Hamilton is the city in which I first discovered what a queer community could feel like. When I moved here for my undergraduate degree, I quickly learned how to assemble a makeshift community of queer friends that felt more like coming home than I could have ever predicted. Building a home is equal parts locating a physical space to claim as yours and finding a family to fill it.
I have had no difficulties with the latter. What Hamilton has failed to do, however, is represent the needs of its queer communities in the services and spaces it provides. There is an astounding lack of permanent queer nightlife in Hamilton, despite the clear need for more adequate spaces of our own. Although permanent queer spaces in Hamilton are sorely missed, queer people create communities by staking out places for ourselves.
When brick-and-mortar spaces hold nothing for us, finding sanctuary in each other is equally as important. I am thankful for all the LGBTQ2SIA+ people who have created a makeshift safe haven when a physical one didn’t exist. Hamilton needs to better reflect the members of its queer community, many of whom are building safer, more accessible spaces from the ground up on their own time.
Queer Pub Night is a monthly event run by Queer Outta Hamilton, operating one night a month at Gallagher’s Bar & Lounge, located on John Street South. The final Thursday of each month sees some of Hamilton’s LGBTQ2SIA+ folks in attendance.
Hamilton used to have gay bars. In the past, you could find yourself at the Werx, the Rainbow Lounge, M Bar, the Steel Lounge, the Windsor or the Embassy. For a variety of reasons, none of these spaces exist any longer. Queer Pub Night is now the only semi-regular queer bar environment in Hamilton.
It is important to remain mindful of which groups of people feel welcome in, or can access, spaces like these. Queer Pub Night is a predominantly white space. The fact that it is currently the only night of its kind in Hamilton fails our community severely. I am grateful for organizers working within groups like Speqtrum, McMaster Womanists, New Generation Youth Centre, McMaster’s Women and Gender Equity Network and The Tower, who work toward accessible safe(r) spaces for trans, queer and/or gender oppressed youth, and specifically spaces for Black and Indigenous young people. Those who can must elevate these projects and spaces by and for queer people of colour.
Seeing queer and trans elders in these spaces is especially significant because it is a reminder that queer and trans people actually survive, that we live long enough to see each other’s hair turn grey.
There is strength to be drawn from being in the midst of large gatherings of other people who share identities similar to your own. Seeing queer and trans elders in these spaces is especially significant because it is a reminder that queer and trans people actually survive, that we live long enough to see each other’s hair turn grey. As a white cis queer woman, I can see myself reflected in a lot of older queer folks at events like Queer Pub Night, but there are many people of other, more marginalized identities, who should be there but haven’t survived.
Trans femmes of colour and queer trans people of colour in general face much higher rates of violence. As a result, many young queer folks cannot see themselves in older generations of queer folks simply because of the mortality rate of people sharing their identity namely, the most marginalized and at-risk of our community.
The reality of queerness, of otherness, is that no place is truly safe. But the triumphant feeling of seeing whole spaces filled with people like you, of being able to let down some portion of your guard, of seeing that others like you have survived and continue surviving, is unparalleled.
I have drawn strength from every unambiguously queer space I’ve ever found sanctuary in. As someone who has decidedly failed at categorizing myself, queer spaces have been integral to the formation of my jumbled queer identity. Queer spaces have reminded me that I owe no justifications to anyone, or even to myself, of my labels, of whom I might love or of the boundaries I have drawn and am constantly redrawing.
I am lucky to have had these spaces to grow myself in, and luckier still that I felt safe enough to access them.
If Hamilton is to do better by its queer community, we need to raise up spaces that allow folks to express and explore their queerness. While Queer Pub Night is an important, and now integral, part of the community here, we need more than one night a month to gather and celebrate our queerness. Cultivating more queer spaces in the city will make Hamilton a safer place in which to survive and thrive as young queer folks and older queer folks and everything in between.