Two Mad River Bar & Grille employees fired for their actions
By Steve Charing
The Guerilla Gay Bar Baltimore monthly invasion of straight bars and clubs claimed its first "casualties" since the phenomenon began last November. Two doormen were discharged by the general manager of Mad River—a bar and grille in the midst of the bustling Federal Hill neighborhood—following complaints of anti-gay slurs and other allegations of homophobic bias on the part of the staff.
"This is the first time a bar has acted negatively towards our group," wrote GGBB co-founder Mark Yost, Jr. in a message immediately following the event to its ever-expanding list of members on Facebook. "I do want you to know as a group, we will not tolerate such behavior."
The examples of the rude treatment by employees and straight patrons were abundant. "I had a bouncer tell me to get off the landing because it's not a place to hang out, yet [he] allowed a group of straight guys and girls to congregate there all night, immediately after telling me to move," a source, who requested anonymity, told OUTloud.
He added, "Other tables were being waited on by staff because they were ordering food. When we wanted to order food, we had to go to the bar to order." The source also criticized how one of the female bartenders ignored the gay customers and how weak the drinks were.
Not only had some of the employees and staff been homophobic in their words and deeds, a few of the straight customers were as well. "In one instance a patron walked by and said, ‘goddamn faggots,’ igniting laughter from one of the bouncers checking ID’s," the source said.
The pleasant evening of July 3 that kicked off the holiday weekend started off calmly enough. But as the GGBB folks started to pour in—a total of over 350 attended the event—pushing the crowd to near capacity, that’s when the wheels began to fall off the cart.
To identify themselves as part of the "invasion" GGBB participants normally display stickers containing the group’s logo. It appeared that only when the crowd swelled with sticker-clad customers did some of the staff finally get the gist of what was going on.
In fact, the general manager of Mad River, Eric Leatherman told OUTloud that neither himself nor his events coordinator knew in advance about the "invasion." "We had planned on a smaller crowd for the start of the 4th of July weekend," Leatherman explained. "Had I known about the fact hundreds of people were going to come that night we would have added more employees and accommodated the crowd better."
Yost indicated in response to OUTloud that he notified Mad River via e-mail on June 29 and followed up with two phone calls the next day. He had left a message with a female daytime bartender (who, as it turned out, had been planning to quit by week’s end), but no one from the bar called him back. He assumed they received the message and had no problem with the group’s visit later in the week.
This lack of communication and preparedness among Mad River staff set the stage for the insulting events of that night. "I had several friends tell me homophobic comments they (or friends of theirs) heard from the staff, to include a comment by one bouncer to a person on the street that the person wouldn’t want to enter as it was ‘a bunch of fags in here tonight," said Adam Schadt, who is part of the GGBB group. "While leaving the event early on the way to a friend's birthday party, I heard one of the bouncers up front talking with several others in a mocking tone about the event. Still others told me that people were denied entry as they ‘didn’t have enough girls’ in their party."
Added Schadt, "Having been to all but one of the GGBB events, we have had nothing but positive experiences at every other location, even from the first few bars when our numbers were much smaller and we came unannounced. On several occasions I’ve had bartenders and staff mention how much they loved us and ask when we’d be coming back. This was anything but the reaction we got from Mad River."
Of course, not everybody had a bad experience that night. Sarah Billmaier and her fiancée, Jen, were apprehensive about going because they have not enjoyed straight bars recently. But as they settled down and had a drink they relaxed.
"Towards the middle of the evening I noticed this cute gay couple dancing and kissing - nothing too outrageous," said Billmaier. "I happened to glance the other way and saw a straight couple doing the very same thing. This not only made me smile but it also warmed my heart. When I first came out, I always wondered if there would ever come a day when every bar was for everyone."
After hearing the negative reports, however, Mark Yost had planned to contact Eric Leatherman to protest the treatment and harassment inflicted upon the GGBB members. Yet it was Leatherman who contacted Yost first after an employee noticed a number of postings to the GGBB’s Facebook page that lodged complaints.
Yost wrote the GGBB followers in a Facebook message, "[Leatherman] was extremely apologetic and indicated that the staff members who had acted inappropriately were discharged. He was concerned about the image of his bar and of his personal image and wanted us to be sure that we knew that he would not accept, promote or permit this type of behavior from his staff.
Indeed, Leatherman stated to OUTloud, "I hate that something like this would allow people to think that we feel this way about the gay community. It does not reflect how I feel nor does it reflect the position of Mad River."
"I believe his apology and his actions speak loudly and I truly believe they were well-intentioned and thoughtful," wrote Yost. "The behavior of this staff should be rightfully read as representing the individuals not the establishment. They are no longer there and that sends a pretty clear message."
Yost told OUTloud, "While the bar's apology was great and I truly believe that the employees involved do not represent the ownership, this incident is a sad reminder that not all people in Baltimore are enlightened about the gay community. As we continue to fight for our civil rights, it remains important that we go out, show our faces and build our community."
GGBB launches an "invasion" of a straight establishment in Baltimore with the bar management’s prior knowledge on the first Friday of every month. For more information about Guerilla Gay Bar Baltimore you may visit their website at www.ggb-baltimore.com or join the group on Facebook. The location of the next "invasion" is disclosed on Facebook the Wednesday before the event.