Houston’s First Guerilla Gay Bar Goes Badly, But Is It Bar-Owner’s Fault?


If you haven’t heard of the guerrilla gay bar phenomenon, here’s what it is: Take a bunch of gay people, get them out of their usual drinking haunts and have them hang out at a typically “straight” bar. The whole idea is to make politics fun, but there was no joy in Houston this weekend after gays and lesbians stood in the rain waiting to get into midtown’s Union Bar. They’re claiming discrimination, the bar’s owner says there was no room at the inn. Before we reach for the ‘Outrage’ button, consider this.

Your editor has been writing about Guerrilla Gay Bar in its various forms for a few years now and recently was in Charlotte, North Carolina covering that city’s version of the event. Here in Los Angeles, Guerrilla Gay Bar is something of an institution and wildly popular, forcing the events organizers to choose venues that can accommodate the large group. In fact, early on in the event’s run, the same thing happened: GGB L.A. chose a small bar, recently opened and popular, as its venue. Hundreds of gays and lesbians stood outside waiting to get in and the doormen didn’t let them in. The event’s organizers quickly let the folks standing in line know of an alternative venue to go to and everyone moved on. Afterward, they were quick to counter any accusations of discrimination and from then on avoided, small popular venues.

Houston’s midtown bar holds 114 people and as the owner showed in video released of the night, the event was packed. Also, the Houston Guerrilla Gay Bar made a reservation for 50 people and the bar let in that many folks before refusing admission.

This didn’t stop the organizers from sending out a press release, saying:

“Patrons started lining up at about 9:40 p.m. and were told to wait in line and not allowed inside, even as straight-appearing people were waved through. As the line grew and patrons waited in the rain, employees at the door told those who were that they were maintaining a “ratio.” Later, the bar employees simply indicated they had the right to refuse anyone.

“I was shocked to be a victim of that kind of discrimination in a city like Houston in 2009,” said Neal Falgoust, a Houston law student. “I have never experienced anything like that before in my life.”

How to be polite about this? Bars try to get girls in first– doesn’t matter if you’re straight or gay, if you’ve ever been at a popular nightspot, the ladies get in first. We don’t want to deny people their personal feelings of being discriminated against, but, with the owner apologizing for the crowds and explaining that oftentimes the bar is packed from party reservations alone, the reality wasn’t that Union Bar was hating on gays, but rather, there was no room at the inn. As one commenter, who was inside the bar, writes on Yelp:

“There were men, women, gay and straight have a grand time. So Union is after all a GOOD place. Yes I say good because other then the “Someone wipe my ass I can’t get in” or “Ohh that damn bitch didn’t let me in cause im gay” ITS ALL LIES!!! The pictures on channel 11 shows it full of people at 10pm and most are “HELLO” MEN!!!”

So which is it? Were the gays in Houston discriminated against or were they just trying to fill a space that couldn’t possibly accommodate them?

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  • ajax

    While I whole-heartedly embrace the idea of equal access to public places, I think this GGB thing is fraught with problems. If 100 straight men and women showed up at a small-ish gay bar and wanted to get into the bar to make the bar a place where straight people are comfortable to hang. . . do you follow the thought?

    I think the idea of the “other” changing the tone and tenor of a bar in an invasive way could lead to security problems. Under those circumstances, any bar-owner could be taking unnecessary risks by allowing admittance. If a fight breaks out and can’t be controlled, the owner risks his liquor license and insurance.

    This may not have been an issue of discrimination – it may have been an issue of public safety.

  • alan brickman

    more “straights hate us!!” propanganda…I think some Gay activists should be told to stop being activists….

  • thisismikesother

    When I’ve done Guerilla Bar in Boston, I’ve run into similar problems. Bar owners are pissed off because there are so many gays and apparently they think we just wanna dance instead of drink. It doesn’t matter how many gays you pack into a bar, sometimes bars are just always straight and even being packed to capacity isn’t good enough for them (cough cough, I’m talking about you Kell’s, cough).

    That being said, they should have forseen that there were going to be more than 114 gays in the fourth-largest city in the nation (Disclaimer: Houston is my previous home before Boston.) This was a flub on both parties count. But there are growing pains to everything, and I’m sure they’ll work the kinks out.

  • getreal

    I think this is great I don’t think bar owners have the right to say this is a straight bar people have the right to drink wherever they want.

  • MontroseMonitor

    I have to identify myself as one of the 2 Houstonians that regularly read this blog (I get all my news from ‘shady’ sources; The Daily Show, The Soup & Queerty are my sole insights to the outside world from this island of cosmopolitan living in big red TX) and someone who attempted to participate in the inaugural GGB:

    I’m inclined to think our first foray into GGB was more than mildly mismanaged and the response was much more enthusiastic than anticipated; thank you very much viral marketing. The organizers chose a smallish location and there was a hugeish group of the GLBT community and their admirers all set for the imbibement of mass quantities at a new location. We Houston gays are always desperate for something New/Now/Fresh (c’mon! we don’t even have an H&M or a Trader Joe’s or a Nordstrom Rack, but at least they do serve free vodka drinks at 2pm on a wednesday if you shop at the upscale boutiques while trying on $400 jeans; we crave sport for sport is rare!).

    While we all love the idea of spontaneity it takes a lot more planning. The owners of Union bar were uncharacteristically forewarned of the immanent descent of thirsty pink patrons and were reported to have been welcoming of the idea; just not so darn many! I think we here in Houston need to catch our breath and figure out how to do this again and not so harshly judge Union Bar with such celerity. I wonder if that will happen; we of the Houston Gay Rights Caucus are infamously fickle.

    I don’t want the rest of the world thinking that Houston is as backwards socially as many would have us limned. Our very broadly popular mayor marches in our annual Pride parade, our city controller of 6 years is openly gay and making a bid for mayor next cycle (Annise Parker for Mayor!!) and we have and have had openly gay city council members regularly. As our nation’s 4th largest city would be expected to behave, Houston is mostly quite inclusive.

    Safety is of course a concern for bar owners and Texas has some unusual laws on public drunkenness (it’s technically illegal to be drunk in public, including bars / nightclubs) and fire safety codes etc. blah blah blah … I think mistakes were made on all sides but it’s possibly more fun to be judgmental and dramatic. We’ll see; there were rumors about the management’s behavior at Union and most of these comments could have been taken out of context. Only time will tell but will we Houstonites even be interested in trying it again? *shrug* The pool party season starts up shortly and we all have some cute trunks to debut … and the whole issue might be forgotten.

  • Joe-Joe

    I would like to here from some gays that were actually let “in” the club, since the ratio was utilized and Union was packed to capacity.

  • Bruno

    Guerrilla Queer Bar was going on in SF like 7 or 8 years ago I think? It’s been so long ago I can’t even quite remember. The organizers would call ahead, and if a bar couldn’t accomodate the rather sizable crowd, we would go elsewhere. No questions asked.

  • jason

    This notion that it is the “gays’ fault” is just nonsense. It is absolute nonsense from those who are trying to make excuses for homophobes. If it was a group of blacks who were refused entry to the Union bar, would you similarly make excuses for the bar managers? I doubt it.

    Simply put, I think the bar managers and their enablers are looking for excuses.

  • jason

    I personally know of bars which refuse entry to any man who “looks gay”. The pretext they use is either “not dressed appropriately” or “we’re trying to maintain a gender balance”. These pretexts are simply a cover for discrimination, which in many cases may contravene state or city law.

    All in all, I think it’s wrong for any bar to refuse entry to anyone on the basis of sexual orientation. Same applies to gay bars.

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