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Tuesday, September 26, 2023


Explicitly queer spaces matter

LGBT/Queer Rights Flag slowly vanishing

Jose Gonzalez-Campelo/The Cougar

No one knew who threw the first brick at the Stonewall Inn on June 24, 1969. Sources vary, but what followed was a riot that carried the modern gay rights movement for generations.

In 2023, a lot has changed. Most major cities host yearly pride parades, drag brunches have quickly become go-to Sunday activities, and shows like “Ru-Paul’s Drag Race” dominate the airwaves.

So, with so much progress, some may be tempted to question the necessity of explicitly queer spaces. In recent years, nearly half of the gay bars across America have closed, along with a large number of gay bookstores and lesbian bars.

As queer people have achieved more mainstream acceptance, they’ve become able to be more open in “straight” spaces. As demand has decreased for explicitly queer spaces, some might argue that this is a sign they are no longer needed.

However, these closures disproportionately affect certain groups within the queer community. For example, while Houston still boasts a significant number of gay male bars, it only has one lesbian bar, Pearl.

Pearl is one of 27 lesbian bars remaining across the country. Like many lesbian bars, it struggled to stay open during the COVID-19 pandemic, something common to both bars owned by women and queer people of color.

On any given night, Pearl is likely to be full of queer women and non-binary people dancing, flirting and laughing. The venue is much more than just a bar; it’s a haven for people who’ve faced societal rejection. So for many of these spaces, being forced to close can be more than just the cost of doing business — it can spell the death of an entire community.

The atmosphere in a space like that differs wildly from a straight club. Without the unwanted attention “cishet” men can bring, there’s a sense of togetherness. However, as traditionally queer areas like Montrose are gentrified, that feeling is slowly being strangled.

In previous decades, queer spaces were places for young people to organize protests, learn proper sex ed, or just listen to stories from “queer elders.” While some online spaces aim to fulfill the same purpose, they tend to come up short.

As local drag shows come under attack and bars like Pearl have their insurance threatened, it remains uncertain if queer rights are set in stone. Straight spaces could become more hostile and less willing to stand by “controversial” customers.

The Stonewall Riots happened because of queer people fighting to hold onto the only space they could claim as their own. Fighting for these spaces matters because it means refusing to disappear, and doing any less would be a disservice to those who threw the first bricks.

Malachi Spence Key is a journalism senior who can be reached at
[email protected]

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