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Op-ed: 6 Lessons a Straight Couple Learned From Owning a Gay Bar

Op-ed: 6 Lessons a Straight Couple Learned From Owning a Gay Bar


The owners of Flaming Saddles, a gay country-western bar opening a new location in West Hollywood, share a few life lessons learned from their queer patrons.

My partner, Jacqui, and I, who own the popular gay country-western bar Flaming Saddles, both have extensive backgrounds in the arts and entertainment industries.

I'm a comedic actor, and I've appeared on The Carol Burnett Show, Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and 30 Rock. Jacqui has been on the CMT/VH1 Coyote Ugly series, where she was the celebrated choreographer and judge. When we were growing up, both of our households were immersed in dance, music, and theater. Discrimination on any level, be it sex, race, or religion, was unacceptable and a severely punishable offense. Our families were patrons of the arts. My parents were champion ballroom dancers, and my sisters were American Ballet dancers and Radio City Rockettes.

Jacqui's mom, "Honey," was a local entertainment reporter. Her theme song was "Hooray for Hollywood." Jacqui trained with dance companies such as the Hartford Ballet Company and the Alwin Nikolais & Murray Louis Dance Company in New York.

Additionally, Jacqui and I have collectively acted, written, directed, and produced stage, television, and film projects. We have always considered ourselves a hip, straight couple that is well-versed in gay life. We have always had plenty of gay friends and colleagues.Chris-barnes-and-jacqui-squatriglia-x400

So when we were first opened the New York location of Flaming Saddles in 2013, we thought we knew everything there was to know about being gay -- we were around gay people all the time!

Wrong! We knew so little and learned so much, and we are better people for it.These are six things Jacqui and I learned from Flaming Saddles in Hell's Kitchen and at our new location in West Hollywood.

1. Listen to Your Customers
All men are entitled to their opinion, but from a gay man, one's opinion is sacred. Since we opened Flaming Saddles, gay men have given advice in terms of our operations, decor, and hiring, which range from a passing remark to an intimate, deep and meaningful consultation. We are never at a loss for well-intentioned observations from one of our patrons on what we could, should, and really, really, should change or at least something we ought to "think about."

2. Always Look on the Bright Side
After 1,000 nights of owning and operating Flaming Saddles Hell's Kitchen and logging 60 days and nights at Flaming Saddles West Hollywood, we can safely report, as a bona fide straight couple, that a lot of straight people suck.

Many can only see the dark cloud behind the rainbow (yes, the rainbow). Straight people whine, they bitch, they moan and complain, even when they have everything. They are in a constant state of self-imposed crisis. Many of them can't dance, and even fewer know the difference between Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber. They can't name one song from Pippin.

Of course, there are gay men who are illiterate in musical theater. But from our encounters, gay men in general have an appreciation for culture that is unmatched in the straight world. And even in the face of discrimination, they are always trying to find their corner of the sky.

This knowledge comes from being in the center of hundreds of gay men, raising a pint, and singing Garth Brooks's "Friends in Low Places" at the top of their lungs. The energy is an experience that represents the highest spiritual form of the word "gay." Gay is more than sexuality. It is a life force, a vivacity, a might, a moxie. It is Maslow's peak experience all night long.

We truly don't care if we ever associate with straight people again, including our families and closest of friends. There, we said it!

3. Follow Your Heart
Jacqui has always wanted to open a gay country-western bar. For years she had a very clear vision: fit boys executing her choreography with energy and precision.

For 20 years, Jacqui created dances for girls on bar tops in straight bars. She loves most of these girls, and many are still in her life. They are fun-loving, happy women armed with smiles, cowboy boots, eyelashes, eyeliner, and glitter. And some were even great dancers. At the same time, she had the yearning to teach this same choreography, style, and attitude to gay men.

Three and a half years ago, we started to live her dream.

As it turned out, most of the boys who dance at Flaming Saddles are fit and full of energy, and they dance with absolute perfection. She could see her style of dance taken and performed with the same sexy oomph with an added masculine twist -- the same but very different.

The boys show up in good moods and rehearse tirelessly. The amount of smart, quick humor is endless, and the boys stick together.

"And bronzer, blush, and glitter still abound," says Jacqui.

4. Never Make Excuses
Sometimes one of our boys comes in to work a few minutes late. Now, any and all straight men caught in this situation would have a brilliant, fantastic reason, story, or eulogy on why such an infringement has occurred. Not with a gay young man. When I point out the fact that he is tardy for the party, his response is, with a heartfelt I am as disheartened as youare tone, "I know!" And then he moves right past me and on to his duties.

5. Love Thy Neighbor
We straight people think we know. We do not know. We think we can relate, but we cannot relate to the true injustice and intolerance gay men and women experience, let alone what the transgender community experiences. It's one's own sexuality, one's expression of love that is denied. As a straight person, I can't even begin to imagine it. It must be a horror to embrace the Lord's best commandment, to love one another, only to be condemned by Bible-toting zealots who have the power to lobby and discriminate in the so-called halls of justice. It's a crying shame, and we straight people should be embarrassed at our lack of support. This is the year of the pope, the president, the Supreme Court, and even the NFL verbalizing support of gay rights. As a straight person, you must too. You must tell your family and friends that you support the rights of our brothers and sisters, because either we are all God's kids or none of us are.

6. Learn, Then Pass the Lessons On
The younguns of the LGBT community, from Hell's Kitchen to West Hollywood, need to review the timeline of the gay movement and appreciate those who have gone before them. Today's rights were fought hard from blood-spattered alleys to City Hall steps to hospital emergency rooms. From the Castro to Christopher Street, never forget. We have marked our Flaming Saddles calendars with these important dates in history, from the founding of the Mattachine Society to the Daughters of Bilitis to the National Transsexual Counseling Unit of 1966 to Harvey Milk's election and to his tragic assassination. From "don't ask, don't tell" to the legalization of same-sex marriages in 36 states. C'mon straight people, let's help get those last 14.

CHRIS BARNES and JACQUI SQUATRIGLIA are the co-owners of Flaming Saddles, a gay country-western bar opening a new location in West Hollywood this month. See Barnes sing a musical protest of the actions of the Westboro Baptist Church below.

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