discrimination : typescript of article on discrimination against African Americans in gay bars

Original Format

mimeographed document



One night In November 1974, Jeff Blake was tending bar at the Grand Central, then one of the biggest gay disco bars in Washington, DC. A black customer came up to the bar and asked for a glass or water.

Evan though bar tenders had been told to charge for water, none ever did, and the management "rarely showed any concern," according to Blake.

Blake said, "but on this occasion, the manager of the bar "came over to me at the bar and said, 'When a customer like that comes to the bar and asks for water, charge him a dollar.'" I responded, 'A customer like what?' He answered, pointing to some black patrons, 'Any of those niggers.'"
That same month, Patricia Price, a 26 white woman who was then 28 years old, entered the Grand Central with a friend, a black woman aged 36.

According to Patrice, the doorman waved through batches of white men without asking for any type of identification card. But when Patrice and her friend reached the doorman, he demanded to see ID, then refused to accept drivers licenses and employment ID cards, with photos, from either woman. The women were turned away.

A few months earlier, Charles Hall had gone to the same bar in the company of black friends. They were required to pay $3 each as a minimum to gain entrance, -"While standing near the entrance, however, they saw white men enter without being asked either for ID or for $3. Only
blacks, or wihite persons accompanied by black persons, had to do so.

add one discrim
These three nay people ware witnesses — and In same cases victims —
of a probleuB that has confronted tiia gay community in marc places than
just one bar in one city. Despite xsmt progress in recent years toward
equality for black people and for women, and doapite recognition by many
gay people that they are not likay to achieve full equality until blolcs
and women do, discrimination continuoe to exist within the cay comri'nity •
A number of institutions that are important to gay sociial l i f e , euch
as tine bar3, are ^.dde open to white mon but place scats type °* hurdle
in the path of MacriexiecHEXK white women and black peopleof both genders.
he hurdles may be high and difficult, or low and merely minor annoyances5
they may be blatant, or , in most cases, subtle* But-auric$mrri I mtxaodaii
in several places
Such barriers do not exist everywhere, of course, ^hit/where they
/ jbs become evident, gay peoplehave attempted to eliminate them.
In the case of the disco in 'Washington, gay people used the same
mechanism to fight a cay bar's dadscrimination axgainst blacks and women
as they £ have used to coribat discrimination by atraight establishments
against gays. xhirty-one gay people filed conpliaints against the
Grant Central with tha D.C. Office of Human ^ights, which ±K has tie Job of
enforcing Title 3k, t h e B±k Distria of Columbia's anti-discrimination lair.
Most of the complaints had to do with apparent efforts by the bar
Management t o r e s t r i c t the number of blacks and women in the place.
There were repeated complaints fc^fr'irti1^""^1"—Pi about discriminatory
practieo in asking f o r ID at the door. One jrriw woman said she was t old
to enter through a door normally used as an exit. One person complain.d
he was shoved by the door an when ho complained about discrimination. Others
said they were threateBfricd wife physical assault.
add two dscrim
^he bar s management refused to manjiraata come to any agreement
through the S. administrative conciliation procedures open to then, so
the ca.30 Trent to a hearing l a s t August before the D.C. Human lights
Commission. On January 31 °£ this ysanpcfckxxBsaodbaiM — about tufco and
a half years after the f i r s t complaints were filed — the connisaicn
ordered the bar's owners to pay a t o t a l of C6,li5o to the eight people
who testified at the commission hearing. Varying amounts wore awarded
in three categories: compensation for denial of access to a p-ubiic
accommodationj compensation for "embarrassment and humiliation," and
attorney1 a fees for those who had hired a lawyer torepresont them before
the commission.
I t r,iay be awhile before the eight people collect any money! the
