Stepping Out
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Published in: March-April 2024 issue.


Histories and Cultures of Gay Bars in America, 1960 and After
by Lucas Hilderbrand
Duke University Press. 496 pages, $32.95

IN 2024, it is close to impossible to gauge the influence the bar scene had on queer culture in the U.S. (and elsewhere). Facing a patchwork of homophobic laws and attitudes, gay people, at least those in urban areas, had a place they knew they could go to meet others and congregate: the local gay bar. I’ll never forget stepping into a salty club called Flashback in Edmonton, Alberta (arguably Canada’s most homophobic province), at age sixteen. The sensation was one of both panic and recognition. Somehow, I belonged.

            Luckily, Lucas Hilderbrand, a writer of considerable depth and passion, has taken on the task of retelling some of the history and impact of gay bar culture in the U.S. in an illuminating and exhaustively researched tome, The Bars Are Ours. (Full disclosure: Hilderbrand wrote the book on Paris is Burning for the “Queer Film Classics” book series of which I am a co-editor.) Here, Hilderbrand takes us on a fascinating cross-country historical tour of a number of key venues, illustrating how they reflect regional tastes and attitudes and how they influenced the local cultures.

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Matthew Hays is co-editor  of the “Queer Film Classics” book series.