Q&A: Waterloo Region's last LGBTQ bar shuts its doors

The Order in uptown Waterloo shut down this month. And when it closed, Waterloo region lost its last LGBTQ bar. The Morning Edition host Craig Norris sat down with two members of Kitchener-Waterloo's LGBTQ community to talk about the closing and what it means for the community.

'For some people in the rainbow community, the lack of bars is very, very critical'

The Order, an LGBTQ bar in uptown Waterloo, shut down two weeks ago.

When it closed, Waterloo region lost its last LGBTQ bar. 

Historically, these bars and clubs have been important centres of community and safe places for people of all orientations and identities to gather and socialize.

So what does the loss of The Order mean for the local LGBTQ community?

Craig Norris, host of The Morning Edition, sat down with D Morton, a member of Kitchener's Gender Variant Working Group, and Randy Farrell, director and vice-chair of SPECTRUM, Waterloo Region's LGBTQ community space. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Why historically have LGBTQ bars been so important for the community?

Randy: It was the only place to go where you were safe. Back in the early 70s and 80s, they used to be locked entrance, so you had to know the people on the other side of the door. You had to have a membership to get in. They were very controlled.

Because back in those days, unfortunately, gay bashing was a pastime, not a crime. So there was a lot of fear for personal safety. If your name came out as LGBTQ back in the 70s and 80s, you would lose everything: You would lose your job, you would lose your family, you would lose your entire life. You would have to rebuild. 

What were some of the prominent local bars that have closed?

Randy: Going back in time, in the 70s there was a thing called the Bridgeport dances, which were community-organized dances at the Bridgeport Community Centre, which was way out in the boonies then, when Kitchener was like 60,000 or 70,000 people. They were very popular. They lasted quite a long time, until 1980. And then some of the gay bars started popping up. The Robin's Nest opened in 1977 in Cambridge, which was the most popular lesbian bar in Ontario. People traveled all over to see it and be there. And then across from [Kitchener] city hall where that big empty lot is, there used to be a gay bar in the basement there, which you attended through the back alleyway, called the Half and Half Club, and then it became the Pink Zone and then eventually the owners of the Ren took it over and moved it up to Charles Street.

And what about places that don't serve alcohol, that wouldn't be bars, per se? 

Randy: There was a coffee shop called Little Bean that did have a liquor license, but it was LGBT-owned and run and very, very friendly. A lot of tri-Pride events were held there. There are other very friendly coffee shops, and I don't want to name them because I will forget one of our allies for sure, but there are some in downtown Kitchener and uptown Waterloo that are very supportive of the rainbow community.

Transgender people and people with gender-variant identities. What was their experience like with these bars?

D: I mean you can't really lump them all together. I know that a lot of places, even that are LGBTQ-focused or friendly or inclusive, the 'T' can get left on the fringes. So I have heard about a couple of different places where it's like, 'Yeah, it's great, but not necessarily too trans-friendly.'

A lot of the bars and things will always have drag performers, and that's really great. But then people who aren't drag performers will not get a very welcoming atmosphere or an inclusive atmosphere for them.

Honestly, over the last few years, I haven't really gone out. I never went to The Order in the time that it was open, so I can't really speak from first hand experience. I just know that that is something that is a concern, and that is one of the reasons why I just don't often bother going places. 

And that's a whole other aspect of this. You don't feel like you can go out and socialize around here?

D: Yeah, I mean it's not like I feel like I can't go out and socialize, it's just one of those things where it's like, usually when you go out you want to look nice, and it's like, OK, is it going to be safe to get where I am going? Is it going to be safe going home once it's late at night?  When I am there, am I going to get stared at or whatever, or will there be other kinds of issues? And then, it's like, why don't I just stay home?

How can social spaces, particularly LGBTQ-oriented ones, become more inclusive?

D: That's a big question. I think that one [way] would be to make it really blatantly clear and say, 'We support these groups,' and the next would be to back it up. So if there is any kind of an issue, you can take it to whomever is in charge and that's going to get looked after.

I mean that's the same as anywhere, even looking for work or whatever, it's like, 'How is management going to treat any issues?' So in the same way, going some place, if you know someone is hassling you they're going to get a talking to and possibly removed from the space, then you're like, 'OK cool, I am happy to go there then.'

Do you think these bars have the same relevance they once had? 

Randy: For some people in the rainbow community, the lack of bars is very, very critical. Not because of the alcohol, but because of the socialization. Some LGBTQ people in their 60s, 70s and 80s go nowhere because they are absolutely terrified, from the life they lived, of being marginalized by their peers.

Historically, right?

Randy: Historically. And now, in nursing homes, where gay people are going back in the closets. The three marginalized groups to me, as D said, the transfolk have big issues, there's also the youth, kids under eighteen, there's no place, really outside of OK2BME, really, to go.

And the other is seniors. And the seniors that are in nursing homes now are being boarded with their abusers from their youth, and it's a very difficult area. 

D, what sorts of community spaces would you like to see for LGBTQ people?

D: I think any kind of space, really.

Do you have any specific vision in mind?

D: Not really. When we're looking at TV, movies, and we're out in the community and all we're seeing is straight people, then we end up feeling really isolated. We end up feeling like we don't belong anywhere, so having that place where we can go, and meet and see other people who are like us, then that has a huge impact.