Oh No! Here Comes Another Bachelorette Party!
If you want to stir up some controversy among a group of gay men who frequent gay bars, ask them what they think about heterosexual bachelorette parties. Some of you may wonder why gay men would have a strong opinion on this topic at a time when marriage equality is the law of the land. For those of you with a quizzical look on your face, let me take a moment to explain.
Media coverage over the past 30 years of the struggle to secure LGBTQ civil rights protections has helped to dispel negative stereotypes about LGBTQ people. In fact, I played a role in helping shine a light on our community back in the mid-90s and early 2000s when I co-owned a communications and marketing consultancy with my good friend Bob Witeck.
Our work with clients like the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association raised awareness about the impact of discrimination in public accommodations like hotels, restaurants, and bars. Part of the story we wanted journalists to understand was how the LGBTQ community created its own safe spaces where they could be around people like them and know they would not have to worry about being mistreated.
Establishments like The Blue Moon here in Rehoboth and Nellie’s in Washington, DC were soon being featured in mainstream news stories in the travel section as top destinations in each city for LGBTQ people. One thing that both bars had in common were the wildly popular drag shows that caught the attention of non-LGBTQ people looking to be entertained.
Flash forward to 2010 when heterosexual bachelorette parties began to include one of these popular spots as a stop on their nightly party train. In my experience, the first groups of women were mostly low key, mingling well with the rest of the group while wearing those ridiculous “Bride Squad” sashes and sipping drinks with a penis shaped straw.
As LGBTQ people became more mainstream and shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race showcased the over-the-top performers, the audiences got bigger and feistier. In the “be careful what you wish for” department, this is where the story begins to look less like Will and Grace and more like the Hatfields and McCoys.
Soon, not only was it commonplace for multiple bachelorette parties to be at a bar on a weekend night but they were increasingly comfortable being “themselves,” which included letting their hair down in a big way—getting louder the more drunk they got.
It was not what they were doing that rubbed people the wrong way, it was how and why they were doing it. I cannot tell you how many times I have been asked to join these little celebrations even when I clearly was not interested.
Recently, a friend told me that after he politely declined a similar offer, a woman wearing a “The Bride’s Entourage” T-shirt asked if he were gay or straight. “I told her I was gay and she replied ‘what a waste’ and walked away.”
In a 2017 New York Times article, a drag queen known as Miz Cracker spoke about the way tensions may escalate at drag shows. “A straight girl, with the strength of merlot, will stand in front of you, stick her pelvis out and rub it on you. And you can’t get her to sit down. That can grind the show to a halt.”
Following complaints from the regulars, some bars have decided enough is enough. In 2012, the West Hollywood, CA bar The Abbey banned bachelorette parties, explaining they would reverse the policy once gay people earned marriage equality in the state. Recently, a gay man who was part of a bachelorette party posted on the DC blog PoPville that the group was denied entry to Pitchers DC, the new LGBTQ bar in Adams Morgan. When asked why, the owner said, “We don’t do bachelorette parties here.”
While the comments posted to the blog were largely supportive, there are many who think otherwise...and for good reason. For one, it’s just plain discrimination. For years, we as a community have protested and lobbied for equal protection under the law yet are quick to turn around and apply limitations to other groups with which we take issue. In addition, it appears to be sexist because we tolerate rowdiness from other gay men in the bar.
I can see both sides, but as someone who has dedicated much of his adult life to removing barriers that intentionally or unintentionally make LGBTQ people feel like they do not belong, denying entry is not the answer. Instead, perhaps we need to engage with these groups or maybe the bridal industry as a whole, letting them know how this behavior makes us feel and why. It comes down to respect, and it goes both ways. ▼
Wesley Combs is a diversity and inclusion expert and a passionate social justice advocate. He is the founding Principal of Combs Advisory Services, working with clients who share his values of enabling equity, equality and opportunity in the workplace and community.