Commentary | Queering Montreal

How a guerrilla gay bar can make a space safer for all

The struggle for gay rights in Canada is over. Or at least that’s what many people would have you believe. Same-sex marriage and increasing legal recognitions for gays and lesbians have led many of us – queer and straight alike – to believe that society is becoming inclusive and accessible to all.

Of course this is far from the truth. Queers face discrimination and violence throughout even the most liberal and cosmopolitan of cities – Montreal included. And what about the queers who don’t live in the big city? Historically, marginalized communities have made their own spaces to live, love, and keep on truckin’ despite on-going oppression. Claiming these spaces and trying to make them safe for queers has always been a war, with “deviants” on one side and the “moral” masses on the other.

Fears that the homos, freaks, and fetishists moving in next door will drive down property values and corrupt the children are nothing short of timeless. Space always has been, and always will be, political. If the A-Side nightclub on St. Laurent claims to be inclusive, does that mean that it is? Of course not. I don’t feel any safer there when someone calls me a fag than I do anywhere else.

So what does it mean to queer a space? In our heterosexist society where queers are still subjected to individual and structural violence, making a space specifically queer-positive aims to provide an escape from the everyday. Queer spaces – ideally – should be free of the gender and sexual policing and value systems that we face daily. They should offer us a place where everyone can express who they are and be validated for it. Obviously, things don’t always work out this way, and queer spaces may be unsafe in other ways – for example, by failing to challenge racism or classism. Addressing the complexity and intersectionality of oppressions and power dynamics in a space is always important, and queer spaces aim to create an environment where sexual and gender oppression (at the very least) are confronted and overturned.

This makes the whole thing sound incredibly abstract and theoretical, but it’s really quite simple: in a society that tells people who they should be, there’s nothing wrong with making space for people to be who they are.

So why this discussion all of a sudden? Queer McGill is holding a “Guerrilla Gay Bar” event tonight. According to the event’s manifesto, the organizers “will take over a ‘hetero’ bar in Montreal for one night only… and recontextualize the bar – [one that] you might not otherwise check out – [turning it] into the queer scene you’ve always wanted.”

Deliberately queering spaces outside of the Village is incredibly important. If the Village is our only escape from heteronormativity, what does that say about how progressive our society really is? It’s a neighbourhood that’s largely home to white, gay, non-trans men, and as such excludes the majority of the queer community.

We need to keep challenging bars, restaurants, and venues, both within the Village and beyond, to become more inclusive of all queers. And what better way to challenge them than by bringing in a host of queers for a pervy party!

Adam Wheeler is a U1 Sociology student and the Political Action coordinator for Queer McGill. For more information about the Guerrilla Gay Bar, write him at

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