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Gay Bars Can be Mind-Bogglingly Racist

We decided to take a look at how unsafe "safe spaces" have been in the last 12 months.
Illustration by Lia Kantrowitz

Last weekend, Rebar went from being one of New York City's most promising new gay clubs to a glaring personification of the lack of intersectionality that exists within broader gay culture. When the bar opened its doors in Chelsea, partygoers across New York were pretty excited to check it out. But one Facebook post by a patron named Ian Alexis shifted the conversation away from the club's new digs to the way the venue allegedly mistreats people of color.


In the post, Alexis detailed how he and his friends had been denied entry over the weekend by an employee who told them the bar was at capacity. Alexis said his group prepared to leave before another employee allowed them to come inside. Once they stepped in, they saw that "it was pretty dead and empty," as his post had it, while other black patrons overwhelmed the line outside, unable to enter. After Alexis's story caught wind, similar complaints began to flood Rebar's social media pages and review sites.

"I actually kinda felt helpless," Alexis told Mic after his initial Facebook post went viral. While Rebar management later released a statement admitting they "understand patrons were made to feel unwelcome during our opening weekend," they also refused to speak to claims of racial discrimination—despite the fact that Rebar opened in the former space of G Lounge, which had the same owners and also suffered from its own discrimination rumors.

Unfortunately, the events at Rebar did not happen in isolation. In fact, this alleged discrimination is all too common at gay bars. Over the past 12 months, there have been a shocking number of prejudicial actions committed in so-called "safe spaces." Here's a rundown of a few of the ones that have caught our attention.


In September, a video of Darryl DePiano, the owner of Philadelphia gay bar iCandy, began to circulate on social media. It depicted him saying "Ni-ni-ni-ni-niggers, every one of 'em," in a conversation in which he insinuated that queer men of color disproportionately ask bar staff for drink tickets. And on April 15, during the bar's sixth anniversary, audio from that clip was broadcast on loudspeakers outside the bar by protesters for everyone to hear.

While DePiano admitted it was him in the video and has since apologized for the statement—claiming it was recorded years ago and doesn't represent his "true feelings"—the revelation was one of many that made Philadelphia's Commission on Human Relations take action. Today, 11 bars and clubs are undergoing anti-discrimination training after a subsequently-commissioned study showed how rampant discrimination was in the city. This discrimination, according to the reports, extended to queer women who were routinely failed to be served at bars.


"These places work a little different"

Ashlee Marie Preston is a trans activist who works on the Transgender Advisory Board in West Hollywood (WeHo), LA's gayborhood. Last Tuesday, she went to eat at a WeHo restaurant named Catch. After arriving with a reservation, Preston—who also happens to be a person of color—alleges that she was stonewalled at the door and only allowed in after threatening to leverage her position on the Advisory Board to criticize the establishment. Once inside, she said, the poor treatment continued.

In an op-ed for local blog WeHoville, Preston recounted what ensued: She claims a condescending server then came to her table, instructing her that "these places work a little differently." Preston claims the server attempted to direct her towards menu items that were cheaper. The insinuation was similar to DiPiano's: people of color are cheap.

A conversation with an assistant manager about what had transpired proved fruitless. His response, wrote Preston: "I don't think that's likely, Laverne Cox has eaten here before." As she wrote for WeHoville, "To me, that's like someone saying, 'I can't be racist, I have a black friend.'"

"Do you have a hot white guy?"

This January, a 2012 email leaked from David Peruzza, the manager of Washington, DC, gay bar JR's, to a graphic designer working on flyers for the bar. The flyer in question was for an Olympics-themed party, and featured an African American athlete stretching.

"I don't know how to be PC about it," the manager in question wrote, "but do you have a hot white guy?" Reportedly, the graphic designer replied back with "First, don't actually put that in writing again."


As the owner of JR's told Mic, "I won't apologize for it, because I don't think there's anything wrong with that for what was going on at the time. Everything was Abercrombie models and pretty boys." The facts that a black model shouldn't alienate a white audience, or that black models can be both "pretty boys" and "Abercrombie models" still seem lost on him.

"There was an American flag on the wall and above that there was what looked like a dead Mexican in a sombrero."

In late November, Gia Valverde her friends were at Denver's X Bar, where they came face to face with an offensive display, particularly in the wake of the 2016 election.

"We were getting some drinks at the bar and I noticed there was a half-built wall," Gia Valverde told Colorado's 9News. "There was an American flag on the wall and above that there was what looked like a dead Mexican in a sombrero on top of it."

As others laughed, Valverde posted a photo of the display in a private post to her Facebook page. It was soon shared in a public post by her friend Stephen Garcia. "I've said it before and I will say it again. GAY people can be RACIST!" Garcia wrote. "Do you know how many Latinx people have spent their AMERICAN dollars in your establishment? To depict a 'Mexican' with bloody hands climbing over a wall with an American flag so nicely draped over it… is down. right. Disgusting!"

A statement was soon posted on the bar's Facebook page claiming the bar's owners had no prior knowledge of the "visual statement," which they called "satire." They recognized how problematic it was, had it removed, apologized to anyone who was upset, and instituted training for employees to prevent similar incidents in the future.


"Unless you have titties and a vagina, you should not be in there"

In August, genderqueer drag performer Valentine Steaphon was kicked out of the New York City gay bar Boots & Saddle Drag Lounge after a verbal altercation with a cisgender woman in the women's bathroom. According to Steaphon, after being accosted by the woman in the lounge's bathroom, Steaphon was asked to leave the space by security.

"She told me that I shouldn't be [in the women's bathroom] because I don't have a pussy or a vagina or whatever," Steaphon told Out Magazine. "This is exactly what the security said. He said, 'Well, we cater to straight women here, so if you are making them feel uncomfortable in the bathroom, you have got to go.'" In addition, Steaphon claims a friend of the woman denied Steaphon's trans identity. "While all of this is happening [the woman's] friend is yelling in my face that I'm not trans and that I can't be trans unless I have titties and a pussy."

Boots & Saddle apologized for the event, and changed the signage on restrooms to gender-neutral. But the fact that Steaphon had to experience such discrimination in the first place, alongside the myriad other examples listed here, shows that even in LGBTQ establishments, "safe space" is a subjective term.

Follow Mikelle Street on Twitter.