Every few years, the issue of gay male-only safe spaces reappears on the front page of GLB news media sites and the web. The mere existence of these bars and/or parties triggers an alarm, dismay, and even anger in everyone from (cis straight) women to members of the queer community. As we are told and understand from the numerous articles we researched and personal accounts from people on both sides, the issue is complicated. We disagree. The problem is simple. Gay men can have safe spaces away from straight women, and we don’t need their permission to do it. See. Simple.
We have tried to stay out of this “debate” as we had hoped that more relaxed and calmer heads would prevail, but this hasn’t happened. It has gotten worse, and any gay male foolish enough to defend our need is quickly labeled a women-hating misogynist who is too wrapped up in his toxic masculinity to care about others.
Of course, we strongly disagree with this assessment. As gay males of color, with a collective 250 years of community, work, and volunteer experience within the gay world, we have a few things to add to this dialogue, beginning with GAY MALE SPACES NEED NO DEFENSE!
A History of Violence:
Without taking a trip through history, it would be impossible to discuss the need for safe spaces for gay men. Our need is not a desire; it is borne out of necessity. This is very important to remember. We aren’t building social clubs to make ourselves feel special and better than others. These venues are not about discriminating against straight women because we hate them. And they definitely are not parties designed to celebrate our toxic masculinity. They are called safe spaces because we always have and still need places where we feel safe as gay males.
This has nothing to do with straight women directly and, instead, about the whole of a heteronormative society that doesn’t see us or our relationships as valid. This culture believes that our very lives have no value and are expendable. Please Keep these facts in mind as you read the rest of this article.
Gay males have been creating spaces and parties to meet and keep our collective secrets from the straight world as long as there has been Adam and Steve. Our bars gave us solace and protection before World War II in future Nazi-controlled Germany. They were places of intimacy and comfort for Black gay men to dance arm-in-arm in Harlem during the renaissance. It was where the Stonewall rebellion got its start.
Too many straight women think that all gay males are white and rich, without any problems compared to them. They like to throw around terms like privilege and disadvantaged while totally ignoring their privilege, entitlement, and social standing. They are the majority and not a minority, representing the structure that causes us pain and discrimination. Many of these areas are safe spaces for gay men of all races, including differing social and economic standing levels. Women and their bachelorette parties disrupt these spaces and take focus away from those who need them.
Gay male safe spaces are not a want but a need to protect us from the daily acts of verbal, physical, and emotional violence we experience just for being who we are. Gay bashings and other acts of aggression are a regular occurrence around the USA and the world. The FBI reports bashings were up 3% in 2017, and we are more likely than any other minority group to be targeted for hate crimes.
The mass murder at Pulse Night Club, which killed 49 people, almost all Latino, has shown us that we are not even safe within our safe spaces. But we still deserve the right to build and protect them.
The Advocate wrote an article listing the 34 public displays of affection that straights take for granted. Every touch, kiss, and sly look can lead to a quick and violent beating or even death if we do them. But, in our safe spaces, bars, and clubs, we are relieved of these pressures and stressors. We are safe to be ourselves without worry. This all disappears when straight women claim rights to what we built and need for protection.
This isn’t just an American issue, as a new government UK-wide survey, with more than 108,000 responses, has found. Most LGBTQ people don’t feel comfortable being affectionate with their partners in public.
Some 68% said they’d avoided holding hands in public with a same-sex partner, while 70% said there had been times when they weren’t open about their sexual orientation.
“I was struck by just how many respondents said they cannot be open about their sexual orientation or avoid holding hands with their partner in public for fear of a negative reaction,” said Theresa May, (Former ) Prime Minister.
Gay Male Safe Space Defined:
“The term safe space refers to places created for individuals who feel marginalized to come together to communicate regarding their experiences with marginalization.”
This is what gay bars and clubs have been to our community for generations. We, gay males, have created these establishments with our money, deeds, and efforts so that we can come together and share our experiences as gay males. Straight women are not part of our community and cannot communicate with us about our marginalization experiences. Sympathy is not the same as empathy.
