As a young queer, growing up in the Bay Area of California, the perception is that it’s super easy for anyone to be themselves and find community. But when you are under 21, it’s hard to find spaces specifically for LGBTQ folks. I see fliers all the time for different queer events I want to attend, but most of them are for people 21 and older.
I’m 20 and I’m struggling to find my way as a young queer. Where do I find community in that weird in-between space of 18-24 years old? I started looking into where queer people gather in the East Bay and found out about the White Horse. Even though I can’t go there yet because it’s a bar, I learned it’s one of the oldest gay bars in the country.
Rose Richie, the general manager there, says it’s the kind of place lots where different kinds of people have been gathering for a long time.
“The White Horse has always been a gay bar since the doors opened, but it was undercover….,” Richie said. “You could not identify what kind of bar this is by what you hear on the jukebox. One minute you hear country one minute you hear hip-hop p, the next minute you hear show tunes, the next minute you hear…. And not just older or younger it’s quite a mix, it’s amazing.”
Richie says their philosophy to “leave your hate outside and bring your love in the door” is part of what makes the space feel safe and special. And others agree. Since I’m not 21 yet, a colleague talked to White Horse customers about their experiences at the bar and what it means to them.
Catherine – “Oh it means community. You’re gonna get that every time you ask that question. It’s like a big family.”
Sarah – “The White Horse is just a cool place to come. It’s not pretentious, it’s not a hipster spot, it’s just you know you meet straight people, you meet gay people, you meet old people, you meet young people. Like it’s a mix. So I like that. Where you can just come be yourself and hang out.”
Alyah – “Coming to the White Horse is interesting ‘cause you meet so many people in here that have come here for years. This is the oldest living gay bar, I think in the country actually. There is an old gay couple that comes in here and they are in their 90s and they still come here and it’s really cute. You know you see them sit down at the bar and everyone caters to them and accommodates them when they come and sit down and I think that is really nice.”
Roger – “I’ve been coming here since ‘75 and it’s a very friendly place I’ve always felt welcome at. Home away from home.”
Nick – “I’ve known (about) it for decades and I’ve seen it go from a kind of a tacky bar that no one would admit we go to, to something that I do appreciate. Unlike San Francisco, it’s where a bunch of different types of people from the queer community come together where in San Francisco it’s pretty isolated. And so my relationship to it is I meet some real genuine people here.”
Sarah – “I mean it’s where I met my fiancé actually. Best story I have here!”
Historically, gay bars were a place where queer folks could find safety and community. Chaney Turner, the founder of Social Life productions says “queer spaces are important because we need spaces where we can be in community together. Spaces that are safe that we feel comfortable being ourselves.”
Social Life is an event production and promotional company in Oakland, Calif. established in 2007. They currently host two parties a month specifically for queer people of color. But Turner says not everyone wants to or can find community at the club.
“I have people that come to me all the time and they are like I want to go to your events but I just can’t do crowds. And some people can’t do crowds and that is perfectly fine,” Turner says. “Then maybe nightlife might not be the best.”
That’s why Terry Sok Wolfson and Aliyah Baker started Qulture Collective, a cafe, gallery and art space in downtown Oakland. Baker says the space is an alternative space for LGBTQ folks to “talk about ideas, gather, meet each other not in necessarily a nighttime social setting but a place where you could come all day long and we could host different types of community events and showcase art.”
When I visited Qulture Collective, the atmosphere felt welcoming. The Revolve Cafe is at the front serving coffee, tea, and homemade kombucha (I liked the ginger flavor). There were LGBTQ themed gifts and lots of flyers for events and community information in the window. It felt easy to walk in and like I could just sit down and hang out. Wolfson says the prominence of the location is part of the goal.
“It’s necessary because it’s visible. And we want to be here and we want to be visible. We want to be accessible. We make no apologies and are not shy about our presence here in the community,” Wolfson says.
Baker and Wolfson said about ninety percent of events they host in the space are open to all ages and that including youth in the space is really important to their community building.
A few spaces like this are available for underage queer youth in the Bay Area. But these kinds of things aren’t available everywhere and can be challenging to access for some folks.
I’m still excited to go to all those queer events I see on flyers and party in the club with other queer folks when I turn 21. But I’ve come to realize that I’ve been able to find, and am continuously building, my unique queer community in all kinds of diverse spaces.
Music: Official – DJ Edel