I’ve had straight female friends express interest in going to a gay bar or club and I always tell them that they can’t. I’m not straight myself, but most of these kinds of clubs are for gay men and you shouldn’t have to be LGBT+ to know that some spaces are not welcome to straight, cisgender women. The upward trend of acceptance is great, but invading gay spaces is problematic in so many ways.
- Gay bars are for gay people. Gay bars have historically been important because back when it was literally illegal to be gay, it was a place they could go to and be themselves (and hook up). Obviously there are lots of stereotypes about gay men and anonymous sex, some closer to reality than others, but for the most part, gay sex isn’t restricted to these kinds of establishments anymore. However, they’re still a space for gay people to be themselves and meet similar people, which can be especially important in more conservative cities. Don’t invade that space just because you can.
- Straight people have all the other bars. It’s not like if you can’t go to the local gay bar, you can’t go out. As a straight person, you’re welcome at every other bar. Use one of those! I know that doing something different may add more to a night and give you something else to do besides just drinking, but you don’t have to go to a gay bar for a new experience. Go to trivia night or karaoke. Look up other fun local spaces. If you live in a tiny town, make your local spaces more fun with your presence! You have options.
- Gay bars may feel like a safe space for everyone, but you’re ruining it if you’re there and not gay. As a woman, I get that going out can feel like being constantly hit on and harassed. And in this current climate, going to a space where you know that those around you share your values can be appealing. However, gay bars are a safe space for gay people. When a bunch of people who aren’t gay show up, it’s no longer the same kind of place and may not feel safe for everyone.
- Gay people aren’t here for your entertainment. What always annoyed me most about my friends wanting to go to gay bars was that it felt like they wanted to just hang out with gay men for the hell of it. Like they wanted to see them “in their natural habitat.” Look, I know that a lot of straight girls think it would be fun to hang out with gay men and that it’s easier than being friends with straight men. But gay men aren’t some magical creature that you can observe at your own whims and hope to catch for yourselves. They’re people, not accessories. This isn’t to say you just can’t be friends with gay men—that would be ridiculous—but don’t befriend a guy just because he’s gay and don’t treat gay people like adorable animals to coo over.
- If you really want “gay entertainment,” why not support it through other venues? If your goal is to observe gay culture and you’re absolutely dead set on that, fine. Go to a pride parade, a festival, or even a drag show. A lot of drag shows happen at gay clubs, but usually all sorts are welcome for these particular events. If you want to support your LGBT+ community while getting a peek into the culture, that’s the way to go.
- Some gay bars are more exclusive than others—do your research. This all isn’t to say that all gay bars are off limits to heterosexuals except on certain nights. It depends on the venue. For example, there’s a very popular gay club near me that welcomes all sorts and has plenty of room for multiple bars, dancing, and shows. Clubs like this are a better place than others bars to go to if you’re not gay. However, some gay bars are pretty explicitly just for gay people. Do your research before going to any gay bar that you’ve just heard of.
- Appropriating gay culture is not the same as being supportive of gay people. We know you mean well if you want to drink and party with a bunch of gay guys. At the very least, you don’t mean any harm. But inserting yourself into the culture isn’t the same as being supportive of it. There’s definitely a place for straight women in LGBT+ communities, don’t get me wrong, but that place shouldn’t be invading the space of others. Show your support in other ways.
- All of this applies to lesbian bars too. Most of what I’ve said is pretty explicitly about bars for gay men, but you also shouldn’t be going to a lesbian bar just for the hell of it. I know that it might seem novel, and maybe you want to try to be hit on by a woman just for fun. Don’t. Lesbian bars are perhaps an even more sacred safe space than other gay bars. Think of how often women get hit on anywhere else—gay women experience that too. I’m not saying it’s worse than when it happens to straight women, but it does feel extra icky when you’re not even attracted to men. In places where we can just hang out with other gay women, we can let our guard down a little. Lesbian bars are a safe space that you should respect, just like any gay bar.