“In the United States, the concept originated in the women’s movement, where it “implies a certain license to speak and act freely, form collective strength, and generate strategies for resistance…a means rather than an end and not only a physical space but also a space created by the coming together of women searching for community.” The first safe spaces were gay bars and consciousness-raising groups.“
If women like it or not, gay male safe spaces were not created for them or their benefit, but ours. We do not deny that there is a vein of misogyny within our community, but it is nothing compared to the homophobia of straights that we face every single day of our lives.
Concerning this, there have been complaints from straight women that the language they overhear in our spaces seems to be anti-female. We cannot attest to the integrity of these feelings, but yes, the speech and words some guys use inside of our bars and clubs may be “blue,” uncomfortable, and even considered offensive, but we support free speech and our license to speak and act freely inside of our spaces. It’s a bar, not a tea party.
Straight women attempting to police the verbal expressions and behaviors of gay males within our own safe spaces is the height of arrogance and privilege. Our bars and clubs were created by us coming together searching for community, not to be monitored and chastised by those we seek relief from.
“safe space can be any area—physical or conceptual—where like-minded people can bond and share their ideas without feeling as though they are being silenced or mocked.“
One of the major complaints made by gay men about having straight women within our safe spaces concerns their actions. We are seen as their playmates, dance partners, and worse. We are not seen as men but rather some strange animal for their entertainment. Our words are policed and silenced as our behavior is mocked. This takes away the purpose of our safe spaces. We created them to be away from these actions and words.
When straight women enter our spaces, they don’t just want to be accepted; they want a level of superiority and the ability to change our spaces’ very nature and purpose. We don’t just mean tagging the attention of the bartends, hogging the only toilet all night, or taking up too much space on the dance floor.
Responding to Rose Dommu, the author of an article for Out.com, where she admonished gay males for striving to keep our safe spaces free of women, Cheves said, “She does say in 2017, straight women can go anywhere. My biggest criticism is — I’m sorry, gay men can’t. We can’t go anywhere.”
For example, he recounted how a woman called the police after wandering into the back room of his local Atlanta gay bar, the Heretic. The incident led to the establishment getting rid of the space where gay men had cruised because they had been historically shut out of heteronormative places.
“If you get catered to almost everywhere you go, landing in a place where you aren’t catered to can feel like you’re being discriminated against,” Savage remarked.
Let’s Talk Law:
Our main office is located in New York City, New York, so we will cite the law from this municipality to give some insight into whether or not all gay male spaces have the right to refuse straight women.
A retort about our gay male safe spaces is that they are open to the public, and anyone can enter. This is technically true, but the water is muddy on this issue.
The NYC Commission on Human Rights protects individuals from discrimination in the area of public accommodations. Anyone who provides goods and services to the general public is considered a public accommodation.
On the long list of examples of clear public accommodations, bars and nightclubs are absent. This doesn’t mean that they are not public accommodations, but more than likely, the law is unclear on how to proceed with certain types of discrimination as these laws were created to protect minorities from abuse. In this case, the minority group isn’t straight women but gay males.
Exceptions to the above law are made for private clubs. Some gay male bars and clubs are either private or seeking to be licensed as one. Private clubs can base their memberships on a particular class and demographic that best suits the needs of that group. There is a grey area around gay bars that only advertise within gay news outlets, market themselves to gay males and promote themselves as if they were a private club.
Since 1984, clubs not deemed “distinctly private” are forbidden from discriminating on the basis of sex, race, or religion if they have more than 400 members, regularly serve meals, and accept payment from non-members for business or trade transactions. That law forced most of the all-male clubs in New York to open their doors to women, although a handful do remain male or female only.
Gay male bars and clubs do not regularly serve meals or accept payment from non-members for business or trade transactions.
Right of Refusal:
There is the legal right of refusal that bars and restaurants retain. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits restaurants from refusing service based on race, color, religion, or national origin. Beyond this, if a restaurant refuses service to someone because of a reason not explicitly outlined, the courts would have to decide. Take note that “gender“ is not on this list.
A bar may refuse service and entry to a person who is unbathed, filthy, or has a very bad body odor. All these reasons for refusal have to do with the comfort of other guests or their safety.
