Bars have traditionally been queer people’s safest spaces & some of our most dangerous

Nowhere Bar in New York City
Nowhere Bar in New York City Photo: Corporate website

“Two dead, one injured in gay bar shooting by extremist” screamed the headline of the latest shooting at an LGBTQ nightclub, this time in the Teplaren bar in Slovakia’s capital city of Bratislava. The subheading announced that “The local LGBTQ group called the attack ‘the result of a long and systematic campaign against them by state officials, churches, and extremist groups.’”

The shooter killed two young people and injured one other person. Reports indicate that the suspected shooter was found dead the following day.

When any society defines the “other” as less than human, as disposable, as dangerous, as predatory, that society invariably commits acts of violence and, in some instances, genocidal extermination.

It is not random or coincidental that violence against LGBTQ people often occurs outside or within nightclubs. As marginalized and oft-hunted people with few other places to meet one another, clubs, pubs, and bars have been popular options.

Since the early to mid-19th century, a linear history of homosexuality, bisexuality, and gender diversity predominately in the West begins with the formation of a homosexual and gender “identity” and expression and a sense of community brought about by the growth of industrialization, competitive capitalism, and the rise of modern science, which provided people with more social and personal options outside the home.

Within the last 160 or so years, there has been an organized and sustained political effort to protect the rights of people with same-sex and more-than-one-sex attractions, and those who cross traditional constructions of gender identity and expression.

Even before the rise of industrialization in England, the first documented fairly organized network of men in the West gathered together for company and sexual encounters. From around 1700 – 1830, a series of houses or pubs, later called “Molly Houses,” catering to the needs of these men were established throughout London.

Some of the “houses” consisted of private rooms in taverns, while others were in private homes. Many of these houses were raided by police, the men tried, and some were executed.

In the United States, homosexuality was illegal until 1962, when Illinois became the first state to decriminalize it. In the 1930s, for example, laws banned licensed bars from serving homosexuals in New York state. Penalties included revocation of the bar’s license to operate.

In Columbus, Ohio, for example, a law forbade anyone from appearing in public “in a dress not belonging to his or her sex.” It was not overturned until 1974. Some laws mandated the wearing of at least three articles of clothing traditionally considered “appropriate” to one’s sex assigned at birth. In addition, the mere presence of homosexuals in a bar constituted a “disorder.”

FBI Director, J. Edgar Hoover, warned in 1936, “The present apathy of the public toward perverts [homosexuals] generally regarded as ‘harmless,’ should be changed to one of suspicious scrutiny. The harmless pervert of today can be and often is the loathsome mutilator and murderer of tomorrow…The ordinary offender [turned] into a dangerous, predatory animal, preying upon society because he has been taught he can get away with it.”

Many believe that Hoover had a “relationship” with his longtime companion Clyde Tolson.

Not until 2003, in Lawrence v. Texas, did the Supreme Court strike down remaining laws against consensual adult same-sex sexuality.

Because LGBTQ people had few indoor options other than clubs to congregate, these spaces have been sites of harassment and violence.

  • March 8, 1970: The Snake Pit Bar raid, New York City, an unlicensed bar with dancing and alcohol, a few blocks from Stonewall Inn. Police took all patrons to a police station. One patron, Alfred Diego Vinales, a 23-years old Argentinian national with an expired visa, threw himself from a window at the station to escape. He was impaled on the iron spiked fence below in five places on his body. Rescuers cut away the fence, and he was taken to the hospital, where he survived. The community organized a protest march around the raid.
  • June 24, 1973: Someone threw a Molotov Cocktail into The UpStairs Lounge in New Orleans, Louisiana killing 32 patrons.
  • November 19, 1980: Shots were fired outside the Ramrod club in New York City. No one was injured. The shooter yelled that gay men are agents of the devil and were stalking him and “trying to steal my soul just by looking at me.”
  • February 21, 1997: A nail bomb exploded, injuring five people at Other Side Lounge, a lesbian club in Atlanta, Georgia.
  • April 30, 1999: A bomb went off at Admiral Duncan pub in London, England, killing two and injuring another 81 people.
  • September 22, 2000: A shooter opened fire at The Back Street Café in Roanoke, Virginia, killing one person and wounding another six.
  • December 31, 2013: An arson fire on the gasoline-soaked carpeted stairway at Neighbours nightclub, Seattle, Washington. No injuries were reported.
  • June 12, 2016: In the deadliest hate crime at an LGBTQ club, a shooter with a semiautomatic weapon and a handgun at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killed 49 and injured another 53 people who had been enjoying Latino night festivities.

What kind of country and what are the conditions that empower people to spray bullets into human bodies at Mother Emanuel AME Church, Walmart in El Paso, Tops Supermarket in Buffalo, Sandy Hook and Uvalde Elementary Schools, Tree of Life Synagogue, Pulse nightclub, and so many other places?

The United States is not the only country that suffers from gun violence, as evidenced by the murders in Slovakia, but the United States “leads” the world as the country with the most civilian guns, with 120.5 per every 100 people. The next nation, the Falkland Islands, comes in at 62.1.

By October 17, the number of gun deaths for 2022 reached 35,331, with 16,191 comprising murders and accidents and an additional 19,140 constituting suicides.

As the popular expression asserts that “elections have consequences,” after all the elections so far, we still do not have effective, comprehensive commonsense gun laws in the United States of America. When will legislators determine that enough is enough?


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