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, and Part Two is here. Below is Part Three of that talk.
CHIEF: Let's consider: The broader “gay rights” struggle has been between opposing sides, with the LGBTQ community and allies on one side, and hetero people and homophobes on the other. We’ve won many victories: open military service, marriage equality, broader social acceptance, increasing representation in media, and state-by-state protections for doing business, insurance and medical care, employment, and adoption. But it seems that some consider our current era “the end of Queer History”, that because their political and social needs are met, that the fight is won. EFNIKS was founded on the idea that intersectionality means the fight is long from over. That is, if there are social, economic, racial, gender-based issues that affect some of us, then these are necessarily “Gay issues”. If we don’t have racial equality, then because there are Black and Latinx and Asian gay men, then what affects Black gays is a “Gay issue”. If we don’t have gender equality when it comes to pay, then what affects lesbians, trans women, and the non-binary/non-conforming is a “Gay issue”. The fight, as our mission goes, is going to be as much about legal rights, social acceptance, and representation in the hetersexual world as it is going to be a fight within our own community--to be on the side of People of Color, women, & trans folks and not just fight for whatever white gay men want. How do you take this, and apply it to bars and clubs as “safe spaces”
TODD: A lot of bartenders in the New York gay scene are straight and white or gay and white. Diversity helps any business because you receive viewpoints from your employees. Let’s say if there were even just two Black bartenders, perhaps the Blue Line flag raised during that summer would have been addressed at the bar I discussed. A Black bartender may have said “Hey wait a minute, maybe due to timing we may come off to our Black patrons as insensitive.” Or, “hey bro if you did vote for Trump what are you doing working here?” If these things were in fact brought up and okayed by management, then there’s something rotten in the state of Denmark. This means that Black patrons are an intentional afterthought. In 2017 colorism and racism have to be addressed within the gay community overall. Gay bars have so much influence that they need to address lack of staff diversity within their establishment. Otherwise, gay bars feel more like safe spaces for white gays only.
SEAN ANTHONY: We can never underestimate the power of representation. Being able to see ourselves as entrepreneurs and businessmen and businesswomen is important. We are constantly impacting the culture of the city. These spaces help foster those conversations and can be the birthplace of the many future innovations that are to come from QPOC. These spaces should always function as a safe space for us and other members of the queer black community. They should be a place where we can be our authentic selves whenever we walk through those doors.
ANTONIO: The gay community of New York dominates the west side of Manhattan from the West Village to Chelsea to Hell’s Kitchen. Since gay spaces have been closing so often in the last 3 years, the gay Black community is scattered throughout those areas, having to share spaces with gay white men. We are therefore limited to really speak on the issues we often face for the sake of respectability politics while having our existences and concerns ignored. Instead, we hope that we’re at least respected in those spaces, but have this uncomforting feeling of being the only Black face present. So, why should we not have a space to call our own? Inclusivity aside, it’s important for gay Black men to feel as though there can be a space where racism in the gay community isn’t the “elephant in the room.” Being able to see Black faces in fellow patrons, staff, and management at a bar would be such a relief. We can let our guards down and discuss issues we were too afraid to do in predominantly white spaces. We can be free to be ourselves without feeling like the “loud Black stereotype.” We can just exist.
CHIEF: Given what we've shared in this discussion, what do you think we do going forward? Is there hope? Is there a call to action? What can LGBTQ POC in other cities do? If this is how things are, so what?
TODD: The New York Times just published an article this week about the rise of H.I.V. rates in American gay and bisexual black men, especially in the rural south. They attributed the rise to a few things that include the fact that H.I.V. is now “less” of a gay white male concern because they have the financial means and resources to manage it in their population. A Mississippi Delta project coordinator at My Brother’s Keeper made his rounds to ensure young gay black men had the awareness, tools, and education to protect themselves against the disease. He decided that the best way to perform outreach to gay black men about the crisis was at a black gay bar. While our government, black churches, and gay white peers neglect us, it’s places like the black gay bar where organizing is crucial to tackle the issues that affect gay black men. Whether it’s H.I.V. awareness or how to handle getting pulled over by a police officer, black gay bars will not only be places to enjoy ourselves but also to spread critical information about issues that affect our lives. Therefore it’s even more crucial more than ever that gay black bars exist and thrive.
SEAN ANTHONY: I believe that a large shift in predominately gay spaces will start to arise given the political climate and the hustling attitude of New Yorkers. We get ish done! New Yorkers like to make things happen -- and happen quickly. Many queer members of our black community are ready for the shift in what black queer spaces look like. I think we can all agree that we all want more of these spaces to exist and it starts with conversations like these. It starts with us talking about how these spaces should function and the roles that they play in our communities. Our spaces in the future may not come in the form of a Harlem bar or a restaurant in Brooklyn. QPOC have so much creativity when it comes to finding our own spaces and thriving while in them. So much of NYC culture would be nothing without us! I can definitely promise that there will be surge in predominantly queer black spaces, but it may not appear in the ways we may originally anticipate them to look.
ANTONIO: I think the general consensus in this discussion is that there should be a call to action for the gay black community to have a stronger passion in not only wanting a safe space, but in trying to make it a reality. At present, it doesn’t seem like there are enough people interested enough in making it happen because, as I mentioned earlier, there is this fear of failure which leads to having equally uninterested investors. While I do have hope in it happening, there has to be a stronger effort amongst the entirety of LGBT+ black community to be more unified. It seems to me that we are quite divided due to gender identity and expression, which is preventing us from having our own judgment-free space. If we could get all types of gay black men (as well as lesbian, bisexual, and trans black men and women) to combine our powers for the sake of creating a space to call our own here in NYC, I think we can build the type of momentum that other cities would follow suit on. I mean, let’s be honest, New York has often been the epicenter of many different movements, ideas, and successful businesses that expand nationwide. As they say, “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.” If gay black men in NYC can start the conversation, there will be a momentum in other cities to continue that conversation. Things don’t always have to be as they are if there’s optimism for change, so starting here is a good place to start.
CHIEF: Thank you all for your insight. Let's do this again some time.
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