Is the queer community running out of safe spaces?

For the first time in Key West, I stood in our favorite bar on the first night and eyeballed the exits. Where would I go if someone were to come in and start shooting? Could I make it out the back, into the patio bar area, and out one of those exits? Or could I find a safe place to hide until everything was over?

When I came out in my early 20s, a gay bar was a safe place to go and be yourself. A place where you could be around others in the community and in spite of the sometimes cliquishness and sometimes bitchiness, enjoy an evening out. The bigger concern in Dallas was getting mugged on the way back to your car. (This happened to several people I knew, including a boyfriend at the time.)

But there I was in Key West thinking about what I would do. That the Club Q shooting in Colorado Springs had happened the month prior did not help my anxiety. And I doubt I was the only person who was having those thoughts.

Once upon a time, being in a gay bar meant facing the possibility of being swept up in a raid and being publicly shamed. Yet people still went to be with their community, somewhere they felt safe being themselves no matter the consequence. Even after the Stonewall Riot, safety wasn’t guaranteed. The Rainbow Lounge raid in Ft. Worth in 2009 is evidence of that.

However, many of us still view a bar as a safe space. That is our space. Even when being invaded by straight couples and bachelorette parties (commentary we will save for another day), there is that sense of security in being among our community.

Except more and more, we appear to be running out of safe spaces anywhere.

Republican legislatures and governors across the U.S. have passed and are continuing to push and pass anti-LGBTQ legislation. For this year’s Texas legislative session, 17 anti-LGBTQ bills have been filed covering everything from schools to drag shows. While all these bills will not pass, the few that do will likely eliminate spaces once considered safe by the queer community.

Queer students will no longer feel safe at school, having to worry about teacher or faculty outing them to their parents, no matter how dangerous that may be.

Queer educators will have to censor themselves at work to avoid running afoul of what is coming to be called “Don’t Say Gay” laws.

Libraries and librarians are being attacked and LGBTQ-themed books are being removed for being “pornographic.” Not that the legislators have read any of those books. But anti-LGBTQ organizations have given them a list that says they are.

Sports fields are no longer safe spaces for transgender athletes.

Doctor’s offices, where parents, patients, and doctors can work in tandem to make the best health choices, are becoming less safe.

And we’ve seen numerous times the demonstrations at drag shows accusing performers of being pedophiles and grooming children.

ACT UP rose to prominence during the AIDS crisis to bring attention to what wasn’t being done to help those with HIV and AIDS. I can recall a volunteer at the AIDS Food Pantry in Dallas participating in a die-in at the Republican national convention in Dallas and breaking stride to charge the doors to the convention center, angry about friends who had died and knowing he likely would.

Perhaps the queer community is reaching that point where we will require that kind of action, just to have safe spaces for ourselves. At some point, participating in “legislative days” with business organizations may have to give way to making the type of noise that ACT UP and other groups made in the 90s.

Do we start staging sit-ins in front of anti-LGBTQ legislators’ offices? Do we flood the floor of legislatures and demand that conservative legislators start focusing on issues that really affect the community? Do we accept that we might get arrested for protesting our right to feel safe in our communities?

I don’t know if I have the answers to any of that, or if the community is willing to step up and say that enough is enough.

However, I do know that I never want to be in a bar again, looking for exits, and worrying about whether it’s somewhere I can be safe.

Cover image: Passion Passport