I’m not entirely sure what your nightlife schedule looks like, but I’ve been noticing a trend since, well, I was of legal drinking age. The last time I went out for a Sunday Funday on the town with my friends, we patronized both Big Bar for a frozen mimosa and Nowhere Bar for a few hours of twerking with DJ Syimone. On New Year’s Eve, I attended a drag show at The Connection. On my birthday last weekend, we ended up at Tryangles as I played Robyn on the juke box, repeatedly, truly believing my dance moves were incredibly sexy. I fucking love gay bars, and so do all my friends, which includes a colorful and quirky varietal mash-up of gay, lesbian and straight sexual fluidity. All this rainbow glory brought about a question in my mind recently: Has the Louisville gay bar/club scene evolved into an all-encompassing, LGBTQ-friendly (with a portion of their clientele almost always straight) mantra? As much as I believe my dollars are valued at these establishments, I do feel that as a sexually malleable woman in a committed relationship with a man, I, as well as my peers, must keep in mind that gay bars were once a “safe place” for the LGBTQ community to meet people and have a drink. In an era of progressive evolution and acceptance, it seems that Louisville’s establishments may just focus on the credence of “be who you are,” rather than cut-and-dried sexual orientation, and that’s a great thing — right?
We’re spoiled rotten here in Louisville when it comes to the gay bar/club scene. The Connection, named one of the top 60 best gay bars in the world, has hosted famed drag stars and even Lady Gaga, who graced the stage after her KFC Yum! Center performance in 2011. Recently, Louisville ranked fourth on Orbitz’ top 10 locations across the planet for LGBTQ’s to travel — alongside cities like Paris, Rio de Janeiro and even the entire country of Thailand. Yeah, we got it like that. But those of us who are only old enough to enjoy these riches may not be aware of the climate of gay and lesbian bars one or two decades ago.
“When I came out in the early 90s, there was a tremendous need for the gay community to have safe places where we knew we could be ourselves without being judged or in danger,” says Maureen Keenan, former co-coordinator of the Fairness Campaign and local nonprofit guru. Keenan was also the co-grand marshal in the Boston Pride parade in ’93 after being discharged from the United States military for her sexual orientation. “In the last couple of decades, there has been such an evolution in terms of the response to the LGBTQ community, so much so that gay bars have become mainstream for right-minded folks, regardless of orientation.” For Keenan, watching Louisville become a city of acceptance and, in particular, the gay and lesbian bar scene establish atmospheres of all-encompassing merriment has been a goal in her work in the social justice and equality movement.
“The days of a gay-only venue are behind us, and that’s a beautiful thing!” says owner of Play Dance Bar, Micah McGowan. “We want Play to be a place where anyone and everyone can feel safe — gay, straight, bi, trans, anyone and everyone.” Play is home to drag shows, drinks and dancing each week, where the clientele is incredibly diverse and the performers like it that way. “I love working in clubs with a mixed group because I can touch more people,” said drag queen, Tova Ura Vitch, who dazzles crowds at a myriad of clubs nationally with her elaborate costuming and dancing. With this knowledge, let’s also carry some etiquette rules of thumb when you find yourself amongst a pack of plastic-penis-necklace-wearing straight women. Straight ladies: It is never okay to jump on stage while a drag queen is performing. I don’t care how many lemon drops you’ve slammed. You will never reach her diva status, and she’s worked incredibly hard on her performance. And, she may cut you. Straight guys: Whilst patronizing a gay bar, you may get hit on by a gay man. Keep calm. Responding with anything other than being flattered and a polite, “No, thank you,” is unacceptable. You are, after all, at a gay bar. Simply take it as a compliment and move on. Bottom line: Don’t be a douche.
Louisville is a city where, thankfully, many of the heteronormative bars will always be hugely populated by the LGBTQ community, so we’re all in agreement that we’ve moved past the days when gay bars existed because people had to segregate themselves for safety and acceptance. Society has evolved in such a way that we can all shake our asses together in celebration of equality, and our nightlife scene is the quintessential environment for such festivity. The work certainly isn’t done, but for now, I’ll drink to that.