Queer spaces LGBT party Safe spaces Queer-only spaces community Inclusivity territoriality LGBT rights movements FLINTA* spaces
Trigger warning: discussing subjects of
warning: Adult content
Article by:
Chloé Bruère-Dawson
Find me:
October 1, 2023
Show some love & share

Keeping Our Queer Spaces Queer

It’s Friday night and I’m getting ready with my friends for an LGBT party we’ve been waiting for months. After multiple lockdowns stopped my queer life before it even had the chance to start, all I could think about was finally going out and experiencing what I had only seen on TV shows and social media: a club full of throbbing lights, loud bass, and queer people. I enter, and my excitation falls flat: the lighting and music are there, but my people are missing. Instead, cis straight men with no tops on are taking up all the space. Instantly, I feel unsafe, and it’s a presentiment more than apprehension: the first time I got assaulted in a club, it was at this first queer party.

Recently, queer parties have become so popular amongst straight people, you can’t even call them queer anymore. This evolution receives different reactions: some celebrate it as progress while others weep about the disappearance of the few safe spaces we ever had. This progressive change is bringing back this ever-existing question: Should LGBTIQ spaces be queer-only or open to all? Today, I want to tackle this big question through 3 sub-ones: Why did we exclude, should we exclude, and how should we exclude?

Why did we exclude? The importance of queer territoriality

Let’s take a historical detour. Originally, queer-only spaces have emerged out of necessity. If most were not excluding non-queer people overtly, this exclusion was made organically, as at a time “sexual inversion” (an old term for homosexuals, or anyone who doesn’t fit cisgender norms, really) was illegal, the cost of simply getting in was too high to risk. When LGBT rights movements developed across continents in the 1970s, territoriality became a major stake1. Building spaces became the heart of many queer liberation projects, especially within lesbian groups, in line with the 2nd wave of feminist movements. Those spaces made the political affirmation of our identities possible: they were spaces of collective action and socialization, places where people planned, laughed, loved, fought, and created themselves. It translated into the establishment of bars and clubs, but also cafes and summer camps, cause queerness is not just something that appears after midnight. As we progressively obtained the rights activists fought so stubbornly for, the legitimacy of those spaces began to get questioned, and they progressively disappeared or opened their doors to people external to our communities.

Should we exclude? The ambivalence of opening up to cis heterosexual people

Gentrification is taking a toll, and queer spaces are struggling. In these conditions, opening up to a wider public seems like a mandatory financial decision. That’s the argument most often put forward when touching the subject: We need straight people's money, and that’s true allyship. Their bills make the maintenance and development of LGBTQA spaces possible. If this argument can be rebutted, that self-sufficiency has always been a major part of the LGBT movement’s DNA, we have to admit that in this economic recession, we need as much financial support as we can to be able to survive.

Another point often raised and all the more controversial concerns the ethical aspect: some bars and night collectives point out that they do not want to exclude cisgender and heterosexual people from their events because they do not want to partake in what they have been suffering their whole life as queer people. Making spaces LGBT-only would only be reproducing systemic power dynamics, while we could use this opportunity to raise awareness. But are queer spaces and events a place to raise awareness? Aren’t they, on the opposite side, a place to simply be, the only ones that allow us to do so in a cishetero patriarchal society?

Finally, the issue with queer-only spaces is their discriminatory criteria: what about people questioning, people who aren’t openly gay? What about people who don’t look queer enough? What about queer people with no LGBTIQ friends, who do not want to go to the bar or club alone? To this, it’s more about the way we establish those queer-only spaces than the basis of it, which leads me to my third question.

How should we exclude? : Leads for a gay resistance

I may be getting ahead of myself, because I’m far from having all the answers, and the question of how queer-only spaces should operate is much bigger than me. But as a non-binary lesbian with a taste for nightlife, I do have some clues and leads as to what seems to be working a bit more for my friends and me. Firstly, I firmly believe we still need LGBTQ-only spaces, and even more specifically, FLINTA*-only spaces (a German & French acronym standing for woman, lesbian, intersex, nonbinary, transgender, and agender, understand: a queer space with no cis men, including gay men). As to how this exclusion should operate, it should all come down to trust: there should never be someone judging your passing or guessing your sexual orientation at the door. People questioning and your closest ones that aren’t LGBTQIA should never be refused. Regarding money, when it’s financially impossible to sustain a queer-only space, a good compromise is to keep the space open, while making some events exclusive: this way, the customer range is wider but the safe space is maintained, at least punctually. The risk remains that these events will become less and less frequent, but I know a couple of places that manage the balance masterfully, and they are my favorite places to go to. All in all, a lot more is being done and can be done to protect the safe spaces we still desperately need. Let’s keep discussing it at a queer bar or cafe around a beer or a latte!

1 Prearo, Massimo, “Le Moment politique de l’homosexualité : Mouvements, identités et communautés en France”, https://books.openedition.org/pul/4362?lang=fr

Show some love & share