updated 5/29/2007 9:42:07 PM ET 2007-05-30T01:42:07

A gay bar has won the right to turn away heterosexuals and even lesbians to provide a non-threatening atmosphere for the men partying inside.

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A tribunal in Australia's southern Victoria state granted Melbourne's Peel Hotel an exemption to equal rights laws, saying it was needed to prevent "sexually based insults and violence" aimed at the pub's patrons.

In her findings, the tribunal's deputy president, Cate McKenzie, said Monday that to allow large numbers of straight men and women and lesbians into the bar could "undermine or destroy" the convivial atmosphere that the Peel Hotel sought to create for gay men.

McKenzie said there was evidence some straight patrons were going to the bar to use the predominantly gay customers as a form of entertainment.

"To regard the gay male patrons of the venue as providing an entertainment or spectacle to be stared at, as one would at an animal at a zoo, devalues and dehumanizes them," she was quoted by News Ltd. newspapers as saying.

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The pub will now be able to advertise that it will turn away straight people, and its door staff will be able to ask people whether they are gay before allowing them inside.

Australia's Equal Opportunities Act bars discrimination for race, religion or sexuality, but exemptions are allowed.

The head of Victoria's Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission applauded the decision.

"These exemptions exist to protect groups in the community who are subject to being treated less favorably, or treated unfairly compared with other groups," she told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio Tuesday.

"In this case, what we know is that there are many options for heterosexuals males to enjoy a safe, social environment."

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