6 min

Defending Le Stud’s gays-only space

Discrimination is discrimination is discrimination, right?

Well, it’s not always that simple.

Take the recent case of Audrey Vachon. She decided to have a quiet afternoon drink with her father. Ms. Vachon chose a bar in Montreal’s Gay Village, near her father’s office. Not just any bar: she chose to have a drink with dad at Le Stud, a long-established gay men’s cruise bar catering to hot men looking to hook up with other hot men in a butch environment. Not where one would, at first blush, choose to have a drink with one’s father.

She was told — or rather her father was, as the waiter pointedly ignored her — Le Stud does not serve women.

Ms. Vachon later claimed she was “…shocked. I was embarrassed, I was humiliated. I felt guilty that I’d even gone there, like I’d done something wrong.”

I don’t know if she necessarily did anything ‘wrong,’ per se, but she certainly did not seem to respect the fact gay men have, under difficult circumstances, finally carved out territory that is ours.

It can be argued one cannot have one’s cake and eat it too. If we stand to benefit from anti-discrimination laws then we need to make damn sure others aren’t excluded. Especially not by the very law we benefit from.

On the other hand, an argument can also be made environments such as Le Stud are specifically structured towards not just gay men but towards cruising. The name, the ambience, the physical layout of the bar, the clientele…everything at Le Stud indicates it is a bar that caters to bears, Leathermen, and other butch men, and the sexual ambience such men enjoy.

To a great extent I share the view that when women — be they lesbians or heterosexual women — are introduced into a cruising environment the dynamic is altered. Whether it is from the men’s discomfort around having women present or from the women’s discomfort witnessing men interacting in a manner which, from a women’s perspective, is usually perceived as sexual harassment, I don’t know. Perhaps it is a little of both. The reality is cruising at Le Stud is markedly different than cruising at a neighbourhood gay pub where the emphasis is more social than it is sexual.

Le Stud, claims owner Michel Gadoury, does accommodate women on occasion. Some places wouldn’t and certainly some gay men would prefer not even this much leeway be given.

I’ve heard it argued that this is indicative of gay men’s misogyny. I think that is unfair and far too glib a reaction.

It isn’t about women, it is about men and about the spaces we have created for ourselves.

Nobody is suggesting all gay or queer space be men-, or women-, only; it is important in developing community there be times when gay men and lesbians come together socially as well as politically. And while not all gay men have female friends they take out to the bar, many do. Clearly there needs to be space where that interaction can occur and there are many establishments in the Village where it does. Le Stud is not one of them.

Do gay men have a right to our own space and to define who can be in that space in some situations? I would argue we should. It is important to our development as healthy, self-accepting gay men to have that space. Le Stud is about having that space.

I can’t speak to the environment at Le Stud on an afternoon but would she expect to be allowed entry at, say, 12:30 on a Saturday night when the place is full of sweaty, beefy bodies cruising for other sweaty, beefy bodies? If denied entry, would she feel it was her rights that were violated?

Gadoury, in an interview with CBC’s Radio Canada, said being a male-only environment is a choice his clientele have made and have asked him to make, and he respects that. Le Stud clearly was opened as a hot cruisey bar and has, from my experience when in Montreal, been largely successful at that. That is what has brought in the customers and that is what those customers expect. Le Stud’s advertising emphasizes what sort of environment it is. If one does not wish to avail oneself of that environment, there are any number of bars in the Village one can choose from.

There is a clash of rights here. The right for Ms. Vachon to go where she pleases with who she pleases when she pleases versus the right of the patrons of Le Stud to continue to expect to be in an environment that fulfills the need to be in not simply ‘gay space’ but ‘gay male space’ and not have that cast as some sort of sexist, discriminatory, anti-human rights violation.

Montreal lawyer Julius Grey, a Charter expert and veteran on discrimination and civil rights cases, was quoted by the Globe And Mail as saying that while the incident clearly violates Sections 10 and 12 of the Quebec Charter, he considers the case “borderline.”

“The bar’s refusal in no way affected the girl’s [sic] dignity or devalues her as a person. It doesn’t seriously affect her status in society, whereas gays face constant discrimination,” he said. “Equality is a guiding principle and not a straightjacket.”

Various queer communities across Canada have struggled with the issue of integration/assimilation. When does allowing heterosexuals into gay clubs become a problem? How appropriate is it, for instance, when a gay man in a gay club approaches another man only to be told, “I’m straight”? When there are long lines to get into the latest gay hotspot and those of us standing patiently in line see any number of heterosexual couples being allowed in while we continue to wait for access into what is, after all, our bar, are we to accept that because the straights have as much right to be there as we do? At what point do we lose our culture and risk further assimilation by dominant culture?

Arguments have been put forward that to discriminate on the basis of who or what someone is, is antithetical to everything our communities have fought for since Stonewall; that if the behaviour of heterosexual patrons becomes offensive — either by direct confrontation, or the more subtle let’s-go-and-watch-the-fags-at-play — then that is when those individuals should be removed, but otherwise allowed to frequent our clubs and bars.

On the surface, this sounds imminently reasonable. However, the reality is, for all our advances, queers are still a minority and as a minority we have, or should have, the right to our own space without members of dominant culture taking those over as well.

We have women-only space because the presence of men may be perceived as threatening or inappropriate; so too should we have men-only space. The reasons may be different — women generally do not pose a threat, physical or emotional, to men, gay or otherwise — but why is there so much resistance to men, and gay men specifically, having a small corner of the world to ourselves?

Ah, I can hear someone saying, but men have the world to themselves and the argument is akin to some heterosexuals wanting to have a Straight Pride Day. Again, that appears a reasonable counter-argument except we are not talking about all men, we are talking about gay men and even at that we are not talking about all gay men; we are talking about a specific set of gay men.

I will admit to a conflict here. I have fought for equality and the right of individuals in a democratic society to move freely and to go wherever they please. I also understand the issues around the appropriation of any of the few spaces we, as gay men, have.

As a white, able-bodied male I am able to pretty much define my own space and not have it imposed upon me or have my access restricted. Women have struggled for years for access to formerly male bastions. However, if an argument were to be made that access to an environment like Le Stud is analogous to access to a men-only professional or golf club that, too, would be a false analogy. Such bastions of male power are exactly that; bastions of male power. Environments like Le Stud are not.

They are about having an environment where gay men can interact as sexual beings and not have to worry about their behaviour being perceived as ‘inappropriate’ or offensive.

Ms. Vachon may very well not take offence to such behaviour. However, it is not about her as an individual and it is not really even about ‘not allowing women,’ despite how the waiter phrased the objection. What it is about is the right for minorities to self-define and to define our own space and to have that respected.

It was not Ms. Vachon who was disrespected in this situation, despite her hurt feelings; it is her sense of entitlement which disrespects the patrons of Le Stud.