and apparently- dissolved*
corporation tiiat owned the '"'rand ucntral has Bold i t s intgrost in i t/
ifore legal proceedings are in prospect. But many of the persons who
filed aonplaints think the effort wis worth i t.
Patricia Price, for example, h points out that the evidence XSB£
collected by the Human lights Office was used by the J3«C. Alcoholic
leverage Conjftrol (ABC) C aeries ion in suspending tie ^rand Central's
liquor license for 50 days last year. That action, followed by reported,
problems with tax a u t h o r i t i e s , apparently led to the bar's demise.
Gay attorney Joseph V. Stewart added: "This puts other bars on
notice about what could happen to then. :'osides costing money out of their
have investigators from
pockets, they c0uld/kgxjgwgrfciftim<a3m-.the Human lights Office and the
APC board checking up on them. They could end up getting closed."
add three discria
In fact, other gay bars in Washington that in the past wore
targets of complaints abouVdlscrijMination are no longer complained about.
^he Lost & Found, now the c i t y ' s largest disco bar, was net by pixakrti
froB the old Gay Liberation *ront when i f f i r s t opened in 1971 because
of complaints that i t used the same kinds of discriminatory ID cheks
that thd-^rand Central xsxsx l a t e r used. Frank Xanony, a x. -ay isember
of the D.C. Hcman "ights Gonru.ssin, said he had heard of no/complaints
against the Lost & Found for sona tine. Earlier complaints were reportcdly
resolved through 1he conciliatinn process.
While complaints are being resolved in Washington, new ones are
arising in other c i t i e s.
In Fhiladxlphla, for example, t :e c i t y ' s Human x£ights Commission
has been investigating complain 9 that the Club Barracks, a gay male
bath, has started to require blacks to f i l l out applications,
thdn telling then i t would take a m nth to process the application. Coamissicn
nanber La;ry Groth has been quoted as saying 3gTprTBrateacxMdpdimxB±iaflAalMx
apparently instituted tho polxicy after sore patoons tirtat complained that
the clientele \&a becoming "too dark."
Looks can make a difference, however. "PrcKbably exceptionally
good lookking black men are s t i l l given mmbcr3hip," Groth told the
PhilaAddelphia Gay Hews. The club'a Manager denied any discrimination,
but said membership policies have been tightened after several p-tty thefts.
Last December, .embers of the Tale University student organisation,
BaYj staged a picket at a New Haven gay bar, Lew Oubliettes. They charged
that i t s nanagenent had been discriminating against blacks and women.
The bar's Manager denied ttie caharges.
1 .ore
add four diserirai
Other c i t i e s haje had their siiare of problems in the pajt.
Tbt I l l i n o i s Liqitor Control ^omission handled a conpLaint two years ago
about a Chicago women's bar named CK»s. A patron charged that the
nanagenent was requiring extra ID cards from black and Latin wooen.
The complaint was reaolvied when the bar agreed to post i t s ID
requirements at the entrance and enforce them uniformly.
Similarly, state liquor authorities in 1975 investigated Le Bistro,
one of Chicago's more popular gay nen's danco bars, on charges of racial
discrimination. That was resolved by Jgc an agreement that toe barw>uld
not discriminate in the ftoc future, though i t did not admit that i t had
in the past. A subsequent attempt by the city government to revoke
the place s license on the groaid of discrimination as well as "public
indec^&mcy" vas ^successful when a judge fc nd inadequate grounds.
A relatively short-lxived bar in Atlanta WmxjSiaanttaadb&mAmBm
that was the subject of nurdaerous complaints of discrimination lost
i t s license on other grounds and closed down. According to ^ i l l Snith,
editor of Atlanta's gay paper, ^he Barb, and a member of the ci'ty's
CoBBnunity Relations Conmittee, a group of Te^ans »MMI *»#/*• bought a bar
and •BDEfek used the license of the previous owners to run a gay place
called the Bayou Landing, ^he management put s t i f f ID checkes in -foe way
of blacks, and .jwyawriopcxmBxaK told patrons they couldn't wear hats inside
a rule clearly aimed at bLac3<s, Smith noted, ^he state liquor comr.iission
refused to grant the owners a new License when the old one ran out,
