San Francisco has the Castro, Seattle has Capital Hill, Portland has the Burnside Triangle. In a smaller city with no gay district, center or bar, Eugene is a difficult place for men to date. And for a university town, where the UO was voted number one in Campus Pride’s Climate Index of gay-friendly colleges, it is puzzling that there are no designated queer spaces off campus. Many people will tell you, “Go to G.L.A.M. Night,” the Saturday night dance party at John Henry’s complete with drag queens and go-go dancers, or point you to “gay-friendly” bars downtown, but G.L.A.M. Nights are only held twice monthly and “gay-friendly” bars do not equal gay bars. So where does a young, gay man in Eugene go those 341 other days a year? The answer is, there is no answer.
“It’s very difficult to find guys my age around here,” says Ben Lenoir, a UO MFA student and graduate teaching fellow (and in the interest of full disclosure, a good friend of mine). “There’s no place where you can actually go out and meet people unless it’s twice a month at G.L.A.M.”
Lenoir moved here from Delaware two years ago for graduate school, and for his partner — they have since gone separate ways. In the past six months he has tried sites like OkCupid and Grindr. (Grindr is a social network for “gay, bi and curious guys,” aka the “gay hook-up app.”) Although he has met some men through these sites, Lenoir says that there are a lot of flakey, “derpy” guys online. “It’s not that I’m old fashioned or anything, I just prefer to meet people in person.”
As a man who is gay, Lenoir says he doesn’t fear for his safety in Eugene, but he does feel invisible to the community, which can make going out to “gay-friendly” bars problematic. “It’s not necessarily safety; it’s expectation,” he says. “I don’t want to go up and make someone feel like they’re being harassed by me.” He adds, “It’s such an icky position to be in, because on one hand it’s me just wanting to fulfill my own wants and desires, just being myself, and then on the other hand, I’m possibly offending somebody.”
So I asked Anthony Barber, perhaps better known to Eugene as Diva-Simone Slaughter (pictured on cover), founder and host of G.L.A.M. Nights (along with the Glamazons), what the queer community does when it’s not G.L.A.M. Night.
“I don’t know; they struggle,” Barber says. “It’s a hard scene.” He points out that even G.L.A.M. isn’t exclusively for the queer community but that the staff at John Henry’s is very “pro-gay” and they “look out for their customers.” Barber, who moved to Eugene from Munich, Germany, in 1990 for school, remembers when Eugene did have more queer venues, like Club Arena, Neighbors and most recently, Club Snafu. Now, there are only gay-friendly spaces. Barber says there’s Drag Bingo at Jogger’s and a gay men’s group, but that’s not the same as having a designated physical space and representation.
“There’s places in town that say that ‘We’re gay friendly,’ but their staff really isn’t that way and we feel that. And like any other community, we talk about it,” he says. “I’ve had a lot of friends move out of Eugene because of it, to Portland or Seattle.” Barber says, “It wasn’t always that way. I think Eugene is slowly going more conservative.”
Lenoir recently met someone in Eugene through OkCupid; however he is still considering moving to Portland, California or somewhere with at least a gay bar.