Going out out

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.

inbox@thescope.ca

13 comments

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17 December 2009

  1. Nathan Downey · December 17, 2009

    There’s something ironic about an article being published about a group looking to establish more of a queer identity in St. John’s and giving aliases to several of the interviewees.

    With that said, I love the idea of the queer community in St. John’s establishing more unity and not having to conglomerate in the one gay bar in the city.

    As a member of the LGBTQ community, I would love to see the “scene,” if it could be called that, diversify so that the Zone isn’t the only option for a place for people to drink, dance, and be queer.

    I wrote an entry at Signal about my own views on the scene in the city — some interesting responses from readers to be sure.

    http://signalblog.ca/2009/02/20/all-rain-no-rainbow/

  2. Pookas · December 17, 2009

    Nathan: I don’t like using my real name on facebook (for many many many different reasons) and the interviewer never contacted me. If you think it’s a cop out, cool whatever. The event isn’t about my identity, but I would have had no problem disclosing my name in the piece.

  3. Emilie Bourque · December 17, 2009

    Hey Sarah…great piece. I love reading articles that keep me in touch with the interesting activities happening in our fair city. I’ve never heard of this here in Halifax, but I’ll have to do some research. It sounds like fun. And if several of my friends mentioned in the article are doing it, it must be a good time!

    Thanks for finding quirky stuff and turning it into a good read…
    I miss you guys!
    xo

  4. Zooey · December 17, 2009

    For the record I am all for people identifying however they choose, and for the creation (spontaneous or otherwise) of queer spaces however I do find the statement “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.” absolutely absurd, and generally this group comes across as confused as to their intent throughout this article. They can’t even seem to agree as to whether or not they possess a political agenda.

    Are they trying to create queer visibility, or making it easier for straight people who are uncomfortable in queer spaces (yes the Zone is a queer space) to hang out and still feel like they are doing something Wilde? I have to say “overthrowing the Republic” is pretty dramatic framing for an event that even the organizers’ admit most likely went unnoticed.

    I am not going to pretend that I find every aspect of the Zone fulfilling, but personally I am thankful that there is a place to patronize that provides me with visibility and safety all year round. I am proud to participate in a history of safe spaces in St. John’s that extends beyond the Zone’s 14 years (Friends, Max/Madames) and would think less of any straight friend of mine who wouldn’t accompany me out because of discomfort entering a gay bar…That’s called “homophobia.”

    I am sure this group are well intentioned, but I don’t understand why they’ve punned their name off of “guerilla warfare” aside from the fact that they’ve borrowed it from more radically directed organizations (who they seemingly haven’t really decided if they want to be affiliated with) considering the fact that they exist to maybe, sort of be political, kind of, but not really, while dancing… just not at a gay bar because our “very straight” friends don’t really want to go there.

    As far as I can see there’s nothing particularly guerilla going on at Queerfare.

    Guerilla as defined by the Merriam Webster online dictionary:
    “Function: noun Etymology:
    Spanish guerrilla… a person who engages in irregular warfare especially as a member of an independent unit carrying out harassment and sabotage”

    ~ Z

  5. Pookas · December 17, 2009

    Zooey: while you do make some valid points here, the whole post seems a bit overwrought with some sort of underlying judgement or history. The people who went to the last event seemed to have fun, were you there to see for yourself what the vibe feeling was? I saw a bunch of people who might feel intimidated to let loose in a particular setting having a lot of fun, and doing as they please. Relating to your comment on semantics of the event, we are not going to be as aggressive as the word guerilla necessarily implies – that would be disrespectful to bar owners.

    GQ actually ended up at the Zone last time, straight friends in tow. You’re misinterpreting so much, but I’ve come to expect that in a town as small as St. John’s.

  6. Zooey · December 17, 2009

    Please Ms/Mr Hauntus could you explain to me how exactly it is that this city’s size has limited my ability to comprehend the article that I read in the Scope? Perhaps you wouldn’t mind explaining to us all how it is that your mind has remained unaffected. I must assume then that you were born and raised in a larger city? Do share that city’s name (with all respect to the fact that you cannot share your own) so that I might all make a pilgrimage in the hopes of becoming endowed with the clarity of thinking I must infer from your statements that you posses.

    Your reply “Pookas” is wrought with posturing (defensive) and pomposity, as well your closing statement insulted an entire city. Fine work!

