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As a 23-year-old gay man, I’ve visited my fair share of gay clubs. I’ve dodged flying drinks, fled from from unsavory characters, and danced to literally every single Lady Gaga/ Beyoncé/Ke$ha/Madonna remix ever made. Now it’s important to know that just because I go to gay clubs often does not mean I love them; in fact, I kind of hate them. I hate loud music, sexually aggressive people, and paying for and consuming drinks that are definitely one-part lighter fluid, but despite not being the biggest fan, I continue to go. I go because gay clubs are one of the few places where I can feel safe, celebrated, and surrounded by other LGBTQ+ people who struggle to survive in a world that only entertains the idea of real “equality”. I go because it’s nice to take a break from straight people and party with people who actually know how to use the word “shade” correctly.  But the more I go, the more I realize how badly these spaces are being appropriated and overrun by straight people.

When I was younger I would rarely go to a gay club without a straight girl in tow. I coaxed straight friends to come act as buffers because I was afraid of my own sexuality and of drawing the attention of men who were more sexually liberated than me. But I would also bring them because I had a desperate need to simultaneously normalize and sensationalize the gay community, to make it seem palatable and cool so that my homosexuality would be accepted and embraced by my straight peers. I wanted them to see that gay clubs were fun and “edgy”, so that they’d understand or appreciate my sexuality more. And if I failed to impress my friends, I could instead mock the space and try to win favor by distancing myself from it.

For a while I didn’t care if my straight friends appreciated or even understood gay culture, as long as they were making me more comfortable and enjoying themselves in the process. But as I’ve gotten older and more comfortable in my identity, I’ve realized just how important it is to keep LGBTQ+ spaces separate from straight ones. LGBTQ+ people have very few spaces where we can be sexual without fear of violence, revel in our shared culture and identity, and feel normal and accepted instead of feeling like an “other”. To straight people, gay clubs may just be a place to dance and drink, but to LGBTQ+ people gay clubs are one of those spaces. The reality is that straight people offer nothing to gay spaces and do not benefit from visiting them. And that’s because for straight people, every space is a safe one.And when we let straight people herd into our clubs, what we’re really doing is pushing out the people who desperately need these spaces. We’re not just letting straight people in on the fun; we’re letting them take over.

I know that it may sound harsh or overly critical to say that straight people don’t belong in gay clubs. I know how dangerous it can be to assume someone’s sexual identity, and I don’t think that is something that should be policed at a club. And I get that some people need that straight support system to feel comfortable enough to visit the club in the first place. My point is that straight people shouldn’t be allowed to cherry-pick gay culture and take our spaces away from us because they have become bored with their own.  If you’re a straight couple, there’s no real need for you to visit a gay club. If you’re a group of straight college girls who have grown tired of frat parties, there’s no real need for you to visit a gay club. If you don’t have any gay friends or don’t accept and embrace LGBTQ+ identity wholeheartedly, you should not be in a gay club. Tragic events like the Pulse Shooting not only remind us of just how desperately LGBTQ+ people need spaces like gay clubs, but they reinforce the reality that our safe spaces are continuing to be taken from us. What straight, cisgender people need to realize is that there is a difference between acceptance and assimilation. Straight people should accept and embrace LGBTQ+ people, but they shouldn’t try to strip away everything that makes us “us” in the process. They shouldn’t expect us to give up our individuality in exchange for acceptance. We shouldn’t be forced to give our spaces just to fit in. We shouldn’t let straight people treat our safe spaces like zoos.

I am not going to actively invite my straight friends to gay clubs anymore. I am no longer going to be a gay tour guide, or make 19-year-old LGBTQ+ kids wait ten minutes longer in line so the club can accommodate my straight friends. And I refuse to think it’s elitist and exclusivist of me to not invite straight people or to wish they would go elsewhere. LGBTQ+ people need these spaces now more than ever and straight people should learn to accept that. Because at the end of the day being LGBTQ+ will always be political and different, regardless of how accepted people perceive it to be. Straight people you have Buffalo Wild Wings, Dunkin Donuts, Irish pubs, and every nightclub  that has a combination name of some type of alcohol and a weather pattern, let us have our gay clubs.