During a recent visit with a close friend, I was challenged with a difficult inquisition. Interrupting one of my extensive attempts to convince her to move back to Kansas City, she asked a simple question: “Where would I meet women?”
I knew I could reply with a snarky answer about how there are plenty of great queer women in the Midwest and wasn’t she being a little bit East Coast judgmental, but to be honest, the question sort of caught me off-guard.
Of course I spend time with amazing LGBTQ women in Kansas City every day, and I don’t have to look under rocks to find them. That’s the benefit of working at an LGBTQ organization. But my friend raised a valid point, not just about the difficulty of meeting women, but about the lack of spaces for LGBTQ women. Before I discuss why safety and spaces are so closely tied together, let me first address the thought that I’m sure many people (mostly gay men) are having right now: “Why does there need to be a space specifically for LGBTQ women? Why can’t they go to the same gay bars that everyone else (mostly gay men) goes to? I see women at Missie B’s all the time.”
I’ll admit that it sounds great. A place we can all go together and live happily ever after. But let’s get real for a minute. For a city where almost anyone can name a half-dozen gay bars without even thinking, it’s concerning that a search for “lesbian bar” brings up suggestions like Grinders and the Tivoli Cinema.
And I’m not just talking about bars. I can name dozens of political and social events for the community where I have been one of few, if any, women in a room full of men. Often, these spaces are very friendly and I have a wonderful time, but just as often, I find myself and other women congregated in the corner feeling out of place or standing at the bar, waiting 45 minutes for a chance to order a drink.
I wish the biggest byproduct of the lack of safe spaces for LGBTQ women was that the dating scene gets a little bit tougher, but it’s more significant than that. When our local spaces for LGBTQ individuals are primarily run by and for men, the issues that affect queer and trans* women often get pushed into the background of our movement.
Whether it’s intentional or not, the result is the same.
Although we’ve done a great job of increasing awareness in the community about health-care issues and I can’t remember the last event that didn’t have representatives from KC Care Clinic or Good Samaritan Project, the health issues that disproportionally affect many women in the community are nowhere to be found. We don’t have a tent at Pride for breast cancer screenings, despite the fact that lesbian and bisexual women have higher risk factors for breast cancer than heterosexual women and we are less likely to get routine screens and mammograms. (womenshealth.gov)
The lack of safe spaces for LGBTQ women can lead to increased feelings of isolation and invalidation of our sexuality and gender identity. It contributes to many women feeling like our experiences are less valid or less important to the movement. It means we have to fight not only through homophobia, biphobia and transphobia to have our voices heard, but also through sexism, misogyny and patriarchy.
Thankfully, our community is starting to address some of these concerns in a few exciting ways. On June 1, as we are all getting ready for Pride weekend, Kansas City Anti-Violence Project and Law Enforcement &