glbtq: an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender & queer culture
social sciences
special features
about glbtq


   member name
   Forgot Your Password?  
Not a Member Yet?  

  Advertising Opportunities
  Permissions & Licensing
  Terms of Service
  Privacy Policy





social sciences

Alpha Index:  A-B  C-F  G-K  L-Q  R-S  T-Z

Subjects:  A-E  F-L  M-Z

Gay and Lesbian Bars  
page: 1  2  3  4  5  

Continuing Vitality

Although it is disturbing that women are increasingly excluded from participation in an important if diminished dimension of gay commercial and social life, women's bars have by no means disappeared from urban queer life. The institution of the lesbian bar is far from obsolete. Indeed, gay and lesbian bars continue to display an impressive vitality.

Since the 1980s, bars have continued to undergo a process of specialization, with different establishments catering to different ethnic subpopulations and communities of interest, such as leathermen or Bears or country music aficionados or transgendered individuals. Some bars especially cater to a younger crowd, while others cater to a predominantly older group; some attract a mixed clientele of men and women, while others cater to a single sex.

Sponsor Message.

While nearly all the "back room bars" have been closed, bars that feature dancers or strippers abound, especially in resort areas, and many other bars are oriented around cruising and the pursuit of sex. Other bars, however, are neighborhood institutions that serve a core clientele who come principally to socialize with friends. Many bars perform more than one of these functions simultaneously or alternately.

Despite the decline in the centrality of bars to gay culture, in many places across the country, gay and lesbian bars remain the most (and sometimes only) visible manifestation of glbtq life. In such circumstances, the role bars continue to play in building community should not be underestimated.

Bars of all varieties fill an important role in glbtq communities by providing sponsorship and hosting space for dozens of community organizations, such as sports teams and choirs, and special events, such as Pride celebrations and contests. They also provide much needed advertising revenue and distribution points for the gay press. They are also a locus of efforts to combat the spread of HIV and STDs.

While bars no longer retain a monopoly on gay socialization, their financial wherewithal and symbolic power allow them to retain important functions in contemporary community life.

Queer Bars as Targets

Because gay and lesbian bars are among the most visible manifestations of gay life, they are, sadly, also frequent targets of rage against the gay and lesbian community.

Examples of such rage include numerous cases of (often unsolved) vandalism, arson, and bombings of gay and lesbian bars all over the world. In 1973, for instance, 32 people burned to death in the Upstairs Lounge, a New Orleans gay bar, in a fire set by an arsonist who has never been identified. In 1979, during Anita Bryant's anti-gay "Save Our Children" campaign, a lesbian bar in St. Louis, Mor or Les, was firebombed.

Other examples include such incidents as occurred in 1980 when a deranged man, Ronald Crumpley, claiming that he was acting under God's orders, walked into a gay bar in New York with a submachine gun and proceeded to kill two men and injure six others. In a similar incident in 2001, Ronald Edward Gay, a Vietnam-era veteran who described himself as a "Christian soldier," went on a shooting rampage in a Roanoke, Virginia gay bar, killing one person and injuring six others.

Another religiously-motivated attack on a gay bar is that committed by right-wing extremist Eric Rudolph, who, in addition to bombing Olympic Park in Atlanta in 1996 and an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Alabama in 1997, also bombed an Atlanta gay bar, injuring five people, in 1997.

Gay bashers, including serial killers and sexual predators, often target gay bars, selecting their victims from patrons who leave establishments catering to gay men and lesbians.

The frequency of attacks on gay and lesbian bars and their patrons is a measure of the vulnerability of glbtq people in a homophobic society. As symbols of gay and lesbian openness, and often of gay and lesbian pride, bars that cater to the glbtq community are regarded as particularly galling by those who hate and fear homosexuals.

Precisely because gay and lesbian bars remain the most visible manifestations of a gay and lesbian presence, attacks on these institutions are intended to intimidate and frighten the entire glbtq community. Conversely, the homophobia that the attacks represent makes the need for gay and lesbian bars all the more obvious. In such venues, gay men and lesbians find respite from the larger society's incessant assaults on our self-esteem.

