For many of us over age 50, the idea of a world without gay bars seems like a vision of Hell conjured up in the social engineering labs of Jerry Falwell’s old Liberty College. In fact, there are many people in the gay community who are saying that is exactly where we are heading.
In Slate Magazine, June Thomas writes that according to the Damron Gay Guides the number of US gay bars dropped from 1,605 to 1,405, a 12.5% decrease since 2005. San Francisco had 118 gay bars when I first visited there in the 1970’s, and now there are only 33. Manhattan had 120 in 1984 but is now down to 44. Buffalo had something like 10 or 11 in the 1980’s, and today the number is seven. It seems that the trend is toward a large drop in gay bars in areas where the population is most concentrated, and tech savy.
Social media is being blamed. with sites like Grindr, Growlr, Scruff and Jack’d able to identify other gay guys literally around the corner. And many in the LGBT community want to be assimilated into a more homogenous straight culture because, after all, being gay is just “normal,” right?
Well don’t turn off the Miller Lite signs just yet. Those of us who remember some of the earliest days of the LGBT movement will tell you that it was never about trying to pass as “normal” but in celebrating our difference. It was about setting aside societal constrictions and norms to let people fully and freely express themselves as who they are, whether in sex, gender, art, profession or even vocabulary and voice modulation.
Now we can marry, we can serve in the armed forces, and we all have straight friends who accept us so, it’s argued, there is no need to have our own places or subculture. That’s a lot of bullshit.
I recently met a doctor anxious to assist in the needs of LGBT Seniors. He said he had never really accepted LGBT people until his old college friend came out to him and told him that if given a choice, no one would choose to be gay. His old college chum needs to see a shrink about his self-hatred. I have lived my life as a gay man and, for all its challenges, would never change it even if I could.
We are not about sex, we are about a shared experience of the way others have treated us for being different. Heterosexuals will always outnumber homosexuals and we will always be labeled as different. History shows that those who are seen as different can be easily targeted as scapegoats for all the problems of a society, and before you know it our best friends are tying us down on the torture rack or escorting us into the gas chambers.
Even though I haven’t set foot in one for the last four or five years, I believe we need our gay bars. They are where we physically come together to meet and share and socialize, and when necessary, to organize and advocate. They are our stone walls, the final fortress, the barrier that we will not allow to be breached.
Perhaps Grindr can be good for the community. If we use it for hook-ups, perhaps our bars can truly be more social, and a place where LGBT seniors can go and feel comfortable and not be consigned to being ignored at the end of the bar. Perhaps we can share our experiences in life to help out the young, and perhaps they can teach the old how to use an iPhone for more than answering voice calls.
Drink safe, Drive safe. Play safe. Buf for LGBT people to be safe, the gays bars need to stay.
Rod Hensel is based in Buffalo, NY where he was a gay activist and Mattachine Society chapter president in the ’70’s and ’80’s. He later co-founded Stonewall Democrats of Western New York. He is currently helping to organize the SIlver Pride Project of the Pride Center of Western New York to address issues of concern to LGBT seniors, and writes on LGBT senior issues for Buffalo’s Loop Magazine. You can find him at facebook.com/rodney.hensel.