“We've been around forever, Look at us now together, Ordering drinks at the bar, Saying hello to men friends, Smiling across at friends' friends, Ordering drinks at the bar.”
-To Speak Is A Sin, Pet Shop Boys
When the Pet Shop Boys wrote those lyrics for their 1993 album, Very, the gay bar had become de rigueur. Some bars came and went, but very loyal, very regular crowds kept many LGBTQ hotspots going for decades.
Now, like then, speaking is a sin. The year 1993 was the era of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Today, it’s “Don’t Say Gay.”
But the bars do speak. The walls speak. Their 80-year-old customers speak. And now they’re telling their stories to the Raising the Bars Project. Stonewall National Museum & Archives and GayBarchives are partnering to bring a new perspective of LGBTQ history.
On Oct. 30 at Eagle, Art Smith GayBarchives and Robert Kesten at Stonewall announced their new project to collect, preserve, and disseminate queer history.
“We are now partnering with GayBarchives on a new project,” Kesten said to the assembled masses. “We hope it will capture the entire nation by storm, simply because we are talking about some of the most important places in the LGBTQ community, which are bars.”
Bars have always played an important role in the LGBTQ+ community. Often dark, hole in the wall watering holes, far enough off the beaten path to avoid getting noticed, early gay bars were a haven. They brought people in from the parks and bushes and conferred an air of civility.
Over the course of the next year, Stonewall and GayBarchives will create units or mini-exhibitions that can travel to bars, Prides, museums, and other LGBTQ-themed events.
“There are a lot of options,” Smith said. “We can do slideshows, interview clips, written materials. We can evolve into what the community wants to what the bar owners want. We want to reach out to this community and connect with them now.”
Much of LGBTQ history is living history. It’s not taught in schools. It is instead passed on in the bars. Drag queens, bar owners, former owners, and patrons all hold a piece of LGBTQ heritage. Raising The Bars hopes to harness, curate, and share all they learn before it is too late.