West Hollywood's iconic social hub, The Abbey Food and Bar has been making headlines with its recent decision to put a (temporary) ban on bachelorette parties.
Founder and co-partner (along with SBE) David Cooley announced last week that the famed premier gay and lesbian bar, lounge and restaurant will no longer allow straight women to bury their single lives by hosting their traditional celebratory pre-nuptial ritual in his establishment.
At the heart of the newly revised policy is Cooley's activist endeavor to fight for marriage inequality in response to North Carolina's recent state law defining marriage as (strictly) between a man and a woman.
In a press release Cooley explained that the veto on bachelorette parties was instituted "as a sign of solidarity until marriage is legal everywhere for everyone." He further rationalized the ban on the grounds that bachelorette parties constitute an "offensive heterosexual tradition [that] flaunts marriage inequality in the face of gays and lesbians."
Cooley's decision is not the first of its kind. The movement was initially pioneered by a series of gay bars in Chicago as far back as 2009 according to a Dan Savage article published in the Stranger.
While I certainly am a fervent supporter of marriage equality and an advocate for civil rights activism, I don't personally adhere to the philosophy that inequality can be (nor should be) eradicated by ways of discrimination. In my opinion, it contradicts everything our LGBT community stands and fights for. The "eye-for-an-eye" strategy defeats the purpose of us fighting to break the second-class citizen stigma associated with our community.
Granted the Abbey is electing to 'discriminate' against a specific type of "party" and not against straight women per say. Cooley reiterated the fact that "The Abbey has been a place that accepts everyone, gay, straight, lesbian, transgender, bisexual and everything in between. We love our straight girlfriends and they are welcome here, just not for bachelorette parties."
Playing the devil's advocate, I can't help but question whether the move is genuinely based on a political statement or just a publicity stunt. Again, I do applaud Cooley and the entire SBE staff for their desire to take a stand on marriage equality.
But if one really wants to instigate change and make a difference wouldn't it make more sense to continue welcoming these bachelorette parties (estimated to be an average of six to eight per week) and instead donate the proceeds to an activist group and/or foundation continuously travailing to impact the system in a meaningful way?
I have been going to the Abbey since it was just a coffee shop and have witnessed its extraordinary transformation into the phenomenon that it has now become.
Hands down, it is the "best gay bar in the world," and I, like many other patrons, still consider it my favorite L.A. hang out -- the operative word being "still." Worth noting is the evolution of its customer demographic since the partnership with SBE Entertainment Group. The corporate mogul, who owns a variety of "straight" bars, restaurants and hotels in Los Angeles as well as in other prominent U.S. markets, has been effectively catering to the straight community drawing in an increasingly larger number of straight men and women. In all fairness to straight women, shouldn't we (logically) expect them to fancy hosting a bachelorette party at such a hip place if they have been welcome as regular customers? How can they be invading a gay bar when the advertising campaign has been reaching out to their target market?
Personally, I do not see the connection between bachelorette parties and achieving marriage equality for the LGBT community. I highly doubt that said straight women are now devastated to hear that they are no longer welcome to host their "I'm the bride and it's my day" party at The Abbey enough to call a manifestation in protest of the ban. Chances are they'll most likely relocate their "penis hats" party to another one of SBE's trendy nightspots.
As for the argument that the bachelorette party tradition is "offensive," I find it quite hypocritical of our community to point the fingers at others when there's a lot to be said about our own behaviors. The debauchery that is typically associated with bachelorette parties -- straight chicks wearing penis hats, getting drunk and being obnoxiously loud -- is, in my opinion, no different than a Halloween night at the Abbey, or any other Gay bars for that matter.
Ironically, practically every TV station David Cooley has appeared on to talk about the decision to blacklist bachelorette parties has been accompanied with B-Roll clips of half-naked male go-go dancers dancing on a pole sporting a (barely-there) G-string. Clearly this is not helping the stereotypical image straight people -- generally speaking -- have of our community. Trying to be pious and holy to some degree is not the best and most credible strategy here.
Again, I am all in favor of social equality through civil rights activism and do support and endorse David Cooley in his endeavor to take a stand and try to make a difference. However, while undeniably filled with good intentions, I don't believe the change of policy carries legitimate weight to change anything in the big scheme of things.
The point that I am trying to make is that, in my opinion, an effective political statement is one that uses valid tools for productive ends. In other words, it is a sort of advertisement for a cause that will make enough of an impact to positively stir things up and influence change.
Now I don't see how a bachelorette party is a direct insult to gays and lesbians who are (allegedly) cruelly reminded of the legal rights they are still deprived of -- it's unlikely straight women are out on a "conspiracy" mission to purposefully "flaunt it" in the face of the LGBT community. I don't also believe that, as David Cooley stated, they are "completely unaware" of the fact that the Abbey's regular patrons hanging out in the same establishment as them do not have the same legal rights with regards to marriage. Not only this is 2012 and, to be honest, who doesn't know about the ongoing fight for marriage equality -- especially on the heels of president Obama's recent public endorsement of gay marriage? And, after all, these ladies are not out to join an activist cause and change the world; they're out to party just like the rest of the Abbey's customers.
I don't think the new policy will achieve its intended goal, namely to effectively put a stop to inequality and change laws around the country to have same-sex marriage legalized in every state, not to mention at the Federal level. Limiting the rights of others is a form of discrimination rather than a pro-Marriage Equality political statement.
What it is successfully doing, however, is making more noise than making a real difference.