On the Hypocrisy of Gay Activism

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There has been an uproar recently about an incident that took place in Kayan, a popular bar in the Gemayze district of Beirut in which a group of around eight gay men were allegedly refused service for no apparent reason other than their sexual orientation. People are rightly outraged at this treatment, and have called for a boycott of the bar in response. If the story about Kayan’s homophobia is true, then I certainly support taking action to pressure them into thinking twice before refusing service to anyone for such a frivolous reason.

But since this whole incident began, something about it sat uncomfortably with me. For months, some queer activists have been complaining about transgendered people being kicked out of gay bars. Where was this outrage then? Now that the issue has affected gay men, people are up in arms.

For months, I have heard people justify the behavior of gay bars that discriminate against trans customers – from flimsy excuses of not dividing the community to calls to understand that these bars are already under attack for being identified as gay hangouts and so we should cut them some slack. The double standards are more than obvious here: We can/should wage war against an establishment only if it is not gay, and only if those being discriminated against are gay men.

This isn’t only about sexuality. Nightlife establishments across the board deny people service for the way they look, if they are not dressed in a way they deem “appropriate”, if they look less than middle class. A former employee of Kayan said that the manager told the staff to refuse service to people who clearly look gay, stating that he doesn’t have a problem with gay people, but he wants to keep the place “clean” (mrattab was the Arabic term he used). This rightly enraged people, but it also cuts to the much deeper and more insidious problem of classism – a problem that would hardly raise an eyebrow among those who claim to be so upset at Kayan’s treatment of gay men to maintain the repute of the bar.

This is to say nothing about the sickening discriminatory hiring policies that many establishments, gay and straight, employ. A waitress at a well-known gay haunt was asked to lose weight or risk being fired. The manager of that same place stated unequivocally that he would never hire a trans person.

I have always been a proponent of boycott as an effective means of addressing discrimination, and I will not go to Kayan until it is clear to me that these sorts of practices stop, as I do not go to other places that have similar policies. I also hope that the awareness among those who are leading the Kayan campaign expands to include those more marginalized than middle-class gay men.

Driven by the promise of a new tomorrow, Shax is prone to the occasional bout of gratuitous intellectual wankery which she unleashes upon the world through the unsuspecting pages of Bekhsoos and other online fora. In her spare time, she enjoys eating while watching the food channel and thinking about long walks on the beach.

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