In an attempt to stop harassment and ogling of women bars on Church St are making it harder for unaccompanied straight men to attend events.
Jaymie Yu, who works security at Voglie Risto bar on their Saturday women’s nights, says she has to remove men who are bothering women virtually every time.
“Men harassing women, there’s something happening every night,” she says. “I pretty much kick someone out every week and it’s usually a guy or two or three. They’re just bothering women.
“One guy even tried to hit on me as I was kicking him out. He put his hand on my arm and asked me, ‘What’s your name?'”
Yu says Voglie’s policy on its women’s night is that any straight man must be accompanied by two women.
“A man unaccompanied, we have every right to kick him out,” she says. “We very, very politely hint that this is for women. We tell them at the door; they come in anyway.
“Gays are not a problem. But if they’re no-necks, that’s what I call straight men, we tell them they have to be with two women.”
Nor is Voglie the only bar to have such a policy in place. Besharam, a monthly party at Fly nightclub organized by members of Toronto’s South Asian queer community, instituted a similar policy starting with their November event. Besharam requires each solo straight man to be accompanied by one woman.
And Slack’s on Church St refuses entry to men at the discretion of the staff.
“We have someone on the door who’s very much aware of three or four straight guys who want to come in and ogle women,” says Karen Halliday, the owner of the bar. “He’ll ask questions to find out how much they know about the neighbourhood. You don’t want to have to ask those questions but you want the gay men and women to feel safe.”
Mohammed Khan, one of the organizers of Besharam, told Xtra before the new policy was enacted in November that straight men were taking over the event.
“We’ve been getting an influx of large groups of men unaccompanied by women coming in,” he said at the time. “The people who have started to come in are engaging in homophobia as well as sexually harassing women. A number of women have complained that they cannot go onto the dancefloor.
“A woman told me she was surrounded by men who fondled her breasts, grabbed her ass, were almost forcibly keeping her there. Gay men are being physically intimidated and getting homophobic comments.”
After the new policy was enacted at Besharam’s Nov 2 event, Khan told Xtra that a lot of women and gay men who had stopped going returned.
Yu agrees that the atmosphere is much more comfortable for women and gay men without a lot of straight men.
“I would rather have 10 heavily drinking straight men out of the bar and have two lesbians not drinking in the bar,” she says, “and gay men don’t want to hit on straight men because they can’t tap that.”
The popularity of an event can be a double-edged sword when it comes to attendance. More straight men began attending Besharam as it became more popular within the larger South Asian community. Yu says Voglie’s promotions spread the word about its event.
“They did a really good job promoting it,” she says. “Word gets out to the straight community.”
Deb Parent, who teaches a self-defence class at the 519 Church St Community Centre and who has been involved in Take Back the Night marches, says the clubs are doing the right thing.
“Any time straight men start to frequent bars or clubs that are predominantly for lesbians it’s an opportunity to ogle or harass women,” she says. “I think it’s an appropriate response. For many of us queers it’s about reclaiming our space.”
Halliday says Slack’s is aimed at women.
“We carefully screen men because before letting them in because it’s a women’s space.”
And Yu says straight men have plenty of other places to go.
“The village, last time I checked, is for gay people,” she says. “You have Richmond [the club district], the whole rest of the city for straights.”
But all say it’s important not to get carried away. Khan says that Besharam only had to turn away a few groups of men at their November event. And Halliday says it’s only a few times a week that men get refused entry at Slack’s.
“On a busy weekend I would say once or twice,” she says. “It’s not an epidemic or anything.”