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OPINION: Richmond’s Gay Bars Should Stop Shrouding Themselves in Secrecy

A reader writes to express disappointment that Richmond's gay bars seem afraid to proclaim their pride openly.

GayRVA Staff | February 14, 2018

A reader sent us this contribution in the form of an open letter to the entire community. We thought it was worth printing in full. –GayRVA editors

Dear LGBTQ community.

Hello, my name is Ian Cross. I am a 24 year old gay man. I grew up in a small rural Virginian city where there was no open gay culture. My influences in the LGBTQ community were almost nonexistent growing up. I had to wait for my drivers license and tell small lies to my parents about where I was going, just to drive 45 minutes away to Norfolk and Virginia Beach and see any evidence of acceptance.

My first gay/equality bar experience was at a now-closed establishment in Virginia Beach. Like most bars like itself, before and now, it was a windowless room that was located behind a coin-operated laundromat, hidden from the public eye. In order to keep up with the cloudy, subtle exposure of the taboo lifestyle, the parking lot was kept dark — leaving it an easy place for patrons to be either mugged or harassed for sexual favors. Even after going inside the building, which also did not have much exterior advertising of what was inside, you walked into a dark room where you could not see much detail of what surrounded you. I was 18 at that time, and had just came out to close friends. I truly wanted to go to a place where I felt safe, where I belonged; and I did, but still felt a little unease with the fact that even in 2011, my only sanctuaries were hidden from public view and seemed as if they were still in the 80’s.

I have since moved to Richmond. To my surprise, I have found almost all of the gay/equality bars in the area still shadow themselves in curtains, large plants, fish tanks, and anything else that obscures the view from outside.

I understand that I am privileged to live and grow in an era when fears of the police raiding gay/equality bars and arresting patrons no longer need to consume us. But we do live in a new era. There is no reason for our community to continue to congregate in windowless rooms. Drag has gone from late night bar shows to being broadcast on TV and having sold-out shows at major venues. Visiting gay/equality bars in New York City and Washington DC, I felt envious that their bars had large open windows and rainbow flags lining the building, clearly declaring the fact that it was a gay/equality bar. It seems almost folly to continue to live behind closed windows. It is as if we are still living in the closet.

I believe, now during our current administration more than ever, we need to show the rest of the community that our establishments are also part of the community, and not to be tucked away into a corner. If your response to this is, “The curtains are for safety.” Then there should be more security. But please, I beg of the owners of these bars, please open the damn windows. Let the light in. Let us show who we are.

Sincerely, Ian J. Cross

If you have an opinion related to LGBTQ issues in Virginia that you’d like to express, email our editor: drew@gayrva.com

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