Changing the world one cocktail at a time.
by JOEL BARRETT
Gay bars once existed primarily as a sanctuary; a sacred space for the LGBTQ community to safely gather. In the 1960s, The Stonewall Inn was known as one of the few bars in New York City where people of the same sex could dance with each other without fear of police harassment or public shaming.
On June 28, 1969, everything changed when police raided the Inn. Two trans women of color, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, resisted police and are credited with throwing the first bottle and brick, thus starting the Stonewall riots which launched what became known as the gay rights movement and the grand tradition of gay pride parades.
Today, gay bars are filled with many patrons who have no memory or knowledge of the past era. Just a few decades ago, the LGBTQ community could only fearfully gather in underground bars and spaces hoping to avoid harassment, shaming and possible death. While the need for sanctuary has lessened, it is still a reality for many LGBTQ folks, especially the transgender community. Kansas City is fortunate to have eight distinctly different gay bars that continue to serve an important role in our community.
In August 2016, Kane Hosmer and Lance Pierce started Guerrilla Queer Bar to provide the LGBTQ community an opportunity to step outside of our designated sanctuaries once a month.
“Queer people often hold themselves to gay-marked places and don’t see the wider Kansas City community,” Lance explains. “They miss experiencing the city and really unique bars, like The Ship or The Green Lady Lounge. It limits their exposure to the city and the city doesn’t really get to experience their fabulousness!”
“Some people are more comfortable going to new, non-queer spaces, and exploring them with a group. Italso provides an opportunity for people who are questioning or not feeling the vibe of a gay bar to find a more comfortable entrance into the community,” Kane noted.
The concept of Guerrilla, or takeover events, is one that has worked successfully in many other cities. Kane and his partner Danny were a part of Guerrilla Gay Bar gatherings while living in Austin, Texas However, both Lance and Kane prefer not to think of Guerrilla Queer Bar as a takeover, but rather an unexpected activity happening in an unexpected place.
“We’re not trying to take over a bar and make some sort of political statement or advertise our gayness,” Lance explained. “We’re just trying to serve the queer community and provide opportunities to experience the city and for the city to experience gay people.”
Their Facebook group explains the goal is to create more public spaces for the LGBT community and to provide the straight community with the opportunity to engage with people they may not otherwise encounter.
Although Kane is quick to add that by the very nature of the event, it is a little bit anti-establishment.
“In a sense, our members are challenging both the straight and the gay establishment. We’re challenge both a bit by mixing it up,” Kane said.
Guerrilla Queer Bar gets the queer community out of their comfortable, queer establishments and into the straight establishments, which in turn challenges the patrons of those locations. There has not been a complaint or negative feedback from any of the places that have hosted the event.
“We do arrange with the bar owners in advance and let them know to stock up on the vodka!” Lance smiles. “We do get a lot of feedback from patrons.”
Recently a group of women approached Lance and asked, “What’s going on tonight? There are so many well-dressed, well-mannered men here!” or “What is this? This group of people is so much fun! This is great! We’d like to be a part of this.” Lance sees that as a compliment.
“The gay community has historically done this time and time again,” Lance said. “When we’re excluded from the major group, we create our own more fun, more fabulous adventure and then everyone keeps knocking on the door to come join. That’s the beauty of our community. We are the community that queers from the norm.”
In less than a year, Guerrilla Queer Bar has experienced The Up-Down Arcade, Julep, The Green Lady Lounge, Harpo’s, Double Shift Brewing Company, The Ship, Mosaic Ultra Lounge and No Other Pub. The attendance has grown from just 20 at the first event to more than 100. The Facebook group now has more than 1,000 members who are notified each month of the upcoming location.
Kansas City has no shortage of interesting bars, clubs and breweries to choose from. Experience has shown Kane that the smaller, less club-like bars work better for the event because people can interact more and have conversations. Lance feels Guerrilla Queer Bar has found its niche in the gay-migration, as he likes to describe it. The event is in the 9 p.m. to midnight time slot, which allows those attending to have their first drink or two of the evening before making their way to other bars or to Missie B’s to finish the night on the dance floor.
“We get a lot of feedback from people about where the next meeting place should be. Of course, we have a running list of places we’d like to go,” Kane explains. “But we’re very much open to where our members want to go.”
Lance describes their role as facilitators. “It’s all about what the members want.”
If you attend a Guerrilla Queer Bar event on the second Saturday of each month, you will find up to 100 queer folks socializing, but do not expect name tags, directional signs or a formal address. It has an organic feel to it.
“We’ve intentionally kept it unstructured and the cost low because there is no revenue model. We want it to feel casual,” Lance explained. “Sometimes the beauty of what happens is that we don’t stick in a large group – we disperse into the crowd, we meet new and different people, we change the hearts and minds of people through conversations and we make new friends.”
“We’ve never had any grand plans or strategies.” Kane likes the organic feel of the evening. He has considered having some form of identifier for the group, but for now, just show up and look for the crowd having the most fun and you are probably there. Recently he approached a table of men and asked if they were there for Guerrilla Queer Bar, they told him they were not, but two others had asked them the same question earlier. Kane said they should consider it a compliment.
For notifications of each month’s location, join the Facebook group: Guerrilla Queer Bar – KCMO. The location is announced one week in advance.
“There is not some complicated strategy or agenda. It’s really about people getting together and getting to know one another,” Lance said. “Steve Metzler used to say, ‘We’re changing the world one cocktail at a time.’ We embrace that message.”