  7. jen squires · December 17, 2009

    i don’t understand why people have to belittle everything good that happens in st. john’s. the quote about “overthrowing the republic” was from the reporter, not from the organizers, and clearly this is not the point of gayfare in the first place. from all the events i’ve been to it’s just been really fun and a good way to show support and meet new people. i’m a bit late on this, and i would write more but i have a life and only one arm. maybe you should go to the next one and see what it’s all about before slagging all over it.|

  8. Colleen Simms · December 17, 2009

    i think this site is rigged. i tried voting for the comments i agree with (pook hawtiss) and it wouldn’t let me vote postive and i tried voting on Zooey’s comment and it woouldn’t let me vote negative.

    i’d like to meet Zooey cause i’ve never met a Zooey in St. John’s and i think it would be fun to go to the zone together so there’s an open invitation for you Ms. Zooey.

    love colleen

  9. The Scope · December 17, 2009

    I don’t usually step in with the booming voice of “The Scope”, but I have to say the voting is definitely not rigged. The comment voting is a new system so there might be bugs, but it is not rigged.

  10. Zooey · December 17, 2009

    To clarify the reasons I have said what I have said, I said it because this group sounds like they do not have their “shit together,” and therefore unless it believes itself above critique should be open to feedback from the community it aims to serve. Then again with an official stance of non-politic (which is naive at best) perhaps some of us are getting left in the cold.

    It is my opinion that this group has made irresponsible statements in the above piece. My main objections are to the use of the qualifier “very straight” as well as the suggestion that this event is “more” inclusive. Whether it aims to be or not; a group that is ultimately if anything more elitist than the Zone – which is what this organization’s affiliation with a pretentious film screening series implies to me -calling itself “more inclusive” is dangerous, especially if that group and its membership truly believe that.

    Furthermore I take great offense to the romanticized radicalism this group’s moniker invites, such as “overthrowing” of the Republic. Colour-coordination is hardly revolutionary activity. This kind of contradiction offends my personal sensibility for I guess the same reasons that motivates one to call another a “poseur.”

    These are my opinions, and I share them because “the personal is political,” because this is how I feel. I am the spokesperson of myself, and If people do or do not like what I have to say that is not really of any consequence to me. I am pleased to have said it either way.

    ~ Z

  11. Brian · December 17, 2009

    I’ve never been to one of these events, but I know that–as a gay male who has often been a patron of the Zone–I feel much more comfortable going to traditionally straight bars than I do going to the Zone. While the Zone does present an excellent venue for dancing (even though the music is mediocre even at its best moments), I never feel fully comfortable. This may be the result of the presence of the so-called “gay elite” of St. John’s who tend to monopolize the bar or the vaguely predatory older population who just plain creep me out.

    Yes, I’m speaking in language that is rather stereotypical, overly dramatic and inflammatory, but that seems to be the standard set by the above negative comments aimed at Guerrilla Queerfare. So you go to the Zone. So what? Are you bound and tied to this one traditional gay setting? Why not try branching out and allowing this city’s queer element to grow and flourish in whatever way it wants to? No, it seems that you are so dead set against anything new within the practically non-existent queer culture of St. John’s that you just attack anything that is even just barely outside the box.

    And that’s what I call homophobia.

  12. Zooey · December 17, 2009

    Brian,

    I will assume your comments are directed towards me, as Nathan’s clearly indicates his desire for alternative queer friendly venues.

    I would like to point out my very first comment in this thread “For the record I am all for people identifying however they choose, and for the creation (spontaneous or otherwise) of queer spaces.” I myself patronize other bars, yes sometimes with other queers (only when we colour coordinate it is usually by coincidence). When my queer friends and I go out regardless of where we go, we make no attempt to hide who we are. Sometimes we get called names in the street, and when we do – we are not inclined to walk away quietly.

    So I guess I am not the person you have described above, but if someone only felt they could be themselves at the Zone, or a place like it – I would not hold it against them. Different people like different things, and this is why I am all for the creation of alternative queer friendly spaces. And I know there are at least a handful existing in the city already.

    I also stated above in my first post “I am not going to pretend that I find every aspect of the Zone fulfilling” but you know what I have yet to find any one place in town that does offer me with a 100% fulfilling environment – that’s what my own home is for. “Mediocrity” is in the ear of the beholder really, it is a subjective thing. Lots of bars, shops etc play music I would not listen to at home, yet nice people frequent these places all the same.

    What I have taken objection to above is not the concept itself of going out in numbers into potentially unwelcoming environments. What I have taken offense to is the stereotyping “very straight” because that would imply that we are all mappable, or measurable in our sexual identities. I find that absurd. For example consider these statements “I’m queer, but only kinda queer.” “Now take Jenny over there, she’s straight, but just barely.” I believe these attitudes often lead us into negative, divisive pitfalls that hold back our progress, and can be turned against us in unfortunate ways.

