Do we still need queer spaces?

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Two perspectives on the necessity of queer bars and bookstores

By Nick Mattos, PQ Monthly

  The story of queer culture is one that has played out in bars, bathhouses, and bookstores. Over two centuries ago in 1810, a saloon called the White Swan scandalized London for giving gay men the first explicitly safe space to be with one another. Since then, countless queer bars and bathhouses have followed in its footsteps, providing a space and context for the liberation of LGBTQ people. Queer bookstores also served as the epicenters of the organized gay rights movement, allowing activists to meet and plan with one another in a safe and supportive space. Without spaces like the Stonewall Inn or the Oscar Wilde Bookshop, queer culture as we know it simply wouldn’t exist. However, times have changed, and the realities of modern LGBTQ life are starkly different than anything the patrons of the White Swan could have imagined. In cities like Portland we can find people similar to us in all manner of spaces, not just within the bar or bathhouse. The Internet has largely replaced the “tea room†and the bookstore as a means to meet other queer people and plan the next phase of the fight for equal rights. As a result, many queer spaces have closed their doors, unable to stay financially solvent when the community no longer depends upon them for their social, romantic, and political lives. The question emerges: in this phase of queer culture, is there a necessity for queer-specific spaces at all? As part of this ongoing conversation, two community members offer their (sometimes controversial) perspectives on the necessity of space set aside for the LGBTQ community. This conversation is far from over — and needs you to contribute your voice and your thoughts to it. Please participate in the ongoing conversation and make your opinions heard at www.pqmonthly.com.

Racquel Russo — musician/filmmaker/performer

“[The issue of queer-only spaces] is an issue about both the preservation of culture and the celebration of community. I think of my grandfather going to his Italian Heritage Club. That club was his gay bar, if you will. He could toss a bocci ball while wearing a white wife beater and playfully slap other men on the ass. Places where like-minded people can gather with freedom of expression provide a certain safety that other spaces can't begin to guarantee. That said, I also think there is a line drawn out of reason. The idea of queer art spaces, gay music venues — these seem to be unnecessary, a sort of self-imposed segregation. I think in order to achieve acceptance and equality, minority groups have to endure the difficulty and awkwardness of real integration.† 

Tylor Phelps — advertising account manager

“Even if we want [queer-only spaces], we certainly don't need them. If we can get used to the disappointing lack of hardcore pornography playing on every visible screen, I think we would fit in just fine at plenty of non-queer-specific bars and spaces in Portland. … If you're living in one of the most tolerant societies in the history of the world, in one of the most liberal cities in the nation, and still feel left out, it might just be you. Even if it isn't, segregating yourself is probably not going to help in any meaningful way. However, [the necessity of queer-only spaces] depends on where you live. If you lived in a small Midwestern town it would probably be nice to have a local gay bar. If you lived in the French banlieues of Marseilles, however, you might be more concerned about making yourself an easier target for violent assault by religious fundamentalists than any perceived need for a leather bar.â€