The closing of BJ’s NXS! highlights the reasons we need our LGBT bars

chad-mantoothLast week we learned that BJ’S NXS! on Fitzhugh is closing its doors because they have lost the lease on their space. I’ve only lived in Dallas for six years but have been told this property was a gay bar for more than 40 years. I know I have spent many a weekend night there and have undoubtedly funded a few dancer college educations.

So, it hurts to see this place go.

Some friends and I were talking about the bar closing recently, and while most of them felt the way I do, others didn’t feel the same at all. One said he never went to the club because it was “gross,” and another opined, “Why go out at all when I can find guys online?”

Now, I can respect differing opinions. But I still feel the closure of ANY gay bar as a bad thing for the community overall.

When we lose any LGBT-owned establishment, the whole LGBT community loses. We should look to the bar owners as leaders in the LGBT community and see their bars/nightclubs as building blocks in the community.

In the early years of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, bars became the home base for fundraising events, community building and awareness. And LGBT Americans have always turned to bars and nightlife to provide an escape from persistent prejudice and to carve out safe spaces of their own.

I remember the first time I walked into my first gay bar; the feeling was overwhelming! Just to be in the presence of other people like me gave me such a feeling of power and inclusion — a feeling I’ve never gotten from any of the dating apps I use.

And regarding apps — Let’s be real! Online dating apps have changed the nightclub business. I feel Grindr is effective, for the most part, for hooking up and mindless chatter (We’ve all done it). But looking at 100 online profiles, I can count on one hand how many are looking for actual relationships.

It’s not uncommon for gay men to see romantic storylines in the media or online and think they should be living that “perfect” life. Trust me it is easy to get sucked into that narrative. I know I’ve stared at more than one person online, thinking, “Why can’t that be me?!”

But the bars have a distinct advantage over these apps: Every guy you meet at a bar COULD be “The One”’ or “Mr. Right.” Sure, that may be unlikely, but you can keep going.

Real connections only sound nice and fairytale-like when people leave out the bad drunk hook-ups and all the compromises they go through before they decide they’ve really met the right one. But when you go out to bars, you are getting that “real connection” with another person that you just can’t get online.

Something else to consider in thinking about the bar business is the redevelopment of cities. In the past, I’ve noticed that gay bars were often hidden away in low-rent, seedy and disadvantaged areas of cities where industry and residences were in decline. The bars located in those areas, and then LGBT people would move in to be closer to activities and opportunities that were more open, welcoming or hospitable to them.

Then these new LGBT residents improve the neighborhoods, making them the trendy place to be. That attracts other open-minded people that want to be on the cutting edge of rising values and appeal. Young, upwardly-mobile heterosexual couples start flocking in and, when the families start popping up all over, suddenly there’s a clear change in the wind. And the very building blocks that caused such a revitalization — the LGBT bars and nightclubs and the LGBT residents — are pushed out.

It starts with steeply rising rents then comes a shift in attitude by those that want to eliminate what they see as unsavory or inappropriate or unsuitable to a child-friendly environment, and suddenly the gayborhood isn’t all that gay anymore.

Hell, most every night I go out I can count on seeing at least two bachelorette parties and TONS of straight people at the bars. And once the condos with families start taking over, that’s pretty much the end of the cycle.

I expect to see condos or an office building in the BJ’S location within a year.

As with any safe haven in a tough world, nightclubs had to develop strong exteriors to protect the valuable community inside; they’ve always bravely battled harassment, bounced back and rebuilt or relocated — despite overwhelming odds.

I hope that we as a community realize how much bars are the glue that holds our community together. We need to embrace them and support them as much as we can.

So get off that phone and go out and actually meet someone in real life; Mr. Right could be at the end of the next bar you belly up to!

Chad Mantooth is advertising director for Dallas Voice and Out North Texas.