On June 28, Club BnB in Oakland hosted Queer without Fear! a benefit for victims of the Pulse nightclub mass shooting in Orlando. Club BnB, formerly Bench and Bar, is in downtown Oakland and has historically been one of the most popular venues for queer people of color, featuring hip-hop, R&B and house music. During the stage show on June 28, a fight broke out among several patrons and ultimately two Black women were violently thrown out of the bar. According to witnesses who live across the street and happened to see, the white owner, Charles Bisbee, and a couple of his friends and security guards, followed the women into the street after ejecting them from the bar, punching and kicking them and pulling their hair. The police came, took statements and offered medical assistance to the men and not the women.
Black queer women and allies called for a picket and boycott of Club BnB and its sister club, Club 21, the following Saturday night and held a number of pickets during the next several months. The racial dynamics were complicated, especially at Club 21, where the security and most of the patrons were Latino (it was Salsa Night) and most of the picketers were white and not queer. Some Black dykes were, however, visible in organizing the protests. Black Lives Matter organizer Robbie Clark said from the sound truck: “There are not many spaces for queer folks in Oakland. BnB was one of those places. For it not to be safe for Black people in Oakland, when we’re being murdered and lynched, is part of the perpetual violence. When we’re not being invisibilized, we’re being brutalized.” A number of people spoke about personal experiences of racist treatment at the club.
Club BnB posted a giant defensive statement in the window claiming that it has done more for queer people of color than any other institution and asserting that a Latino promoter is co-owner. The owner(s) invited the community to a dialogue about the incident, but wanted to have it at the bar, which the women felt would be unsafe for them. One of the things BnB pointed to is their sponsorship of Latin dance and hip-hop stages at Oakland Pride.
Long-time club producer Chris de la Rosa wrote on Facebook, “As a producer who used to work with the BnB many moons ago and has an inside glimpse of the inner workings of this business there is a reason I stopped working with them and haven’t stepped foot inside their establishment since 2011, put quite simply, their absolute disdain for the community that supports them. In the last 24 hours we have seen them trot out POC folks to ‘defend’ their business and business practices. Don’t be fooled by that, just don’t.”
Protest organizers also called for a boycott of Oakland pride, both because of its connections to BnB & Club 21, and because for its seven years in existence, the festival has charged an entrance fee ($10 this year) which organizers claimed was in part raising money towards an LGBT community center in Oakland. The protest organizers wanted to know where the money was, pointing out that there is still no sign of a community center being built. A few days before this year’s Pride festival, the Bay Area Reporter reported that “after years of throwing the party, they have little to show toward their original goal of building a fund for an LGBTQ community center. Asked last week whether any money’s been put aside, Pride Co-Chair Carlos Uribe delayed answering directly by saying there’s been ‘a lot of speculation around is Pride putting money toward a center,’ among other comments.” The article quoted Uribe as denying that it was ever an intention of Pride to build a center, although he apparently said, “that is something we are going to be tackling,” but the reporter pointed out that Uribe’s statement contradicted things he had said earlier.
Racist and sexist assaults, discriminatory carding practices, graft and lying from so-called gay institutions – from the days of picketing the Midnight Scum and the End Up to the years-long battle at Badlands to the SF Pride committee’s dissing of Chelsea Manning and inviting the cops to harass homeless youth, some things never change. But we keep trying.
Boycott Club BnB. Visit www.facebook.com/BoycottClubBNB/ to find out about ongoing pickets and actions.