August 31, 2016 at 5:36 pm EDT | by Brock Thompson
Women in gay bars: a defense
gay spaces, gay news, Washington Blade, gay bar

Provincetown’s Crown & Anchor makes it clear patrons uncomfortable in a gay bar should go elsewhere. (Photo by Brock Thompson)

It seems strange to have to write about such a topic, women in gay bars, but hear me out.

Last week, I put the question out there on social media: “What makes a gay bar a gay bar and how to keep it that way?” What brought this on, exactly? For some time now, people have been writing up the obituary for the gay bar. Then, after the Pulse massacre in Orlando, opinion pieces popped up everywhere attesting to their importance. People were encouraged to share their stories of the first gay bar they ever visited. Mine, incidentally, was Backstreet in Little Rock, Ark.

Obviously, the gay bar isn’t going anywhere. In fact, here in Washington, D.C., we’ve gotten three new ones in the past year, bringing our total to close to 20. But, again, what makes a gay bar a gay bar? What makes a gay space so notably gay? Obviously, first and foremost, the clientele. That is, gays, or gay men. There is a great deal of importance in walking into a room and knowing that you have at least one thing in common with everyone there. Other tips on creating gay space included installing trough urinals to the obvious blaring of the disco hits. Then the debate turned a little nasty, and a lot misogynistic. The comment that started it all: ban women.

Let me just get this out there now, that’s just ridiculous. But the thought is out there, on my post and many others and it’s been going on for a while now. Just take Jezebel for example, never known for its subtlety, straight up telling girls to get out of gay bars altogether.

Still, I think it’s hugely important for people, especially minority groups, to have their own spaces. But how does a group vie for and champion equality, then attempt to shut out people and cordon off specific areas? There’s nothing wrong with everyone, from management to clientele, reminding straights, women or men, that the space they’re entering might be for queer people and that might have some meaning attached to it that goes deeper than drink specials. And that space should be respected. Announcing a space as gay either implicitly or explicitly is easy. Some bars in the city denote their gay spaces by having a Madonna-themed bathroom, others by having a bearded drag queen check IDs. More than that, I’ve seen one patio simply post a sign announcing that you’re entering a gay space.

Again, making a gay space is easy. Keeping it that way can be the hard part. I’ve recently returned from Provincetown, a place almost entirely gay and one that seems to be on the frontlines of the roving bachelorette party war. There the Crown and Anchor, itself a multiplex of gay spaces, posted a rather large announcement outside that doesn’t mince words.

I encountered a bachelorette party at a bar just a few blocks down from there, having a great time dominating a space on the dance floor. I did manage to ask the bride-to-be why they chose Provincetown and its gay bars to celebrate her upcoming nuptials. She pointed out her maid of honor, a lesbian, telling me that she was the maid of honor at her wedding last year and that it was her idea to celebrate in Provincetown.

A lesbian maid of honor — the trump card. But what that told me is that why people seek out and use gay spaces might be different than what we realize. And to paint with a broad brush ignores individual circumstances. Essentially, she’d earned her right to be there. And again, if we are to champion the idea of equality our safe spaces will have to include spaces free from racism, sexism, transphobia, pozphobia and ageism. Not to mention a whole host of other issues we seem to combat both within and outside our happy little subset.

We may have some work to do.

  • jjgrandisland

    Good writing. But lets get to the real problem. I have had the “pleasure” of being in a gay bar when a bachelorette party has stormed in. Both times the women acted bad which included thinking they deserved to be served first…many were clearly intoxicated, they proceed to ask stupid and off color questions, and they flirted with men who clearly could have cared less. In general they made total fools of themselves. Do not get me wrong…I enjoy when women coming into most gay bars (some bars excluded because of the “tougher” themes) but they should remember to be sensitive to the other patrons. If not…management should show them the exit.

  • sylvie

    if people want women banned from gay clubs I hope they also push for women-only clubs as well! too bad the oldest lesbian bar in DC is now closed permanently. if gay clubs are men-only, where are queer women supposed to go? I’m not gonna even get into the transphobic mess potential inherent in that rule.

