Is ‘guerrilla’ bar-fare the way to go?
Published Thursday, 15-Jan-2009 in issue 1099
Our community faces a critical challenge: engaging young activists to take charge of the movement.
Youth – bless them – tend to veer away from social responsibility. Particularly in our community, many youth are more concerned with Friday’s antics than year-round activism.
Of course, that’s a broad (and some would say unfair) generalization. For every out, active young member of our community, though, there are many more who don’t identify with the community, and who don’t participate in equal rights organizations.
Enter Guerrilla Queer Bar, a new local org with chapters in major metropolitan cities nationwide.
The goal: One night each month, a group of gay partygoers “take over” a straight bar or club. Why? Organizers in Boston and San Francisco say it’s a break from the mundane gay club scene and an opportunity to branch out of gay neighborhoods – particularly in Boston, where gay bars and nightclubs are scarce. And, they say, Guerrilla Queer Bar is also an opportunity for members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community to mix with a predominantly hetero crowd – increasing our visibility and creating a unique opportunity for activism.
We certainly wouldn’t discourage anyone from participating in an event that aims to build fellowship, increase visibility outside the gay neighborhood, or that engages youth in an innovative way – the organizers of the local chapter are tremendous young leaders and should be commended for their effort.
However, we have a few concerns.
First, in difficult economic times, an organization like Guerrilla Queer Bar funnels money into bars and clubs outside our community.
We get it – the standard lineup of theme nights may get tired week in and week out, but our bar and club owners are working hard to create fun events to draw in crowds. And, they’re feeling the effects of this economy.
Bars, clubs and restaurants are not recession-proof, and taking money out of our local bars and clubs – even just one time each month – will hurt.
We certainly aren’t naïve; at some point each week, we spend money at restaurants, bars or clubs that aren’t gay owned or operated – but we make a very concerted effort to support local businesses, particularly those that support us.
Organizers of the local GQB chapter should consider planning an after-party at a local, gay-owned bar or club each month. And, they should consider using their listserv to send weekly updates of bar and club events in our community. In Boston, the organization – which has built a powerful listserv – solicits a cover charge/donation, which, in turn, is funneled back into the community’s social services organizations, or new marriage equality orgs; that’s another way the local GQB chapter should consider giving back.
Second, we’re concerned about safety; though there are no reported cases of violence at a Guerrilla Queer Bar event in the cities it has operated successfully in thus far, all it takes is one homophobic, drunk hetero and one flirty, drunk gay to equal one ugly, drunk incident. San Diego is, after all, a military town, and the military machismo at straight bars and clubs is prevalent.
The organizers of the local chapter are wise to think ahead. While many chapters in other states give the straight bar one day’s notice before the gay invasion, the San Diego chapter is calling bar owners one week in advance, and asking them to step up security on the night the gay crowd will be visiting.
Also, the organizers may want to (and they very well could be doing this now) advise their listserv to avoid over-indulging; if, in fact, this is a way for our community to increase its visibility among straight crowds, then it shouldn’t be a drunk, messy free-for-all. While we shouldn’t allow hetero culture or the potential for hostility and violence to define us, or stop us from living our truth, we’ve also got to be smart.
As the local chapter grows, it will undoubtedly change course or shift gears, based on the experience and feedback of its members; we encourage youth to get involved, make wise choices, and, at the end of the day, give back to our community and support local businesses.

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