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.”

Seriously? Seriously?!

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.).

We need to support each other’s endeavors and support already existing black-owned and black queer-owned businesses. (You can start now by donating to barber Khane Kutzwell’s storefront shop here.)

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.

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4 Responses

  1. glennishamorgan

    Word. The club that I recommended to you in Ferndale was black and lesbian owned. I was disheartened when you told me that it was no longer running. With that being said once we start and open businesses how can we sustain them? Unfortunately, Club 9 was only open for a short period of time. The lack of black owned lesbian spaces is a possible reflection of businesses like Club 9 not being supported & patronized enough, promoted properly,etc. Sustainability is also an issue.

    Reply
  2. Tammy

    What a great topic, that it seems no one talks about. As an entrepreneur, I am always looking to support others like me, I seek to support black women entrepreneurs, period…but its really hard to find black women who are lesbians who own businesses outside of the typical club promoting scenes.

    I don’t live in NY anymore :( but I’ve thought about (just thought) what it would be like to have a little spot in my neighborhood (bookstore, wine bar or some other little quaint hangout) for lesbians, lesbians of color and who ever else would want to join us. But living in the suburbs of Washington, DC where the OUT lesbian community is sparse, you wonder if an establishment that is owned by a gay black woman would survive due to the anti-lgbt sentiments in my neck of the woods. outside of large metro areas with lots of foot traffic, it could be quite a feat to thrive catering to a niche community, especially when some of those people don’t want others to know their true sexuality.

    Plus, for gay men, a club can have a happy hour special and maybe some drag entertainment and get gay men out in scores, women on the other hand are much more tricky to market to. It’s just so many factors…

    I too wish there were more places for us, but I can’t definitely see why there are not. Not to say that it is impossible at all, all things are possible.

    Reply
  3. CJ Johnson

    I could not agree more with the argument in this article. I have been longing for lesbians of colors to open doors, any doors for that matter. Albeit a wine bar, boutique, restaurant, floral shop, whatever, just something. However, I believe that this lack of entrepreneurial visability could be due to the deep rooted lack of acceptance of lesbian women of color from our own communities. Think about it, for the most part when men are gay, it is very obvious. Even the homophobic black community tends to tolerate gay black men, because well, they are traditionally very visible. A lesbian in general, is not always so easily identifiable. Therefore, in a black homophobic culture, lesbians of color, may feel the need to restrain putting their gayness on “front street” and open the doors to those businesses that we so desperately need. It boils down to a matter of acceptance within ourselves but within the greater community. Granted, most urban locales, boasts “events” that lesbians of color can partake in and we have built our own “private” communities. However, they are either struggling or have yet crossed over into sustainable and visible businesses. I also think that most “gay” areas of anytown USA are so dominated by gay white men, that lesbians of color establishing businesses in those areas will be perceived as practically poaching and thus may lead to further discouragement from lesbians of colors to hang any kind of shingle. I could go on and on as to why we may be in this predicament because, it is indeed an onion but it begins with a conversation and I praise, Elixher, for starting it…

    Reply

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