The last part of the above sentence is essential and pertains to the comfort of other guests and their safety. Gay male spaces are to be free of the very issues and concerns that we seek to escape from in the outside, straight world. If the presence of straight women disturbs this comfort, it would not be unreasonable for a gay bar owner to refuse service.
As far as we could find, no straight woman has sued a gay male bar for entry in the United States. But, such an action could easily backfire. Courts like to take the side of minority communities and create laws for their protection from members of the majority. A case like this would decide not only if gay males can make single-sex spaces but if lesbians can as well.
Any straight women feeling that this is the proper time to claim their place inside gay male spaces should also understand that a favorable ruling could also affect all female gyms, private clubs, and other “safe spaces” for women.
In general, we all know that nightclubs can have a very strict policy for who enters and who cannot. The velvet rope is no joke. But, the law gives owners and “bouncers” the right to retain the integrity and purpose of the space. For our purpose, that would mean an all-gay male dance club wanting to protect the purpose of providing a safe space for gay males to dance. Any intrusion or person seen as disruptive could be refused entry.
If you need more proof of how courts could decide in favor of protecting all gay male safe spaces, take a look at this case from Australia.
In what is believed to be the first case of its kind in Australia, a gay bar in Melbourne can now legally turn away heterosexual men and women as well as lesbians even though Australia’s equal-opportunity laws prevent discrimination on the grounds of sexuality.
Tom McFeely, the owner of the nightclub, which already has a monthly “Boys Only Night” at which women are barred, told local radio that while there are more than 2,000 venues in Melbourne catering to heterosexuals, his is the only pub in Australia’s second-largest city catering to homosexual men.
He said that while the pub welcomed everyone, its gay clientele had expressed discomfort over the number of heterosexuals and lesbians coming to the venue over the past year.
“We’ve had instances in the past where, for example, a buck’s night has come up to the Peel or a hen’s night – our whole atmosphere changes immensely,” he said.
“Heterosexuals have other places to go to; my homosexuals do not,” he said. “The only place they can feel comfortable and safe is the Peel.”
In the tribunal’s exemption decision dated May 24, Tribunal Deputy President, Cate McKenzie, wrote: “If heterosexual men and women and lesbians come to the venue in large groups, then their numbers may be enough to “swamp” the numbers of gay male patrons. This would undermine or destroy the atmosphere that the company wishes to create. Sometimes, heterosexual and lesbian groups insult, deride and are even physically violent toward gay male patrons. Entry of these groups would undermine or destroy the unique atmosphere which aims to foster and not frighten or disconcert its gay male patrons.”
The pub, which is said to be popular with Melbourne’s Asian community, will now be able to advertise that it will turn away women and non-homosexual men, and its door staff will be able to ask people whether they are gay.
Supporting the tribunal’s decision, Victoria’s Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission Chief Executive Officer Helen Szoke said in a radio interview: “They have, in the past, had experiences where their predominant clientele, which is gay men, have been subject to harassment and hostility and instances of violence and also have felt as though they’ve been like a zoo exhibit, you know, with big groups of women on hen’s parties coming to the club.”
Disagreeing with critics that the move discriminates against heterosexuals and lesbians, Szoke says the decision is, in fact, consistent with the equal opportunity provisions because it defends the rights of gay people.
“The reality is it’s these exemptions exist to protect groups in our community who are subject to being treated less favorably or treated unfairly compared with other groups, and in this case, what we know is that there are many options for heterosexuals to enjoy a safe, social environment,” she said in the same interview.
Night Clubs, Gay Bars, Theme Bars, and Sex Venues:
Communication is challenging when words mean different things to different people, and this causes confusion, hurt feelings, and even anger. When it comes to the gay male safe spaces issue, many are conflating each of our venues and assigning them the same value, which is not true. So, here is a quick lesson in gay culture.
- Night clubs are generally large spaces, sometimes warehouses and even derelict buildings, where people of different backgrounds come together to dance and drink. These will usually be primarily gay males, but we know and expect other demographics to attend, and we love having you.
