Creating Spaces and Places for Us
by JOEL BARRETT
It’s Saturday night and the gay bars are full of mostly white, gay men. Where are the lesbians? Where are the bisexual women? Where are the queer women of color? How do women get connected to other women? Kansas City was once home to lesbian bars and spaces such as Tootsies, The Rail Room, Soakies and more. Over the years, they slowly faded and disappeared as the cityscape has changed.
“They were demolished or requisitioned by straight entities,” explains Vanessa Meriwether of Lifestyle Entertainment, an LGBTQ event-based company. “For years the people of color and lesbians have been wandering like lost children at Walmart. Five years ago we started having parties to fill that void of belonging.”
Meriwether believes that change has to happen from within. Together with Lucky Garcia and Bethany Cain, these three women are changing the social landscape of the Kansas City lesbian community, one event and gathering at a time.
They agree that women tend to socialize differently than men. “Our approach is more communal,” Garcia explains. “It’s more ‘How can I help you?’ and ‘How can you help me so we can achieve these goals of bringing women together?’” She attributes that to a power dynamic.
“It’s out of necessity that we have to establish those connections and solidify a good foundation and good relationships,” Garcia said. “We don’t have the power in society that men have. So instead we come together.” Garcia is a musician, writer, and social and racial justice activist. She is one of the core organizers of One Struggle KC.
Meriwether operates the G-Spot at 2801 Southwest Boulevard, which hosts weekend events for the queer community including a just-for-girls night. Every Saturday, the G-Spot hosts a party that welcomes everyone, but has become the hot spot for women. “Our mission is to create a safe space for everyone to come and be themselves,” Meriwether said. “We didn’t set out to be a lesbian bar, but when you walk through the doors you’ll see it is predominantly lesbians and queer women of color.”
Other local bars also offer regular lesbian-themed nights. On the Facebook page for Woody’s Classic Sports Pub, you will see events like Women Crush Wednesday Happy Hour and monthly Girl Parties with DJ Shelby White. Lesbians are certainly welcome at all the local gay bars in town, but Garcia has a different perspective. As a lesbian social and racial justice activist who is passionate about queer people of color, Garcia believes, “We really do need to have spaces for women. We’re not going to rely on men to create this for us. We’re going to do it!”
Cain runs the Women for Women Kansas City LGBTQ+ Events Facebook page and says “it’s an event aggregator. I share events that are relevant to the lesbian community.” She also organizes a LGBTQ Takeover event for women who love women. The event varies in location and frequency but meets at local, queer- friendly bars and venues. In April, lesbians and queer women of color poured into the Up-Down Arcade Bar in the Crossroads. “We had a great turnout,” Cain said. “It was fun to see so many queer women in that space.” The fun spilled over to an after party at the G-Spot that night. In July, they took over the G-Spot for the entire evening. The event included an outdoor bar and grill, yard games, plenty of seating, and a 10 p.m. hip hop party indoors with DJ Shelby White.
“I was so hungry and desperate for a space for queer women of color,” Garcia said. “There are spaces in the LGBT community, but Bethany really set the bar for creating our own spaces and the momentum for that sort of thing. I’m grateful to her and for Vanessa’s work at the G-Spot.”
So what is the challenge? To spread the word about opportunities for lesbians to connect. Cain hopes to change that with the Facebook page she manages. “There are many women gathering around bands, fire pits, books and more,” she said. Her goal is to promote those events so women can find one another. She welcomes event submissions for the page and is happy to publicize them. Garcia also works with the group Brown Voices Brown Pulse. While not limited to women, it is designed as a space just for queer people of color. The group hosts dance parties, educational community discussions, community healing events, potlucks, and collaborates with other area racial and social justice groups.
“When we do try to carve out our own space, it’s often quickly stifled by men, even if it’s gay men,” Garcia said. “The world is made by men. Between the culture and the patriarchy, we get left with very few outlets. There are so many queer women right now who are not accepting that and are doing their own thing and bringing women together.”
All three ladies believe the lesbian community is longing for deeper connections. Meriwether describes it as “a crazy nostalgic feeling, going to a place where I can be with lesbians and women of color and just be myself.” As she nears 40, Meriwether sees a need for spaces and events for women 30 and over. The G-Spot has begun offering a party just for that demographic. “We play a different kind of music and start at an earlier time,” Meriwether said. She hopes to build bridges between the generations and encourage mentorship, because “there is a disconnect between generations.”
Garcia hopes the LGBTQ community will support the need for people to carve out their own space, whether that’s a lesbian space, or a people of color space, or a women’s space.
“We tend to really support each other in our music, writing, art, activism, whatever it is,” Garcia said. “I don’t get lost.”
They all share the desire for more—more connection, more opportunities and more inclusion. Meriwether “wants an opportunity for a face that looks like me in the bigger picture, at Pride, at clubs, at parties.” Cain is one of two women on the board for Pride Fest and is keenly aware of her role. “That’s two amongst a sea of white men,” she said. “White men seem to get everything, including spaces on boards. That is why you end up with a Pride festival that is geared to gay white men.”
Representation is key. Garcia would “like to see us better represented in LGBTQ spaces and in Pride with queer women, women of color, and lesbians in leadership,” coupled with “representation at bars, community panels, affirming churches, and more inclusiveness in our general social areas.”
All recognize that the lesbian community needs to take responsibility for itself and not wait for someone else to do their work. Garcia “would like to see lesbians and queer women come together to break down those class, race and sexism issues in the LGBTQ community,” she said. “We need to be better as lesbians. We have problems with transphobia and biphobia. We don’t come together when another woman or transwoman of color is murdered, or when we have bi women being alienated from lesbian or queer spaces. We need queer women in general to be more inclusive.”
Women who love women: The call to action is clear. Stand up, step out and reclaim your space and place in the Kansas City scene.
Joel Barrett of JoelSpeaksOut.com is an LGBTQ writer, speaker, and gatherer. He is a former conservative Baptist pastor who shares his colorful, inspirational story of surviving ex-gay therapy with audiences everywhere to encourage living an authentic life not controlled by fear. Watch for the release of his book “Godly, But Gay.”