For SPACES, we asked three Black gay men in New York City to share their thoughts on the bar and club scene in America's largest city. Below is part one of that talk.
CHIEF: Consider this: we are in the year 2017. America has just elected a staunchly anti-LGBTQ Vice President, and our own President courts a violently anti-LGBTQ regime in Russia. People of Color have aligned themselves in resistance to policies we see threats to our safety and livelihood in the racism (alt-Right, Nazi, whatever) that has been coddled by journalists and the media writ large. And we are one year removed from the tragedy at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, a tragedy borne of the intersection between the LGBTQ community and People of Color. In light of all this, as three Black gay men in New York, what do you see for folks like you in the gay bar and club scene, often described as our “safe spaces” and “churches”?
TODD T: I worked by a popular Chelsea watering hole. I was going through a lot of stress on the job front so after work I would stop in for my Tito’s, club soda, splash of cran. To say I became a regular would be an understatement. Eventually you become cool enough with the bartenders that you start to learn more and more about them. Almost all the bartenders at this location were straight. Most of the bartenders were white and the rest Latinx, none were Black. When the Black Lives Matter movement began to sweep the country, I noticed the Blue Line flag was raised at the front next to the American flag and the LGBTQ Pride flag. This was last when New York’s Black Lives matter protests swept the city. Fast forward to Election Day, I found out a few of the bartenders were Trump supporters. I found this irritating. As straight white men you can come into a gay bar, work for tips, and then go back to your suburban life and vote for a racist candidate like Trump. I think a white gay patron may not even be bothered with a Blue Line flag or knowing their favorite bartender supported Trump. Even if they are bothered they do not have to deal with the perils of wondering if a traffic stop may kill them. It would be nice to go to a bar and have black gay bartenders who can empathize with your day to day. Most popular NYC gay bars in Chelsea or Hell’s Kitchen do not have this diverse representation.
SEAN ANTHONY: As a gay Black man in NYC, it is difficult to find spaces where the majority of the people look, love, and lust like you do. We’ve been limited to overcrowded “Black nights” or “Latinx nights” at bars and overpriced club entrance fees to get to be surrounded by other gay men of color. Even when it comes to the music that is being played at gay bars, few times do bars or clubs play consistent hip-hop, dancehall, reggaeton, or other music of the diaspora. The need of primarily gay spaces of color, especially given the political climate, has become topic of conversation time and time again. Where do we go and not appear to take over a bar? Where can we go for a diverse amount of opinions from other gay men of color? Where can we live our best lives Saturday to Saturday without problematic white gays? I write all this to say that it’s not as if there are absolutely zero spaces for gay men of color, but I write this to say that there is a high demand and need for more of those spaces in both gay neighborhoods and Black neighborhoods in NYC.
ANTONIO B: I have perused the gay scene in New York since moving back here after college in 2010. For a gay man, there is nothing more important than having somewhere that you can feel your pride and live your truth. I did not actually find that until a year later when I started going to a weekly event hosted by a gay Asian (who later became a close friend of mine). Watching him create a safe space for the gay Asian community while being inclusive was an important mission for him and his space, so I never felt like I was invasive. He even went as far as trying to create a similar weekly safe space for Black and Latinx men, which sadly didn’t get off the ground. Seeing a gay man of color create spaces for other gay men of color is something empowering in an era where white fragility and exclusion is more transparent than ever. Unfortunately, my friend’s event ended at the end of 2014. Since then, I have yet to see a space that has men of color working, owning, and dominating that space as patrons. When G Lounge closed at the end of 2016, the gay Black community lost its real final foothold on having a day-to-day safe space. We’ve been relegated to a weekly event where we get charged to attend in a white-owned space on one small floor. So, it leaves me to wonder who will take on the task of building and creating that gay Black safe space in a prime area of the city that people would want to frequent?
The discussion continues tomorrow with Part 2 of our SPACES roundtable.
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