Matthew D. Johnson
Claude J. Summers

  <previous page   page: 1  2  3  4  5    

Contact Us
Join the Discussion
Related Entries
More Entries by this contributor
A Bibliography on this Topic

Citation Information
More Entries about Social Sciences

   Related Entries
social sciences >> Overview:  Bear Movement

The Bear Movement has inspired a number of organizations, events, publications, and resources dedicated to affirming and eroticizing large-bodied, hirsute gay men, known as Bears.

social sciences >> Overview:  Berlin

Notable in the twentieth century both for its pioneering efforts in homosexual emancipation and for the subsequent Nazi persecution of homosexuals, Berlin is now a major participant in the struggle to gain legal recognition of gay relationships.

social sciences >> Overview:  Boycotts

Boycotts, the refusal to patronize companies or institutions, have in recent decades been organized by glbtq rights advocates to protest discriminatory practices and policies.

social sciences >> Overview:  Butch-Femme

Butch-femme identities are controversial and difficult to define with precision, but both roles subvert prescribed gender and sexual expectations; ultimately, the butch-femme dynamic is a unique way of living and loving.

arts >> Overview:  Cabarets and Revues

Historically, cabarets and revues have been much more likely to mention or imply same-sex desire than the "legitimate" theater; and same-sex desire has been less frequently condemned in cabarets and revues than in mainstream plays.

social sciences >> Overview:  Circuit Parties

Circuit Parties refer to an ongoing series of gay-themed events that take place in major metropolitan areas throughout the year.

social sciences >> Overview:  Computers, the Internet, and New Media

Since the advent of the Internet, lesbians, gay men, and sexual and gender nonconformists of all kinds have been able to use a variety of computer-mediated communications to meet and network both on- and offline.

arts >> Overview:  Disco and Dance Music

No popular art form is more closely identified with gay culture than disco and dance music.

arts >> Overview:  Drag Shows: Drag Kings and Male Impersonators

A recent arrival in the drag arena, drag kings are part of an international drag movement that emerged in London and San Francisco in the mid 1980s.

arts >> Overview:  Drag Shows: Drag Queens and Female Impersonators

Female impersonation need say nothing about sexual identity, but it has for a long time been almost an institutionalized aspect of gay male culture.

social sciences >> Overview:  Gaybashing

Violence perpetrated against people thought by their attackers to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered occurs with disturbing frequency in the United States and other countries.

social sciences >> Overview:  Gentrification

Glbtq people have been in the vanguard of gentrification, a process of renewing neighborhoods that has both positive and negative effects.

social sciences >> Overview:  Hate Crimes

Hate Crimes are crimes towards persons or groups motivated by the victim's race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

social sciences >> Overview:  Leather Culture

"Leather" is a blanket term for a large array of sexual preferences, identities, relationship structures, and social organizations loosely tied together by the thread of what is conventionally understood as sadomasochistic sex.

social sciences >> Overview:  McCarthyism

McCarthyism, which attempted in the late 1940s and early 1950s to expunge Communists and fellow travelers from American public life, made homosexuals the chief scapegoats of the Cold War.

social sciences >> Overview:  Molly Houses

In early eighteenth-century London, molly houses provided men who were interested in other men sexually a space in which to act on same-sex sexual desires and to develop a sense of community.

social sciences >> Overview:  Nazism and the Holocaust

As part of its agenda to preserve an "Aryan master race," Nazism persecuted homosexuals as "asocial parasites"; more than 100,000 men were arrested on homosexual charges during the Nazi years, with 5,000-15,000 gay men incarcerated in concentration camps.

social sciences >> Overview:  New York City

Off and on over two centuries, New York City has also reigned as the capital of homosexual, transgender, and queer life in America.

social sciences >> Overview:  San Francisco

San Francisco has enjoyed a reputation as a "gay mecca" since World War II.

social sciences >> Overview:  Sex Work and Prostitution: Male

Sex workers range from well-organized professionals who work for escorting agencies, perform in pornographic films, or manage independent escort businesses to those who engage in unpremeditated and sporadic cash transactions resulting from casual encounters.

literature >> Baldwin, James Arthur

James Baldwin, a pioneering figure in twentieth-century literature, wrote sustained and articulate challenges to American racism and mandatory heterosexuality.

literature >> Bannon, Ann

In a series of five interlinked pulp novels set in Greenwich Village and its homosexual bars in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Bannon provides an important record of lesbian life in a period when few women dared speak openly about homosexuality.

literature >> Brown, Rita Mae

Lesbian poet and novelist Rita Mae Brown, best known for the highly successful Rubyfruit Jungle, resists neat categorization.

