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social sciences

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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

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   Related Entries
  
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literature >> Baldwin, James Arthur

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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

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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

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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.


    Bibliography
   

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 www.glbtq.com/social-sciences/gay_lesbian_bars.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
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Chicago, IL   60607
 
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    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2005, glbtq, inc.  
 

 

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