November is Shop Local, Give Local month for Bookmans, which allows me to give a shout out to my favorite local businesses in Tucson. November also marks the 30th anniversary of IBT’s. I recently celebrated Tucson Pride and awaited the release of Stonewall. (Whatever you think of the movie, Stonewall the event is a pivotal moment in gay pride history.) IBT’s is one of a few gay bars still kicking it in Tucson. This got me thinking about local businesses and their role as catalysts for social change.

Local Businesses Are Catalysts for Social Change

I believe in the power small businesses play in our development as a community and as individuals. I also worry about the future of gay-owned and operated business. The subject is a place where social norms and economics converge, impacting each other for better or worse. I started this train of thought when I learned that many gay bars in Tucson are closing or have closed and that the trend is nation-wide. We watched iconic establishments like the Roxy and Studio 54 in New York disappear. Gay marriage is legal and non-heterosexuals can eat, drink, work, vacation and be merry pretty much anywhere. Gone are the days where the only safe bars were in the darker parts of larger cities. Businesses like Stonewall are the nexus of watershed moments in American history. Why have we lost these historic touchstones when we live in a more accepting time than ever?

Within the last 50 years it was illegal for for those who identified as gay or lesbian to gather publicly. Would an uprising like the Stonewall riots have occurred if there was no place for marginalized people ready for social change to meet? Where will future generations gather in pursuit of life and liberty? Where will they have their pivotal moments–at a national chain?

Equally important are the personal histories built in these clubs. When I talked to people for perspective on this post, one thing became clear; the evolution, both social and personal, of the patrons of our local gay bars is profoundly effected by the community created around these establishments. Perhaps Tinder usurped the bar scene. It’s certainly quick, easy and discreet with no drink minimums. OK, so score one for the Internet. Online dating does not replace face-to-face community-building relationships. We have to be together, physically together–right?

Page* says, “The LGBTQ community does need somewhere to feel safe.” She continues, “Acceptance is beautiful but if you are in a mixed club, at some point you might have to out yourself. In a gay club everyone is safe. Why would a homophobe be in a gay club? If they were [to act on their homophobia] they would face tremendous resistance.” Eventually Page asks, “But what if you are under 21 or don’t drink, where do you hang out then?”

To reveal one’s sexuality or gender identity is tricky even in these enlightened times. If someone is in a gay bar, even if they aren’t gay themselves, chances are that they are an ally. If a person is not accepting and attempts to act on their prejudice, they are likely to face social pressure in a gay bar, lessening the likelihood of violence. A mixed club is not as safe, especially for younger patrons.

If you are under 21 and/or don’t drink, what then? Gay bars play a huge role in protecting younger people. The community extends past the establishment proper. One interviewee told me about his “Guncles”, gay uncles who watch over him. He socializes with them and the rest of the community outside the club scene. They gather at more local small businesses like coffee houses, gaming stores and (ahem) entertainment exchanges that host events. They also frequent other public spaces that are largely locally owned and maintained.

So, what is the future of local small businesses and organizations? The LGBTQ community is one of many areas of society and culture impacted by by the loss of small business. Small business is the community. They do more than generate tax revenue and provide employment. Small businesses represent the American Dream for everyone.

Local businesses like IBT’s have the same humble roots that Bookmans has. Small businesses in Tucson know our town and they know how best to represent our community. Join Bookmans throughout November as we partner with Local First Arizona to celebrate the little guy.

* Name altered. Maybe we haven’t come all that far.