on the ground that the owners were not Georgia residents.
add five discrim
impose a cover
And in Balt±raci\., asa a large disco bar used to/charEG ±1 i'ftnrwrfc
£—n»*.^ ,«• lOTiim^ niu »g- that -uas a different amount f o r different
people, according to Silas '"hiite, a black man who I s secretary at
the Baltimore Gay AUiance. Blacks and women were lypixially charged
$6, while white men generally paid only $1, Ifoite s aid. After several
customers threatened t o f i l e corqplainte with the state liquor board,
the bar started to charge everyone the lotrer r a t e , ^hite noted*
Some bars in Boston have at times used high, c over charges,
with the effect «f discouraging lower incor» persons, noted Ken DudlsQT,
a black gay man from that city, fie said he and other black people have
in tho pa3t had trouble getting into one of the large disco bars,
although the f»»M"".«—f«^ii )jn»ii«yrf^* "bar has changed i t s carding
jx>licy s nee several people discussed their prcbleBBSm with iilaine lioble,
the gay state representative from Boston.
In Tuany c i t i e s , discri inatory policies at bars are the exception
and not the r u l e . S Atlanta's Bill Smith reports^itodcerTwgcxgJODdaBac
dbcimesxiacs Tou couldn't walk into a gay bar in Atlamta that didn't
have sona percentage of blades, ranging from ahoot 10 to maybe lj.0 percent-"
Even where discriminatory policies do exist, they're not alwjjra"
in evidence. Former Grand Gentral bartender Jeff Blake told the B.C.
Hustan Sights Connission that the bar s managers made l i t t l e attempt to
screen out blacks en weetoiighta when business -.-as relatively slo:*, but
Btapped up the carding on busy -ireekends. Often, he eaid, tho ddoorman
would l e t a certain number of blacks in without iiafcident, then begin to
discourage more blacks fxrom entering to keep the clientele from getting
"too black."
r e
add s ix discriim
Of course, bar managers do not alwscrn hiv.. to engage in -any
cnrert forms of discrimination to attract certain types of customers
and discourage others. Soaeti ee i t ' s enough to put cnwirlMta country
music on the jukebox to drive away black cuatoners.
Nor does the presence or absence of blacks or women in a gay bar
necessarily have anythiig to do with whether or not the bar's owners
or managers personally hold r a c i s t or assist views. To some extent,
customers can be counted upon to do t h e i r ovn self-selecting.
Barbara Gittinga., a/woman who has been active in the gay r i g h ts
movement for many years, observwl, "When gay people congregate socially,
they do want to be among t h i r own kind." iefcee liany others agree that
gay ran are lively to want to be among other men, and gay women among
other wemsn*
Often, bar managers feel they are simply trying to mold an 'image"
that will attract people with the -oat money to spend, "hits middle-clasa
men generally tend to bo those people, ^hus, a bar that attracts
such people will sell a lot of liquor, while a bar that attracts large
numbers of blacks, for example, may have idle bartenders whila the customers
are busy dancing. That, at least, i s the image sone bar manager have in
So if the bar managers are only trying to make their customers
feel £ comforxtable with people of their own kind, and i f M M peyolple
have more money than others and are therfore better customers, what's
wrong with that picture?
For one thing, any form of ovart discrimination on the basis of
race or sax i s i l l e g a l . 3h sons places, =s in • •ashington, t"ho sana lavjs
that protect gays from discrimination also co cr blacks and >roraen —
add seven discrajn
"oreover, "whenever one discriminates against someone also,
that person lias le3c morgtl justification for" complaining about
discrimination against oneself," as chicago gay activist Bill Kelley
put i t . "There night be arguments about the r i g h t to coalesce in
groups of similar people, but they have t o bo balanced against
these other cosiderations," Kclley commented.
Renee ^Wiovar, a Chicago gay woman lawyer, said t hat abaaemn
men/tell her that woman shouldn't complain about not being ablo to
get into men's bars, becausa ama. can't comfortably enter wxien's bars.
"!§r answer is-that man ought to 9atxttaRaa±xnodaxtriiBx^adt±±Bec&£x
imagine how they would feel if woiaan had °2 places to choose fron, but