    Also I have taken objection to the implication that it is less the “straight” friend’s responsibility to make the compromise when it comes time to decide the wheres a night is leading.

    I do not like the way the organization has placed itself in some way above the Zone by suggesting it is offering something “more” when really it is something else. This in tandem with the other concerns I have listed here have caused me to take the stance that I have.

    I do find it offensive to the originators of Guerilla Gayfare (an overtly political organization), that this organization co-opted their identity, for their “non-political” organization.

    Granted this is all rehashed from what I already posted, but I worried you might be misunderstanding me Brian. I hope that makes my stance clearer for you, or anyone like you who might be reading.

    Personally I have had negative experiences in all the different scenes I have floated around in, amongst people who identify as queer as well as “straight” people (I feel silly having to talk about people in categories in this length, because to me sexuality is just one aspect of who we are).

    I think negative (read as predatory) experiences can happen to anyone anywhere, sometimes just walking down the street. It is a little unfair to create a sweeping judgement of a whole bar based on a few bad experiences. I know it can be easy to do that when you are not comfortable asserting your boundaries/standing up for yourself – but women generally feel that vulnerability in those other bars too. Just because you are exempt there, does not mean it is still not happening to someone.

    Regarding your belief in a “gay elite.” That sounds a bit silly to me Brian, status is only as real as we allow it to be in our own minds. That is sort of a school yard outlook to have. Often how we view others is a projection of more complex things going on inside ourselves, and the way “those people” see themselves does not necessarily match up.

    Anyway Brian I hope that clears up any misunderstandings you might have about my comments. Best of luck to you finding a place that makes you feel good.

    ~Z

  13. James Anthony · December 17, 2009

    “Yes, I’m speaking in language that is rather stereotypical, overly dramatic and inflammatory” as soon as I read this I didnt bother with the rest of your post. Maybe you made some valid statements, but your attitude gave me the cramps.

    Before I say anything else, I’d like to make sure everyone understands that I dont pretend to know how everyone else can truly feel about this. Obviously this is a heated issue, and I respect the feelings of any individual who is HONEST and speaks with their mouth instead of their ass.

    Obviously Guerilla Gayfare is supposed to create more LGBT friendly spaces. This is not an easy thing to do. I understand that it must be scary to go into a completely straight environment and piss people off. Isnt that the point though? If people arent pissed youre there then you dont really need to be there do you? If you walk into a straight bar to make it more gay friendly, but no one knows why youre there, then you’re just a bunch of people wearing the same colour. Don’t want to disrespect bar owners? then this group is not radical in the least, and without radicalism the whole point is lost. It seems as if Guerilla “Queerfare” heard about this awesome idea, changed the name to make it more EXclusive, then realized they were too scared to step up to the plate.

    Guerilla “Queerfare” is a copout, plain and simple. The members of this group (the ones speaking for it anyways) have dug themselves a huge hole. Sure you didnt piss off any bar owners (thank god, cause none of them are homophobic) but you did manage to piss off a bunch of people who probbaly would have been your allies had you handled yourselves better.

    I would also like to know how I can place myself and friends on the gay scale. I mean, if “very straight” people exist, then I guess I’m one. I go to the zone, I get creeped on by older men, but I understand that this comes with the territory and politely shrug them off. Please don’t think that this is an issue that exists only in the LGBT community either, I’m sure many “very straight girls” run into the same problem. Fuck its so obvious I cant even believe I’m typing it.

    If you feel more comfortable going to straight bars than gay bars, I’d say that makes YOU a homophobe, in fact it definately does. Just because youre not flamboyant doesnt mean you cant have a good time there. The statements made by people defending this half-assed project are unbelievable. Essentially this group is doing nothing, save dressing the same and conforming to the settings they are in. Ive seen all types at the zone, some very gay, not so gay, very straight, not-so-straight types, and Ive never had anyone treat me badly there.

    The only way this group can be saved is if someone possessing any amount of clarity steps into a leadership role and straightens out this fucking mess. Since I doubt this will happen I’d like everyone to take the time to reflect on how what could have been a good idea was done horribly wrong and is insulting in its very nature. If its about bad music, stay home and play some cd’s.

    Bottom line: if you find the zone is an uncomfortable place to be because it is “too gay” then you are homophobic, whether you’re gay or straight. If you want to make straight spaces more LGBT friendly, then DO something about it. The two interviewees also lost all credit when they refused to put their names in print. Ashamed? misguided? maybe not prepared to back up your shit? Sounds like self hate. Also hilarious that educational backgrounds were used in the article, as if relevant. Say anything, I have made peace with your irrationality and written you off as any kind of progressive force, scenesters.