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4 min

Queers face safety issues at Circa

Victims urge community support for megaclub

NO ROOM FOR HOMOPHOBIA. "If you're not comfortable with everyone... then don't come to Circa," says Circa manager Steve Ireson. Credit: (Nicola Betts)

Barely two weeks after opening, Circa, the huge nightclub in Toronto’s entertainment district, is dealing with an alleged physical attack under its roof against two members of the queer community.

Blair Prentice says he was chatting with his friend Tyson Li on the second floor of the superclub during the Randomland party around 2am on the morning of Oct 13 when he was coldcocked by an unidentified man.

“An individual came up to us and said, ‘This is my private booth, I paid for this and you need to get out of here,'” Prentice told Xtra on Oct 16. “So we stood up to get out and all of a sudden I was flying though the air. He punched me just above my eyebrow. His ring took a chunk of flesh from my eyebrow so I started bleeding all down my face.”

Prentice says he was dazed by the blow and doesn’t remember the moment he was hit. He says he doesn’t remember the man calling him any names or saying anything about his sexuality or Li’s.

“My friend was wearing some torn-off jeans that were revealing,” says Prentice. “I was wearing eye makeup, a pair of Mickey ears and a low-cut V-neck shirt. It was pretty obvious that we were gay so I’m pretty sure that the subtext of the confrontation was that we were invading his space. He was drunk and I think he was feeling somewhat provoked in his private space and so punched me in the head. The strange thing about the incident is that it’s not a private booth. This guy maybe ordered a bottle and felt like it was his area.”

Prentice says his friend was also shoved. Li, who performs as the drag persona Cassandra, suffered a bruise on his elbow according to an account of the incident on Li’s Facebook page. Li did not return Xtra’s inquiries before press time.

Prentice says Li led him away to a Circa security guard who directed them to Circa’s first-aid room.

“Circa took really good care of me,” says Prentice. “They marked down the incident and took my name and they said I had to go to the hospital. They documented what I said but they couldn’t find the person.”

Prentice and Li made their way to the emergency room at St Michael’s Hospital by streetcar. Prentice was treated and released.

Mark Robertson was also at Circa that night.

“Upstairs was a room that was high-content gay,” says Robertson. “I left that area and I went out to get my jacket around 2:30am. Walking down the hallway, someone called me faggot. I haven’t been called that for a long time. It was right behind my head. It wasn’t a jokey tone. It was aggressive.”

Robertson didn’t see Prentice get punched but saw Prentice and Li leave the club.

“I walked up Queen to get the streetcar and they were ahead of me,” says Robertson. “When I got to the street they were stopped at the same light. I asked them if they had been bashed at Circa. They said, ‘Yes, never go to the club.’ They said they were trying to get to St Mike’s.”

“I was there that night and there were guys with makeup on their faces and people wearing flamboyant clothes,” says Michael Pihach. “I was called a fag at the club. It was just a verbal thing and I was kind of expecting it going in a little bit. I’ve heard the comments from straight dudes standing in the corner going, ‘What is this a fucking gay club?'”

Steve Ireson, a longtime promoter in Toronto’s queer community and a manager at Circa, says Circa takes assault allegations very seriously.

“It’s a displeasing time when someone is hurt,” he told Xtra on Oct 17. “It’s definitely something we want to be aware of.”

Ireson says he has spoken with Prentice but that he didn’t see the alleged assault. He says that Prentice’s alleged assailant was identified and ejected by security at Circa. Neither Prentice nor Ireson say a complaint was filed with police.

Ireson says Circa’s management is considering posting signs around the club reminding patrons to be respectful of the club’s diverse clientele.

“Some sort of signage would be a good idea,” says Ireson. “We’re out there and we say it’s a diverse place so we have no problem posting that as well.”

Ireson says he would hate to see rumours surrounding the incidents spin out of control because of the actions of a few bad apples who don’t understand that Circa was conceived for everyone, including queer people. He says hundreds of queer people have already visited Circa without incident. But he warns haters to stay away.

“We’re a microcosm of what Toronto is as a whole,” he says, “If you’re not comfortable with everyone, no matter who they are, in Toronto then don’t come to Circa.”

Peter Gatien, the mastermind behind the club, has actively courted the queer community since he announced his plan to open Circa. He has employed dozens of figures in the queer community’s party and arts scenes, including Ireson, and has been adamant that Circa is a queer-positive space.

“Several gay people are on the staff all the time,” says Ireson. “We wouldn’t be doing it if we didn’t feel that it would be safe for people. We’re two weeks into it so there are kinks to work out.”

Ireson doesn’t think queer people should avoid the Entertainment District because of the risks involved in going there.

“If you’re going to get out and be a part of the city then you have to engage the city everywhere it is,” he says. “The Entertainment District is part of that.”

“It’s a difficult thing to comment on because there are a lot of people in our community who are really proud of Circa,” says Pihach. “I think there are a lot of us who are skeptical at the same time. We’re all expecting this to happen in a way.”

Everyone Xtra spoke to for this story said they will visit Circa again.

For Prentice’s part he says he’s never had a similar experience at a queer club but he still plans to go back to Circa the first chance he gets.

“I think based on the fact that it just opened I think this was bound to happen,” he says. “I will probably go back this week. I don’t think people should be scared of Circa. I think the people there are really working to create a tolerant atmosphere.”