- Gay bar is the umbrella term that causes confusion because, technically, there are different gay bars where different kinds of guys meet to do various things. Some gay bars are very mixed in their demographic, with members from the entire community attending, and others are more or primarily male.
- Theme bars are where things get tricky. There are gay sports bars that are usually welcoming to just about anyone, but leather bars are a different bird. Knowing the difference between which type of theme bar you wish to attend is essential. Some have strict dress codes, and others only allow males, with no exceptions!
- Of course, you know that there are places where gay males go to meet and have sex. It might be a bathhouse, sauna, or even a theme bar, but these places should be treated with the most respect. If we have to explain why, you need to start back at the beginning of this article.
- All gay male bars and clubs are considered, to some extent, safe spaces for us. We don’t expect to get gay bashed at one of our dance clubs or theme bars, and we don’t expect to see our most intimate acts viewed for the pleasure of straight women or be groped, fondled, or sexually harassed in any of our spaces. Know before you go.
Why Women Claim they like being in our Safe Spaces:
Let’s ignore the issue of whether or not straight women should go into gay male spaces for a moment and focus on why they claim they do. Remember, just because legally, women can do something doesn’t mean that they should, or it is right.
These are actual quotes from women on the internet.
- “One of the reasons women are reluctant to go to an average bar is men. I have heard men say that looking for women while out drinking is natural. But I don’t think most women like men hitting on them”.
- “When I first went to a gay bar, it was because I felt bored. Every day seemed to be repeating itself in my life cycle. So I needed a stimulant. At that time, my friend recommended a gay bar. It was a refreshing shock to me.”
- “The music is so good, and the guys are hot.”
- “If you want to go to a club, but you don’t have enough money, you just go to a gay club because the general entrance fee is $5 compared to average nightclubs with fees from $20 to $25.”
- “Another great thing about the clubs are the after-midnight shows with handsome and muscular guys dancing….a bit of Heaven right there. However, gay bars are not Heaven for women anymore because now straight men also go there to meet women. If some guy is talking to you, you have to think if he is gay or not. He might be a wolf in a gay man’s clothing.”
None of the above reasons or issues are our problems. We are not the straight men they are trying to escape. This is an issue of straight culture that straight women need to address with straight men. Their problems won’t be solved by running to and ruining our safe spaces.
For the most part, our music is outstanding, but we also pay to have great D.J.s. If they want better music, go to better straight places. Yes, many gay men are hot, but we are not on display for them but for other gay men. That is why we are in a gay bar.
Hearing someone say that your culture and safe space is a Disney Land Adventure for them is disgusting and offensive. We are not zoo creatures for their amusement.
The presence of straight women is bringing more and more straight guys to our safe spaces. This is not cool for our safety. But it is crazy that one woman thinks this is the big issue with women in gay bars.
Gay Males, Stop Bringing your Girlfriends to our Safe Spaces:
Guys, this is a no-brainer. You should know the gay scene by now, and you should know when and where you can bring your straight female friends and when you should leave them at home or go to another space.
Try to respect the safe spaces for what they are meant for. And if you can’t, then you shouldn’t be there either.
If our plea for kindness to your brothers’ hasn’t worked, maybe this will sway you.
Joe is a 28-year-old man who is still in the closet. He goes to West Hollywood only when the mood strikes, generally when looking for sex. For Joe, it becomes uncomfortable to see straight women when he is trying to enjoy himself because of the fear of being outed.
“It makes me nervous to see women alone there without their gay friends. I don’t know if they’ll out me if they see me on the street somewhere, and I work in Los Angeles, so it’s a possibility.”
This fear has caused Joe to hold back from going out as often as he would like. And in his opinion, the presence of women removes the sacred space he needs to be free.
Joe deserves a safe space where he can be free. But, for gay men of color, this is a much larger issue for those who are not out. Respect the space, or leave the space.
The laws worldwide are not the same as those in the United States. If you travel and want to go to gay bars as a woman or a gay man with female friends, don’t expect to gain entry. Many bars and clubs in Europe have men-only nights and gay male-only venues. They will not change their laws for you and don’t ask.