A 911 call to a gay bar underscores the rising fear in Phoenix's queer community.
Despite The Department of Homeland Security telling LGBTQ+ people to stay vigilant, local Republicans continue harmful rhetoric, putting those people at risk of violence.
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It was just after closing the bar on Dec. 28, 2022 when there was a banging on the door at one of Phoenix’s popular gay bars in the Melrose district.
The bartender working had begun cleaning up around 45 minutes prior, and was finishing when a man started slamming the door with his fists.
The bartender, who didn’t want to be named because he was afraid of drawing attention to himself, said he recognized the man from earlier. He had been staring at him all night, making the bartender uneasy. Even after the bar closed and he took the trash out, the man was still outside, he said, staring at him.
Now, the same man was trying to get inside.
He called the police. In the 911 recording, obtained through a records request, he sounded scared — fearing for his life.
After 45 minutes of waiting, “no one came.” Eventually, the man left.
On the Phoenix Police Department’s response log, also obtained through a records request, the police labeled the call as “no action required.”
The lack of police response to a gay bar in distress is not alarming for those who understand the dynamic between the Phoenix Police Department and the LGBTQ+ community.
But the event, which was first posted on Twitter and then deleted because it had inaccurate details, was distressing for many who took into consideration the recent rise in threats made against the community in the Valley and across the nation.
And while the situation may not have been an attack by an anti-LGBTQ+ activist, there is fear among community members that similar events—or worse—are imminent.
Earlier this month, the Department of Homeland Security issued a warning to people in the queer community to be mindful whenever they visited LGBTQ+ establishments.
Outside of Kobalt Bar, a popular drag venue located off Central Avenue and Thomas Road, one bar goer said he was anxious about coming because he didn’t feel safe. “Are we getting more security?” he asked. “It just feels like we’re a target.” He continued saying it felt like a gamble on if a random act of violence might happen.
Much of that fear can be attributed to actions happening at the state Capitol, where the legislature’s “Freedom Caucus”—an off-shoot of the ultra-conservative caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives—has championed bills that have accused LGBTQ+ spaces of hosting “groomers,” or people who persuade children into sexual acts.
They have proposed bills that would force local gay and lesbian bars, clubs, restaurants and public event spaces to be licensed in similar ways to pornographic establishments if they host drag shows.
It would also limit drag performances to certain times that would decimate local businesses that host popular “drag brunches.” The bills are also written broadly enough that actors performing locally in theatre performances could find themselves arrested.
Legislators from the Freedom Caucus who support the bills are not shy about their regressive attitudes toward the community. At Monday’s State of the State address by Gov. Katie Hobbs, members of the caucus gathered outside the Capitol building to denounce Hobbs’ executive order that extended workplace protections to queer-identified people.
“(Katie Hobbs) believes she has the ability to legislate with the power of the pen attempting to create law that simply does not exist,” said Sen.-Elect Jake Hoffman. Hoffman and other conservatives argued that the they—not the governor—should decide on if equal rights protections are extended across the state.
Standing behind Hoffman were senators John Kavanagh of Fountain Hills—who we spoke with in a one-on-one interview last week—and Anthony Kern of Glendale. Kern has tweeted that the “Bible is truth” in response to community members in Virginia attempting to limit hate speech couched as religious freedom.
He also has used religious scripture to tweet homophobic and transphobic comments about Sam Brinton, the U.S. Department of Energy’s deputy assistant secretary. Brinton is nonbinary and performs in drag, to which Kern tweeted: “Men should be men and women should be women according to God's Word!”
LOOKOUT contacted the senator by email. He did not respond.
But more than what was being said about Hobbs’ executive order, users on social media took to notice at least one man standing behind Kern, Ethan Schmidt, an anti-LGBTQ+ agitator who has posted online about hunting down “gays and jews.” Schmidt has been barred from a number of far-right gatherings, but hasn’t been denounced by legislators in the caucus.
None of this is comforting for Phoenix’s growing queer community, which has been unwillingly thrust into a culture war and political battle.
As a protest against the trans- and homophobic legislation, a protest has been scheduled for Jan. 22 at the capitol lawn at 1 p.m. More details on the protest in our events section.
But even preparing for that protest has made people wary about being seen in drag while in public.
“All it takes is someone inside of Arizona who has never seen the art of drag—or known a drag queen—to take these lawmakers seriously and think these people are dangerous to children. And they could do something really bad.”
-Noelle Cañez, 27, a drag performer in Mesa, Ariz. who goes by the performance name “Daddy Satan”
EYES ON THE STATE
LOOKOUT's 'Eyes on the State' is brought to you by an exclusive partnership with Equality AZ. Check here every week to see what's being proposed by lawmakers, who are the state power brokers, and context for current and upcoming bills.
What to know about it:
The specific approach SB1026 takes not only focuses on the use of state money, but also enshrines the term “drag shows targeting minors” into law in order to serve as a rhetorical foil to other more obviously draconian drag bans.
What to know about it:
SB1028 bans drag performances from public places or any other locations where drag “could be viewed by a minor.” Anyone charged under the law would face a misdemeanor, escalating to a felony after the first charge. It also addresses the more generic category “adult cabaret performances” rather than specifically targeting drag, but its definition of the term includes drag performers and “male or female impersonators,” and would put all performers, along with many trans and gender nonconforming people, at risk of arrest.
What to know about it:
Drug use among the queer community has been rising since 2015, according to studies done by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. But the kinds of drugs people are using is often not what they think they are getting — as evidenced by the rise of accidental overdoses from people using cocaine recreationally. This bill, as written, would make it possible to get a life sentence for offering a friend drugs, if that person dies.
What to know about it:
Jake Hoffman, leader of the Freedom Caucus, chairs the Senate Government, and he’ll decide whether SB1030 will get a vote. He’s been outspoken against LGBTQ+ rights in the past, and this bill would force an end to drag brunches and drag story hours by utilizing zoning restrictions. But it also goes further than that—because the bill uses the same definition of drag as SB1026, its permitting requirements could apply to any trans or gender nonconforming person participating in the performing arts.
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On Jan. 12, Equality AZ is hosting their Political Power Team Meeting at Cartel Roasting Co. in Tempe at 6:30 p.m. The meeting will go over how to be politically involved in between major election cycles. Register here. (Disclosure: Equality AZ is a content partner of LOOKOUT)
On Jan. 16, One n’ Ten is hosting a zine-making session at their satellite Surprise location at 6 p.m. For more information, text @sronenten to 81010
On Jan. 17, One n’ Ten is hosting a LGBTQ+ history session focused on queer spaces. The event will be held at their satellite Chandler location at 6:30 p.m. For information, text @chonenten to 81010.
On Jan. 22, protesters are meeting at the Capitol Lawn to protest the state’s continued push for anti-LGBTQ+ bills. Organizers suggest to dress in drag, bring signs, safety masks, water, and to wear comfortable shoes. More info here.
On Jan. 26, LOOKOUT will host its first listening session at the Phoenix New Times Office at 6:30 p.m. Participation is free and open to the public and will include a rundown of what LOOKOUT’s yearly mission is, and an opportunity for you to provide feedback as well as give input on what you want in your coverage. Register for the event here.