Between the COVID-19 pandemic and the continued fight for racial equality, it can be easy to forget that it’s been LGBT Pride Month this whole time (and with good reason- it should be obvious that those two topics should take priority right now). But as several gay bars- including the famous Stonewall Inn– faced police violence for their ties to the Black Lives Matter movement, it seems relevant to revisit the significance of gay bars within the LGBT community.
I want to make it clear that I’m not saying there should be fewer gay bars; it’s impossible to deny the pivotal role they’ve played in LGBT history. For most of the 20th century, they provided the community with the closest thing they had to safe spaces from hetero-normative societal oppression. And an increase in police raids against these bars leading up to the Stonewall Riots would eventually pave the way for the gay rights movement and wider tolerance of the LGBT community (to which the cops would eventually say: “you’re welcome”).
But all of this focus on bars does raise some concerns. Like many other minority groups, LGBT folks are more susceptible to turning to substance abuse (including alcohol) to cope with the stresses and bigotry they face. Making gay bars the primary spot for queer socialization only further enables this. And to make matters worse, many Alcoholics Anonymous groups are church-run, which means they could either explicitly refuse their services or, just through their association with the church, make gay people feel unwelcome.
Similar discourse popped up on Tumblr a while back, pointing out that bars tend to promote hook-up culture, which furthers the hypersexualization of the community, alienating asexuals and further making the community unsafe for minors. And while I’m inclined to agree to a certain extent (most of the rebuttals to that argument at the time boiled down to ‘what are you, a virgin?’), it’s probably also worth mentioning that many cities across the country have organized LGBT youth support groups, and that “think of the children” arguments tend to be reductive and distract from the conversation at hand.
And for a really hot take- let’s talk about what these non-bar spaces would be. Because as far as I know, not even straight people have places where they can just hang around and socialize without having to buy something. So as cool as mall-ratting well into adulthood may sound, at some point someone’s going to try to sell you something. Does having more queer cafes, coffeeshops and bookstores really benefit the community, putting money directly into the hands of local queer business owners? Or, is it a neoliberal scheme to make consumerism seem ‘woke?’ When was the last time anyone met a new person at a coffeeshop, anyway? Is this an illusion of community, capitalism’s latest plot to keep people alienated by commodifying and appropriating every aspect of their life? That’s what every major alcohol company that slaps a rainbow on their label every June does, why would any other company be any different?
Oh well, it’s not like any venues- alcoholic or not- are open now anyway.