men only had four or five. Of H course, i t ' s hard for white, privileged
males to put themselves in the position mentally of being exploited or
oppressed, becausod they're not."
Of course, in some places the possibility of ringling pri-narily
with one's own kind doesn't exist. liany smaller c i t i e s have oniy ono
or two gay awcfcbig bars, if ani^r. If you don't go there, you have to
make do with whatever private dinner parties you can-wangle invitations t o ,
or stay hone.
For example, Bill Smith noted:kfaadt "In I-jacony (Georgia), there are
tiro bars, where a l l the social strata ^o — rich and poor. They r e f oread
to have an uneasy truce TO. th each other."
add civiit di3crijn
In any case, the problem of discrimination a t gay bars would
perhaps not be so serious i f there were full participation by a ll
»|iiM«tii»f colors and sexes of gay people in other aspects of tlie
r.ay c ommuniV• ^hat, however, i s not t c case.
Inclty after city, blacks and wonen participate in ,-ay
organisations and services in far smaller proportions than their
shares of the total gay populations. In Atlanta, -where blacks
up jft percent of the ciy's population and about 30 percent of the
raetropoliz±ijrtan area as a -whole, Bill Ssvith estimated that most
gay organizations are perhaps 10 or 1$ percent black. Vj'onen, however,
participato in greater numbers In several organizations, such as
the local ••ictropolitan Community 4iurch« In Boston, Sen Axlley reports
only small numbers of blacks in gay a c t i v i i s t organizations. "i-iore often
than not wefre in the minority." Even in Washington, where the
c i t y ' s population i s about 70 percent black, only a handful of blacks
are active in gay groups*
Baltiraore Is one eaMption, here, both blacks and women have
bean among the top leaders of the Baltimore Gay Alliance, the c i t y 's
political a c t i v i s t group, ainoa I t s founding. P&ulette -oung, a black
gay woman, was i t s f i r s t president, "not from any tokenism, but because
she s a very ±fc gifted leader,"
»aa IIMHIMHIHH! IJtlnAy K/according to BGA secretary Silas J£HODC ' h i t e.
)r'n don't actively seek wonen or blacks, they Just are there," lie eaidj adding;
"vte keep finding out how atypical BGA i s . "
add nine discrijn
The reasons for the general lack of black participation
have been debated endlessly without resoluteionx. Boston a &en ,uudley
thinks that at least part of the explanation l i e s in "tactics whites
have used over the years to re rain in the most influential position"
in society in general. likewise, the question of vronen's [Participation
in organizations which focus primarily on ^^y i-jjuas has bec>n a conxtrovercial
one for yearsx.But at least one reason many/women give for staying ir>
all-wonen's groups i s nan's assumption, conscious or not, that men
i belong in tho driver ; . ;. .
Naturally, both racism and sexism o^ist in the society at large,
and gays to a great extent reflect thmla. Some gays, especially those
connected with 32c activist groups, believe gay people are affliacted
with less of these prejudices than a r e s traight.Sj bedaU3e gays
"know what i t ' s like to be oppressed," in tho words of one a c t i v i s t.
Whether that is true or n t , many ;_:ays believe there is enough*
discrimination by race and sex -ri-thin many |$SIJ: segments of the gay community
to constitute a problems. Sat e attempt to suppress i t -rinaixfr through legal
means, such as filing a complaint with a human r i g . t s agency. Others
seek to alleviate i t through education, as in Chicago whore the
Gay and lesbian Coalition has brief presentations on sexisn or racism
at each of i t s monthly meetings.
VJhether any of these methods will work i s an unanswerable question.
I t i s , however, an important one. After a l l , "Whenever one discriminates
against someone else, there i s less moral Justification for complaining
about discrimination against oneself."




Aiken, David L. (David Lewis), 1945-1986, “discrimination : typescript of article on discrimination against African Americans in gay bars,” Rainbow History Project Digital Collections, accessed May 30, 2024, https://archives.rainbowhistory.org/items/show/367.

Output Formats

Document Viewer


Copy the code below into your web page