The Milwaukee Guerrilla Gay Bar is not a new local LGBT bar. That would be way too obvious. In fact, it's not a bar at all; it's more like a movement.
Inspired by similar groups in Los Angeles and San Francisco, MGGB is a collective of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Milwaukeeans -- and their friends and supporters -- who stage friendly takeovers of traditionally straight bars throughout the city.
It happens the first Friday of every month as a means to stir up the routines of not only the gay community but the straights as well. The bars never know they're coming and the result is undoubtedly a new experience for everyone. Most important, it's meant to be fun.
We caught up with MGGB "politburo" member Citizen X -- he explains the alias later in the interview -- to learn more about it and where the next takeover will be held. The latter he's keeping a secret, although he does divulge how you can find out.
OMC: What's the point of MGGB? And what kind of statement are you trying to make?
Citizen X: Our goal is to shatter the status quo and to shake up both ends of the equation so that people who might be stuck in their nightlife routine in the gay and lesbian scene will step outside their comfort zone and really see what else the city has to offer. We just want to shake things up and help people try new things and realize that they don't have to go to a gay bar if they're gay -- Milwaukee's not as small as they think it is.
OMC: How long has this been happening in Milwaukee?
CX: We're on our sixth month, approaching our seventh event (scheduled for Feb. 1). When we started in August, it was not intended to be as big as it's become, but the turnout, the demand and the support was so great that we've been growing every month. Last month's event brought over 200 people to a bar that had never had a crowd that big and the owner was just amazed.
OMC: How do you pick your bars?
CX: We're fortunate in Milwaukee to have so many diverse and vibrant neighborhoods. Our members investigate and come to our monthly meetings and suggest a location and each month we feature a different neighborhood. In January, for example, Riverwest rose to the top so we visited 10 venues before arriving at Stonefly. The "hip" value of the bar is important, but so is the logistical value -- we never want to invade a bar that's going to create some sort of emergency situation with fire codes, etc. We want to give the bars a positive turnout, not get them in trouble. But we do try to pick places that are either new or cool.
OMC: So what happens when MGGB arrives?
CX: We try to get everyone to arrive at the same time to make a visible, powerful statement that this is something different -- that there's really a connected group. The politburo is there to welcome people and make sure everyone's comfortable. We have people who have never been to some of these places before and might not feel comfortable in new environments. I've been surprised at how many transgender members turned out at places they normally wouldn't feel safe or comfortable going, but due to this event turned out in full force and were free to be who they wanted to be.
OMC: Has there been any adverse reaction?
CX: Not at all. The bartenders might get stressed from the extra business, but when all is said and done, we've been invited back to places. I mean, our whole purpose is to go where we're not invited and show up unexpected, but the bar owners have been extremely positive. In terms of the other bar patrons, there have been some who have been confused, but nothing more than, "Wow. There must be some kind of party going on here tonight that we weren't invited to." If anything, people have met people that they didn't otherwise know and friendships have been made.
OMC: How is MGGB benefiting Milwaukee's LGBT community and educating the straight community?
CX: If we can do anything to promote positive interactions between the straight and gay community in Milwaukee, we're all for it. In some cases, these people have never met a gay person or known that they've met a gay person. They might not have ever seen a transsexual and now, given this opportunity to mix up the social scene, they're meeting new people and I think that's a good thing.
It's given us the opportunity to breakdown stereotypes about how people look and act that are different from you. Milwaukee is a pretty segregated city racially, but has also traditionally been segregated socially. This gives us an opportunity to shatter that and say people should just go wherever they want to go and have fun and who cares?
OMC: What do the gay bars in Milwaukee have to say about it?
CX: We did receive some initial feedback from the gay community that they thought we were taking dollars away from them and that we should be supporting gay bars and not taking people out of them. But what I think they initially failed to realize is that we were getting people to go out, whether it was to a straight bar or gay bar. They were out of the house, they were spending money and they were going to stay out. Now we are doing monthly after parties at gay or lesbian bars with raffles of donated items and drink specials for MGGB members.
OMC: So when's the next takeover?
CX: Friday, Feb. 1. It's the first Friday of every month and it always starts at 9:30 p.m. and the after party always starts at midnight. I can't tell you the bar or even the neighborhood, but it'll be a culture clash that needs to be seen to be believed. People can subscribe to our mailing list via Myspace, Facebook or Yahoo to get all the details.
OMC: Can you tell me your real name?
CX: I can't. We're sworn to secrecy as a politburo because the goal of our organization is not individual, it's communistic, meaning that everyone who is on the committee is pretty well established in the gay community and we don't want individual credit for this. We don't profit from this, we don't put it on our resume, we're just doing this for fun and the social benefit.
OnMilwaukee.com staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.
As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When OnMilwaukee.com offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”