April 9, 2007 — -- It was Friday night at the Black Cat, a bar in the heart of Washington, D.C.'s increasingly trendy U Street Corridor.
The wall-to-wall crowd was a mix of hipsters, indie rockers, and tonight, several hundred gays and lesbians.
Chris Trott, a 25-year-old copy editor by day, surveyed the scene with a beer in hand, and a satisfied smile.
"We don't look at it so much as a takeover as a, a," Trott began, as Karl Jones finished the thought with: "A blending."
"Yeah," Trott agreed. "A blending."
The blending is Guerrilla Queer Bar DC, a social experiment bordering on activism that Jones, Trott and "the lesbian of the group," Amy Mulry, host.
Through a network of Internet profiles on Myspace, Friendster and Yahoo, they sound the call to gays and lesbians around the city and descend on a straight bar, on the third Friday of every month.
Tired of being limited to a few dozen gay bars, and Mulry points out, just two lesbian bars in the city, the group began seeking out straight bars three years ago. The trio began with an e-mail list of around 200; it's now approaching 2,000.
"When you're the only gay person, people tend to engage on that level, like 'Oh, I have a gay friend.' That's what defines you," Jones said. "If there are 20 gay people, then all of a sudden the conversation changes and it becomes about you being a person who has other qualities."
The concept began in 2000 with a group in San Francisco. Guerrilla Queer Bar groups are now in cities across the country, from Austin, Texas, to Atlanta, Seattle to Salt Lake City. London and Heidelberg, Germany, also have Guerrilla contingents.
There's no formal organization, no one seems to be making any money at it, and it does take work. Fun work, as Jones calls it.
The D.C. group has Guerrilla Bar business cards and job titles: Mulry "Curly-haired Maverick," Trott "Sassy Face Maker" and Jones "Dance Machine."
"We've got gay male Republicans, lesbians from Takma Park, hipsters from Northwest and couples from Capitol Hill," said Jones, a 29-year-old event coordinator who sports a beanie and a large "I Hate Men" button.
"It really is like every single type of queer person," he said. Usually around 200 show up, but on this night, the group was celebrating its three-year anniversary with a party, and the line was spilling out the door and crowding the sidewalk.
There is strength in numbers. All three believe many people who come to Guerrilla events would be afraid to otherwise venture socially outside of gay bars. "Especially early on, we got a lot of e-mails from people saying, 'What if I get beat up?'" Jones said.
That's never happened.
The goal is integration, not confrontation. It's activism with a small "a."
Mulry says it reflects where the gay movement is today. "[It's] the subtlety of making ourselves out there but not in a scary way. It's not all about Pride parades. It's not all drag queens. We're your neighbors."
The neighbors are noticing. Alan Dickey and his wife, Ann, play pool at Black Cat every weekend. From their perch at a green, felt table in the corner, he leaned over and nodded. "I noticed something going on here. I noticed a couple guys dressed in drag," he said.
His wife said she loved the concept, but confessed that she didn't see anything too different about tonight's crowd. "It's really busy, the energy is really up. It's really wonderful," she said.
And that is the point: not to menace but to mix -- with straight people, and even within the gay community. Mulry says she loves that gay men and lesbians are also forced to interact, something that usually happens in a political, not a social context.
Trott said, "The only reaction we look for is people having fun."
He laughed a little, adding, "Our motto is: We're here, we're queer, we want a beer."