A trip to the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Midtown in Atlanta or Ferndale in Detroit will reveal cultural hubs for gay folks. But when you look at the establishments, look at who is running them, look at the patrons, you’ll find that they are owned and/or frequented by primarily white gay men—with exceptions like Park Slope, Brooklyn (gayborhood for white lesbians) and Midtown Atlanta (the so-called “black gay Mecca” for African-American men). Where are the communities where black lesbians gather and call the shots?
Without a doubt we run deep in areas like Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, but are we running things there? I know of one black lesbian-owned establishment in the vicinity. One.
By no means should we only serve or hang out in neighborhoods that cater to us. But the lack of businesses and safe havens that cater to our needs is astounding.
In “A Perfect Lesbian Day In Chicago,” Jenny Hagel wrote, “While many cities have an area that serves as the center of the gay men’s social scene, few can boast a neighborhood centered around gay women.”
“One of the things that makes Andersonville [an enclave in Chicago] such a lesbian hotspot is its concentration of lesbian-owned and lesbian-friendly businesses, like Women and Children First,” she continued. “One of the last feminist bookstores to survive the advent of Amazon, their deep selection includes LGBT-themed works and a hip rack of indie mags.”
Hagel also suggested grabbing an ice cream cone and heading to “the benches at the intersection of Clark Street & Berwyn Avenue. This intersection is ground zero of lesbian Chicago. Every Andersonville resident passes through it at some point during the day, window shopping, holding hands with her girlfriend or rushing off to play in one of the country’s largest lesbian intramural sports leagues. From here you can watch women greet each other on the street and marvel at how everyone in this neighborhood seems to know each other.”
Then there are actual lesbian bars. Not bars with “lesbian hours.” Bars that are for ladies 24/7.
Where is this lesbian utopia for black women? Please. Tell. Me. Now.
Black lesbian elder and activist Dr. Kofi Adoma spoke to GLAAD (the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) about growing up gay in the ’80s: “It took us a while to tell ourselves that we didn’t have to always patronize the plentiful white gay men’s bars. We had to convince ourselves that we could do for self and create our own venues, venues that catered to our own preferences and needs.”
Dr. Kofi went on to talk about the importance of “informal” gatherings, like barbeques and potlucks. While those kinds of gatherings are still essential for the sense and strength of community, we should not overlook the importance of creating our own formal, sustainable businesses and community spaces (i.e., longevity, financial independence, world domination, etc.).
But before we can support others, we have to believe in ourselves. Like our black lesbian elders decades ago, we must convince ourselves that we can do it. We have to believe that our visions are worthy of execution and that we are the ones that are capable of executing them. Next, we must uncover resources—grants, fundraisers, government funding—and educate ourselves, for instance take free small business classes at MyOwnBusiness.org. (My Own Business, Inc. is a nonprofit organization committed to helping people succeed in business. The free courses are presented by successful business owners who point out the common, avoidable mistakes.) And yes, it’s really free.
“We had to create space for ourselves,” Dr. Kofi added. “We could not depend on anyone else to do it for us.”
It’s time we do the same.