August 6, 2015 at 4:24 pm EDT | by Peter Rosenstein
We still need places to feel at home, be ourselves
gay culture, gay news, Washington Blade

“Dykes on Bikes” lead the Baltimore Pride parade. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

There is an interesting discussion in the LGBT community now that more and more of us are assimilating into the general population: How do we hold on to what some refer to as our “culture?”

There is the ongoing debate about Pride parades and festivals and whether they have been co-opted by the corporate world. There were some who questioned if we could still have a ‘Dyke March’ in D.C. or if ‘Dykes on Bikes’ could still lead the Pride Parade in this day and age. Did having a Wells Fargo float in the parade destroy the vibe?

It is important to recognize members of our community come from different cultures and backgrounds and we never want to lose that individuality. But is there a specific “gay” culture we share as part of the gay community we also want to hold onto? Do we need places to gather that are primarily ours?

My response is yes we do. There is a need for spaces in which we can still be totally ourselves and totally “gay.” We need to recognize being totally accepted by everyone may never happen; or if it does it will take generations. In the meantime there need to be safe places for us.

All people need those kinds of places. As gay people we may have more than one that meet the differing needs of who we are; we all need to feel part of safe communities helping us to grow and prosper.

One of those places for me is Java House in Dupont. Whereas the area was once called the “fruit loop” for being so gay it is now a wonderfully diverse neighborhood. Java House meets my need for a place to talk about the issues of the day over morning coffee. At 7 a.m. each morning, seven days a week, my coffee group starts to arrive with their newspapers and iPads ready to challenge each other over the news of the day. Beebe, who is the wonderful morning manager, knows what each of us drinks and eats without even asking. For about an hour and a half each morning during the week and longer on weekends our group of students, interns, lawyers, professors, non-profit executives, former members of Congress, business persons, artistic directors and anyone else who has an opinion on anything can join the discussion and be a part of a welcoming community. It has over many years become a family. We go to the theater together and everyone shares the life events in their own families. We bring food to and check on anyone who is ill; we celebrate with those who have new children or grandchildren; and 12 of us even went to a destination wedding in Cancun for a member of the group. It happens the group is now more straight than gay.

So for me there is still a need for a place where I can feel I am in the majority. Where there aren’t kids, whether they have straight or gay parents, and I don’t feel the need to watch what I say — places like JR.’s or Cobalt in Dupont and Nellie’s and Town in the U Street corridor. Then there are my favorite hangouts in Rehoboth Beach, Del. Places I can go nightly for a glass of wine at happy hour and be entertained like the Blue Moon and Aqua. Places in which I can openly ogle the hot waiters like those at Aqua and appreciate getting a kiss on the cheek from those who are friends. I can greet male friends with a kiss and no one looks askance. I can sing at the top of my lungs along with Pamala Stanley at the Blue Moon and know she is playing to her gay audience. There is a comfort in knowing these places are still there to cater to the LGBT community.

Assimilation is great and acceptance is even better. Gay marriage is now legal across the nation and more and more LGBT couples are having children and their children are attending school with the children of straight couples. They are having play dates at each other’s homes and some are sharing vacations together. I share my life with my group at Java House.

But my hope is we never totally lose the gay part of us that is different — that part that still needs to be celebrated and that we will always have places where we can do that.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBT and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

  • GLBT should never strive to assimilate. That’s not diversity and that is not being yourself. Just like Latinos try and preserve their culture and language and pass it on to the next generation, while learning English and being part of the greater American culture, we should do the same. How can being GLBT not matter anymore when it’s part of who you are? To me, assimilating is equivalent to becoming invisible and being in the closet. Instead of progressing we actually give our enemies what they always wanted, we disappear. I don’t want to experience that isolation and loneliness again.

    I need GLBT community that I can locate when I need it and be part of it when I need to get away from the heterosexual world. You can believe you are now accepted by the mainstream because you can marry nationwide but it’s an illusion. A narrow vote on the SCOTUS gave us the right. It wasn’t won by popular vote as in Ireland. There are many people that still hate us and the thought of seeing two men kiss or show open affection is revolting to them. Yes, a majority may say they support us, but likely with the caveat that our lives are kept private and not on public display. That doesn’t mean I want to live in a gay ghetto. It only means I need an outlet for being openly gay when I need to be and find support when I need it, too.

    I still feel that except in a gay space, I am walking on eggshells worrying that if I show interest in another man anywhere I go, he will be offended, or angry. I always experience that even now. So I have no sense that attitudes have dramatically changed just because the laws may have. I want a haven where I can be myself and not worry about who might be gay because I know everyone is.

  • Dear Blade Editor: that’s me in the photo. Thanks for using it! My motorcycle club is called Outriders WMC (not dykes on bikes) and we ride in MD DC and VA. Check us out at #outriderswmc – Sarah

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