social sciences >> Bryant, Anita

Former beauty queen, popular singer, and orange juice pitchwoman, Anita Bryant became the poster-girl for homophobia in the late 1970s; her name continues to be a byword for bigotry.

social sciences >> Clap, Margaret

Margaret Clap, also known as "Mother Clap," operated one of the more popular "molly houses" in London; after it was raided in 1726, she was pilloried and imprisoned.

social sciences >> Gay Liberation Front

Formed soon after the Stonewall Riots of 1969, the short-lived but influential Gay Liberation Front brought a new militancy to the movement that became known as gay liberation.

literature >> Hall, Radclyffe

Radclyffe Hall, who lived her lesbianism openly and proudly, is best known for The Well of Loneliness, arguably the most important lesbian novel ever written.

arts >> Rainbow Flag

Designed by Gilbert Baker in 1978, the rainbow flag has become a popular (and sometimes controversial), internationally recognized symbol of gay and lesbian pride.

social sciences >> Sarria, José

José Sarria, a San Francisco singer, drag performer, and activist, exemplified gay pride before the phrase was invented.

social sciences >> Stonewall Riots

The confrontations between police and demonstrators at the Stonewall Inn in New York City the weekend of June 27-29, 1969 mark the beginning of the modern glbtq movement for equal rights.

literature >> Vidal, Gore

The multifaceted Gore Vidal is important in the gay literary heritage because of the straightforwardness with which he pursued gay themes and included gay characters in his work.


Barr, Andrew. Drink: A Social History of America. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1999.

Berlin Museum. Eldorado: Homosexuelle Frauen und Männer in Berlin 1850-1950 - Geschichte, Alltag, und Kultur. Berlin: Frölich & Kaufmann, 1984.

Chauncey, George. Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940. New York: Basic Books, 1994.

D'Emilio, John. Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities: The Making of a Homosexual Minority in the United States, 1940-1970. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983.

Duberman, Martin. Stonewall. New York: Dutton, 1993.

Greenberg, David F. The Construction of Homosexuality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988.

Harry, Joseph, and William B. DeVall. The Social Organization of Gay Males. New York: Praeger, 1978.

Jay, Karla. Tales of the Lavender Menace: A Memoir of Liberation. New York: Basic Books, 1999.

Kennedy, Elizabeth Lapovsky, and Madeleine D. Davis. Boots of Leather, Slippers of Gold: The History of a Lesbian Community. New York: Routledge, 1993.

Murray, Stephen O. "The Institutional Elaboration of a Quasi-ethnic Community." International Review of Modern Sociology (July-December 1979).

Newton, Esther. Mother Camp: Female Impersonators in America. Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall, 1972.

Paulson, Don, with Richard Simpson. An Evening at the Garden of Allah: A Gay Cabaret in Seattle. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.

Powers, Madelon. Faces along the Bar: Lore and Order in the Workingman's Saloon, 1870-1920. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998.

Retzloff, Tim. "Cars and Bars: Assembling Gay Men in Postwar Flint, Michigan." Creating a Place for Ourselves: Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Community Histories. Brett Beemyn, ed. New York: Routledge, 1997. 227-252.

Rubin, Gayle. "Elegy for the Valley of the Kings: AIDS and the Leather Community in San Francisco, 1981-1996." In Changing Times: Gay Men and Lesbians Encounter HIV/AIDS. Martin P. Levine, Peter M. Nardi, and John H. Gagnon, eds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997. 101-144.

Trumbach, Randolph. "London's Sodomites: Homosexual Behavior and Western Culture in the Eighteenth Century." Journal of Social History 11 (1977): 1-33.

Wolfe, Maxine. "Bars." Lesbian Histories and Cultures: An Encyclopedia. Bonnie Zimmerman, ed. New York: Garland, 1999. 95-97.


    Citation Information
    Author: Johnson, Matthew D. ; Summers, Claude J.  
    Entry Title: Gay and Lesbian Bars  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2005  
    Date Last Updated August 19, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2005, glbtq, inc.  


This Entry Copyright © 2005, glbtq, inc. is produced by glbtq, Inc., 1130 West Adams Street, Chicago, IL   60607 glbtq™ and its logo are trademarks of glbtq, Inc.
This site and its contents Copyright © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.
Your use of this site indicates that you accept its Terms of Service.