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Why Are Small-Town Gay Bars Diverse and Big-City Ones Aren't?

Darryl DePiano
Darryl DePiano

After a Philadelphia bar owner was caught denigrating African-Americans, writer Amanda Kerri wonders why blue-state bastions can often be so segregated.

Because I don't follow LGBT media with an obsession like the one I have for Star Trek, I missed out on the drama at Philadelphia's Icandy bar -- where owner Darryl DePiano was caught on video using racial slurs -- as it happened, so when I came across it on Twitter I paused for a brief second and moved on. Then I came back to it and read up on the full story, and it absolutely confused me for so many reasons. Then it made me mad as hell. The whole damn thing was awful.

When I first came out -- around the time that current learner's permit holders weren't yet a result of the time mom forgot her pill -- I was lucky enough to live in a town that had a gay bar. OK, that may confuse some of you, so let me explain. You see, there are places in America where there aren't 10 or 12 exclusively gay men's bars. There are places where having a meager five or six is a luxury. In fact, the town I came out in had a whole single gay bar. If you didn't like that one, the nearest one was over an hour's drive away. That's still pretty lucky when you consider that there are places in this country that -- gasp! -- don't have a gay bar for hundreds of miles! Shocking! Terrifying! No gay bars! Next I'll tell you there's no place for Sunday brunch! Yes, fam (Is that the word? Did I use it right?), I was born in a desolate wasteland where we had a single gay bar that not only had to cater to gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender folk, but those of all races! Not only that, but to even remain a viable bar, it had to cater to other populations as well, like having a goth night!

You see, we were lucky to have a gay bar at all. Yes, smart-ass; this is where I tell you we walked uphill both ways in the snow to get there, and we liked it. So when I hear that one of the owners of one of the most popular bars in Philly went on the kind of racist tirade that's reserved for Twitter and your racist uncle's Facebook, and whose establishment apparently has a history of racial discrimination, it got me mad as hell. How can anyone in the LGBT community be a bigot of any sort? How can this guy say, "These statements do not reflect who I am"? Look, I grew up in the South -- the Deep South. Of course it reflects who you are. On the video he's talking about how people he describes with the n word ask for drink passes, and laughing. Look, there is a world of difference between saying something insensitive or stupid and using an outright racial slur and laughing about it. I should know -- I've personally known Klansmen. That short snippet of a video showed who you really are.

How can a guy who is openly gay and probably experienced the word "faggot" being thrown around about him in a way that wasn't done by two catty twinks think he is in any place to judge someone who's different? How can anyone in the LGBT community? Seriously. How can you as a member of a community that it was a crime to be a member of just a few years ago in many states? Where we were judged so unnatural that they used to chemically castrate us, lock us away in mental hospitals? That they made jokes about us like "AIDS kills fags dead" and only started caring when straight people started dying of AIDS.

We celebrate our march to equality by celebrating a riot brought on by years of oppression and was started at a mixed-race gay club. You'll scream bloody murder about Matthew Shepard, Leelah Alcorn, and others being beaten or bullied to death, and then you'll throw around racial slurs and judge someone by their skin color or ethnicity? To borrow a phrase from those Bible-thumpers you're so proud of hating for judging you, "Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye."

In our small Southern town gay bar, we might have had our drama and fights. We might have come in with some the prejudices of our culture, but we at least could find each other there. Black, white, and Latino LGBT people could come on the weekends to this little hole in the wall with a dance floor most big-city people would sneer at. Friendships were formed between them in finding freedom to be themselves and bonding over their mutual trials of being gay in a very unaccepting part of the world. Little white twinks who worked the makeup counter at the mall mingled with muscled black men on the down low. The lesbians shot pool and the gays did shots. The two trans girls -- yes, trans girls in the South! with an authentic Southern belle twang and all -- who also did some of the best drag around were celebrities in our little group. And after the bar closed, we all decided who was throwing the after-party and everyone showed up, no matter what race or little subculture you were part of.

Then I see things like this, and just wonder, How? How can those of us in the most racist part of the country get along so well, while people a place that calls itself "The City of Brotherly Love" do things that shameful? I'm not wanting to make this a fight by saying those people in those little gay communities scattered throughout America in small towns are better. I'm just wondering, what happened to our communities, or at least the prospect of who we could be? When I moved to a larger city years later and was overjoyed to see that there was a whole gayborhood, I thought it would be just like that little gay bar back home. Nope. The Latinos stuck to a few bars, blacks to others, whites to yet others. I could understand the bars for older folks, the cowboy bar, the leather bar, the lesbian bar, but not how we could divide ourselves up because we had different skin colors; I mean hell, we were all listening to the same dance music.

No. There's something wrong here. Acting contrite when caught won't fix it. Pretending it isn't there won't fix it. Dividing up gay bars and clubs like they're tables in a high school lunch room isn't the answer either. No. We need to accept that there are some of us who have our own hypocritical bigotries that don't belong here. We all mess up from time to time; say something ignorant, think something prejudiced That's simply part of being human. But allowing bigotries to thrive in our community, be they racial, gendered, or religious, and giving the type of hate we experience for who we are a place to thrive is not merely wrong but hypocritical. Making up for it will take more than getting a black drag queen to emcee your apology and promising some sensitivity training. It'll require a long, hard look at where so many of us have gone wrong.

AMANDA KERRI is a writer and comedian based in Oklahoma City. Follow her on Twitter @EternalKerri.

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