Discrimination at Nephew's bar
IMAGINE THAT you have plans to go out one night. You put on your favorite pants and shirt, or perhaps a dress or skirt that you think looks really good.
Now imagine that the bar you're going to doesn't let you in, not because your clothes are shabby or tattered, but because the bar discriminates against your identity. You may think that this sort of thing doesn't really happen anymore--that the days of discrimination and bigotry are part of a long forgotten past in our history. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Celia Hernandez, better known to her friends as "Junior," knows how true this is. She was denied entrance to the bar Nephew's in San Marcos, Texas, towards the end of June 2011. She was wearing a nice button-down shirt and pants, much like any guy would wear at that bar. The only problem is Junior is not a guy.
Junior was turned away at the door of Nephew's bar because, as the doorman told her, she was not "dressed like a girl." As Junior would later find out, this was not the decision of the doorman or any other employees of the bar. The fact is, the condition of "dressing like a girl" to gain entrance was made by the owner of the bar himself. At one point, Junior even tried tying the front of her shirt in a style typical of women on hot nights. But this was not enough to satisfy the bar owner.
Nephew's discriminatory dress code doesn't only apply to women, either. There have been others denied entry, including men who wear shorts above the knee. Apparently, if a guy shows too much leg, it's a "gay thing."
Nephew's is widely recognized as a pick-up bar. As such, women are expected to sexually objectify themselves. Events include an annual bikini contest where women dress up in skimpy bathing suits for a cash prize. Nephew's is a bar where hetero-normative standards are not only accepted and celebrated. As Junior's situation indicates, they are also enforced.
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ON FRIDAY, July 16, Brittany ("LaLa") Lawhon celebrated her 26th birthday. However, this was not an ordinary birthday party. On the same day, Brittany organized a protest in front of Nephew's in support of her good friend Junior.
About two dozen people showed up from around 10:30 p.m. to midnight, in support of Junior and against Nephew's discriminatory policy. Most of the protesters were dressed in drag--slips and skirts for the men, and fake mustaches for the women. The crowds were chanting, "We're here, we're queer. We don't want your beer," "Boycott bigotry, boycott Nephew's" and "You can't be you at Nephew's."
In addition to the chants, the protesters talked to people as they went in and out of the bar. Some people were horrified and assured the protesters they had no idea of the bar owner's bigoted views. Many patrons expressed to the protesters that they would not return and that they would inform others. People driving by also beeped their car horns in support.
During the protest, the owner was caught on tape saying, "I would let in half of you." Clearly, he meant the half that were not dressed in drag. The owner's shallow statements indicate his lack of understanding as to why people were protesting in the first place.
He called the police on two separate occasions, but since it was a peaceful rally on a public sidewalk, the protesters were well within their rights to be there. The owner of Nephew's may have a right to discriminate inside his bar, but this right does not extend to public property.
Let's be clear about one thing: This is not an issue about dress code. Many businesses have dress codes, and deny entry to individuals not dressed appropriately. This is an issue about discrimination--specifically against gays, lesbians and others who do not satisfy hetero-normative standards. No one should be required to objectify himself or herself to get a cheap drink.
The organizers of the protest were pleased with the success of the event, especially considering the dramatically reduced student population at Texas State during the summer semester. Plans are being made to continue the campaign into the fall semester, and we are hoping to gather more allies and spread the word to more people. With enough pressure from the community, these actions may get Nephew's to change their policy.
Mariano A. Conti and Stephen Gross, San Marcos Texas Progressive Political Action