Hey, straight people. Stop going to gay bars.

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Homosexuality. It is a topic that, while it may have once brought about disgusted looks and disapproving mummers, now typically gains a shrug of the shoulders. Most young people are totally accepting of differing sexualities. This is undeniably a great step forward for the gay community

But with acceptance also comes complacency. All too often it is deemed to be ‘easy’ being gay in the 21st century. Yet in the shadow of the Orlando LGBTQ shootings, we are reminded that being gay, bi or transgender is still a constant fight to have a right to express your true identity. The gay community is not here to provide you with an ironic night out, so don’t treat them as such.

So, straight people. Stop going to gay bars.

Don’t get me wrong –  I’m not saying straight people are never allowed in gay bars. It can be daunting for LGBTQ people to go to a gay bar alone if they have no LGBTQ friends, and of course LGBT people have every right to go to gay bars with straight friends. It is their space and their sexuality, and they should be able to celebrate this with whomever you please.

 For straight people to go to a gay bar is an invasion of space.

However, in a world where there is a tiny number of areas that are dedicated specifically to the LGBTQ community, for straight people to attend gay bars out of their own accord is to devalue these places as a ‘gay space’. You become uncertain who is LGBTQ and who is straight and just looking for a ‘flamboyant’ night out.

It is often an awkwardly discussed matter within LGBTQ circles that there is a lack of ‘lesbian culture’; gay bars are predominantly for gay men. And why is this? Arguably it is because of the increase of straight women attending gay bars in attempt to have nights out without receiving unwanted male attention. By invading the gay space, it means it can become harder for gay women to meet like-minded individuals and reinforces gay bars as a gay male space. The fact that San Francisco (often considered one of the gay capitals of the world) closed its only remaining lesbian bar last year says a lot about the state of lesbian culture.

Thus, for straight people to go to a gay bar is an invasion of ‘space’. It is to actively choose to go to a space that is intended to offer sanctuary for a minority group, and it is to treat this sanctuary as any other place in the world.

Let’s make this clear: gay bars are not the same as normal bars. They are effectively the only spaces in society that are specifically dedicated to the LGBTQ community. By implication, every other space in the world is, by default, straight. From the local Coop to your favourite café to your bookshop to our schools to our workplaces, these places are all placed under the heteronormative gaze – just because they don’t have the word ‘gay’ in front of them. These are places where a straight person could, potentially, meet the love of their life. But LGBTQ are unlikely to have this privilege.

If you do not abide to the stereotype of what it means to be ‘gay’, then you are assumed to be straight. When young, homosexual people who do not fit the ‘gay stereotype’ and are insecure with their sexuality, straight clubs are often places where they receive unwanted attention. When you are young, gay and struggling to accept your sexuality, it can feel like you’d be willing to do anything to be straight. Knowing how to deal with such unwanted attention can thereby be a confusing and difficult situation. Gay bars, conversely, offer a safe space in which such people do not have to deal with these situations.

While society is becoming increasingly liberal, we must not become complacent. The recent deaths in Orlando felt like a personal attack on the LGBTQ community. It is a reminder that while we have come far, we should not underestimate the battle ahead. Last year many people were claiming that the fight for equality had been won, following national America’s legalisation of gay marriage, and it is a sad fact that it takes the public the biggest terrorist massacre of civilians since 9/11 to remember that the LGBTQ struggle still exists.

To invade the gay space is to enter it as an outsider. Earlier this year, I was almost put off going to my university union’s LGBTQ night (of which there are only three a year) after I heard my friend’s flatmates were planning on attending – none of whom identify as LGBTQ. At this point in time I was still deeply insecure with my sexuality, and the idea of them seeing me out of the closet (so to say) was almost enough to put me off of going.

Yes, while attending LGBTQ nights and going to gay bars is an active act and admittedly one which puts LGBTQ individuals out in the open, what straight people might not realising when attending such nights is that they are not only attending a bar or a club night, but they are also entering into a minority culture that has a secret life of its own, even if it doesn’t always actively exist out in the open.

Let’s make this clear: gay bars are not the same as normal bars. They are effectively the only spaces in society that are specifically dedicated to the LGBTQ community.

My sexuality is not a joke. Don’t you dare use my sexuality to fuel your ‘quirky night out’. Especially in the wake of the Orlando shootings, do not devalue the struggle that LGBTQ face on a daily basis just so you can get a hilariously-captioned snapchats of you and your friends posing on a pole with a drag queen. It is a matter of respect. Respect for a community that has nowhere else. In which this is their only space to be in a social environment without fear of judgement. It is perhaps one of the only spaces in which LGBTQ people can exist without being the minority.

What you and your straight friends who stand laughing at the extravagance of it all can’t see is that, beneath the jovial atmosphere of gay bars, we all have scars of some sort. We have all known the internal and external struggle for the simple matter of our identity. We have all known pain. We all feel the weight of those killed for their identity.

But this is what makes gay bars so powerful. There is a sense of celebration despite the scars that we carry. They celebrate that, despite the fact that we have struggled, that we are still here. We’re still fighting. We’re still dancing. We’re still celebrating, no matter how many people try and shoot us down.

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