs to be done in St James’s Street to clean it up. What was once an eclectic part of the village is now just scary and dangerous and affects the desire to go on the street which is where much of our gay scene is.”

I would like to ensure we work with venues across the ‘gay village’, which is not just St James’s Street as there are venues in the other side of Kemptown Ward ie: Fallen Angel, Arcobaleno, Kemptown Klub and create a new map of LGBTQ+ friendly venues across the whole of Kemptown which would be supported and promoted by Visit Brighton, Brighton & Hove City Council, Sussex Police and the St James’s Street Business Association.

Unfortunately Kemptown has become a lot worse with regards to safety and LGBTQ+ Hate.

A friend was attacked one night last year along the Marine Parade and, unfortunately due to a lack of CCTV, no-one was arrested.  I would ask that there be an increase in CCTV in areas of increased hot spots for attacks to ensure that police area aware and we could instigate the creation of Village Angels – as in other cities – who are volunteers who have taken the time to get to know the venues, are unbiased and can be a point of contact for the LGBTQ+ community across the ‘gay village’ and further afield.

I also believe that we need to:

  • Recreate the LGBT+ Business Forum to get venues to work closely together and as one voice to the Council when requesting support;
  • Have targeted campaigns by Visit Brighton, highlighting the various venues that are welcoming for all, yet highlighting the need for those from outside the LGBT+ community to be respectful;
  • Create venues for our lesbian / non-binary community;
  • Create sober spaces for all (and Brighton & Hove Pride‘s sober tent at Pride is a huge welcome for many);
  • Encourage cafes to open later in the evening as many don’t want to go to a bar;
  • Increase street patrols (Safer Streets / police);
  • Increase in use of CCTV in areas known to have issues;
  • Encourage all venues to sign up to the Back Off Back Up street safety campaign to ensure that all LGBTQ+ people feel safe on a night out –;
  • Ensure street lighting is fit for purpose;
  • House / support homeless individuals and crack down (no pun intended) on drug dealing in the area.

Will you push to secure the future of Pride Street Parties on St James’s Street? 

As you’ll be aware, following last year’s Pride I wrote to The Argus with my points of view regarding Pride and the future of it and I still feel the same about this.

With regards to the street parties, Saturday needs to have a huge rethink. Sunday, by all comparisons, is a lot nicer, friendlier and less trouble. Last year on the Saturday I was on the receiving end of a couple of homophobic incidents and by all accounts and purposes, by late in the evening, the street party was predominantly straight and it felt unsafe (say a few others I’ve spoken to about this).

There needs to be more discussions and engagement with the residents and businesses with less secrecy surrounding the contracting of that event. Last year was a mess. Due to fallen tickets sales, many were given out free of charge and some people who had actually purchased tickets were refused entry due to the extremely large numbers.

Many venues on Marine Parade end up having to close early on Pride Weekend due to the increase in aggressive and bigoted straights coming into the area to continue their drinking, without giving any concerns regarding Pride and why it exists. The lack of policing, along with the out of town security who also don’t care about Pride, means that incidents of hate crime go unchallenged, unreported and creates a culture of it being acceptable.

The areas outside of St James’s Street (ie: in front of Legends, Charles Street Tap, R Bar and Centre Stage) were well managed and safer, yet when you ventured into the main St James’s Street area it was packed, unsafe and at times homophobic – this needs to drastically change, however without the engagement of Brighton and Hove Pride itself, it seems a lost cause and will only turn residents against the street parties moving forward.