Alcohol flowing, music blaring, lights flashing and bodies grinding; it’s the typical night out at the local bars. Just like everyone else, I only have one mission: leaving my worries about classes behind, even if it’s just for a night. On a dimly lit dance floor packed wall-to-wall with sweaty bodies, I feel as if my partner and I are lost in the crowd as we dance together, but a new worry begins to creep into my mind.
As a man dancing with another man, I can’t escape the discomfort of being gawked at and singled out. I wish I didn’t have to feel this way, but I almost have no choice.
Despite Eugene being ranked as one of the most LGBTQ-friendly cities in the United States, and the University of Oregon being the most LGBTQ-friendly university in Oregon, the city still lacks spaces where queer people can be queer without hesitation.
Queer spaces are important because they provide an opportunity for all people in the LGBTQ community to gather and socialize without fear of blatant hate or subtle microaggressions. These spaces are where we can be ourselves, whether we are with our partners or by ourselves, looking for friends, for community or seeking our next love or our next hook up.
Eugene previously had this space with the Wayward Lamb, which was the city’s only explicitly queer bar when it opened in 2015. This provided the LGBTQ community with one of the only queer spaces in Eugene where it can be out, loud, proud and unapologetic. However, it closed in February after three years of business, citing finance problems and family concerns, leaving a hole in the community that has yet to be filled.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to experience the Wayward Lamb because I turned 21 a few weeks before it closed and was unaware of its impending closure. However, I was able to experience a thriving queer nightlife during a summer in D.C. where I lived only a few blocks away from it. Although it was only a brief encounter, I came away with a feeling that I still haven’t quite found in Eugene:
That I might actually be normal.
Although the closing of the Wayward Lamb impacts the Eugene community, it is also emblematic of the vanishing queer spaces around the country. Queer spaces have closed due to a variety of reasons — gentrification leading to increasing costs, dating apps removing barriers to connect with others and businesses facing pressures to cater to a straighter audience — leaving fewer and fewer places where queer people can be openly queer.
Having a queer-friendly space is not necessary for LGBTQ individuals to freely express themselves, but being out and proud outside of these spaces does not always come naturally.
It is easy to forget that these queer spaces were created out of necessity rather than celebration. Especially before the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision making same-sex marriage the law of the land, queer people were marginalized and discriminated against in their communities and lacked places where they could freely express themselves and connect with others in the queer community.
Despite progressive strides in LGBTQ equality and inclusivity across the country, queer people still need and appreciate these spaces. In dominantly non-queer spaces, it can be alienating and frightening to express one’s queerness around people who may not be as tolerant as one might expect, even in a liberal city such as Eugene. Many LGBTQ people are still reluctant to express themselves for fear of social repercussions from friends and family, or worse in more conservative states. Queer spaces provide a safe space to be free of these concerns.
Although I am a strong supporter of queer spaces, they aren’t perfect. Trans and gender-nonconforming people aren’t always welcome, and queer nightlife is infamous for celebrating only a specific kind of LGBTQ individual: cisgender, white men.
Despite these problems, the spaces serve as safe havens of queerness in a world where the LGBTQ community is constantly pressured to conform to a crushing heteronormative culture and adhere to masculine and feminine norms. But queer spaces allow us to reject this status quo. We can kiss without shame, genderbend without objectification and socialize without fear.
This need for queer spaces doesn’t come from a feeling of resentment toward straight or cisgender people. Instead, it comes from a feeling of wanting to freely embrace who we are.
While the LGBTQ community lacks queer spaces throughout Eugene, it doesn’t need to be this way.
Business owners can take the initiative to host regular queer-friendly events or become entirely LGBTQ friendly. And LGBTQ individuals can co-opt already existing spaces and reclaim it as their own queer spaces.
It is time for the community to help make Eugene queer again, and perhaps help others see that the queer community is not so queer after at all.