Eugene has zero gay bars. The Wayward Lamb was Eugene’s last one, but it closed in February for financial reasons. Plenty of bars in Eugene are LGBTQ-friendly but none specifically cater to LGBTQ individuals.
The closure of the Wayward Lamb three months ago was devastating to some community members but has inspired two individuals to start a bar of their own: Spectrum Eugene, which will open in July. Helen Shepard and Toni Riley, the two owners of Spectrum, wanted to open a space for people with a spectrum of genders, sexualities and other marginalized identities — those who have not traditionally been catered to by mainstream services — so they can have a space to feel welcome.
“I’m not under any sort of illusion that my venue is going to change the whole world. But I think that my attitude can impact the people around me, and then those people can impact the people around them,” said Shepard.
However, some community members are frustrated and say that the bar’s owners took their ideas without credit.
After the Wayward Lamb announced that it was shutting down in February, community members held brainstorming sessions to create “a dedicated queer-identified LGBTQIA+ space that serves people of color, trans, kink” and other intersectional communities.
Arken Vetra, a UO student studying biological anthropology, was one of the organizers of the sessions. Vetra — who uses they/them pronouns — said Shepard and Riley took several of the ideas brought up by people of color at the brainstorming sessions without including them in the development of Spectrum.
“A lot of the specific language that we used, we feel has been co-opted,” Vetra said. “It’s become just another white person with money taking ideas from black and brown people in the community and running it off as their own idea.”
Discussion at the sessions included what community members wanted an LGBTQ+ space to have (a nonprofit structure, accessibility to all ages and intersectional sensitivity training were some of the recurring themes), how a potentially nonprofit space with a community board model could function and how a space could include underrepresented and marginalized groups.
Shepard applied to register Spectrum as a company in mid-April, about two months after the Wayward Lamb closed its doors for the last time.
“I’m really trying my best to include all the people that were involved in the community meetings to give them a chance to be a part of building Spectrum,” said Shepard, who uses they/them pronouns. They added that they had hired Vetra to lead a workshop for staff members about racial sensitivity. “It’s hard to have ownership on an idea, especially when it’s a community building experience.”
Despite criticism, some LGBTQ+ community members are hopeful about the benefits that Spectrum will bring to the Eugene area, such as a safe space for LGBTQ+ individuals to build community and seek shelter from harassment.
“I don’t want to trash talk it and make people boycott it,” said Cressa Perloff, another one of the organizers of the brainstorming sessions. “I would rather that trash talk results in positive change at this stage.”
Riley and Shepard also want to make Spectrum more than just a gay bar. Shepard said it’s going to be a space to plan “the revolution.”
Shepard said that it would be a space where people can take workshops about combating white supremacy, understanding white privilege and learning about sex positivity. Spectrum is also taking requests from mural artists to add murals to the space.
“The real beauty and the story is in the way that queer people gather to resist social norms and the pain that is in our society,” Shepard said. “Just the act of loving yourself or loving somebody else can be socially progressive.”
Riley has a personal investment in creating a dedicated space for LGBTQ+ people. When her father died by suicide in 2016, it was because he was unable to come out as gay.
“This is for him. I want to create a space where one human doesn’t have to feel like their only solution is to leave,” Riley said. “I don’t want it to be a secret, because that’s what created the space that put him where he was. He’s not physically here now, but I wouldn’t want him to think that I’m not proud as hell of who he was.”
Spectrum will have its grand opening event on July 28 at the Wayward Lamb’s former location, 150 W. Broadway, where Spectrum will be located.
Spectrum will include an all-ages café and lounge that serves brunch and dinner, along with a 21-and-over bar and event venue. The bar will be available for booking to host group meetings, shows, fundraisers and special events, according to its website.
“Providing that safe space for people is really important, because if the people don’t feel safe, then they’re not going to speak up,” Riley said. “They’re not going to fight for themselves. They’re gonna stay at home and cower, for lack of a better phrase.”
The owner of the Wayward Lamb, Colin Graham, did not respond to an interview request from the Emerald.