Gathering under the name of the “Guerrilla Gay Bar,” individuals from Houston’s GLBT community decided to party the evening of March 13 at a midtown bar not generally known for its GLBT clientele.
“Once a month, we will venture away from our normal hangouts and take over one of the local ‘straight’ bars,” GGB’s Facebook online entry states, describing the group’s intention. “They will receive no warning. Think flash mob! We simply show up in large numbers and drink in even larger quantities.”
Union Bar and Lounge, with its slogan, “a feel good place” and an occupancy limit of 117, located at 2708 Bagby Street in midtown Houston, was GGB’s targeted destination.
According to Kris Banks, who attended the event, 60 to 70 people arrived at Union Bar as members of the GGB party, but only 50 were allowed entry by door staff. Exacerbating the problem, rain began to fall, soaking the remaining GGB’ers. A statement bearing the headline, “Midtown Bar Refuses Gay People; Gays made to wait in rain as others admitted” released within hours by Banks and Houston attorney/activist Jerry Simoneaux began spreading electronically, prompting nationwide online coverage.
According to the statement, rain-soaked GGBers “were told to wait in line and not allowed inside, even as straight-appearing people were waved through. . . .
“As the line grew and patrons waited in the rain, employees at the door told those who were waiting that they were maintaining a ‘ratio.’ Later, the bar employees simply indicated they had the right to refuse anyone,” Banks’ and Simoneaux’s statement continued.
(Though Banks is identified in the statement as president of the Houston GLBT Caucus, he stressed that the GGB event was not a sanctioned action of the caucus.)
Union Bar manager William Richichi says the action and ensuing statement resulted in hundreds of responses to Union Bar’s website as well as a Facebook page condemning Union Bar for the perceived discrimination. But he says many of those same people who have since come to his bar to view a videotape that recorded how the evening unfolded have changed their mind about their condemnation.
On March 16, representatives from Union Bar and GGB supporters met in the caucus office. The meeting resulted in the following joint statement:
“Due to a miscommunication between management of Union Bar and Lounge and the door staff, we acknowledge that actions by the door staff caused an unintended perception of discriminatory actions towards the gay and lesbian community,” said Union Bar owners.
“We wholeheartedly did not want or intend for this to happen. We also acknowledge that this unintended action caused hurt and bad feeling within the gay and lesbian community towards Union Bar and its staff. We also extend this apology to all of our regular gay and lesbian customers who may have been hurt by this misunderstanding.”
Union Bar’s apology was accepted. “We accept Union Bar’s explanation that miscommunication was at the heart of the problem. We understand that there was no discriminatory intent,” the joint statement continued, “but circumstances led to a strong perception that we were excluded because of our sexual orientation.”
The statement concluded with Union Bar representatives pledging the club will continue to work with the GLBT community by holding a fundraiser in the near future for a GLBT-specific community organization.
“The thing is, this has gotten a lot of attention but really where we need anti-discrimination is more in housing and employment,” Banks said. “That’s where I think the focus should be. We were happy to work out a resolution with Union Bar, but there are more pressing matters.”
Richichi agrees. “What’s hard for us is that some individuals want to make this a political thing to support the HB 2215 bill,” he said.
Introduced last month to the Texas State Legislature by Rep. Jessica Farrar (D-Houston), HB 2215 seeks to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression in housing, public accommodations, or real estate transactions.
“We’ve always supported that,” Richichi said. “Even before this ever happened, we’ve supported that. No one should be turned away at the door because of what their orientation is. Never.”
The resolution between the factions eventually resulted in a groundswell of support for Union Bar.
“We’ve gotten a lot of positive emails,” Richichi said, noting that the Facebook page originally condemning the club now has a rainbow flag as part of Union Bar’s logo.
Joel Atkins of Houston, who set up GGB’s Facebook event page and made the original reservation for 50 with Union Bar, says GGB has “no real leader.” Atkins declined to comment further, except to say that another GGB event would be announced.
Banks said as many as four other bars have contacted Atkins to host an upcoming GGB event.
10,000 Brave cold to raise funds for aids walk houston
On March 15, as many as 10,000 Houstonians wore jackets and carried umbrellas at Sam Houston Park Downtown to raise awareness and money to support local HIV/AIDS service organizations. Despite chilly temperatures and a late-morning rain, the 20th Annual AIDS Walk, presented by AIDS Foundation Houston in partnership with Chevron, raised more than $750,000.
“We were thrilled to see so many Houstonians come and show their support for the 20th year of AIDS Walk,” said Kelly McCann, chief executive officer of AFH. “For 20 years the citywide collaboration, community support and corporate generosity have all worked together to make this the largest HIV/AIDS fundraiser of its kind in Texas.”
The funds help AFH and 14 local HIV/AIDS service organizations provide housing, testing, food, medical care, prevention education, counseling, pediatric programs, and job training to thousands of community members. – by Nancy Ford