Should straight and cis people be allowed in LGBT bars, clubs and spaces?
The debate about straight and cis people in gay venues still rages on. (Getty)
Imagine the scene – you’re going out to your favorite queer club with your friends, but when you walk through the doors, you see a bachelorette party going wild with giant inflatable penises.
Many queer people will have had some sort of negative experience with cis, straight people invading their spaces, but many others have had some of the best nights of their lives in gay bars, dancing the night away with allies who love them unconditionally.
The question of whether heterosexual and cis people should be welcomed into queer spaces keeps coming up – and there are no easy answers. Some believe that queer spaces, whether it’s a gay bar or an alcohol-free hangout, should be reserved for LGBT+ people so they can express themselves freely.
This begs the question: how do you know if someone is queer? Some LGBT+ people might dip their toes into queer spaces so they can explore their identity without having to actively date.
The LGBT+ community must avoid “assuming” the sexuality or gender of others
It’s a “touchy” subject for Ky Richardson, founder of We Are Queer London. Their group organizes informal get-togethers and buddies for queer women, trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming people.
It’s vital that these people have the space to explore who they are in a safe, non-judgmental way — but it’s also important that we don’t make assumptions about others’ identities, Ky says.
“Queer spaces for queer people are very important for a variety of reasons,” Ky says. “They can give us some breathing room from the kind of microaggressions that we typically experience in a normative world. They are also important for more serious reasons. Some queer people feel insecure around cis men, for example, and this could be linked to past trauma.
“I think it’s crucial that some of these spaces exist, but at the same time we have to be very careful not to assume gender or sexuality. A cis person or a straight person may be wondering, they may not have come out yet. They might need to access that space but not yet be able in their lives – whether for safety, comfort, or psychologically – to present themselves as a queer person. So I think we have to be very careful not to make assumptions. As soon as we start excluding cishet people, we could also exclude those who really need access to this space. It’s a really hard thing to balance.
Ky always keeps these sensitivities in mind when organizing events with We Are Queer London.
“We Are Queer is marketed to queer women and trans and non-binary people, including trans men — basically anyone impacted by misogyny,” they explain. “We don’t explicitly exclude cishet people, but we don’t have them in mind when creating a space. We prioritize and create space specifically for the aforementioned groups of people.
It’s really about dialogue and open communication, but what we’re not doing is specifically excluding anyone.
Ky thinks it’s important that they expect people who come to their events to not be dominated by cis gay men and cis straight people.
“LGBTQ spaces can be quite heavily dominated by cis gay men, whom we love and adore, but our spaces are not expected to be dominated by cis gay men. So if we have a group of 50 people for an event and one person says, “Can I bring my gay cis friend?” We will ask them to check the comfort level of the group so that we can at least set people’s expectations when they enter this space. Or if there is a cishet friend, shall we say, this space is not supported for him, and some people might come expecting it to be a safe space where they don’t need to meet there.
“It’s really about dialogue and open communication, but what we’re not doing is specifically excluding anyone.”
Straight and cis allies should be welcome – but only if they truly respect the community
This sentiment is shared by Sarah Cheung, a 32-year-old lesbian from Northern Ireland who now lives in Scotland. She thinks it’s fine for non-LGBT+ people to visit queer spaces – but respect is key.
“I personally think there’s nothing wrong with that as long as they’re respectful and remember why these spaces exist,” Sarah says. That said, she can understand why some LGBT+ people might prefer these spaces to be reserved specifically for queer people.
“There have been times when I’ve seen straight people say inappropriate things and touch LGBTQ+ people without their permission because of the negative stereotypes they have in their heads thanks to media bias,” she says.
Despite this, Sarah doesn’t think queer spaces should be cut off from straight and cis allies who truly respect the community.
“We need allies now more than ever, especially with the growing problem of gender criticism popping up. I tell them to let them come but remind them to be respectful.
Like Ky, Sarah stresses that the LGBT+ community shouldn’t control other people’s identities. She understands why people might be wary of a bachelorette party at a gay bar, but she also points out that some members of this group might be gay themselves.
Yes, have fun and laugh with us, but don’t forget the obstacles we had to overcome to get here.
“That being said, I think as the LGBTQ+ community becomes more accepted in our society, I think parties like these need to be reminded to respect our spaces,” Sarah says.
“Yes, have fun and share a laugh with us, but please remember the hurdles we had to overcome to get here. I think we should encourage more of our straight allies to come to themed events. in our spaces to learn more about our history. It’s so they can see from our perspective why having these spaces is really important and important to us.
Notably, Sarah says she’s never had any issues herself with straight and cis people in queer spaces — but she’s been “harassed” by LGBT+ people because she’s Chinese. Some people think racist comments are just “jokes,” Sarah says.
“In 2014 at Belfast Pride I met a butch cis woman in the women’s toilets of a gay bar and she asked me if I was Japanese or Chinese and if I could cook Chinese food. She stopped once her friend came out of the cabins and scolded her,” she said.
Sarah would like to see a broader conversation take place within the community about racism in queer spaces – it’s not just straight and cis people who create toxic environments.
Cisgender and straight allies must “embrace the culture” in queer spaces
Luke Dixon agrees that it’s all about respect. He’s a gay man who’s “more than happy” to share gay spaces with straight and cis people – but he thinks they should only show up if they’ve been invited.
“Most of my entourage is queer except for a couple of het women, but I would be hesitant to end up with a group of straight women because it’s unfair to the rest of the attendees,” he says.
“But where is the line between protecting gay spaces and discriminating against those outside that spectrum? I think as long as heterosexual people invited into these spaces fully embrace the culture in a respectful and appropriate way, we should be able to share a space that is focused on inclusivity.
He also thinks it’s “inappropriate” for bachelor parties to go to gay bars. “Queer spaces are not a tourist attraction, nor a place of entertainment,” says Luke. “They are a safe space for the minority, whereas heterosexual cis women can find safety in many other places.”
Ben Tuffley, also gay, thinks it’s fine for straight cis people to go to gay spaces – but like Luke, he’d rather they were invited first. He also points out that the person who brings a heterosexual cis friend into a queer space needs to be aware of their behavior and ensure that they are not doing anything inappropriate or offensive to the community.
He is also frustrated with groups, such as bachelor parties, who go to gay bars. He fears that some heterosexual groups see LGBT+ spaces as a “spectacle” to behold.
“That being said, I know that some women frequent gay spaces because they are perceived as safer,” Ben says.
“It’s actually a sad indictment of our society.”