By Tyler Scruggs
Burkhart’s is closed, possibly for good, and many of us are left asking ourselves questions. What else was supposed to happen? What realistic alternatives could’ve been presented? In 2018 there has (rightfully) emerged a zero-tolerance policy for discriminatory, racist actions and beliefs. It’s just not gonna be accepted anymore; not for financial reasons, cultural reasons, or even community reasons.
That being said, has the Atlanta LGBTQ+ community taken too big a hit? Between Burkhart’s and the possible closing of Cowtippers, another admired gay establishment, are we in a state of panic? It should go without saying that gay spaces are vital to the coming-of-age experience for every queer person. Everyone remembers their first toddler-like steps into their first bar that opened their eyes to the possibilities that their own town or nearby city had to offer. That’s important, and that makes it all the more vital to protect these spaces and not take them for granted.
Many people have taken the understandable position that a robust, if problematic, establishment is better than no establishment at all. Many people, not just older white gay men, believe that the genuine progress built up over the past few decades can be washed away simply by a series of drunken (consistent and incredibly racist) Facebook posts.
Their points are valid, but although the march of progress took many years to evolve into the out-but-weary position we’re in today, it appears as though our velocity is now much faster. Young people, Millennials, whatever you want to call them, simply have no patience or tolerance for hypocrisy or even veiled, layer support of positions and ideas they don’t agree with. Atlanta’s problem with gay establishments evaporating is only a byproduct of greater cultural movements at large. Celebrities whose hypocrisy was exposed during the #MeToo movement are being stripped of their acclaim and platform. Politicians whose behavior isn’t aligned with the political platforms they champion are being exposed and are harshly, if arguably rightfully, being forced to step down.
This, I feel, is the ultimate reason for Burkhart’s demise. After the infamous vulgar rants and racists posts were brought to a more public light, the call to arms was just too great. Screenshots of the posts spread hundreds upon hundreds of times, each with their own comment of disgust and outrage. Interestingly, many older members of the community simply shook their heads and claimed that this dark underbelly of Burkhart’s was not only a long-known fact — but just the beginning.
After a respectable, just about impeccably written letter from the day-to-day general manager, it became apparent that the greatest damage had been done. The performers, previously fearful of their threatened employment at the biggest drag bar in town, had banded together and quit in unison. They’ve now found more welcoming refuge at My Sister’s Room in Midtown. And while the dust has more or less settled from the biggest Atlanta gay scene shake-up of the year so far, many questions still remain. From the haunting murmurs of more shake-ups like this to come—where will they come from? And why?
Just before this piece went to print, even, it was discovered that Grant Park’s notably quiet but nonetheless robust gay bar The Cockpit had just as silently changed its name to Grant Park Tavern —a noticeable step back from its distinguished gay bar status and towards an everyman’s, gay or straight, sports bar. Is it disappointing? For sure? Was it the best business decision for a lone bar on a boulevard severely lacking in young foot traffic? Probably.
Where have all the gay bars gone, you ask? Well, they’re still here, still queer, but perhaps disappointingly integrated with the rest of the restaurant and bar scene. There’s no fear in stepping into a sports bar as a young queer person, wondering what feelings will be awakened. In fact, the feeling may be fear. The fear of intolerance or even violence looms outside of safe queer spaces, and if they’re evaporating… that threat may be greater. This is the climate for most minority spaces right now, not just ours. The question is, though, is what are we going to do about it?