Discrimination | Gay Bar | Houston | News | Texas

Outrage in Houston After Bar Refuses Entrance to Gays


A "guerrila gay bar" event has put the focus on a Houston nightclub after gays who came to participate were forced to stand in line in the rain and never admitted while the club ushered in straight patrons instead, according to a press release from the Houston LGBT caucus.

Houston2These types of events are typically "stealth"  activist events meant to force interaction between gay and straight people in a harmless social setting. This one was not stealth, however. Organizers had sought permission from the club's owner beforehand. The bar owner of Union Bar and Lounge in midtown had told them they would be welcome.

That wasn't the case, apparently. Attendees claim that gays were told to wait outside in the rain while straight clientele was ushered inside (link to PDF):

"Nearly 100 gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people were refused entry to Union Bar and
Lounge in Midtown Friday while others were welcomed. Patrons started lining up at about 9:40 p.m. and were told to wait in line and not allowed inside, even as straight-appearing people were waved through. As the line grew and patrons waited in the rain, employees at the door told those who were that they were maintaining a “ratio.” Later, the bar employees simply indicated they had the right to refuse anyone. A patron who arrived at the bar early reported that the bar was nearly empty at about 9:40 p.m., when gay people started arriving and were stopped at the door.  Gay people continued to line up to the street and around the corner as people who appeared to be straight went to the front and were ushered in. Kris Banks, who stood at the front of the line, said the bar employees were asking the women who were entering with men if the men were accompanying them. If the men were with the women, they were allowed in."

Said Lindsey Dionne: "I arrived and heard that they were not allowing gay men in, so when I got to the door with three women I asked if we would be allowed in, and the door employee said ‘I was told to keep you out.’ This was supposed to be a social event, but now it’s political."

The bar owner denies the charges, saying the bar was at capacity. KHOU Houston report here.

A bill was recently filed in the Texas House that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

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  1. Picket!

    Posted by: candideinnce | Mar 15, 2009 4:03:46 PM

  2. >A bill was recently filed in the Texas House that would prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

    Makes it sound like in Texas the bar acted within Texas law. Is this true?

    Posted by: Quint King | Mar 15, 2009 4:15:55 PM

  3. Yes. There are no laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in Texas.

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Mar 15, 2009 4:29:06 PM

  4. Well, i'll probably get panned for saying this, but I think the bar owner has a right. The honest thing would've been for the bar owner to say to the organizers that he had concerns about his clientele and their group mixing, and to tell them to please not come.

    I've seen gay bars in Austin put up a $20 cover charge and then give "guest" tickets for clearly gay men to go in for free. This apparently was done to keep the bar from being overwhelmed by curious straight women and bachelorette parties.

    Frankly, I think it's all right to do that. I want to be able to head to a gay bar that's predominantly gay men, especially as gay neighborhoods are starting to beome a thing of the past and there is significant mixing of communities - which is healthy for the most part.

    But it was unfair of the bar owner to be two-faced about it and keep the group from going elsewhere. He's definitely an a-hole.

    Also, there's a difference between having an "unusual mix" for one night, which has potential for giving people a fun experience, and having an undesired group of people take over your themed bar entirely on a permanent basis.

    I also don't support that law as proposed. It would be very easy then for the straight majority to invade gay bars on a permanent basis and force them into very out-of-the-way areas in order to remain predominantly gay.

    Posted by: Andrew K | Mar 15, 2009 4:32:43 PM

  5. This story isn't as cut-and-dry as it first seemed. I'm not sure if discrimination really took place, or if the bar was at capacity and couldn't let anyone else in. Here's the story covered by a TV news crew:

    Posted by: David in Houston | Mar 15, 2009 4:38:31 PM

  6. Andrew K is absolutely right. It would be simply dreadful if a bunch of colored folk showed up one night at my predominantly white neighborhood bar. The whole vibe would be ruined!

    Posted by: 24play | Mar 15, 2009 5:10:18 PM

  7. Not a surprise, really. The same thing happened to my friends and me when we tried to attend an equivalent event at Beauty Bar in the Mission. All "gay" men were stopped at the door by the bouncers and told to wait outside because there were "too many men inside". Women were let in. "Straight appearing" men were also let it. It IS illegal in California and SF to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender. We pointed that out to the bouncers and the manager. They laughed at us.

