June is pride month and all over the world, many localities will explode with rainbow flags and parades of scantily-dressed people celebrating the struggles of the LGBTQ community. It commemorates the Stonewall Rebellion of June 1969, when members of the gay community fought back and demanded their right to be who they were and enjoy themselves publicly as they saw fit.
And it started at a drinking establishment: the Stonewall Tavern in New York. At the time, gay bars couldn’t legally exist, so those that did were secret, illegal affairs, controlled by organized crime. Bribes were paid to the police to keep them away, although they occasionally staged pro forma raids to appease the morality watchdogs of the time. One such raid was the last straw and riots broke out for several nights throughout Greenwich Village. It’s considered the birth of the modern LGBTQ movement.
Today there are many gay bars in New York City and they operate openly – with “pride”. LGBTQ people are no longer obliged to hide in the shadows. Ironically someone transported by time machine from 1969 would be astounded by the fact that bars catering to the gay community vastly outnumber those catering to smokers!
Most of the “straight” majority would probably not care to spend an evening in a gay bar, yet no fair-minded person says they should not exist. They serve as an important refuge for their patrons, places where LGBTQ folk can openly be themselves and socialize without worry of being judged or inhibited.
Now, the analogy I’m making is not a perfect one. Sexual noncomformists have been ostracized and persecuted for ages, whereas we smokers were recently part of mainstream society. Only a huge and well-funded campaign has made us into semi-pariahs. Until very recently, most non-smokers thought nothing of sharing space with us, especially in places of recreation like bars. It’s a tribute to the effectiveness of the antismoking crusade that it’s gone from that to people who freak out if someone smokes near them anywhere, even outdoors.
Did you know: before the blanket smoking ban in New York, some non-smoking bars opened, for those who preferred that environment when they drank. The majority of nonsmokers stayed away in droves. It seems that the nonsmokers who frequented bars didn’t buy into the propaganda about secondhand smoke, or didn’t care. After all, alcohol “kills” you, too. It was at this moment, I surmise, that whatever powers there be in the antismoking cabal decided the way to go was to simply provide no choice at all.
Today there are a handful of bars (4-5?) in New York City where one can smoke indoors. Other places have more welcoming regulations (and some have policies that are decidedly less so). And though the contemporary nonsmoking majority may recoil at a smoky bar, the smoking community has a right to places we can congregate and relax without getting dirty looks or fake coughs. Only a homophobic bigot would deny the gay community the right to their refuges and sanctuaries and those who would deny us the right to ours are similarly closed-minded and fanatical. They will accept no compromise.
Even in places where there is a livable compromise – Austria comes to mind – places where the majority of indoor bar space is no smoking and plenty of smaller places serve smokers, the Antis persist in denying smokers any safe harbor (and in the process exposing their own lie that their concern is mainly “protecting” nonsmokers.)
But if history teaches us anything, it’s that nothing is permanent. In the US, an anti-alcohol movement built over almost a century and culminated in a full constitutional amendment outlawing the production and sale of alcoholic beverages. This later became the only constitutional amendment to be repealed, and the anti-drinking contingent slunk underground for half a century. The message of hope for today, dear brethren, is that the tide could turn at any time. All it might take is a small group of people deciding they’ve had enough.