Jamez Smith, a gay black man, says racism is alive in the Twin Cities' gay community

He accuses local gay bars of singling him out for harassment because of his race

Jamez Smith was new in town. He didn't know the scene. So one night, he went to the 19 Bar in Loring Park. It's known for a good jukebox, excellent pinball, and a casual atmosphere in which gay men can relax.

It didn't take long for another guy to notice Smith. He has a muscular build (he's a former Air Force flight simulator technician), a Mohawk that fades down his neck, and a knack for bringing up interesting trivia.

The guy sat down next to Smith and the two began talking. As the conversation and liquor flowed, the other man made his move, inviting Smith back to his car to listen to music, then to his apartment for a nightcap. Smith agreed.

But then the story takes a dark turn. While smoking a cigarette, the man looked him face-on, took a dramatic drag, looked back at Smith, and said, "Don't steal from me."

Smith's eyes went big. "What!?"

The guy suddenly got sober. "What? Oh my god, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. It's just what you're wearing."

"What I'm wearing?"

The guy continued to plead, but Smith had heard enough. He got up to leave, but he was new in town and didn't know where he was. He chose to stay the night, sleeping in the guy's bed fully clothed. He left in the morning.

"It wasn't my jeans he was looking at," Smith says in conclusion. "It was my genes."

For Smith, it was the start of another cycle. He had left the left coast because he was sick of the scene and needed to change his environment. In San Francisco, he had felt the sting of racism at a gay bar just blocks away from the spot where Harvey Milk gave a speech for equal rights.

In another Bay Area incident, a gay co-worker told him to fly back to Africa. After running out of work at a nonprofit in L.A., where he helped conduct a research study exploring the connection between crystal meth use and rising HIV infection rates in young gay men, a friend told him about Minneapolis.

"My friend said, 'Dude, come to Minneapolis. You won't find any of that racist bullshit here.' I actually believed him."

It didn't take long for Smith to notice that the local gay scene was almost universally white, and that some wanted to keep it that way. In a Twin Cities chat room on Gay.com, he observed the following conversation, which we've edited for clarity:

too many blacks have the i hate the white man thing going on, and im not into that

and a 15yo black dude should not have that kinda hate

its taught to him

shoot him

lol

pop a cap in his ass

Smith has a hard time understanding how any gay man can be racist. "They know what oppression feels like. How could they turn around and be this way?" he says. "It's white privilege. The only mark against them is they're gay. Other than that, the world is their oyster."

Last summer, Smith found his way back to the 19 Bar. It had become his favorite spot in the city. The people were welcoming and the service was generally friendly.

But one Sunday afternoon, he walked to the bar and waited patiently as two white customers were served their drinks before him. The bar was pretty empty, yet the bartender walked over to a new customer without ever acknowledging Smith.

After getting the bartender's name, Smith walked out. He rode home on his bicycle and wrote a letter to the owners and managers of the 19 Bar. He told them of his experience and reflected on the reason:

I can't say why he would not serve me, but it seems glaringly obvious: I'm a black man.

Smith went on to say he had never experienced rude treatment from the staff prior to that day. He also asked that the bartender receive some sort of education to learn the pain he'd caused. Toward the end he wrote, "And to make matters worse, the majority of the racism, sexism, classism, and straight-up cultural insensitivity I've encountered since moving here has come from the gay community."

Smith says the 19 Bar never responded to his letter. But when City Pages called Jason Defreitas, the current manager and the bartender who was on duty at the time of the alleged incident, he responded to the allegations in disbelief.

"That is crazy," says Defreitas. "He never sat at the bar right away. He was walking around the bar like he was looking for something. He wasn't even in this place for more than three minutes."

Defreitas says the 19 Bar has a very diverse clientele, and says he wasn't in any way trying to overlook Smith. "Again, he was only there for two, maybe three minutes. Look, I apologize that he felt that way, but there was no dialogue between us."

Another incident soon after at another local bar cemented Smith's feelings that the Minneapolis gay community has serious racial issues. He had gone outside with about eight guys to get some fresh air. When they headed back in, the bouncer let everybody pass but Smith.

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2 comments
Annabyte
Annabyte

 It's people like archmichael313 that make this problem worse. They will come up with a bazillion BS excuses in a situation that is so obviously racist, and usually blame the victim. Who the hell 'looks' for racism? Attract it? Yes we do attract people who don't like black people and somehow its our fault, not the racist's fault. Oh but archmichael313 oh-so-barely acknowledges racism exists so its okay. He apologized guys, that completely absolves him from his racism, and OMG it all goes away. archmichael313 doesnt even bother responding to the whole article.

That white guy he was with? His racism came out when he was drunk. What people say under the influence of alcohol is a side of themselves they trying from others and alcohol like breaks away that lid. He apologized because he showed that side he tries to keep under a lid broke away, not because of what he did. He is so obviously one of those white guys that cannot admit they're racist.

The local gay scene is very dominated by white gay guys (who may or not be prodominately of higher class) and with this comes white male privilege that think goes away because they're gay. Qeer people of color face way more oppression that those white guys can ever face and for this reason I hate how they are the face of LGBT. We face racism, homophobia, and sexism of we're female. But we're always shushed away because white people start to pearl-clutch and make excuses. Just because someone voted for obama does not mean they actually care about the issues Liberals claim to.

I really wish I could meet Smith and just talk to him about this and let him know he's not alone you know?

archmichael313
archmichael313

It sounds like this guy was just hyper sensitive why would you stay in the guys house over night & sleep in his bed if you were so "offended". Racism exists but I also think some people like this guy look for it & attract it. The guy that invited him to his house sort of thought out loud...But at least apologized for his statement.  It wasn't offensive enough for him to leave his house. There is under lying issues here not being touched on...its not so cut & dry.

 
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