An Account by Mark Dyer of the Discriminatory Practices He Observed at the Gay Bar NTouch on the evening of Friday December 26, 1980.
During the 1970s and 1980s, gay men often socialized and met one another at bars or dance clubs. This document describes how one such bar in San Francisco discriminated against its Asian customers. San Francisco has been home to a large Chinese American community ever since the Gold Rush of 1849 – 1855. Chinese Americans, however, often suffered from racism and prejudice. In California, they were often forced to live in separate neighborhoods, send their children to separate schools, and work dirty, lowly jobs. This document shows that similar patterns of discrimination still existed in San Francisco in 1980, when the city had one of the largest gay populations in the country. It is notable, however, that once the discrimination was witnessed, both white and Asian gay men became angry about the situation and organized public protests to shame the club for not letting in Asian customers. The document shows the importance of organizations and institutions that can quickly respond to prejudice and bigotry so that they can be prevented in the future.
The document provides rich details for better understanding patterns of racial exclusion in LGBTQ society. The history of anti-Chinese racism in California is useful for contextualizing this document; so is the broader history of businesses refusing to serve customers based on race or other factors. Note the economic justification for not serving the Asian patrons, supposedly because they don’t spend enough money. Economic arguments can often rationalize racist positions, like homeowners in the 1950s who argued that black people should not be allowed to move to their neighborhoods due to fears that property values might decline. Many similar examples can be drawn. The response to the discrimination is just as important as the discrimination itself. It should be noted that whites and Asians protested the nightclub’s practices together, showing that racial harmony and solidarity were also present in the gay community at the time. Gay attitudes about race generally reflected the attitudes of the broader society. Point out to students that part of the anger about the exclusion reflected how important these spaces were for LGBTQ people of all backgrounds, because it gave them a safe place to meet. During the 1950s and 1960s, gay bars tended to be more like speakeasies from the Prohibition era, places where customers needed to use a special knock or code word to enter, and the police could stage a raid at any moment. As states legalized homosexual behavior during the 1970s, these businesses were allowed to exist in plain sight for the first time. This meant gay people could meet each other in these places without fear of getting arrested, which made the sting of racial exclusion all the more painful.
An account by Mark Dyer of the Discriminatory Practices he observed at the Gay Bar N’Touch on the Evening of Friday December 26, 1980
I arrived at N’Touch, located near the corner of Sacramento and Polk around 10:45 p.m. on Friday December 26, 1980, paid the $1.00 cover charge and was promptly admitted. I was not asked for any identification or proof of age, I noticed however that the person behind me, an Asian who appeared to me to be approximately 35 years of age was requested to show two pieces of identification (I.D.) with a picture. When he could only produce a California driver’s license, he was refused admittance. I then walked through the bar and noticed that there were less than ten Asians present, considerably less than that are usually present in a normal evening. I then became suspicious, and stood near the door and observed that every Asian was being asked to show two I.D.’s with a picture. Approximately 10 were refused admittance, while the few that were able to show the requisite I.D.’s were admitted. Of the Caucasians and blacks who were arriving, I.D.’s were only being requested when there was an obvious doubt of the person’s age. Non-Asians were only being asked to show one I.D. and these were quickly checked and the person admitted. Only approximately one in twenty of the Caucasians and Blacks potential entrants were being requested to show I.D., all the Asians were universally requested to show I.D.’s.
After having contacted other members of the Gay Asian Information Network (GAIN), and arranging for them to join me at the bar, I resumed my position at the door and observed while approximately ten more Asians were refused admittance. At 11:15p.m. I left the bar to speak with a group of Asians who had not been admitted to the bar and had congregated on the sidewalk. I inquired what had happened to them when they tried to gain admittance to the N’Touch. From what they said, most of them had shown a California drivers license, but had been refused because they were unable to show a second I.D. Two of them said that they were told that their passports count not be used as the second I.D.
At approximately 11:30p.m., James Jackson and Edward Sebesta arrived along with two Asian friends. Jim is who is Japanese American Eurasian and the two Asians attempted to enter the bar and were asked to show two I.D.’s Edward also attempted to enter the bar and was admitted with an I.D. being requested.
We then set up the picket line and t about 12:00 mid-night a patron of the bar came out and explained that it was his understanding that the car was attempting to exclude Asians for economic reasons, as Asians are reputed not to consume enough liquid beverages to be allowed to enter. Wayne Friday came out and while in heated debate with a foreign national on the issue, he made the following statement, “they pulled down Oil Can Harry’s and we’re not going to let it happen here.”
During the picket there was a verbal harassment of us by Caucasian bar patrons and hostile racist remarks, such as “You’re mad because they wouldn’t let you little fairy chink friends in.” and “How would you feel if they were trying to ruin your bar.”
Compiled for the Gay Asian Information Network
P.O. 70133 Sunnyvale, CA 94086