Lesbian Bars: Sanctuary For Generations. By Diane Sheehy

The lesbian bar in Portsmouth, NH was my refuge in the early 80s. I was attending Saint Anselm College, the place where my RA would tell me she was relieved to hear I was an incest survivor. She was afraid I was going to tell her I was a lesbian. And that was one of the least homophobic things that happened at good old St. A’s.

But in the bar, I could be, well, me. I could just be who I am. And as a bonus there was alcohol, dance, and lots of beautiful lesbians, not necessarily in that order.

I learned how to be my butch self in that club. Studied the older butches to see how they wooed women; how they dressed; what they said; and didn’t say. Basically, I became an adult there. I learned that I was not alone and that I had family/community.

If you didn’t grow up LGBTQ back in the day, then you have no idea what a refuge a lesbian nightclub could be. It was all we had. It was the only safe place on earth for us.

It was situated outside of the downtown area- way outside. It was an unmarked building located on the highway and adjacent to Peter’s Palace, an adult book/movie store. So, that’s what Portsmouth and most of the country thought of us.

My people continue to be under attack in 2016, in the so called cradle of democracy. And this weekend, on the most important day of the year for my community, a hate-filled stranger walked into a gay bar and killed members of my LGBTQ family. Sure he had the gun, but the hateful people of our country helped load it for him.

So, today, thirty years after coming out at that wonderful club, I’m having a conversation about the Orlando shooting with my child. A lot has changed in thirty years- not all for the better.

Today, I teach my child to mourn the dead and keep fighting for the rights of the living. It’s all I have. It’s all I’ve ever known.

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