Photo by Cindy Cui / Photo Editor
* Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals
On Nov. 30, 2019, a Dutch exchange student at McMaster University was thrown out of the Dirty Dog Saloon, a downtown Hamilton club frequented by McMaster students, after he was found dancing on a pole that appears to be meant exclusively for women.
Summer Shepherd, a fourth year Communications student at McMaster and a friend of the exchange student, detailed the incident in a Dec. 1, 2019 submission to Spotted At Mac, a Facebook page dedicated to anonymously publishing posts submitted by McMaster students. Although she was not present at the time of the incident, Shepherd wanted to share the exchange student’s own testimony on a platform that would better reach the Hamilton public.
According to this testimony, the exchange student, who has asked not to be identified and will henceforth be referred to as Nick*, was dancing on the pole when female bartenders began throwing ice cubes at him at his friends. He was then allegedly pulled off the pole by security guards and forced out of the club with neither his jacket nor his wallet.
“He was thrown on the ground outside and when he tried to defend himself, a bouncer put his hands around his neck, choking him … Another security guard came outside to scream at him using homophobic slurs and threw his jacket at him,” she said in a testimony posted on her own Facebook profile.
She added that Nick had a similar experience several weeks before the Nov. 30 incident, when he tried to go on one of the poles and was forced out of Dirty Dog’s.
This apparent policy at Dirty Dog’s seems to prohibit men from using the poles has led to accusations of homophobia. The Nov. 30 incident is not an isolated one. Multiple people have shared stories of similar cases in which security used aggressive behaviour to enforce the alleged policy. Two years prior, on Sept. 30, 2017, Michael*, then a McMaster student, experienced a similar situation.
“ … I climbed up [one of the poles]. I was just up there dancing and having fun when I suddenly felt my legs pushed out from under me. I smashed my back as I landed on the platform and was then pushed completely off. I looked up from the ground and saw a bouncer walking away from the platform … While [our group] talked about it, we saw the bouncer do the same thing to another male with no warning,” he said.
The following day, Michael’s brother messaged Dirty Dog’s on Facebook to talk through what the bouncer had done.
Screenshots provided by Michael’s brother show the club explaining, “ … I am sure as per our policy that your brother was told at least once to get off the bar or pole. He most likely ignored the instruction which then escalated the incident … The policy is not to tap or aggressively grab the legs of patrons on a pole since this can and would result in that patron kicking back. So [Michael’s] impression of the situation is both careless and probably wrong.”
The Dirty Dog Saloon representative continued by pointing out that it is the club’s priority to protect the security team’s safety. They stated that the security guard would not have used force, as the patron might have retaliated with physical violence. As a result, they claimed to have difficulty understanding the “level of trauma” that Michael claims happened.
The representative also cited the likelihood of Michael having been drunk, which they felt supported the possibility of disruptive behaviour on his part. Michael, however, maintains that he was sober throughout the situation and that he had not been given ample warning before he had been pushed off the pole platform.
A Jan. 10, 2015 review by a patron on ClubCrawlers tells yet another similar Dirty Dog’s story.
“They have a few dancing poles in the bar and jokingly with my friends, I started dancing on one, which I was forcefully taken down from and told guys were not allowed to dance on them.”
In the review, the patron claims to have been respectful to security; he heeded the policy for the rest of the night after the incident and did not retaliate. He then spoke to the manager, only to be told that the “women only” policy is in place because women — referred to derogatorily by the manager, according to Kyle’s testimony — bring profit to the club when they dance on the poles.
Furthermore, the reviewer claims that the Dirty Dog Saloon manager stated that men are more likely to turn off clubbers and that patrons allegedly come to the club for the primary purpose of seeking out women.
When asked for a statement regarding the Nov. 30 incident and alleged history of similar events preceding it, the Dirty Dog general manager, Paul McDonald, did not respond.
Other people have reached out to the club to discuss the incident and have not received a response, either. Jenny*, a student at McMaster, reached out to the manager in support of the Dutch exchange student and did not receive a reply.
Undeterred, she nevertheless began a petition to boycott the Dirty Dog Saloon the day after the Spotted at Mac post was published.
“I created the petition mainly in response to this issue, but also because after reading about other experiences people have had with [Dirty Dog], including incidences [of] racial profiling, I want people to know that this is not okay. We should be holding institutions to higher standards and not being complicit with acts of racism or anti-LGBTQ violence. Because if we turn the other way, we too are participating,” said Jenny.
“We should be holding institutions to higher standards and not being complicit with acts of racism or anti-LGBTQ violence. Because if we turn the other way, we too are participating,”
She also criticizes the “women only” rule attached to dancing at the Dirty Dog Saloon. She believes that, by limiting dancing to women, this rule marginalizes members of the LGBTQIAA+ community both by promoting heteronormativity and by placing a restriction on those who do not identify with the gender binary at all. It also perpetuates the idea that women should be dancing for men.
Jenny acknowledges that, as a white cis person, she cannot speak for the lived experiences of marginalized folks. However, she now hopes to create a new, more inclusive petition with people who have experienced discrimination at the Dirty Dog Saloon.
Her call to hold the club accountable for its policies and history of aggression is echoed by both fellow supporters and victims.
“This level of homophobia and violent behaviour cannot be tolerated. We need to hold clubs in Hamilton like Dirty [Dog] accountable for these disgusting acts carried out against LGBTQIAA people,” Shepherd said.
Michael, as someone who has testified to experiencing discrimination firsthand from the Dirty Dog Saloon, also wants to clarify that he has nothing against people who choose to go to this club. Instead, his primary goal is to hold management accountable.
“In my opinion, it shouldn’t be controversial that physically assaulting people is not okay,” he said.
“In my opinion, it shouldn’t be controversial that physically assaulting people is not okay,”