Northern BC’s first gay bar will open in July, but the owner says staff will keep a close eye on the door to ensure the space remains friendly.
It’s a policy that has drawn comparisons with situations that existed in Vancouver bars decades ago.
On June 1, Prince George city council approved a liquor licence to the Learn to Earn Bartending School, which will open the Lambda club for the area’s gay community on July 8, just in time for Prince George’s 15th Pride celebrations, from July 7 to 9.
School operator Linda Allen tells Xtra she has been running special events under specific event licences for the past few years but thought it was time for a space queers could call their own.
“This has been a long, four-year process for me,” Allen says. “We want to host a whole lot of other events.”
She credits PFLAG and the local Peoples Alternative Lifestylez Club for helping her get her liquor permit work done.
Allen says she plans to close the Lambda 30 minutes before other bars close so people can get home safely. And in order to get into Lambda, she says, would-be patrons will have to name someone gay already known at the club. “Otherwise, you can’t get in,” she says. “Safety is number one.”
But she also says no one will be turned away — unless they cause problems. “We’re going to look at you and monitor you and make sure you don’t cause any problems. We never want to turn anybody away. Everybody gets a chance to come in.”
Prince George activist Shawn Peters welcomes the club and its safety precautions.
“I think it gives us a safe space to enjoy ourselves and go out on the weekend,” he says. “We don’t have to worry about hitting on someone and getting beaten up.”
Pride Prince George director Jerry Chaillee tells Xtra some people just coming out might find the door policy intimidating. But, he adds, it’s a situation most gay people have faced at some point.
The woman who will work the door is pretty welcoming and knows most people, he adds. He doesn’t anticipate anyone feeling excluded as a result of the policy.
Gay archivist Ron Dutton says Vancouver never really had any restrictive door policies, except at some licence-less bottle clubs where patrons had to check their liquor at the bar, then have it served back to them on request. At some of those early gay clubs, patrons had to know someone to get in.
“Maybe Prince George has some issues relating to straights or whatever coming in and feel the need to impose some restrictions,” he says.
It’s not unimaginable in Vancouver for an influx of straight people to cause problems in gay spaces, he adds.
Dutton says that in the 1980s, women began to realize they could go to gay bars and not worry about being hit on. But the men soon followed, which led to what he describes as “Biff and Candy” couples in gay bars engaging in heteronormative behaviours, which were an affront to the patrons who were in what they believed was a gay space. “They would show up… start dirty dancing,” he recalls. “It was a deliberate… in-your-face display of straight sexuality.” The straight men would then cause problems when they were hit on by gay guys, he says.
That issue was somewhat resolved, he adds, by installing signs in bars that read, “This is a gay establishment. If you have a problem with that, don’t come in.”