After only one year, GGBB is making a difference.
By Steve Charing
On the night Guerilla Gay Bar Baltimore celebrated its 1st anniversary at Mother’s Federal Hill Grille, three young women approached Byron Macfarlane (r.), one of the two co-founders and leaders of the GGBB phenomenon who was standing at the front end of the bar. They asked him for the now familiar purplish stickers that adorn those who participate in the monthly ritual of "invading" a straight bar or club in Baltimore City.
But in this case, the three women weren’t lesbians. They were straight, and it’s notable that even they wanted to be part of this growing movement.
Guerilla Gay Bar Baltimore was launched last November as an means to offer LGBT folks in the Baltimore area an alternative to the local gay bar scene and perhaps make new friends and allies outside the LGBT community.
"The primary goal of GGBB has been to better integrate the LGBT and straight communities in Baltimore," says Byron Macfarlane, an attorney and who is running as an openly gay candidate for Register of Wills in Howard County. "Along with that, we wanted to provide members of our community with opportunities to travel outside the ‘gayborhood’ and see parts of the city they may not be familiar with or may not feel comfortable in if they are by themselves or in a small group."
The popularity of GGBB took the founders by surprise. "I believe it has been a good year and we certainly have exceeded my expectations of the group," explains Mark Yost, Jr. (l.), a lobbyist and law student who is the other co-founder and leader of GGBB. "A year ago, Byron and I had hoped to have a good time doing this and expected slow steady growth. I think if you had told us that we would be having crowds of 300 on average, we would have been shocked."
In fact, the crowds have often exceeded that amount each month. Both Yost and Macfarlane seek out Baltimore venues that cater to a predominantly straight clientele and are not only willing to accept a large contingent of LGBT people but also have the capacity to accommodate the "invasion."
The announcement of the location is made two days before the scheduled event, which is the first Friday of the month. Using social networking, principally Facebook and word-of-mouth, the group has expanded by leaps and bounds.
The unforeseen growth over the year has been a major development. "Having over 1,500 ‘members’ is phenomenal and we truly enjoy our monthly gatherings," says Yost. "It’s been a place to meet old friends, make new ones and have a good time."
Macfarlane points out that bar owners and patrons around the city now know about the group and are welcoming and accepting. "Bar owners have been clamoring for our group to patronize their establishments. And now, a huge number of lesbians, gays, and allies have the first Friday of every month already booked on their calendars for GGBB and are upset when something comes up and they can't make it."
While most of these invasions have gone off smoothly, there was one hiccup at the Mad River bar in Federal Hill on the Friday of the July 4 weekend. There had been a lapse in communication between the GGBB organizers and management of the bar. That led to the Mad River’s staff not being informed of the invasion, and some ugliness ensued that resulted in the termination of two bar employees for their alleged homophobic actions. The manager profusely apologized for the miscommunication and for the employees’ conduct.
"Along the way, the people of Baltimore have shown that deep down, they are good and decent people, but we know we still have a lot of work to do," says Macfarlane.
But that mishap was just a blip during the past year. "The response has been overwhelmingly positive both from within the gay community and in the larger Baltimore community," Yost points out. "I think we are using our gatherings, which are to be fun, to also softly promote our goals of equal rights. The more ‘out’ our community is, the better served we are going to be in being accepted in society."
GGBB has not restricted itself to once-a-month straight bar invasions. "We're especially proud that we have partnered with establishments in the city to give back to those in our community who really need help. We've raised money for organizations like Brother Help Thyself and AIDS Action Baltimore," notes Macfarlane.
Yost explains, "In order to support GGBB, other LGBT causes and our own community, GGBB has returned home to ‘our base.’ It helps us recharge, regroup and to bring some new exciting events our own community." To that end, GGBB has held special theme events at Grand Central, such as Bootcamp Night, White Party and Octoberfest Sausage Party.
After one year, like any organization the co-leaders are taking stock of what was accomplished and where they want to go. "We dispelled any notion that the concept had started to get a little old when we had over 600 members attend this month's invasion," says Macfarlane.
"There clearly is still the desire in the lgbt community to have these interactions on an ongoing basis, and as long as that desire is there, GGBB will provide the outlet and the experience.
"GGBB is part of the slow, quiet, non-aggressive activism that can and will change attitudes toward members of our communities and, ultimately, lgbt rights. When people who are on the fence about our issues or are ardent opponents see us as people just like them rather than the caricatures they see on television and in the movies, we're making a big impact."
Mark Yost adds, "Baltimore is a great city, and we are trying to make it just a little more fabulous once a month."
For more information visit ggb-baltimore.com.