Sick of a one-bar gay scene, a local group of merry marauders are waging Guerilla Queerfare by taking over a straight bar for the night and creating their own queer-friendly spaces. Sarah Smellie checks it out.
“Obviously, we’re all aware of the one gay bar in town.”
For Lattoya Condon Barton (not her real name) and friends, just one gay bar doesn’t cut it. This is, after all, a city of bars, and of people getting George-faced inside, so Barton and friends have taken action. Following the model of similar groups across North America, they’ve started holding what they call Guerilla Queerfare nights, where lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals, and their straight friends descend upon a chosen straight bar and make it their own.
Problem ingeniously solved.
Guerilla Gayfare (GGF) nights first kicked off in San Francisco in 2000, organized by a group of friends similarly fed up by the gay bar scene. The nights quickly caught on in other cities across the globe, with Ottawa being the first Canadian city to follow suit. Theirs was inspired by a “kiss-in” held at a local restaurant after a queer couple was asked by management to cut out the snuggling.
Speaking of suits, there’s a dress code.
The day before the event, which is typically announced and organized via Facebook, participants get a message indicating location and the colour for the evening, and everyone comes decked out in the chosen hue.
“The colour increases visibility and camaraderie,” explains Barton.
Barton, a community mental health worker (with a Master’s degree in Medicine) along with co-conspirators Pookas Oscar Ignatius Hauntus (a linguist, not his real name), and student Alanna Feldt got the ball rolling last July.
“We were basically just talking about a way of bringing together a good group of people—queers and allies,” she says. “But it wasn’t like we had a large selection of places we could choose to go to.”
After hearing about the success of GGF events in Halifax, they thought it just might be the way to create alternative queer-friendly spaces in the multitude of traditionally straight ones in St. John’s.
“Part of it is community building,” she adds. “Some friends of ours are very straight, and they probably wouldn’t go to a traditional gay bar. So this is more of an inclusive thing.”
To further that sense of inclusiveness, they decided to change the name from Guerilla Gayfare to Guerilla Queerfare, since not everyone attending the events identify with the term ‘gay.’
“We want to incorporate the whole spectrum of alternative (or not) sexualities,” Barton says.
She also stresses that the straight bar occupations are strictly and wholeheartedly non-confrontational. That message is prominent on the CQF’s website too. The motivation behind these nights is about having a good time and creating different venues in which to feel safe and comfortable. No controversy or heavy politics needed.
“There was talk of trying to be a bit more in-your-face about things,” says Barton. “We have heard of businesses around town having homophobic responses to some of our friends… but in the end we decided we didn’t even want to give them our business.”
So far, they say the places they have blessed with their business have been great.
The first event took place at the end of August, at the Republic. Fifteen or twenty yellow-clad queers stormed the big wooden door of the Duckworth Street bar which usually carries an UFC-esque type of vibe.
“It was really fun,” says Barton. “I don’t even think that people even noticed us.”
Former Muse sex columnist Kaya Anderson Payne was an attendee at the event. “It didn’t feel so much like a political protest—it was just a bunch of us going out,” says Payne. “It felt very safe. It’s nice to create a space where you can feel safe doing whatever feels normal without having to analyse beforehand what the reaction will be.”
Since overthrowing the Republic, the group has held another event at Lottie’s, where everyone wore red. Their next event will be on Friday, February 27th, which coincides with the Sour Cherry Queer and Feminist Cinema Series happening at MUN.
Chris Shortall, MUN student and former Gay Urban Youth Zone (GUYZ) Project Coordinator, thinks the Guerrilla Queerfare events are a great idea and hopes the group keeps ‘em coming.
“It’s a way for a critical mass of people to say, ‘we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it,’” he says. “And it provides safety (in numbers) for people to express same-sex desire that’s normally only found in a gay bar.”
Despite all their efforts, Payne says these events end up being inherently political. It comes with the territory.
“Politics are different for every person,” says Payne. “This is being organized as a social function, and we’re not going there to get workshopped or anything, but, you know, if a same sex couple goes out together it’s almost, by default, political.”
“It ends up being a statement in itself,” she says.