by Danuta Janiszewski
Kansas City, I’m bored and worried with what we’ve got going on. No offense — it’s not you. It might be me. Maybe. All I know is that I’ve checked out all the gay bars and entertainment spaces around here and they’re not really my cup of tea.
Sure, I’ve had some great nights, great times and met some amazing people at our little beloved watering holes, but I haven’t really felt welcomed or stuck on a certain place. And let’s be fair, despite the pretty great drag circuit we’ve got and theatre troupes, non-binary genderqueers aren’t really your thing, are they? Well, that’s okay, but recently I’ve come to find out that quite a few LGBTQ+ individuals aren’t having that great of a time either.
The problem, my lovely KC, is that the queer bar and entertainment scene here is stagnant and not as inclusive as some (me) would have hoped it would be. (For the record, I don’t count catering to primarily hetero dollars as being entirely inclusive or welcoming, when you’ve got fellow LGBTQ+ brothers, sisters and queer siblings who can’t make the door charge aching for community, or who come in closeted hoping for a safe space only to be outed by their coworker who happens to be there for a bridal party. Ouch.)
For starters, where are all the lesbian bars? Where are the ambiguous/come-as-ye-are-
And I get it, I really do. The current bars make good money from their patrons, straight or gay. The performers get paid, groups get to mingle (safely), people are entertained, cupid strikes and sometimes really good causes and nonprofits put on awesome fundraisers.
Some bars really try to be inclusive and opening to individuals representing all hues of the rainbow. Woody’s tries to be as welcoming of female/lesbian patrons as possible, and has even become a sponsor and hot spot for the Kansas City Jazz, a women’s rugby club.
Missie B’s, Sidekicks, Buddies, Side Street and Hamburger Mary’s, though they cater to a gay male audience, have never discriminated amongst their patrons, and are pretty popular spots for lesbians and individuals who identify as other than just gay, white and male.
I’m not saying lesbians, queers and queer people of color aren’t welcome at these spaces, it’s just that these are the only spaces we have to choose from and it gets tiring after awhile.
As a genderqueer and at times lesbian individual, there are times when I want to drink, be merry, be sad, feel things, laugh at jokes and just be myself comfortably in a public space with others. There are times when I’m just looking to escape my every day stresses over a beer with a fellow queer and not have to keep my guard up or try to dim the parts of myself that would make straight people (and even some other LGBTQ+ people) uncomfortable.
There were lesbian bars here in KC, once upon a time. Though some, like Tootsies, just replicated the LGBTQ+ club and party scene and became a bit of a hunting ground for swingers and hetero couples seeking a third “friend” for the night.
The oldest lesbian bar in the city closed after new owners took over and tried to scrub the lesbian part out.
Grandma’s Bar and Grill in the West Bottoms played an impromptu, low-key and unofficial lesbian hang out. There was also The Planet, a small coffee shop, which was found to be as close to feeling like home as possible by some of my friends here. Sadly, all these places (and some small others) have disappeared from the KC LGBQT+ landscape.
The lack of diverse and inclusive LGBQT+ spaces hasn’t gone unnoticed.
Uncle Babs, a collective made up of Kansas City-based LGBTQ+ individuals and allies, was born this past May with the goal of creating a co-op space uniting queer artists, musical acts and Kansas City civilians.
Currently, the collective holds about two fundraising events a month in hopes of raising enough to open up their own space in Kansas City that would act as a queer-centric and focused musical venue, gallery space, community area and educational hub.
A space like this would cater to adults in the evenings, and be a welcoming space for young queers seeking refuge, education, community and support during the day.
The rationale behind why such a collective would exist is simple, really. Sure, for decades (and perhaps centuries!) gay bars have operated as LGBTQ+ social meeting spaces and “refuges”, but they weren’t entirely welcoming for all. To this day, racism, sexism, misogyny, transphobia, fatphobia, femmephobia, sexual assault and even internalized homophobia (and the list continues!) still run unrestrained in these areas.
A lot of the hate and abuse LGBTQ+ individuals encounter outside of queer spaces and in heteronormative spaces is just transferred over to the next lowest common denominator by society’s standards inside these venues.
LGTBQ and queer-friendly/owned establishments act as refuges and safe places for LGBTQ+ individuals and have done so for many years.
All the coffee shops, cafes, eateries, bookshops, bike shops, bars, dancehalls and curiosities have and continue to serve dual purposes of not just running a business (by a LGBTQ+ person), but as a safe communal meeting space. These are hubs where socialization occurs, learning norms and tricky dating rituals are practiced, where unity and peace can be found and where, most importantly, people don’t feel alone.
Hopefully, with a little bit of grit, elbow grease and imagination, a few more interesting and inclusive LGBTQ+ spots open up in Kansas City. We need them.
If you’re interested in Uncle Babs’ mission, or would like to support by attending an event, feel free to follow their Facebook page, Instagram (unclebabskc) or send them a quick note at email@example.com.