    Posted by: Don in SF | Mar 15, 2009 5:12:30 PM

  8. People have a constitutional right to association. I don't think private clubs are covered under public accommodations so even if there was a anti-discrimination law that included sexual orientation, I don't think a bar would be forced to admit everyone.

    Posted by: Eric | Mar 15, 2009 5:39:43 PM

  9. Ok, I don't agree with the club's actions...because it brings back my own memories of being kept of GAY bars in several Texas cities in the ancient days of the early 80's because of "no open-toed shoes", which was code for "no real girls in this joint." I did manage to live and dance another day.

    Anywhoodle, compared to marriage equality, climate change and other vital issues it seems like who the bouncer lets in is a bit of a tempest in a teapot.

    Posted by: Rebeck | Mar 15, 2009 5:41:45 PM

  10. Eric,

    You don't have a fundamental right to operate a business though. Your "all white, all male, all straight" associations are protected so long as they're explicitly private. Once you start selling drinks and food, however, then you're subject to federal and state commerce law.

    In many states, these processes are tied to "material compliance" with relevant anti-discrimination policies. They can't shut down your club for discriminating against black people and what not. But they can take away your liquor license. This would basically ruin you and accomplish the same goal.

    The problem is most anti-discrimination laws are not vigorously enforced. Politicians like to enact them because they're an easy way to deal with difficult issues that they'd rather not talk about. Business owners know this. And they routinely show their contempt for such laws by ignoring them.

    Posted by: John in CA | Mar 15, 2009 7:01:30 PM

  11. That is a very good point, John.

    I was thinking more along the lines of how courts allow the Boy Scouts to discriminate, but I agree with your point.

    It really depends on how the courts interpret the type of association that a bar conducts.

    Posted by: Eric | Mar 15, 2009 7:17:06 PM

  12. As someone who lives in Houston, I think that a bar using a PUBLIC license (of which a Texas Alchohol License is) should NOT be able to discriminate. The largely Gay neighbors of this bar have to deal with the traffic, noise, and parking hassles from this bar. If they aren't open to the neighbors, then they should have their license revoked.

    They were discriminating based upon gender, which IS against Texas law.

    The are NOT a private club. If someone wants to be a private club, fine, but EVERYONE has to have a membership and they can't buy one at the door.

    Doormen can have a dresscode as a bar to entry. But nothing else. A public bar does NOT have a right to a 'selective entry policy'.

    Posted by: Lazybrooktom | Mar 15, 2009 8:19:41 PM

  13. I don't understand why the gay community is so huge in Texas. A state that recently prosecuted gay men for sodomy and continues to treat the LGBT community as well below second class citizens, I have heard countless stories such as the one above in Dallas, San Antonio and Austin. I can understand that it's important to make our community known and more vocal for change, but that would only make sense if the people currently living there were more active in their community. Otherwise, I am all set with Texas. The odds are against us already, and I'd rather spend my time improving other states where I won't be jailed after being beaten for holding my boyfriends hands in public.

    Posted by: CJ | Mar 15, 2009 8:29:40 PM

  14. David, you're incorrect on technical grounds. There are laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in Texas. Austin and Dallas have them, for example. San Antonio might... In any case, Houston does not and there is no law at the state level... it's left up to local governments.

    CJ, there are so many gays in Texas because Texas is a big state and it's cheap to live here. I know it seems like the odds are against us, but I think it's our responsibility, collectively as a community, to focus our efforts on the places where our fellow gays are *most* vulnerable. It's easy to march in SF, where things are by most metrics pretty good for gays, it's quite another thing to do the same in Texas. The community shouldn't neglect the gay boys and girls being tormented in rural Texas, or Arkansas, in favor of making the lives of bourgeois gays in California a little more bourgeois.

    Smash Prejudice! Smash Homophobia!

    Posted by: Xtabentun | Mar 15, 2009 9:51:00 PM

  15. ...but that doesn't mean Texan gays are not bourgeois themselves! There is a lot of bigotry in Texas, but things have changed quite a bit even in the past few years. It's really hard to believe how much gays and straights are adapting to each other, in the urban areas of the state gays have carved out a fairly comfortable place.

