Phase One Final Research Paper & Slides for LGBTQ Historic Site.

Phase One Final Research Paper & Slides for LGBTQ Historic Site.

Anya Forsberg

Queer America

Final Research Paper

5-10-2017

 

Phase One, a Lesbian Bar that Merits More

 

Introduction

 

The National Register of Historic Places asks that all proposed sites hold “The quality of significance in American history, … and culture is present in districts, sites, … that possess integrity of location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association” (Quaide).

Phase One is a place that upholds all of these things. Phase one is a part of the significant history of America that is all too often swept under the rug and ignored, it has embodied and emboldened a large part of American queer history. Phase One is a lesbian bar that was open from 1970-2015, forty five continuous years of operation in Washington D.C., it was a place associated with a minority that was often hunted and vilified, this was a place for women to feel safe.

Phase One or The Phase as it was colloquially known, was the oldest continually operating lesbian bar in the United States and the oldest operating LGBT bar in Washington, D.C. (Muzzy 104). It is also heralded as the longest running lesbian bar in the country during its time. Phase 1 sits at 525 8th Street, Southeast in Washington, D.C. located one block south of Pennsylvania Avenue, SE near Eastern Market in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. It resides on a road known as Barracks Row, directly across from the Marine Barracks, which has caused some tension over the years.

Lesbian bars have always been rarer in the LGBT community then gay bars, women have always made less money and had less safe spaces because of it. Lesbian bars were important safe spaces for women to go to, and were all the more important due to their rarity. Phase One started a large queer music and art festival known as Phase Fest, festivals are important because they help to spread art and culture to people who would not normally be exposed to this type of art. Festivals allow artists to converge and create together in a space that is excepting of their identities. Artists need safe and public places that they can show their work in, so they may gain recognition and share their art as they want it to be shared. Phase One has also supported many organizations that help and support women as well as lesbian women in the Washington D.C. area. The fact that the bar is in the Washington D.C. is not to be overlooked either, it’s the capital of our country and where our laws are made.

 

History of Phase One

 

Phase One was opened in February of 1970 by Allen Carroll and Chris Jansen. Carroll and Jansen were lovers for sixteen years, and remained close friends and business partners until Jansen’s death on August 31st, 2007. Before Phase One’s conception Jansen had been working in Johnny’s one of the first gay bars in the area. Carroll had already had some experience managing a lesbian bar called JoAnna’s, a bar at 430 Eighth St. that opened in May 1968, it was the first lesbian bar to have been opened in Washington D.C. (Robet). While JoAnna’s was the first lesbian bar, it only lasted about a decade before it shut down. In contrast Phase One was opened in 1970 and stayed open until 2015, a total of forty five years of continuous service. Phase One was known as the principal lesbian bar in the district (Muzzy 104). When Phase One was first opened up it was right next to Plus One, a gay bar that was the first to break the city’s no same-sex dancing code when owners the Henry Hecht, Donn Culver, and Bill Bickford installed a dance floor into their bar (Muzzy). Phase One also had a dance floor despite this law and many lesbians in the Washington D.C. area initially came to Phase One because of this fact. While there were other lesbian bars Phase One was regarded as the first and foremost “nice” lesbian bar. It was clean and the interior didn’t feel like a dive bar, it felt like a safe, clean, and welcoming space.

Washington D.C. before the opening of Phase One was going through the Lavender Scare, this was a time in D.C. history that the government was extremely paranoid about LGBT people and started a witch hunt for them. Anyone suspected of being LGBT was fired from their job and was blacklisted on the job market ensuring they wouldn’t be hired at all, they wanted to leave LGBT people with no income and no way to stay. The main argument the government gave for this mass firing was that LGBT personnel would be easy to manipulate and blackmail since their lives were so shameful and they held this large secret. This would make all LGBT people with any sort of clearance in the government a clear security risk, so they rescinded all LGBT people’s clearances and fired them as soon as they were suspected. Lavender Scare policies continued to be followed up until the Clinton presidency. The LGBT backlash to these policies was a phrase and movement of their own “Out Of the Closet, and Into the Streets!” (Meinke). It was more important during this time for LGBT people to have public spaces where they could be seen. Phase One helped to pave the way for more public women and lesbian oriented shops in the area. “With JoAnna’s, the Phase One, and Club Madame already on Capitol Hill, the first women-oriented shops appeared in the neighborhood, beginning with the Front Porch, followed by Lammas Books in the summer of 1973,” (Meinke). Phase One helped to open the door for the movement of more visibility of the community.

In October of 1979 a notorious incident occurred when a tear gas canister was thrown into the bar, many believed that the bar’s proximity to the Marine’s Barrack’s to be the exacerbating factor. After this incident the bar enacted a rule where unaccompanied men could not enter the bar, this only lasted for a year.

