Tonight’s special: cheap beer with a side of homophobia

I learned two things on a recent Saturday:

1. Gay people will never have the “right” to be legally married if the decision is left up to a vote by the American people.

There was a time when many white people would have never voted to overturn segregation. If left to the people, “separate but equal” still would be legal in certain places, and the “right” to marry outside of one’s race would not be granted in every state.

Dominant culture has never willfully given any form of power to the minority culture, especially if it is a right they should never have had the authority to give or take away in the first place.

2. A handful of employees at Harlows Bar and Grill are, in my opinion, homophobic.

That’s the message my girlfriend, our friend Sara and I received at Harlows — formerly Tailgaters Sports Bar — last Saturday (the same day of the Proposition 8 protest in downtown Louisville). I’ve been allowed in bars since I was 16; I am now 31. And on this rainy Saturday night, I experienced the most blatant homophobia I’ve ever encountered. 

Due to rumors that at midnight there was to be an LGBT-centered event featuring several DJs, we made our way to Harlows at about 10 p.m. We had all individually patronized this establishment before — when it was still Tailgaters — and had nothing but good experiences. Therefore, the three of us thought nothing of going there a couple  hours before the event. This decision, however, turned out to be a really bad call.

Picture it: It’s Louisville 2008. Three lesbians walk into a bar and saddle up to the counter …

The bar is closer to empty than full; no customers are waiting to be served. The three bartenders are doing prep work that isn’t vital at the moment, yet they barely acknowledge the three women and don’t ask them what they want to drink.

Two of the women try casual conversation, polite comments and light jokes. The two male bartenders respond with one-word answers, in that passive-aggressive way people communicate when trying to make someone leave them alone.

The three women wait about five minutes without being served while the bartenders continue their random acts of preparation. The one female bartender at the other end of the bar is caught looking at the three dykes, giving them that bitchy middle-school stare that girls give other girls they despise.

The two male bartenders continue quietly talking to each other, not the customers sitting directly across from them, and a few more minutes pass. One of the lesbians, after looking at napkins stamped with an advertisement for an energy drink called “Sex Drive,” says, “So, have you had this drink? How does it differ from Red Bull?”

This question inspires not only direct eye contact, but also a verbal a response that is more than one word. The bartender says, not to the one who questioned, but to the most androgynous, obviously lesbian-looking woman, “It’ll make you want to get on a man by the end of the night.”

This response isn’t inherently offensive or inappropriate. Had this guy participated in some polite conversation, refrained from scowling or actually showed any interest in serving us a drink, his response wouldn’t have been rude, mean or inappropriate. Just stupid.

Finally, the bartender served us some drinks, and after promptly giving us our tab without request — and without saying anything else to us that night — he walked to the other end of the bar and stared. The other guy followed.

It was a level of homophobia and disrespect that I in no way expected. Needless to say, I was outraged by the contempt the bartenders had for me just for looking totally gay and daring to walk into their establishment before designated Homo hours.

President-elect Barack Obama said in his acceptance speech that everyone in America was equal. He even normalized the gay experience a bit by including in his historic speech not just the word “gay,” but also the word “straight.”

The feeling engendered in me that moment — the expectant hope — prompted me to actually remain standing when the Pledge of Allegiance was recited at the school I substitute taught at the next day.

And although this past Saturday night at Harlows Bar and Grill didn’t erase my feeling of hope, it made some things more apparent: Laws change before people, and a law banning gay marriage allows and legalizes hate, bigotry and prejudice.