Monday, August 11, 2008

Safe Spaces

A friend asked whether my partner and I had been to a certain bar/restaurant in DC – one of those venerable gay hang-outs. I answered that we have been, then generously added that I think the place to be too claustrophobic, too familiar (with anyone or anything that walks in), too campy (particularly the straight waiter who’s been there for decades), too lecherous … in other words, too old school gay. Our buddy, who is in his mid-forties gave me an indulgent smile and agreed, yes, the men can get rather friendly and frisky. And yes, it is very gay. However, he likes going there for the very same reasons I am repulsed. He offered as an explanation the fact that he had come out later in life, having been in the Air Force and a Texan police force. Moreover, he is high up in a government department that would not be happy to learn that he is cohabiting with another man.

This exchange made me realize that there is still need for places and spaces where homosexual and trans women and men can congregate, be fully themselves and feel safe. The 2000 U.S. census might have confirmed that there are gay folk in every county, but discrimination and intimidation remain rife.

In New York, I knew of highly competent women and men who kept their partners on the down low as they worked for the more powerful financial and law firms in Manhattan. In Washington, I have met individuals who feel constrained from expressing their orientation for fear of losing their jobs in the military, Homeland Security, Treasury and the like. An issue of Hofstra Labor and Employment Law Journal reports that since 1993, over 10,000 service members have been discharged from every branch of the Armed Forces.

In most churches, LGBT people have no place at the table. The Roman Catholic Church which has become the largest Christian denomination in the United States with over 75 million adherents, opposes the social acceptance of homosexuality, same-sex relationships and obviously, gay marriage ( A majority of Evangelical, Protestant and Mormon congregations likewise shun openly gay persons and their families.

Among LGBT African Americans, alienation is especially painful as the Black Church is the heart of the Black community. Sadly, Black Protestants lag behind other Protestant groups in recognizing gay people. The Washington Post cites a study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life that show African American Protestants as far less likely than other Protestant groups to believe that gays should have equal rights.

Where can we go then? While I might find my friend’s favorite hang-out as “too gay,” it is a place where homosexual and trans women and men can be together. Like many other LGBT bars, clubs, restaurants and centers, it serves as a safe space for those seeking refuge and respite from the daily bigotry they endure.

I have been lucky. Since coming out, I have lived in New York City and now Washington, DC. I have worked in companies and nonprofits that do not discriminate against my kind. I have found churches in Manhattan and the District that embrace all people. Thus can I easily dismiss good ole Annie’s.

Image: At the Moulin Rouge, Two women waltzing, Toulouse-Lautrec, 1892


Valerie said...

All I can say is that "straight" people need to get over themselves already.

Calder Falk said...

You have an absolute right to go where you want and to like certain places over others, I have to tell you, I hate the term "too gay;"it's insulting. It's on par with "that's so gay." What does it mean, anyway- too effeminate, too old, too stereotypical? Then say that. I find those terms just as offensive, but at least they're more honest. Euphemistic language doesn't eradicate prejudice, as much as people like to think, it just hides it behind a smoke screen.