An innovative approach to queer integration, coupled with a healthy dose of visibility and fun has resulted in a new club night for the Greater Cincinnati area that could very well threaten the delicate balance of gay and straight nightlife.
It’s slightly salacious and is proving to be wildly popular and even, some report, a little addictive.
The trendy activity goes by the name Cincinnati Guerrilla Queer Bar, and consists of a once-a-month dance party that sends a significant portion of Cincinnati gays to places they might not normally go… specifically to straight bars. On the first Friday of every month, the word goes out to all the members signed up on CGQB’s Facebook page. In that message, members discover when and where to meet-up. It could be Cincinnati's most hallowed sports bars or traditional straight pick-up bars. One never knows until the message goes out earlier that day.
The organizer of this homegrown concept is Ethan Philbrick, a 23–year-old activist with far loftier goals than annoying burly straight men at their Friday night haunts. Instead, he seeks to have his heterosexual brethren to simply share a drink with their gay counterparts.
Why shift Cincinnati’s rainbow-tinted landscape? Why would a rogue band of homos pester nice straight people while they’re out for the evening?
His story is the antithesis of the Lifetime–esque coming-of-age, coming out story.
Philbrick grew up in Nantucket Island in Massachusetts, a homogenized community and a self-described "bastion of privilege."
From a young age he identified as queer, cross-dressing in the second grade and having a preternatural flair for the theatric. When he came out as a teenager, he was lucky enough to be embraced by his “loving and engaged” family.
Sent to a progressive arts school outside of Boston as a teen, Philbrick discovered a sense of community and identity among the other homosexuals at the school. “It was basically gay male heaven,” Philbrick said. “75 percent of the male population was gay.”
Those experiences helped to develop his own flavor of gay. “I don’t really dig what seems to be the homo-normative or the mainstream gay identity,” Philbrick said. “I don’t want to identify that way.”
“If I have to pick one identity, I want to exist in ambiguous ‘identity-land’ which has informed… what I do now.”
Philbrick met and married his partner in Boston (where such things are legal) and followed him to Cincinnati. “I like making impulsive decisions,” he says. “It was the last place I thought I’d go, so it was perfect.”
Originally Philbrick thought he’d be a student, but settled on being an advocate. He began working at the Peaslee Neighborhood Center designing a music curriculum.
But Philbrick also wanted to affect some kind of change in Cincinnati’s LGBT scene. “What is it that I want to do in this city while I’m here?” he asked himself. “It always came back to things surrounding sex, sexuality, identity, and queerness.”
Cincinnati Guerilla Queer bar is one manifestation of that need to change the status quo. Based around a national movement, the idea of organizing and meet-ups traces its roots to politics. Locally, the group exists primarily on Facebook with a subordinate blog at cincinnatiguerrillaqueerbar.blogspot.com
. The group boasts 801 members in and around the Cincinnati area. Philbrick says he has seen anywhere from 150 to 300 people attend each event with a diversity of participants ranging from young and old and both gay and straight.
Although common in other cities like Boston and Washington, D.C., the idea for Guerilla Queer bars is rather remarkable in a city like Cincinnati. This city’s gay community remains largely invisible to the general population, gaining attention a few times a year around Pride weekend.
Events such as the Cincinnati Guerilla Queer Bar could be instrumental in coaxing lukewarm gays from the woodwork and prompting them to come out to their straight counterparts.
Reactions to the first Friday events have been mixed but very positive
from both the straight and gay communities. Bar owners welcome the
addition of 150-200 thirsty patrons they normally would not have
through their doors and many straight patrons are even unaware that
anything is different. More than an "invasion," the events more than
anything else become a "blending" of both straight and gay.
Philbrick recalls a particularly valuable discussion on queer identity
in the ladies’ room of the Lodge. According to Philbrick, by the end of
the conversation the women he was speaking to him felt comfortable
enough to ask a few questions proving that exposure to different ideas
and people can breed understanding. This accomplished all while wearing
a sequined cocktail dress, no less.
But not everyone is sold on Cincinnati Guerilla Queer Bar. Philbrick has encountered resistance from a few surly (and usually inebriated) straight revelers. Usually their friends will calm them down and the party continues.
Movements such as the Guerilla Queer Bar help to bring the idea of "other" into the familiar. This exposure to the outside world - straight, gay and everything in between—provides the tools needed to erase the stigmas and bigotry that holds progress back.
Photography by Scott Beseler
All photos taken at the Pavilion in Mt. Adams