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Meet the man helping to make London’s gay scene a friendlier place

Meet the man helping to make London’s gay scene a friendlier place

Michael R, founder of Will You Be There Darling?

Going out on the gay scene alone can prove intimidating and sometimes lonely. If you try to make conversation with someone, they often assume you’re hitting on them.

Other drinkers seem embedded in their own cliques and impenetrable friendships. Where do you start?

How refreshing to come across a night that’s the complete opposite. Within five minutes of turning up at my first Will You Be There Darling? event in London, a man in his 20s sits himself down next to me and asks how I heard about the night.

It’s his first event too. He tells me that he lives with straight flatmates and most of his friends are women: ‘Great for brunch but not always so keen to hit the gay scene on a Friday night.’

A few minutes later we’re joined by another guy: Alexander. He’s only been in the UK capital a few months and has been struggling to make connections in real life.

‘I moved to London a few months ago for work. As I don’t go to Uni and work in a small team, I was looking for a way to meet new people with similar interests. This seemed like a great opportunity to do so, especially because it emphasized having a good evening over being single or finding a partner.’

Alexander is also in his 20s, but I’m relieved to find those who turn up are a diverse crowd – up into their 60s.

Digital Pride is the only global Pride and is dedicated to enabling everyone to be part of a Pride, whoever they are and wherever they live in the world. This year, we are focusing on tackling loneliness and isolation. It takes place on Gay Star News from 29 April to 5 May 2019. Find out more.

Will You Be There Darling?

Will You Be There Darling? (WYBTD) celebrates its second birthday this month. It’s the brainchild of Michael R (he asks me not to use his last name). The group, which exists on the social media platform, Meetup , has grown to almost 5,000 members.

A Will You Be There Darling? event in London
A Will You Be There Darling? event in London (Photo: Supplied)

The idea is simple: Members post a call-out on the platform if they’re attending an event or party. Others can choose to join them or not.

Meetups range from 3-4 guys meeting at a gallery or theatre, to bigger weekly and monthly events. Fire nightclub in Vauxhall played host to the Friday evening soirée I visited.

Michael, 43, has been living in London for the last 23 years.

‘I am Greek Cypriot who came to the UK aged 20 years old to study at City University, followed by working in the City.’

He now focuses his time on WYBTD?, hosting around 80% of the events.

‘When I discovered the Meetup app, I realised it is a great way to both bring men together socially and create a queer face-to-face community,’ he explains.

Diverse events for eclectic tastes

‘Having a wide diversity of social and entertainment interests, from opera to fetish clubbing, I wanted to create a Meetup that would offer that range,’ says Michael.

‘London can be a very lonely place despite being home to hundreds of thousands of queer men. It might be easy to have sex through apps but it’s much more difficult to find someone to “share a pint with” on a Friday night.

‘I don’t fit into a specific “type” of queer man and know that many men feel alienated on the scene.

‘I wanted to create a group that embraced the diversity of ‘Men who have Sex with Men’ (MSM) regardless of social background, income, colour, ethnicity, disability, HIV status, age, size, shape or even hairiness.’

Michael R created the WYBTD Meetup group and is its main host and ambassador (Photo: Supplied)

For all men

Michael says he’s proud of the way the group has taken off. Over the past two years it has held over 1,250 meetup events.

‘Most of our members have such good experiences that many bring friends to future events, which has contributed to the growth.

‘Our members are a complete cross-section of the MSM community including bisexuals, transsexuals, married, curious, polyamorous, asexual or any other self-defined label.

‘We don’t track the diversity of our members but I’d say our largest types of diversity are age, size, colour, HIV status and men new to London.

‘The range of events also attract a wide diversity of people even though we have members who, like me, have very eclectic tastes.

‘To maximize inclusivity, we also do our best to ensure there are free events – sometimes also getting free tickets or discounts for our members too.’

‘I recently had feedback from a young trans man who joined WYBTD 24 hours after coming out. He said the group was so welcoming that, “Everything is going to be OK.”

No need for shyness

What advice would he give to someone nervous of joining a group of strangers for an evening?

‘Our modus operandi is that there is always at least one “host” to every WYBTD event. Their prime responsibility is to ensure all attendees are welcomed and introduced to each other.

‘By definition the men coming to that particular Meetup are interested in that event, which means they have something in common to kick-start conversations.

‘Special effort is made for first-time members to ensure that they are not excluded. We have built a reputation for making everyone feel comfortable and welcome. A regular attendee calls us the “non-judgemental” Meetup group and we are rather pleased with that.

Michael says events, on average, attract 10-15 people. The bigger clubs events can attract up to 300. Club events always begin with a quieter part of the evening to specifically encourage socializing.

Supporting the existing scene

London, like many other major gay hotspots, has seen many LGBTI venues close in recent years. At least half of its gay scene venues have closed in the last decade. It’s a problem Michael is keen to address. Are digitally arranged meet-ups the way forward?

‘This is one of the reasons why I try to actively support queer venues and queer shows as much as I can. It’s beyond my comprehension that any gay man would live in London but never visit such queer cultural powerhouses as the Royal Vauxhall Tavern or The Glory. Or any queer theatre lover who has never been to the Above The Stag Theatre or the King’s Head Theatre.

‘I love experiencing queer culture outside the commercial bubble of Soho. I particularly like to organize meetups to fringe shows. And I absolutely adore British drag queens as they are always such great fun!

‘There is so much to be optimistic about and anything that promotes queer culture and community further can only be a good thing – if digitally-arranged Meetups enable that then so be it.’

Alexander backs up this view. I message him a few weeks after our first WYBTD and ask him what he thought of the night.

‘I had a really good time. There was a really good mix of people, younger and older, alone and with friends / boyfriends.

‘Myself and a few other guys really got along that evening and we’ve since all become friends. We now occasionally have a movie night or go out for drinks. I would definitely go again.’

More info via the Will You Be There Darling Meet-Up page.

What is Digital Pride?

Digital Pride is the online movement, created by Gay Star News, so you can take part in Pride whoever and wherever you are. Even if you are from a country where being LGBTI is criminalized or leaves you in danger – it’s a Pride festival you can be a part of.

In 2019, Digital Pride is tackling loneliness and isolation with articles and videos connecting LGBTI people. Join us by reaching out to someone who needs it. The festival takes place on Gay Star News from 29 April to 5 May 2019. Find out more.

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