Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Most St. Louis Patrons Say Gay Bars Remain 'Safe Space' despite Orlando Attack

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Most St. Louis Patrons Say Gay Bars Remain 'Safe Space' despite Orlando Attack

Article excerpt

It wasn't until he started going to gay bars that Dan Stoner finally met people who invited him to Sunday dinners, like families do.

When he came out to his family in Missouri in a letter he penned thousands of miles away, his family disowned him.

So he went to gay bars, because there, he could be who he wanted to be, he could find comfort, and he could escape the judgment his own family dealt him.

Ask a regular patron at a gay bar or nightclub and you'll find a similar story of acceptance. Sunday's massacre in Orlando struck home for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people even thousands of miles away because a gay bar is not just a place for them to party or chill on a weekend night.

It's where many of them came of age and realized what kind of a person they wanted to be. For many, a gay bar is the only place that gives them the simple freedom to publicly kiss, hug or intimately touch someone they're attracted to without fear of judgment. Many call it a "safe haven" and a "safe space."

"That's what's so disconcerting about what happened in Orlando," said Lawrence Miskel, 37, a St. Louis resident active among LGBTQ people. "They thought they were safe, and they weren't."

The shooting has stirred some caution in St. Louis. John Oberkramer, co-owner of the Just John gay nightclub in The Grove, is adding an off-duty police officer in addition to the bar's two weekend security guards for the weekend of Pride St. Louis. That event, the region's biggest LGBTQ celebration, is set for June 24- 26.

"I'm not saying I think it could happen, I just want to make sure that if it does happen here, I am prepared for that," he said. "I'm trying to make my customers feel safe."

But for the most part, the shooting hasn't altered the sense of safety many say they find in gay bars and clubs.

Stoner, who's now the owner of the Attitudes Bar and Grill in The Grove, says it's not a reason to hire armed guards or otherwise make his patrons feel they should be fearful. After all, how could you prevent something such as the Orlando massacre even if you tried?

"There's not a lot you can do," Stoner said.

'THE BEST FEELING EVER'

Stoner's mother wrote him a letter when he was 23, after he moved to Hawaii to escape life on a small farm in rural Missouri. At the bottom, she wrote, "We'll always love you, no matter what."

He cut that sentence out of the letter and pasted it at the top of his coming-out letter to them. He said he wrote: "If you really meant what you said, then what I'm going to say next shouldn't matter to you. …

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