Should Anti-Discrimination Laws Go Both Ways?

21 Feb

We’ve seen the fights over anti-discrimination around the world, and recently, we’ve been winning – as can be seen by the court battles in the UK. We saw the lawsuit which pitted partners Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy against Peter and Hazelmary Bull, who ran a “Christian” Bed & Breakfast and therefore refused to allow the gay couple to share a bed. They claimed that their faith did not allow them to let unmarried couples share the same bed. The “Christian” couple is appealing the case, despite the fact that an unmarried heterosexual couple has come forward claiming that the Bulls never even inquired about their marriage status, making this a clear case of homophobic (and not religious) discrimination.

Now, also out of the UK is the question of discrimination in the other direction. Around the world, there are several “gay-only” businesses, from the UK to Palm Springs to bars in New York – there are many cases of straight people not being allowed into gay establishments. While in the UK, there have been no registered complaints of “straight discrimination,” the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is to investigate whether gay-only hotels breach similar laws.

This is a truly double-edged sword. While there are hundreds of gay establishments, there’s also an enormous lack of straight people fighting to get into gay-only establishments. But it happens. A few months ago, a woman approached me at a gay bar in the West Village in NYC, who claimed to have been denied entry into Marie’s Crisis – a piano bar where people belt showtunes, en-masse, at the top of their lungs for the entire evening. While again, I don’t know of a plethora of straight people fighting to get in – it should of course be open to anyone who wants to enter…or should it be?

There are two arguments here – the first – in the interest of true equality – is that anyone who wants to enter any establishment, should be free to do so – this goes for gay bars/straight people as much as it should go for Curves and Lucille Roberts gyms when it comes to gender discrimination.

The second argument is that allowing straight people into gay-only establishments is damaging to the “gay culture.” On top of that – after generations of discrimination, many LGBT people feel inhibited when around the straight community in a way they shouldn’t be made to feel while in a safe environment like a gym, spa or resort.

So, please comment – how do you feel about the fact that gay-only establishments should be made to integrate entirely the same way we are asking anti-gay establishments to allow gay clientele?

7 Responses to “Should Anti-Discrimination Laws Go Both Ways?”

  1. Michael Dale February 21, 2011 at 1:54 am #

    Is this a joke? I’m a straight male who has been going to Marie’s Crisis for over a decade. The place is always filled with men/women/straight/gay/trans… anyone with a love of theatre music.

    • Jamie McGonnigal February 21, 2011 at 2:01 am #

      No, actually – a woman approached me at the Duplex a couple months ago and she was saying she was denied entrance to Marie’s Crisis – said the bouncer asked her if she was straight and when she said yes, the bouncer told her that it was a “gays-only” establishment. She was definitely a tourist – so really had no reason to make it up.

      • Michael Dale February 21, 2011 at 2:11 am #

        Jamie, since I know you I’m sure the woman did say that to you. But I’m stunned at the idea that Marie’s would deny someone entrance for being a straight woman.

  2. Zac in VA February 21, 2011 at 2:01 am #

    If people who are assumed to be heterosexual want to get into a gay-themed bar, club, restaurant, whatever, they should be able to! What is the point of isolating ourselves?
    If you don’t want to hang out around straight people, hold a private house party.

  3. RJ February 21, 2011 at 2:34 am #

    While it’s no longer as important for there to be exclusive “gay spaces” (something manifest in a time when gay men and women in America had to isolate themselves for protection), there is still some reason for concern.

    I’d like to think that establishments who still have a gay-only policy are those owned by men and women who remember what it was like in a more hostile culture, but every private owner is well within his or her rights to discontinue service should a customer, patron, or client cause problems with others.

    There are certain examples:

    Nudist resorts discontinuing service for anyone who has a problem with nudity.

    Hotels and guest homes tailoring to gay patrons discontinuing service for anyone who disturbs or bothers other patrons.

    A gay cruise denying service or boarding to any guest the owner feels will cause disturbances on board, etc. etc. etc.

    As long as all denial of service is for a legitimate reason that doesn’t have to do with immutable features or beliefs and is well documented in advance, made public to guests/patrons, and documents fully with witness any cause and action when terminating the provided service, no one should be made to feel excluded.

    My personal opinion is that if I owned an establishment like a bar, hotel, or guest house, I would not want to have any reason to discourage people from spending money with me, but would ensure myself legally protected if I had to deny service without reimbursement anyone who causes problems with other guests. One example would be a gay guest hassling a Christian guest who is praying over his or her meal quietly and politely, or a Christian guest preaching to and/or harassing gay clients.

    It’s mucky waters, but as long as one denies service to someone not because of their background (race, religion, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, etc.), but their actions they should not find themselves in much, if any trouble.

  4. John February 21, 2011 at 8:07 pm #

    I feel like most non-LGBT people who want to go to Marie’s or any typically gay place are going for their love of theater (in the case of Marie’s) and/or because they’re friendly with the LGBT community. I bring my straight female friends to gay bars all the time, and I’ve never noticed any ruffled feathers. I have heard, actually, that bouncers at Splash and Rush have been known to charge a hefty (or heftier) cover for female and heterosexual patrons (but I’m not big on those places anyway, so whatev).

    I will say on the flipside of the coin that when I’m in establishments that aren’t overtly LGBT, I feel uncomfortable and unwelcome and that’s probably due to my upbringing in a place where I was one of the only gays and it wasn’t widely accepted, but it’s my prerogative to steer clear of those establishments. So I do. Yay.


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