Dustin Kight

Guerrilla Queer Bar Answers 'Decline' of Queer Space Needs

Filed By Dustin Kight | April 13, 2008 4:56 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment, Media
Tags: boston, boston globe, Fenway Community Health, gay bars, gay nightclub, New York Times, PFLAG

Joan Didion once told us, "We tell ourselves stories in order to live."

Had she been addressing post-World War II queers, she might instead have said, "You frequent gay bars in order to be queer."

For decades gay bars and clubs have been the primary loci of queer culture and community, even in places as rural and conservative as the Deep south (see Small Town Gay Bar). Yet observers as high-profile as the New York Times have begun commenting on the decline of queer spaces -- gayborhoods and their associated bars, clubs, etc. -- all under the guise of lack of need.

Having grown up in the South myself, in a mid-size city that still lacks a PFLAG chapter much less a gayborhood, I'm skeptical of the reach of this "lacking need" argument. Personally I can't imagine small town queers being "over" queer spaces that have yet to exist.

Still, as an ex-pat of sorts living in the Northeast these last six years I see the decline of queer spaces in major cities, even as I don't as closely associate it with a growing lack of need.

I've lived in Boston for almost a year now having spent the previous year in DC and it seems that my generation of new urban gays is experiencing the decline of queer spaces with particular intensity. We move to cities where gay bars are shutting down and gayborhoods have gentrified themselves into near extinction. We move to cities to find queer culture. We find Gay and Lesbian Yellow Pages instead.

A few months before I arrived in DC, the entire Southeast swath of gay clubs -- some of the raunchiest and "most real" in the city -- were wiped out in anticipation of the new Nationals ballpark. Lo and behold, not long after I moved to Boston, Avalon, the city's largest and most prominent gay club, shut down for renovations in anticipation of a re-birth as a mainstream venue with perhaps a gay night tacked on. (Meanwhile, Avalon sits right across from the venerable Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox. Coincidence? I think not...)

What's left tends to be gay bars (less clubs) that cater to an older, more affluent crowd. As a younger gay, you have a couple of options: (1) Dress up in faux fancy clothes you bought at H&M and head out to the Jetson-like, neon-lit lounges and bars, where your experience is equal parts patronizing and off-putting or (2) stay at home and try to make friends and create community via the web. (You might also try to create community through volunteering, but that's a story for a whole other post indeed.)

Some of my peers assume and even argue for the inclusion of queers in broader social spaces as a worthwhile end in itself. Our straight friends tend to be more open and accepting of queerness. There doesn't seem to be as much "need" for queer-specific spaces.

I'm not quite there yet, which is why I'm thrilled by the Guerrilla Queer Bar Movement! Yes, that's right, I said movement. In case you haven't heard, there's a merry band of queers out there, tending towards 30 and under, who are organizing frequent takeovers of "straight bars" in many major cities: DC, Detroit, San Francisco, Denver, Philadelphia, Boston and more.

And whereas the New York Times is waxing poetic about the decline of queer spaces, the Boston Globe is lauding the enthusiasm and ingenuity of a younger generation of queers who are organizing folks, meeting social needs, providing amiable visibility for the community, and engaging in some good old fashioned Friday night fun!

As I'm most familiar with the Boston version -- I happen to know one of the guys who runs it -- the idea is pretty straightfoward:

Takeovers occur the first Friday of every month. Leading up to the event, GQB organizers scout locations in various neighborhoods in the city. Thursday (aka GQB Eve) the organizers announce via Facebook and Google Groups the location and any additional instructions about attendance to the group (now numbering, in Boston, over 1,300 members in its first six months!)

Queers show up as early as 8:00pm, knowing that lines for these events have started to get longer and longer. We fill the place to capacity and more or less are the only folks there. The few straight folk who remain tend to be flabbergasted but friendly. If you read the Globe article I link to above, you'll see some of them experience GQB as a rare opportunity to understand the "minority feeling."

The organizers make no money from the event, which could change over time but shows for now the intense desire to maintain and proliferate queer-oriented spaces as well as the benefits of a relatively accessible "connected age."

I highly recommend that folks investigate whether GQB exists in their own cities. You can usually find a group by Googling "guerrilla queer bar ________" and seeing what web page, etc., has been posted.

Personally I'd like to see the next manifestation of GQB as GQP -- Querrilla Queer Park, a spring/summer/fall event where the queers take over baseball diamonds and picnic areas, filling parks with enough short shorts and rainbow-colored frisbees to create safety and good feeling for the Saturday afternoons after GQB :)


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For that matter, wouldn't it be awesome to have a guerilla pride march/festival to recapture the spirit and radicalism of early pride events before corporate sponsorships and politicians in cars seeking votes.

You know, for the longest time here in Indianapolis we had a pride day and then the next day there would be a picnic in a park. Several of the smaller towns that have pride festivals are usually held in a park. Evansville, IN for example has about four picnic tables with brochures and a couple more with food. That's it.

The "gay space" here in Indianapolis is dwindling too. There was nothing for forever, then slowly Mass Ave started building up. Now things are spreading out again, but Mass Ave remains as "gay" as a non-gay area can.

I love going to Chicago just to go to the gay slum areas.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | April 13, 2008 11:38 PM

Ah, but the reason for the gay slum area was cheap rents when I went to Chicago in 1975. Wells street was the dividing line between "Newtown" cheap rents near the lake and a truly rough area to the immediate west. Today this too has been gentified beyond recognition.

