Last night I attended a panel discussion about racial discrimination in the DC gay bar scene, put together by the Rainbow History Project. (The discussion was held in the Thurgood Marshall Center, that had formerly served as the “Colored” YMCA back in the day; Langston Hughes used to room there).

Thurgood Marshall Center/ 12th Street YMCA
Thurgood Marshall Center/ 12th Street YMCA

Many bars and clubs used the practice of “carding” to deny entrance to African-Americans, transgender people and women. “Carding”  = demanding multiple forms of I.D. for one set of customers, while the desired demographic gets to enter with only one (driver’s license).  One  bar, the Lost and Found, was sued over this practice and the court testimony included bar employees recounting a staff meeting where they were instructed not to serve “n*ggers.” Another club, Badlands, reached a settlement after that accusation. Eventually a law was passed whereby drivers/ non-drivers licenses were the only required identifications needed to enter bars. Many of the panelists and the audience members also recounted their experiences in those days. One older gentleman said that he would be let in when accompanied by white friends, but would be denied entrance when he was in a group of fellow African Americans.

The inside of the Lost and Found, courtesy of the Rainbow History Project digital archives
The inside of the Lost and Found, courtesy of the Rainbow History Project digital archives

A few years ago, I was on an online forum where a couple of white gay men were talking about how Black Pride festivals were “reverse racist.” When I brought up the issue of “carding,” they all vehemently denied the mere possibility of such a practice. Before leaving the forum, I posted a link to the article that showed that such things happen even today.