Guests at Ottawa’s Heaven dance club expect to have a good time and dance the night away. What the mostly heterosexual crowd was not expecting this spring Saturday night was for the club to be overrun by the Gay Guerrilla Takeover.
The Gay Guerrilla Takeover is an organization that does what its name says: once a month, a group of gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer, and queer-friendly people venture into a hot mainstream— i.e., heterosexual—bar or club and take it over without warning. Tim Campbell, a 28-year-old fundraising coordinator, started the group after Ottawa’s Gay Pride week. Campbell and his friends had gone to a local bar where they were mistreated by the staff, who told them, “We don’t serve those kinds of drinks. This isn’t a gay bar.” That’s when he thought, “Well, what if it was a gay bar?”
He had heard about takeovers happening in Los Angeles after people who lived in the gay village decided to turn heterosexual bars into safe places for them. “There are certain bars in Ottawa where I wouldn’t feel comfortable going with a guy and making out,” says Campbell, “so when I heard about this concept I thought to myself, ‘Yes!’”
Lily Flowers, a takeover regular, says when she goes somewhere “straight” people stare at her. “They seem to wonder: It’s a girl but she’s dressed like a boy. During a takeover, you don’t have to be someone else because it is a safe space,” she says.
Campbell says his organization experiences very little hostility from regular patrons, who party and have fun with an average of 200 to 400 guerrillas.
Members are informed about takeovers via a Facebook group called Guerrilla Gay Bar, but they are only told the location a day or two before to keep the element of surprise. So far the Facebook group has some 1,500 members.
On this particular night, guerrillas were asked to dress in white, and a sea of white-wearing dancers hints at a successful takeover.
While some heterosexual patrons do leave the club when they realize what’s happening, others stay, though a few feel the need to assert their heterosexuality, such as the young man who repeatedly stated “I am not gay” when asking girls to dance.
More takeovers are scheduled for the future, so if you’re in a “straight” Ottawa bar, don’t be surprised if it becomes the Gay Guerrillas’ next target.