    That said, the Texan government is very far to the right. It's not representative of the state as a whole. Really, the Texan government is a caste unto itself, that's rigged the system in its favor, etc. etc. That doesn't mean that there are no popular conservative politicians, but that power is held by a very corrupt and right-wing class. So while Texans are a conservative and religious people, we're also urban and cosmopolitan, and that in our cities, gays have an easier time of it than they do in perhaps most of the South except South Florida (Dallas, Houston are probably on par with Atlanta, while Austin is a little Berkeley or SF).

    Texas is in a transition period right now. It's going blue, politically. Power is shifting to our mega-sprawl cities. Things are much less stifling than they were a decade ago. Texas is also very corrupt and badly managed. It's also a wonderful state with excellent people in many ways and my home. I'm also gay. So while things are not as dire as I may have made it seem, and others do, in comparison we're doing OK. We have to stick around and fight, however, SMASH prejudice and SMASH homophobia!

    Posted by: Xtabentun | Mar 15, 2009 10:36:56 PM

  16. XTBAENTUN, thanks for your comments, it is so nice to read a response that is mature, insightful and respectful. I was half expecting nasty responses, but your comments made me rethink my statement. Fight the good fight, the only way :).

    Posted by: CJ | Mar 15, 2009 11:47:53 PM

  17. Wow, that bar must be doing really well if they can afford to turn down gay business. Most of the bars and restaurants in my area are desperate for business and are cutting down on staff hours like crazy. Plenty are a month or two away from folding. I guess Houston's economy must be doing really well if local businesses can afford to discriminate against folks. Where I am, any event planners who come calling would get the red carpet treatment if they could fill a club or bar to capacity. Things are so shitty, I wouldn't be surprised if they'd change their staff uniform to speedos and bowties and a smile, if they thought it would drag in the gay business.

    Posted by: Wheezy | Mar 16, 2009 12:58:54 AM

  18. Many straight bar owners are scared of the sight of two men kissing in their bars. They are truly homophobic, especially in relation to the male-male erotic interaction, even something as a mild as a kiss. I know of straight bar owners who tell their door staff to refuse entry to any man who "looks gay". Of course, if you're a "hot bi chick" with very little clothing on you, you're usually welcome with open arms.

    The whole bar/nightclub scene has taken a terrible turn with the development of this bisexual double standard as well as the polarization of male sexuality in America. We're living in a society which has become increasingly homphobic towards the male-male interaction at the cultural level.

    Posted by: jason | Mar 16, 2009 1:10:04 AM

  19. The gay community isn't immune from criticism on this issue. When you create gay bars for reasons other than wanting to protect the gay community, you're essentially creating a sexual enclave which is designed to pander to the gay sexual orientation. In essence, such enclaves are discriminatory to those who don't abide by that orientation.

    We mustn't forget, however, that it is primarily homophobia towards the male-male interaction which drives the vast majority of the nightclub ethos out there in the mainstream. Many mainstream nightclubs (often referred to as straight nightclubs) cultivate an atmosphere of rampant male heterosexuality and, yes, homophobia. If you don't fit into that straight male viewpoint, you're considered a "threat".

    Posted by: jason | Mar 16, 2009 1:15:45 AM

  20. What we're seeing in America right now is a combination of the gender double standard and the bisexual double standard. These double standards are designed to prop up male heterosexual fantasy. If you're a half-naked female with long flowing hair, you're allowed into bars whether you are gay or straight. If you're a gay man, you're not allowed in no matter how you look.

    If you want to know who developed these double standards, all fingers point to liberals and Democrats.

    Posted by: jason | Mar 16, 2009 1:21:48 AM

  21. Then why patronize the organizer or the establishment? Why que? After a few minutes those folks on that line should have come to realize what was up... Especially those folks in the front!

    Rants, Thoughts & Merde

    Posted by: NativeNYker | Mar 16, 2009 7:36:34 AM

  22. Oh, Jason, how we missed you.

    Posted by: crispy | Mar 16, 2009 9:20:10 AM

  23. When I go into a bar gay or straight; I do not annnounce I'm here and I'm queer, I just go in and mind my business.

    Posted by: bill | Mar 16, 2009 9:36:00 AM

  24. Yippee! Jason's on his bisexual double standard roll again! I guess hibernation season is over in the Outback?

    Posted by: Ernie | Mar 16, 2009 10:39:50 AM

  25. Another interesting take on this incident over at Queerty. http://www.queerty.com/houstons-first-guerilla-gay-bar-goes-badly-20090316/

    Posted by: Matt | Mar 16, 2009 10:43:44 AM

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