Boston’s Guerilla Queer Bar Brings Gays and Straights Together
Four and a half years ago, Daniel Heller and his friends decided it was time to give Boston an alternative to their somewhat limited gay scene. And so Guerilla Queer Bar, more commonly known as "GQB," was born. Locals signed up on a list-serve and on the first Friday of the month, they’d take over a straight bar and encourage a social setting where gays could mingle with the rest of Boston without any fear or discomfort.
"It’s a gay rights movement for gay people," said Heller, adding that most of these actions for equality are about straight people and introducing them to the LGBT community in a way that is comfortable for them in a historical and social context.
The first event was an instant success. By the sixth or seventh takeover, bars were preparing for the onslaught of Boston’s LGBT community. In fact, GQB garnered so many followers that Heller and his crew decided it was time to think bigger. With that attitude, The Welcoming Committee was born.
"GBQ is an activity, but The Welcoming Committee is a movement," said Heller, a recent MBA graduate of the Harvard Business School. All people who already participate in GQB events are considered members of The Welcoming Committee. So far there are nearly 9,000 people who are on the list-serve and fans of the group’s Facebook pages. It’s grown so quickly that Heller said they’re already in need of full and part-time staff.
"We’re trying, from a social perspective, to bring [to the LGBT community] the same experiences that straight people have," Heller explained. The idea stemmed from the fact that, outside of gay bars and clubs, there is a lack of places in America where gay people can feel free to be themselves.
The Welcoming Committee has begun to go beyond the bars and into places throughout the community. For example, members of The Welcoming Committee recently attended a Red Sox game. This outing was not motivated by any belief that gay people feel uncomfortable going to Fenway Park, assured Heller. It’s more about the idea of creating a sense of security within a majority while remaining a proud part of a minority.
And yet while the original intent was to create a space where gays and straights could party together and "get laid," joked the GQB co-creator, the number of people in the LGBT community coming to these events has grown so large that "it does feel like we crowd out the straight people at the bars."
That’s where The Welcoming Committee comes in. Events like the Red Sox takeover could never result in a situation where there’s only room for the LGBT community.
"I was more concerned about a negative verbal action," said Heller when asked about worries he had regarding verbally or physically abusive situations that might break out between the crowds.
But his concerns went both ways, admitted Heller. He worried that straight people might feel uncomfortable and utter a negative comment, but he was also concerned that the gay community might feel empowered and say something toward straights just for show, or retaliation.
Thankfully, in the nearly five years since they were founded, GQB and The Welcoming Committee have not had a single altercation.
GQB Helps Educate About LGBT Issues
While several of the bars that hosted GQB events did not respond to requests for comment, straight guys like Justin Stephens, a resident of the Allston-Brighton neighborhood, feel as though GQB and The Welcoming Committee are great tools for educating the misinformed.
"I’ve been to sports bars in Allston and had to directly and indirectly deal with homophobia," said Stephens. "Like getting called a ’fag’ or another slur because my pants are tight or I’m not dressed like some buffoon there. So I think [GQB] is a great thing to have as a tool in an attempt to have them get over their prejudices."
While no one from the straight community has come forward and explicitly said how much they appreciate the idea of GQB or the Welcoming Committee, Heller fondly recalls overhearing a conversation between two bouncers at a GCB bar takeover.
"’Hey, did you hear what tonight is going to be? It’s this gay takeover thing’," said one bouncer, according to Heller. "’Oh, really? What’s that going to be like?’, the other replied."
"It’s going to be the best night of your life; people are going to show up, like, really well-dressed, totally well-behaved, they’re not going to cause any trouble, they’re going to dance all night and then they’re going to leave. It’s the easiest night to work in Boston,’ said the other, Heller recalled.
It’s one of those stories that didn’t necessarily have a lot of significance, Heller admitted, but it stuck with him because he knew that people in the straight community were responding in a positive way.
The future looks bright for The Welcoming Committee -- and it’s not from a lack of ambition. Besides bar takeovers, Heller is planning on doing a CrossFit Training Event. Starting with lessons on how to do specific exercises, the workshop will then transition to a midnight shirtless demonstration by professional CrossFit trainers.
Also in the works is a new form of takeover: traveling to famous places like Cancun for Spring Break or, a little closer to home, to Foxwoods.
Heller chose events like this because LGBT students who plan to go on that annual rite of passage know that parties cater more toward frat boys and girls willing to participate in wet T-shirt contests than to gays.
Sometime later this year, an iPhone app will be released that will allow people to organize their own takeovers. For example, if someone living in Central Square doesn’t feel like going far, they could post that they are at Phoenix Landing, and encourage other nearby committee members to join in the fun.
But the biggest goal is expansion. By 2014, The Welcoming Committee aims to be in the 15 cities most in need of this bridge-building program. Instead of the largest cities, places like New York and San Francisco will have to miss out because of the sheer amount of options available in those locales for the LGBT community.
For more info, visit www.bostonguerrilla.com/