Meanwhile in "Naptown" I always admired the availability of friendly gay restaurant bars at a variety of price levels. There should be tee shirts printed: "I survived the chicken livers at the Varsity."

Another favorite city, Minneapolis, had an incredible complex for years called "The Gay 90'S" which started Straight, then had a separate room for Gays, then mixed, then fully Gay and now is filled with metrosexuals.

The creating of Gay spaces is an excellent idea and everything about it I support, except the idea that to participate one needs to "tend to be under 30." There is no age limit on having fun and you would learn well from your elders.

The idea of GQB has a lot of promise --- not only for socializing, but also for political effects --- in the 70's right after Stonewall, gay activists in several cities would conduct "zaps" which were similar but more political and confrontational.

Having a GQB zap at the local Cracker Barrel restaurant sounds like a delightful idea! (The food ain't that great, but it's edible, and I hear they have pretty good chicken livers, Bob!)

P.S. For those who don't know: Indianapolis has a non-discrimination ordinance that includes sexual orientation, so the Cracker Barrel's inside city limits can't fire their GLBT employees just for being queer; however, outside the major cities that have such HRO's, employers can fire queers for being queer, even closeted ones. And I hear that it is Cracker Barrel policy to do exactly that. Of course, you have to decide if spending your money at an enemy establishment is worth putting the management into an uncomfortable situation for a whole evening.

Cracker Barrel announced a few years ago that they were dropping the whole anti-gay kick. If I remember correctly, they got bought out by an investment firm or something. They added sexual orientation (and gender identity, I think) to their non-discrimination policy, etc.

It's Chik-Fil-A that's still incredibly homophobic. They usually hire Pentecostals and are such a religious company that they're closed on Sundays. They refuse to hire gays or lesbians if you're out about it and will find a reason to let you go if you come out (or are outed).

I still refuse to eat at Chik-Fil-A because of it. But I've started going to the occasional Cracker Barrel for a Sunday breakfast.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | April 14, 2008 3:09 AM

It is a two edged sword Allen. I would choose to locate in a rural Cracker Barrel at opening time on a Sunday Morning, and crowd out the local folk bringing their freshly scrubbed families from their weekly hate monger--oops--religious observance. Still there would need to be some research done in advance to insure that we order those menu items that are least profitable per unit: "I would like 300 orders of sweet potatoes please and a glass of water with each."

Then we would need a large supersticky, vinyl fronted, impossible to get off without a solvent, sticker to place on the seat of each chair we occupy. "A Lesbian, Gay or Transgender person just sat here. Have a nice day!"

Walk in, peel off the sticker, sit on it, eat and slowly drink your water, wander into their gift shop, mess up the displays (who could tell, only straight people could buy that shit)use the bathrooms (and have a water fight while you are at it), leave Gay contact literature in the motel coupon racks and you have done a great mornings work! Miss you Kid!

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | April 14, 2008 11:01 AM

OK, Chik-Fil-A it is. Everybody get your stickers ready and meet me on the bus. Even people over 30 are welcome!

Alright, alright, alright, I get the picture. I need to clarify here that I'm not hating on people over 30. I'm just trying to recognize that people over 30 tend to control the social spaces we all encounter, as they tend to be the club owners, etc. And that at least in Boston it seems like this crowd has largely reached a point of contentment with social circles that exist outside of spaces open and inclusive of others -- e.g. dinner parties at fancy lofts in the South End, where seldom an under-30 gay (especially one that works at a nonprofit!) can afford to live.

I love people of all ages! Let the fun-lovers and community-builders of every generation unite to maintain and create queer spaces for all! :)

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | April 14, 2008 12:19 PM

You are a good man Dustin and I knew already that your remarks were not intentionally ageist. One must stir a pot however. Find some real people over thirty like AJ and myself and, I imagine, Bil and his partner. We have had more practice at being silly than you and we are good at it.

INVITE non computer using elders to these events. At minimum they will be flattered. With age too frequently comes isolation. Even apparently contented people frequently are not.

Well, I stand corrected --- thank you, Bil. Here I go again, causing trouble using facts that are years outdated ...

I didn't know about Chick-Fil-A ... but it computes. Now I know why an ultra-conservative family member of mine gets a Chick-Fil-A sandwich everytime they change planes in Cincinnati or Atlanta, which is often. --- Oops, I didn't say that on the Internet, did I?

And I didn't mean that we shd make a-holes out of ourselves --- I meant that twenty guys all at one table usually don't make it through the evening without guzzling beer and arguing about sports unless there is something identifiably unusual about them. Same goes for twenty females at one table (who perhaps do guzzle beer and argue about sports).

But in fact, maybe it's just a bad idea. Hopefully we are past having to do things like that.

Interested in the history of gay bars in New York City? Then check out the following site http://bitterqueen.typepad.com for a detailed study from 1900 to the present on the sometimes wild history.

What are we doing right here in St. Louis? We have an increasing number of clubs, mostly populated by the under 30 set, and my complaint is too few bars catering to the "older set" - that is, bars where the ambient sound is below that of a rock concert first row. I'd love to have an LGBT pub for those of us who are not babydykes or twinks, and who are willing to admit that they aren't Gorgeous Young Things anymore.