“This club felt like a torture chamber”

Nicholas Rose went viral with a video accusing club staff of racism and queerphobia. They told us what club venues and attendees need to learn from their story.

Nicholas Isaiah King Rose. 
Nicholas Isaiah King Rose. Cris Cerdeira

Berlin-Berlin is as renowned for its innovative club scene as it is for its tolerance and inclusivity. Perhaps that’s why when professional dancer and model Nicholas Isaiah King Rose, who is non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, uploaded a 13-minute-long video to their Instagram page detailing what they describe as racist and queerphobic behaviour by security staff at Schöneweide’s Revier Südost, it provoked shock and outrage. The video has now been viewed more than 217,000 times, and the club was forced to issue an apology and cancel some of its planned events.

24-year-old Nicholas, who is originally from the US, was attending a techno night at the venue on Sunday 15 August when they were approached by staff who told them they were not wearing their face mask properly. “They were very strict about masks, that’s understandable,” Nicholas said in the video. “But what happened was nasty and unacceptable.” They maintain that they were wearing a mask correctly, with their mouth and nostrils fully covered – but that other white partygoers around them were not approached for not sticking to the club’s mask rule.

The situation escalated until Nicholas was removed from the venue at around 4am. They nearly ended up outside alone, scantily clad and without their personal belongings, until a further member of staff allowed them to retrieve a bag containing their phone, cash and ID. Nicholas said they were left “triggered and traumatised” by the experience, fearing for their safety in a part of the city often associated with right-wing violence. “This club felt like a torture chamber,” they said at the end of their video message.

Revier Südost subsequently cancelled its events on the weekend of 21–22 August, saying it needed time to “fully concentrate on assessing and solving” the issues of racism and queerphobia at the core of the accusations. The staff concerned are currently on paid suspension – but Nicholas told us they were “not satisfied at all”. “The fact is that every time there is an issue regarding race for me or anyone else, this is almost the exact same copied and pasted response you're going to get,” they said.

In a statement released on 23 August, Revier Südost’s management apologised to Nicholas that they had felt “discriminated and treated unfairly”. Responding to a subsequent enquiry by the Berliner Zeitung am Wochenende, a spokeswoman said: “We have offered Nicholas Rose a personal conversation with a mediator on Monday evening. We hope to confirm this appointment as soon as possible so that we can better understand their perspective and perception.” The club’s earlier statement said that employees involved in the incident “perceived and described the situation differently”. The spokeswoman continued: “We are already in close contact with the Berlin Clubcommission’s Awareness Akademie in order to renew staff training and have them accompany future events.”

Nicholas says the incident shows a lack of awareness about discrimination against black and queer people. “Even if a black person is next to you getting horrible treatment, white people still will not really notice it,” they told us. “Places like this were started by the queer community. It’s ironic that even in places where people are supposed to feel safe, we’re still being attacked in all different ways, whether emotionally, physically or psychologically.”

Going forward, Nicholas says the incident should remind people of the power of education, especially in recruitment processes. “I’m not into witch hunts, I’m not into revenge,” they said. “But you cannot hire someone who has to work with all people if they don’t accept all people.” They would be in favour of venues screening new hires for a history of violence or racism, and emphasised the importance of having people of colour in leading roles within organisations and anti-racism training – “otherwise, the cycles repeat”.

Since going public with their story, Nicholas has continued going out to other clubs. “I won’t allow this situation to affect how I enjoy my life,” they said. “But my borders are a little higher, and I have to re-evaluate who I’m getting my advice from. Sometimes I’ll go to a club because a lot of people have told me it’s a good place. But I’ve come to the conclusion that I as a black queer person cannot take advice from a white, straight, cis male crowd – because they’re not going to get the same experience as me, 100%.”

Nicholas says the incident has been a drain on their mental health. Further experiences they’ve had on nights out since haven’t helped – and they want others to take note. “I'm dancing my heart out on the dance floor, then all of a sudden someone taps me on the shoulder and they want to hear about my trauma. How messed up is that?” they said. “People feel entitled to your time and energy. But when you see me, you're not just seeing an Instagram post. You’re seeing a human being.”