Sunday, September 25, 2016


On Thursday, posted Ernest Owens' justifiably brutal takedown of the Gayborhood's popular Woody's nightclub over an apparent dress code that appears to be targeting men and women of color. It came about when Kenmar Jones was turned away at the door after performing with FringeArts for wearing sweatpants and sneakers. Vaguely worded or un-posted dress codes have been used for decades to target "urban" clientele by prohibiting everything from tracksuits to brand-specific items like Timberland boots, and this is hardly the first time Woody's has come under fire over its admission policies.

Jones' story echoes the tactics that inspired Chic's song, Le Freak which found its origins in a similar incident wherein the disco band was denied entry into Studio 54 despite an invite from Grace Jones. According to guitarist Nile Rogers and bassist Bernard Edwards, Chic promptly returned to their hotel on New Years of 1977 and wrote the song, only with its original lyrics substituting "freak out" with "fuck off." The story has become musical lore and a neat piece of trivia, but it speaks to a darker piece of Americana, one steeped in what's being referred to as covert racism, and Jones' own experience at Woody's is evidence that it is alive and well in Philadelphia.

Covert or overt, racism is racism. But the importance of distinguishing the two is that the former allows the offender to sidestep responsibility by blaming things like dress codes. The black hole of social media in Tweets and comments only enables the offense by further excusing it by crying "who wears sweatpants to a bar?"

Woody's is no exception when it comes to exclusionary and discriminatory entrance or ejection calls. Last year I saw a man booted from the club for being painted silver, on Halloween of all nights. The bouncer said there were concerns of the bar tops being marred in paint, but a few minutes before he was asked to leave he had kissed his girlfriend. It's rather ironic that Woody's, a gay bar that's become synonymous with straight bridal parties and frat house scavenger hunts, would ask a straight couple to leave because of a very brief moment of PDA, but that makes the venue's rules all the more frustrating. It also gives themselves a bit of slack when taking cash from hoards of straight women by allowing them to say, "remember when we threw out that straight guy?"

Nevertheless, there is a very real reason that gay bars typically don't enforce dress codes, and that's because their existence, the need for their existence, is already exclusionary in nature: they aren't for everyone. Gay bars are an alternative entertainment option for a still-marginalized segment of the population, the LGBT community. And to look at a typical Saturday night crowd at Woody's, it's very apparent that its owners, the Weiss brothers, have forgotten that.

Attend Woody's as a gay man and you'll feel a bit like an animal in a zoo. Straight couples point and whisper while gaggles of women, usually white, hunt for their next accessory, a GBFF. These people are not our allies, if they were they'd be marching with us. To them, we're a handbag to tote with them to Green Eggs Cafe the next morning. By Monday and a Facebook friend request we're thrown in the jewelry box next to a dozen earrings they'll never wear again. 

To be fair, these aren't the covert racists enforcing Woody's discriminatory entrance policies, but they are inadvertently responsible for it, and in so covertly racist. To Woody's-the-business, bridal parties and business happy hours are money, money that wouldn't be there if the bar was truly representative of the vastly diverse LGBT community. Black, Hispanic, Asian, trans, butch, femme, fat, thin, muscular, twink, and everything in between, gay bars are important because it happens to literally everyone, and the Orlando Massacre proved that we still need safe spaces, and Woody's has proven time and again that it isn't one of them. 

On one hand, it might be a blessing that Woody's has become the gay bar du jour for straight people who still think going to a gay bar is some kind of urban safari. If it weren't for Woody's, bridal showers might be pushing their way into U-Bar and Tabu. But the mere mentality that gay bars are on the bachelorette to-do-list speaks to the larger point that this demographic is encroaching on and usurping the few places we have to be ourselves. Before same sex marriage was legalized last summer, these events were especially insulting, and since we've had marriage equality adding a gay bar to the bridal crawl has exploded. Why? Because this demographic can't stand it when something isn't about them. 

Beyond the doors of Woody's, this mentality has infected Philadelphia's Gayborhood like a swarm of locusts. Despite countless neighborhood and nightclub venues throughout the city, they've charged into the Gayborhood and rebranded it the callously named Midtown Village. How is that okay? People pitch a fit if you refer to the Italian Market by its historic namesake, the 9th Street Market, and we'd never consider rebranding Chinatown as Market East Village. Yet with dozens of street signs and rainbow crosswalks at 13th and Locust, it's somehow okay for realtors, and even the city, to rename one of the oldest gay enclaves in the country and the first city to utter the word "Gayborhood." 

We should be more pissed off than we are.

That's not okay. I understand Woody's is a business, and they're in the business of making money. I understand that Philadelphia's Gayborhood sits on vast acreage of developable real estate. But straight people have literally every other neighborhood in the city and hundreds of nightlife venues, and members of the LGBT community still come to cities like Philadelphia to seek community and even safety. With LGBT youths, especially of color, making up a huge chunk of the nation's homeless, Woody's catering to a largely white heterosexual community isn't just an annoyance, it's irresponsible to the community they still claim to represent. 

It's time to hammer the last nail into the coffin. Regardless of the rainbows lining its facade at the gates of the Gayborhood, Woody's is not a gay bar. It is just another venue taking advantage of the neighborhood's address while giving little to nothing back to the community that built its name. If you're a straight woman and want to add a gay bar to your wedding day hangover, by all means, make it Woody's. I won't be there, and neither will my black, brown, or beige friends. And until Woody's acknowledges what it is, just another Green Eggs Cafe chock full of white women, I'll gladly hashtag #BoycottWoodys. Just stay away from U-Bar. We need somewhere to cruise without some Bath & Body Works scented debutante telling us what a waste we are before 9am on Monday.


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