When John O’Malley first moved to Eugene from New York City, he was shocked. It wasn’t the city’s people, its politics or its dampness. It was its nightlife: Eugene didn’t have a gay bar.
Then O’Malley thought: forget a gay bar. Eugene didn’t even have a place where LGBTQ-identifed people could meet. At least one that wasn’t secret.
“It’s a college town,” said O’Malley. “There’s a bunch of LGBTQ-identified people here. It just didn’t make sense.”
That’s when O’Malley came up with, what he calls, “Eugene’s Official LGBTQ Happy Hour.” He’d already done something similar before back in Harlem, when he’d started “Coffee Grinder,” a meet-up event for LGBTQ individuals at a local coffee shop.
His hope is similar for Eugene: to create a space where he could serve as much of the community as possible — both those who couldn’t get a drink but wanted to dance and those who could but wanted to go to bed by 9:30 p.m. Only this time, the event, “Made in the U.S.A.” would take place in a bar (at Downtown Eugene’s The Barn Light), and it would be more than just a party; it would also be a fundraiser. Each month, 100 percent of the cover charge proceeds would go toward a small LGBTQ-rights charity in a different U.S. state.
The event’s kickoff party is on Dec. 3. The first state in the lineup? Oregon, of course.
“I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel by any means; there is a scene here already, but I do want to make it more accessible for all,” said O’Malley. “So that you don’t have to have a Facebook in order to know that something’s going on. So that you can go into a bar and see a cute guy and feel comfortable approaching him.”
O’Malley isn’t the only one in Eugene trying to improve Eugene’s LGBTQ scene. So are Jasmyn Hinton and Andrew Clark, the director of operations and the executive director— respectively — for Avalon Eugene. In fact, the majority of the proceeds from Made in the U.S.A.’s first party will go toward the local non-profit.
What Hinton and Clark want to provide Eugene is a bit more lofty: an LGBTQ-specific nightclub. The plan is to have a nightclub and a bar — the former downstairs, allowing individuals 16 years old and older a place to hang out and dance.
And, similar to O’Malley’s humanitarian efforts, the bar wouldn’t just be a safe place to hang out, it would also employ HIV-positive individuals — a demographic who, on average, suffers from stigmas surrounding employment.
“There’s no other club that caters specifically to the LGBTQ community in Eugene when it comes to employment and otherwise,” said Hinton. “And that space is needed.”
Hinton is optimistic. After all, the support is there. She’s asked for letters of interest from various community groups and they’ve received over 60 responses in the past month alone. Many have told them how neat it was. How they would want to come every week. Those are the kinds of people, Hinton said, they want to cater to.
“We want to make sure everyone feels welcome,” said Hinton. We want this to be a place for them.”