Where are all the gay people?

Is Louisville really the gayest city in Kentucky? I can understand why Somerset isn’t, but why not Lexington? And where was the competition held? Were the same judges used for both the swimsuit and interview portions? These are questions I found myself asking one morning during Blackout 2008, as I watched a member of the military police force direct traffic.

Even though I’ve neither lived in Lexington nor visited the gay bar there (which I’m told is totally rockin’), I have to agree with the expert judges on this one and deem Louisville the winner. I mean, we have The Connection, Fuzion, Starbase Q, Teddy Bears, Tryangles, Tink’s, Woody’s; on Thursday nights we have “Thursgays” at The Pink Door (which actually draws a fair amount of straights due to its hot dance music). The Magnolia Bar isn’t a “gay bar”; it’s a bar that draws an equally gay and straight clientele (and it has the best juke box; it’s my favorite place for libations).

Despite popular belief, Gays do more than drink; there’s a solid political scene in Louisville, led by the mighty, the brave: the employees and volunteers of Kentucky Fairness Alliance. (There’s also Days Coffee House — not exclusively gay, but still a friendly alternative to the bar scene.)

But, what makes a city Gay-Friendly? Its bars? Political movements? While both are important elements, I don’t think they secure the crown. The climate of tolerance outside Gay Territory is the true test.

When I was 26, I moved to the gayest neighborhood in Seattle: Capitol Hill (ironic, I know). I was only there for a year and spent the majority of my time selling coffee to tourists and junkies. (It’s not as glamorous as it sounds.)

The first thing that struck me about Seattle was its Gayness. Everywhere. Men walked hand in hand in every part of the city, even outside of gay territory, and no one looked. In fact, I was the only person I saw (in a highly reflective pane of glass) get the “What are you looking at?” look.

The majority of the gay bars were an equal mix of men and women (there was only one purely lesbian bar, which was a cross between the Mag Bar and Tink’s), and I never felt like a smelly zoo animal in any of the straight bars I went to. In fact, Seattle was so gay, I eventually stopped noticing: Gay and straight became part of a larger, grayer rainbow. But Seattle did have some issues, as did I, so eventually I moved back to Louisville, via my first red-eye flight (worst idea ever).

I moved back to Louisville in 2004 (the year I lost faith in all humanity = Bush was re-elected). I have no idea how Seattle rates on the Gay Meter 2008. I assume it has become more tolerant. I hope it has.

Back to 2004.

After sleeping off the most painful plane hangover I’d ever had, I went for a walk down Bardstown Road. The first thing I noticed: Louisville is totally straight.

This was a fact I previously had known theoretically, but not experientially. I couldn’t get over how alone and out of place I felt walking down the main street of a neighborhood considered to be the most diverse. It was totally weird. It was completely unnerving. Back then, there was no way two lesbians, much less two men, could walk down the street without feeling like stars in a reality TV show.

But this is 2008. Louisville has become much, much more tolerant in general (yay us).

However, I still find myself asking: Where are all the gay people?

Recently I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time, and when I told her I was writing a column about gay Louisville, she smiled.

“What are you going to do, write a title for blank space?” I laughed — she had killer delivery. And while I disagreed with her point, I also knew what she meant:

Gay Louisville is totally absent from mainstream Louisville. Where are the ads for gay bars? Would Louisville-devoted magazines run them? What about a gay bar at Fourth Street Live? Gays live in the East End, too. A bar there would help normalize the gay experience. Why isn’t there one in the Highlands? Why can’t it be “Gus Van Sant’s Louisville”?

Ask me why it’s paramount for there to be more of a presence in mainstream Louisville, and I’ll tell you how many times I heard the word fag while substitute teaching.