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Attention Becky: Acknowledging Privilege and Accepting Space

Straight girls in gay bars, tagg magazine

I write this acknowledging that as a white, lesbian woman, I am more welcome in these spaces than many queer people of color and trans* individuals, so please read my opinion as such, recognizing this lens.

A few weeks ago, I read a blog post on Prince of Petworth highlighting a new gay bar opening in Logan Circle. As I scrolled through the comments, I noticed a quite lengthy comment regarding straight people who frequent gay establishments. Below it were a slew of responses from straight and gay people alike criticizing this user for the audacity to call out a subset of patrons at these bars. Personally, I read the comment and nodded in agreement. I would further specify the plea for respectful patronage to highlight straight cisgender individuals who knowingly or subconsciously fetishize the space and others who flaunt their privilege.

Gay bars, for the most part, have morphed into spaces for predominantly white, gay, cismen and straight ciswomen. Society is quick to applaud the progress of straight patrons wanting to spend their evening at a gay bar, but to some extent, at the expense of the bar’s function as a safe space for LBTQ men and women. I struggle with this on a regular basis. On one hand, I have met some of my very best friends at gay bars. I have created lasting memories. I have hosted fundraisers for a variety of causes. When making plans for a happy hour or a night out, gay bars are at the top of my list. On the other hand, I have been called a bitch, dyke, and faggot, among other names in these spaces. I have been asked to prove my gender identity while waiting in line for, or in the bathroom. I have been threatened with physical violence.  I have been pushed and shoved. I have been ignored at the bar, even when it is relatively quiet. And, perhaps most appalling, I have been brushed off upon reporting such language and incidences to security or employees.

These bars are supposed to cater to the LGBTQ community, providing a safe space for men and women to connect without fear of verbal or physical violence. While all are welcome in these spaces, they are not meant to be a token diversity experience or experiment. You must acknowledge that some within the LGBTQ community still do not feel welcome or safe within a traditionally straight bar. Your night out at a gay bar should never be your first introduction to the LGBTQ community. We’re not there to teach you, we’re there to have fun and relax with our community. We shouldn’t have to spend our evening correcting your behavior and/or defending our presence.

Let me elaborate.

If you’re not comfortable around LGBTQ people (yes, lesbians, trans* individuals, and POC included), then perhaps this isn’t the space for you.

When attending a drag show, be prepared to tip the performers; don’t just fetishize them or the experience.

If you’re approached by a member of the same-sex, don’t act disgusted. Many straight women say that they go to gay bars to avoid being hit on by men, but fail to take into account that queer women occupy these spaces, as well. Of course, no one should ever harass or be disrespectful in their approach, but don’t attack queer women for approaching another woman in an LGBTQ space.

Planning a bachelorette party for your straight friend? Maybe think twice before choosing to celebrate at a gay bar. You want a unique experience? Try Vegas or one of those escape rooms.

If there is a performance of sorts, do not push through a crowd, insisting you be in the front row (especially if you’re not going to tip the performers), and do not assume that it is okay photograph or record.

If you’re coming to a gay bar to adopt a gay best friend, don’t. My gay guy friends recently told me about women who go on Grindr and other gay dating apps seeking gay best friends. Really? Just stop.

Avoid name-calling. One of my biggest pet peeves is when straight women (and in some cases gay men) call other women bitches or dykes in LGBTQ spaces. Remember, this space is first and foremost for LGBTQ people.

Invited to an LGBTQ fundraiser at a gay bar? Don’t just show up to claim yourself as an activist on Instagram, donate or volunteer!

Presentation doesn’t mean a thing. LGBTQ patrons know which bathroom to use, we don’t need your help.

And, to the managers and owners of these spaces, create a policy for dealing with homophobic, transphobic, racist, and inappropriate behavior that make your LGBTQ patrons feel unsafe. Remember: gay and transphobic, gay and misogynist, and/or gay and racist are not mutually exclusive. This is everyone’s responsibility. Make sure your entire staff knows about those policies and how to enforce them. It’s possible and it’s important.