It could have been any Friday night at the Three Clubs. A cursory glance inside the Hollywood cocktail lounge on Nov. 6 revealed a couple dozen casually dressed patrons chatting around the front bar. Save for an aggressively affectionate, presumably lesbian couple dressed in men’s dress shirts and ties, the only tipoff that the evening was an LGBTQ event were the handful of attendees donning gray T-shirts printed with a pineapple coats of arms: the emblem of Guerrilla Queer Bar’s Welcoming Committee.
Active since May, GQB is a recent player in L.A.’s long-standing guerrilla party scene. Once a month, gay revelers descend on a typically hetero-centric bar or club and take it over. The Welcoming Committee produces Guerrilla Queer Bar events as a way to expand the gay social scene beyond the stereotypical confines of West Hollywood.
“Outside of WeHo, Silver Lake, DTLA and a few other bars in the area, there isn't much of a visible [LGBTQ nightlife] community,” says Alan Miranda, a member of TWC. “Plenty of people perhaps don't find themselves comfortable as a part of those communities. Oftentimes we don't want to go out to a place alone, because we feel like we may not fit in. That's where TWC comes in.
“No matter what we do or where we go, you can bet that we will make sure to create a fun and welcoming environment for everyone.”
At the early November event, the crowd was personable and the vibe was decidedly un-WeHo. There were no Go-Go twinks gyrating in bootie shorts or drag queens lip-synching to Selena Gomez. No spectacle, just a room full of gay nightlife civilians calmly conversing. It was casual. It was laid-back. It was, as the gaybies would say, basic.
It was a far cry from 2006, when the similarly named Guerrilla Gay Bar group made its initial mark on Los Angeles by taking over straight West Hollywood establishment Barney’s Beanery. The terrain of LGBTQ rights was much rockier then; by dominating a bar that once hung a sign declaring “Fagots Stay Out!” [sic], the event was as much political as it was social.
“At the time, the idea of marriage equality was only happening in foreign countries like Canada,” says Damian Pelliccione, founder of Guerrilla Gay Bar. “There were not enough places for the LGBT community to gather. The GGB movement, I believe, came out of being sick of the same three or four bars.”
Pelliccione adapted the Guerrilla Gay Bar concept from similar events he attended in New York in the early 2000s. It’s a somewhat confrontational practice, though reactions from regular patrons have been consistently positive. GGB’s early success was evidenced during the group’s third official outing, at White Horse Tavern.
An unnamed LA.com staff writer described the scene: “There was a line out the door and a wall-to-wall crowd inside that caused Johnny Knoxville to flee upon arrival. (We think it was the long wait for a beer, not the plethora of guys, that scared him away.)”
Nearly a decade later, after that inaugural night at Barney’s Beanery, gay culture has spread to the mainstream. This summer, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality. Openly gay characters are regularly portrayed on primetime television. Trans Olympian Caitlyn Jenner enjoyed a standing ovation during the hetero boys club that is the ESPY Awards. Accordingly, gay nightlife is increasingly being assimilated into L.A.’s larger party scene.
“GGB is getting harder and harder to promote because we have so many options, and we have much more acceptance,” Pelliccione says. “My absolute favorite LGBT bar in DTLA, hands down, is Redline, and there is such an LGBT scene now in DTLA with Precinct and Mattachine. It’s not about WeHo anymore. If anything, it’s the anti-culture of the Eastsiders that is taking over the LGBT nightlife in Los Angeles."
Beyond pursuing a gay-friendly nightlife scene beyond the borders of Boystown, the Welcoming Committee applies its guerrilla tactics to taking over cultural institutions, including museums and theaters. On Dec. 1, the group plans to descend on Staples Center for an L.A. Kings game.
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“We really do want to expand the spectrum of gay life. That means more than just bars and drinking,” Miranda says. “We all have our hobbies and interests outside of just going out with friends for a drink.”
While the Welcoming Committee is setting its sights beyond the bar scene, Guerrilla Gay Bar is setting its sights beyond Los Angeles. Pelliccione hopes to unleash his brand of guerrilla warfare internationally.
“I would love to see GGB travel to other countries where there are fewer options for the local LGBT community to socialize,” Pelliccione says. “I had the opportunity to travel this past year to places like Dubai, Bali, Singapore and Beijing, where there are no rights or very few rights for the LGBT community. Even if I was alone, I would make friends with a bartender and talk about what it’s like being out and open in a foreign country. It was heartbreaking to hear some of these stories, and if I could help by bringing an event like GGB to one of these places, I would do it in a heartbeat.”
Guerrilla Gay Bar will return from holiday hiatus in January to an undisclosed venue. The location will be messaged to GGB’s social media followers shortly before the event; as of now, all we know is that it will be downtown.