Sanctuary: Any place of refuge; asylum.
When I got to college, I did what many college students do for money and got a job at a restaurant. I was a bartender in an attempting-to-be high end venue, and as happens in that industry much of the staff was gay.
Being young and heterosexual, after a shift would end, I wanted to hang out with the waitresses. They, in turn, wanted to hang out with the gay men. So, it was to the gay bars I went.
I’ve never been much of a bar rat, and it wasn’t until I ended up in my first gay bar I discovered why: regular bars are too testosterone-filled. There exists the ever-present element of danger in a “straight” bar, the threat some idiot is going to get drunk, thump his chest, and decide it’s time to break bottles over an innocent head. In college bars, you didn’t want to bump into the wrong overly macho asshole, or get pushed into his girlfriend. When dealing with a Cro-Magnon, fists fly before thoughtful reason comes to light.
In gay bars, I saw the oddest cross-section of Americana I have ever witnessed.
It often looked like a Halloween Costume Party. People from all walks of life would be conversing with one another, yet with no hostility taking place between them. A redneck in cowboy hat would be sitting casually with a black man dressed like a full-on gangsta. A preppy in an Oxford and a tattered-jean punk rocker would smile and flirt with one another without any hint of irony.
There are subsets and cliques within any community, and I discovered that since homosexuals were already being persecuted by the outside world, they weren’t going to add discrimination within the safe walls of their oasis. The “redneck” was simply a man who enjoyed country music and liked the lifestyle, but was also gay. The black man probably did come from the ghetto, dressed like a gangbanger every day, but wouldn’t be accepted as gay among the “homies.” Latino and Asian men found easy acceptance among white and African-American their gay counterparts.
Though it was unspoken, you could understand the idea was: “It’s us against the world, and if we can’t accept one another, what chance do we have outside these doors?”
I found great comfort in that, and believe it a greater representation of true brotherhood than I have seen in religion. Though love and compassion are preached in religion, a “we’re-right-you’re-wrong” attitude always seems to come up when comparing gods or styles of worship.
The reason this is all coming to mind is because of the many, many, Jesus-fucking-Christ oh-so-many mass shootings that have been taking place over the past few years. Unfortunately, I’ve witnessed people—both casually and those given the power of the airwaves and media—actually comparing, and then ranking, tragedies.
It’s absurd, but what makes it worse is when people try to make one event more tragic than another. Case in point, The Pulse nightclub in Orlando, vs. the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina. The unspoken question became: is it worse to be shot by a racist in a church, or a homophobe in a gay bar?
The only response I can muster up to such a comparison is: does it really matter?
Even worse, after the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs was shot up, the comparison was: “In Texas, they were in a house of God. In Orlando, they were in a bar. A house of sin.”
I think what anyone making such a statement is forgetting is: to a homosexual, a gay bar is a sanctuary.
Despite all the progress society has made in their attitude toward homosexuality, persecution, discrimination, and slander still exists against members of the LGBTQ community. The gay bar acts as a haven, where gay people can lower their guard, relax, and just be.
Maybe instead of comparing and ranking tragedies, we should be doing something to prevent them.
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