I live in Baltimore. If I had to improve one thing about Baltimore, it would be to improve the gay scene here. Tourism sites can tell you all they want that we have a thriving gay neighborhood, but that's not really the case. We've lost bars, and the bars that do remain aren't offering much. We have a non-profit organization that is supposed to provide resources, but the fact is that they don't really. Not to mention one of their coworkers just got caught embezzling money.
Now, I don't think this is relegated just to Baltimore. This is a larger issue that needs to be discussed. First, the closing of gay bars. Many people say "Why do we need these bars anymore? We meet online. We can hold our partner's hand at whatever restaurant we choose. We are coming out sooner, we are accepted by everyone. Why close ourselves off?" Yes, early on, gay bars were safe spaces. Places where you could go and be around people who you knew were just like you. They were places of friendship, camaraderie, and even revolution. It was a safe haven, even if it was closed off from the world. But honestly, this is wasn't a bad thing that the bar was closed off from the world. But today, those bars are falling behind, they're closing down. So, where does that leave us? Do we still need safe havens? I think we do.
Now, look, I understand why people are seemingly fine with this happening. The advent of hookup apps has made dating, and even just finding gay friends, just plain easier. Also, people don't really meet people at bars anymore, be it gay or straight. And I also get (and appreciate) that we have come so far that we don't have to have that secluded bar. We can be who we want to be wherever we want to be.
I get all this. However, from a purely geographic standpoint, i think this is only true for big metropolitan cities. For those small cities, and those small towns, gay bars are sometimes the only places where we can be ourselves. I remember being on a film shoot in St. Joseph's Missouri and finding a gay bar out of the blue. I have to imagine that most of the men and women in that establishment saw this place as their only respite. Could they hold their partners hand down the street? Could they kiss in a cafe without being looked at funny? Could they be as comfortable in the outside world as they clearly were here on the inside? These are the same small market downs that struggle to put on gay pride, that struggle to offer resources to LGBT teens. They are the ones that need the most attention, and yet, they get little of it.
I also think there is something great about a place just for us. A place where straight people are welcome, but a place that was built by us and made beautiful by us. A place where we can meet, talk, celebrate, watch Drag Race, and just enjoy each other's company. And in a world so consumed by screens, there's something beautiful about a place that celebrates our culture and who we are.
I think more business owners need to try and make the gay bar scene happen again. I want to see a renaissance of this establishment. Stay looking down at your phones for all I care, but bring back the gay bar. It mattered. It brought people together, It made our community into something special. Yes, we can go to any restaurant we want. Yes, we can hold our partner's hand in most cases. That doesn't mean we can't have our own place; our church, our synagogue, our home away from home.
Just because we have been victorious on so many fronts, and in a such short a time, doesn't mean we can forget about our roots. We need more bars that welcome everyone in their doors. We need more community organizations that advocate for teens, young adults, moms and dads, and the elderly. We need more resources, especially in the smaller market towns. A gay kid in a small town needs to know that there is a place he can turn to. Yes, we have won. But there are still countless towns and millions of people who need places, spaces, love, and encouragement.
Let's not lose sight of what got us here. Let's not forget that we still need to look out for each other.