LGBTQ people in America are discriminated against in myriad ways by institutions meant to protect, by family members who disown, by violent strangers. So gay bars and clubs have always been safe havens, respites from bigotry and hate. “Gay bars are therapy for people who can’t afford therapy; temples for people who lost their religion, or whose religion lost them,” wrote The Nation’s Richard Kim in a piece responding to the devastating attack on a gay Orlando nightclub early Sunday morning. They’re “vacations for people who can’t go on vacation; homes for folk without families; sanctuaries against aggression.”
But in the days after the massacre that killed 49 people at Pulse, gay bars and clubs are feeling anything but safe.
Brad Balof is the general manager at Sidetrack, a club in Chicago’s gay district, Boystown. He’s focused on beefing up security for Chicago’s gay pride parade, which takes place in the city this weekend. “Every year there’s a conversation during pride season,” he said; the community has always taken precautions during the festival. A meeting with representatives from Chicago’s police department on Tuesday, Balof said, “was scheduled before any of the events [in Orlando] took place.” When asked whether or not the club planned to increase security aside from Pride weekend, Balof answered unequivocally: “Of course.” He also offered advice to patrons: “Always have ID and don’t travel with a bag whenever possible.”
Richard Trainor, owner of a gay club in Miami called Twist, told Fusion that he had “an extensive meeting” with the Miami Beach Police department on Monday. “We went over things to do to make customers feel more safe,” some of which the club will be implementing, said Trainor. “We just ordered two of those metal detector wands to see if [patrons] are carrying a weapon,” he said. The club will also begin patting down clubgoers upon entry.
The plan going forward at Boxers Sports Bar in New York is a little different. Gregory Taylor, a floor manager at the bar, said they had been in touch with the New York Police Department and given a direct contact with the police department’s LGBT relations, but Taylor was concerned about the experience of his bar’s guests. “We’re trying to do this in a civilized manner so that it’s not overly disruptive,” said Taylor, “so [patrons] don’t feel like it’s an unsafe environment.” Heavy weaponry, he said, would make bar goers feel uncomfortable, an important concern for a community who has not always felt safe or supported by law enforcement.
Collier Meyerson is a reporter at Fusion with a focus on race and politics. She lives in Brooklyn.