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. Part one can be found here. Below is part two of that talk.
TODD: I think the interesting thing about the points both Sean Anthony and Antonio make is the demand is there for Black clientele. I know Hombres in Jackson Heights has a Latinx owner. The bartenders are mostly of Latinx descent. The interesting things is white gays and Black gays often go to the bar as well. It’s a cool vibe but I’ve noticed people who may only speak Spanish appear to feel comfortable there also. They can order in Spanish and not feel uncomfortable due to a language barrier. I would like to believe the owners made a conscious decision to make sure their staff can connect with people who may only speak Spanish. I don’t think Black gays want to exclude other ethnicities because that’s not what NYC is about. I think we just want to see more Black ownership. I think what a gay bar like Hombres has done for the Latinx community, a Black owned bar will have ways to connect with the concerns of the Black community. The beauty of a Black-owned establishment is we’d listen to the music we want, clap our hands, laugh out loud, and not feel judged. Of course if other ethnicities want to join in the more the merrier, but a Black establishment would make us feel finally in a safe space. I think as Black people we’ve been conditioned how we’ll be perceived by other groups. I feel a Black gay bar would be a space to just let our guards down and just be free.
SEAN ANTHONY: I absolutely agree that a Black gay bar would be a space to let our guards down and be free. Where I really feel the problem lies is that there are Black bars and spaces but there are not enough to serve the Black gay population in NYC. One in Chelsea and one in Harlem, to put it simply, is not good enough. We deserve more and we should. We deserve and crave spaces that are FOR us 24/7. We need more spaces that allow us to dance, drink, and socialize with other gay men of color not just in the West Side of Manhattan but in Harlem and Brooklyn as well. I guess a question could be how does the switch from weekly events to everyday spaces happen? How do we take our gay men of color, the tens of thousands of us that are the very pulse of this city, and not only create these spaces but invest in and be consistent patrons to these spaces. What does that transition look like and where do we begin? Antonio, you raised a very similar question in your opening. Whose task is it to build these spaces in NYC? As easy as it is for us to discuss the importance of these spaces, the undertaking to build and create these bars, restaurants, and clubs, can be quite overwhelming.
ANTONIO: I think what it is, is the typical fear people have when they see a number of Black people in one location: that we’re up to something. As much as NYC tries to pride itself on diversity and even goes as far as promoting grants and loans to small, POC, and women-owned businesses, it appears that there’s still some apprehension in making it happen. Some investors might think it’s “taking a risk” to support those types of businesses, but it’s that sort of mentality that is preventing gay Black safe spaces from happening out of the fear it’ll fail. In order for us to gain those spaces, we need someone who is confident and bold enough to make it happen and investors have to trust in that confidence enough to invest. Todd, you mentioned how gay Black men try not to exclude others from our fun, but that’s the exact problem with us not having our own space now: we do too much worrying about everyone else’s feelings that we forget about our own. We need to be a little more selfish in this particular case.
TODD: Hey Antonio, I agree that with your point that we constantly worry about everyone else’s feelings. Someone once told me that they don’t get shape ups anymore because they think it looks “too hood”. I’m like to who? White folks? Even something like a damn haircut is how we’re conditioned to make white people feel comfortable. However the reality is if you build it they will come. If a gay Black NYC bar is built I guarantee you will have gay white, gay Latinx, gay Asian, etc. patrons coming in for a drink because I’m sure the spot would be lit. I think it’s how will patrons of other groups treat our safe space? As a gay Black man I know when I step into Hombres it will be a mostly Latinx experience catered to Latinx clientele, however the owners and staff have never made me feel not welcomed if that makes sense. I wouldn’t want there to be an issue with me grabbing a round into Hombres. Now if I’m going into Hombres and I’m like hey can you turn off the bachata when it comes on then I’m being disrespectful to that establishment and what it stands for. I respect the culture at Latinx bars because I know this community has fewer gay safe space options like gay Black men, so I respect it. My concern with white gay bars is their institutionalized decision making. Whether it’s a conscious effort to play less hip hop or raise a Blue Line flag during a Black Lives Matter movement, that’s a direct slap in the face to gay Black patrons. It’s institutionalized decision making. It’s racist. If there’s a Black owned gay bar, I know as an institution and establishment they would cater to my social concerns. I never expected to run into a gay establishment throwing up a police Blue Line flag but in this era am I really surprised? This is an example of a gay bar making a institutionalized decision to make Black patrons feel less welcomed. As I said, if a Black owner builds a gay Black bar other clientele will come. Legally you can’t exclude a specific group and I don’t think that would be cool. I believe that a Black owned gay establishment should and would address our concerns first. If a gay white patron came in then they would need to check their privilege at the door because a gay Black bar isn’t about them. And if that privilege is apparent in OUR spot and boundaries are crossed, then I know as gay Black men we would have no problem reminding white gays or any other group that this is our safe space. This is OUR home and we don’t have many, so fall back if you want us to make YOU feel comfortable. There’s dozens of gay bars that accommodate your white privilege.
SEAN ANTHONY: Todd, I completely agree with your sentiments. It's never a Black person’s responsibility to make sure that white people are comfortable in white spaces. I think there may also be this idea that when/if there is an all-Black space, that other identities may not be welcomed. We can all of course agree that this is not the case. However, there should definitely be no discomfort in expressing that these spaces have been created and continue to be created out of necessity. Black queer men and women are demanding these spaces and in order for our communities to continue to thrive, we need to create these spaces. The quote “If you build it, they will come” has never been more true in the instance. Additionally, I’m 100% certain that other QPOC will come into these predominantly Black spaces and they will always be lit. But who will be building these spaces? Do organization like Black Lives Matter play a part in creating permanent spaces for queer Black men and women? What Black entrepreneurs and business owners can be reached out to invest in and continue to create these spaces? Moreover, what roles do we play as writers, educators, activists, etc., to make sure that this conversation about spaces does not just begin and end with a conversation but that actions are being taken to get these spaces created?
ANTONIO: You both make great points with both of you coming from the perspective that there’s a high demand but we need individuals ready to make it happen. However, honestly, I have never been in a gay Black space where all types of gay Black men are welcomed where there isn’t this judgmental eye about how one another presents themselves. I don’t mean to be separatist, but whenever I’ve gone to those expensive weekly events, it always feels as though there’s one specific demographic being targeted when there is an untapped gay Black population in New York. I see it when I barhop through Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea, and even the East Village. Interestingly, I notice that the transplants tend to lean towards predominantly white establishments over the natives or the “Black and unapologetic about it” types (but that’s another topic completely). So, I wonder what we can do to converge these diverse types who all want a safe space to call their own. I know I want gay Black men to have a stronger sense of community and an easier way to find each other. I don’t believe that it’s up to BLM to take the charge, but I do believe that there’s a queer (or trans) Black entrepreneur who wants to make this happen for our community. In terms of how we can continue to keep the conversation going on the need for our safe space, we as writers and activists can make it possible. It’s essential for us not to let this fire die out. How we do that is strike up that discussion anywhere we can and with anyone who’s willing to help with the cause. Through creating meetups for queer and trans Black people to network or maybe even crowdfund to build this dream lounge, bar, or club, we can be the progress towards that goal. There is often this fear of the unknown and the possibility of failure, but we must let go of it in order to make an inclusive space for our community first and foremost. Only then should welcome those non-Black folks who can check their privilege and understand that this is our space.
The discussion continues tomorrow with Part 3 of our SPACES roundtable.
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