    • rcdl

      Lesbians are always welcome, it’s straight women that are the problem because they aren’t respectful of the space.

    • Phillip Brandt

      Bars will fill any void that can support that bar. The sad truth is, women do not support their own bars…they may populate the space, but buy but one beer a night while staying the evening…that does not support a bar. IF gay women’s bars were lucrative, there would be lots of them. As it is, they are scarce.

      • LesbianTippingHabits

        Tip generously for good service. It’s that simple. Thank you.

      • DoctorWhom

        Oh my Goddess, Phillip, you just don’t get it, do you? I am often told that no conceivable state of affairs could ever be queer womyn’s fault. I’m sure someone is working on a reason to blame gay men.

    • LesbianTippingHabits

      The real issue is tipping.

      If patrons tip generously for good service, bars and clubs will continue to reach out to them.

  • sylvie

    another thing: lots of straight women like to go to gay club bc they feel it’s a haven from straight men. which in my experience is not true at all. I get harassed by men in gay clubs just as much as I do at straight clubs. before you accuse women of destroying your safe space, maybe try actually /making/ it a safe space LOL

    • Glenn Priceless

      You madam are a homophobe.

      First of all he never said safe space. He said gay space, and it’s still a gay space for gay men even though a lesbian claims one of it’s patrons made a pass made at her once upon a time.

      Secondly a man making a pass at a lesbian doesn’t quite equate an unsafe space as you tried to cook up so enough with the “alarmist-female” rhetoric. Even the lesbian’s view of the world apparently is an exceptionally hetero-normative one as you’ve just pointed out, but it’s still not all about you so if you don’t like it just buzz off! We’re not heterosexual men; we don’t care about your feelings lady!

      Furthermore, this boorish drama of yours is what every man ever is trying, screaming desperately to get away from so those men you so rudely spoke of most certainly are welcome in our GAY SPACES!!

      Thank you for reading, and a good day to you too madam!

  • gaypalmsprings

    If you are gay and feel uncomfortable at a bar, just leave instead of whining. Better yet, stop drinking and don’t go to bars.

    • Denny Bozzio

      No -its important for gay people in small towns (and larger towns)to have at least one gay bar that is their own and they can socialize in without being bothered. If you work at the local factory in Tuscaloosa w/all straight dudes and straight girls the last thing you want is to spend your weekends w/them. You need at least one or two nights a week to let loose and be w/ your own tribe and not be under the gaze of drunken straighten girls who are going to let the whole town know you’re gay,

      Its not so simple for them to just say -ok, I’ll just leave!

      Even living in NY and LA, I dont like straight girls in gay bars. If I wanted to be around straight girls I would go to a straight bar. They are a buzzkill. Its funny that in this era of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act where straight business owners can discriminate legally against gay people, we are supposed to feel good about straights taking over our bars?

  • franciestevens

    As a feminine, cisgender lesbian, this discussion is a hard one for me. I too get annoyed by the gaggles of bachelorettes and disrespectful straight women who seem to have taken over D.C.’s gay bars, but lately I have felt straight-up hostility directed at me when I enter some of my favorite establishments. My wife and I frequently get eye rolls from bouncers as we’re having our IDs checked (recently, the bouncer at a particular 14th Street gay bar said, “Oh honey, this isn’t Black Whiskey.”)

    When I was first coming out ~6 years ago (and scared shitless) I found gay bars and their patrons to be completely welcoming and empowering, even though it wasn’t immediately apparent that I was a lesbian. It helped give me the confidence I have today to live my life so openly.

    Like Brock said, you never know when that bachelorette party is out celebrating a lesbian bride or when one of those “straight” girls on the dance floor is building up the courage to come out. I hope that we as the LGBT community don’t become exclusive to the detriment of others in our community and can be supportive of anyone who is genuinely out to have a good time with us.

  • LesbianTippingHabits

    Tip generously for good service. That’s the real issue.

© Copyright Brown, Naff, Pitts Omnimedia, Inc. 2016. All rights reserved.
Washington Blade Newsletter


Get our top stories emailed to you every Thursday and specials offers from our partners.