Phase One has supported over many years Capital Pride, the LGBT pride festival held each year in Washington, D.C. and the fourth largest gay pride event in the United States. Phase One has also supported and worked with local organizations such as the Whitman-Walker Clinic and the D.C. Rape Crisis Center (30 Under 30). Phase One has a history of being more than just a bar, it’s a place that women have gathered to do good work and ensure that the community they live in is bettered as well. Phase One was also known for its very popular drag shows, which at the time was rare since there was stigma against men being seen as more feminine was frowned upon and seen as giving into stereotypes. Drag queens were shunned from a lot of places at the time, but not Phase One.

Phase One’s biggest event by far though was Phase Fest, the largest queer art and music festival on the East Coast (30 under 30). In August 2007, musician Mara Levi, Phase 1 manager Angela Lombardi, and Riot Grrl, Ink organized the first Phase Fest. The three-day event hosted at Phase 1 featured local and nationwide musical acts such as God-Des and She, Nicky Click, and others which are geared towards lesbians.

In 2015 Phase One began its shut down, even though it had been struggling for a while. Lesbian pop up parties were becoming more in fashion and the area was becoming more expensive to have property in. In 2007 Jansen one of the co-owners passed away and this took a toll on the management leaving it to the other co-owner Carroll. Carroll had difficulties with keeping the bar up to date in light of these new struggles and shut down the bar for “renovations”, only he had fired all of the staff and the bar has not re-opened since. Previous Phase One manager Angela Lombardi and several others hosted a final farewell to the Phase called ‘Phasepocalypse Now’ and Lombardi was quoted saying “Basically it’s just an excuse for all of us to get together and feel we have a little bit of home even if it’s not at Phase 1,” (DiGuglielmo quoting Lombardi). A goodbye to the home this community shared for decades.

 

Arguments of the Importance of Phase One

 

Lesbian bars are a large part of LGBTQIA history, often times they were the only safe places for queer women to recede to when they needed to find a safe place and a community of women who could relate and protect one another. Queer women were not allowed safe places in the public eye, lesbian bars were a refuge from the storm and one of the only places women of this minority could be themselves and explore their own identities. A lesbian bar “permits gay identity to be validated by relationships with others, provides social space and support networks and serves as an expression of sexual and cultural identity,” (Picard). In essence lesbian bars are places where lesbians are permitted to exist.

Lesbians in the time period of Phase One were not welcomed by society, they were shunned by both their religions, their homes, and their communities so they came to lesbian bars to find all three. Religion during the first couple of decades of the Phase’s existence were a large part of people’s lives, and the widely accepted religions of America all shunned homosexuality in all forms so women came to lesbian bars to explore their new spirituality. (Cartier, Grossman) Religion is imperative “In national polls, adults who report that religion is an important part of their lives and who engage in more frequent religious participation also report greater experiences of well-being than those who are nonreligious or moderately religious in all categories except physical health,” (Cartier, Grossman). This makes a difference for lesbians as they are reported as have shorter lifespans and having worse health than their straight counterpoints. In lesbian bars women were allowed to not only explore their sexual identity, but also their personal identity. Interviewed women describe the “transformation from the inside out that are made possible by the luxury of community afforded in the space of the gay women’s bars,” (Cartier, Grossman). Studies have found that women “reframe the gay bars to reflect participants’ description of the bar as “home”—not only a social home, but a spiritual one as well,” (Cartier, Grossman).

Queer artists often need to find safe spaces to perform and share their works. Queer culture is not always accepted by mainstream society so the creation of Phase Fest gave a space for artists of all kinds to express themselves and their work to its truest extent. One artist named Kit Yan a Chinese American transgendered female to male poet wrote a work called “Badass” and performed it in two different settings once in Swarthmore and another time at Phase Fest “Yan’s distinct, and almost contradictory, performances of Badass in these two contexts—a heteronormative educational setting and a queer subcultural space—suggest that environmental constraints have a significant impact on one’s embodiment and articulation of identity,” (Luengsuraswat 9). At Swarthmore Yan was conservative and hardly emphasized their art as they read it, they were described as almost subdued. Whereas when Yan performed the same piece at Phase Fest they emphasized their words and gesticulated more and seemed more comfortable expressing themselves and their work. (Luengsuraswat) Yan only felt comfortable expressing themselves and their art fully when they were in an accepting environment. Art and culture in the queer community is a bold statement in most places, leaving artists feeling vulnerable and less likely to create or share their works. Phase Fest was one of the spaces that people from the queer community felt comfortable and safe to express their work in. Phase Fest facilitated many contributions to American culture as a whole.

Yan is not the only artist to find community and importance in Phase Fest, Nicky Clicky another performer was quoted to say it was an “empowering event”. Phase Fest and other “Festivals both reflect and contribute to social and cultural changes,” (Gibson) as well as spread their messages and art to a wider audience as it is performed in a public place for all to see. Festivals not only help to change their target audience’s opinions and cultural view, but also the people who have been newly exposed to it. Nicky Clicky herself has used Phase Fest to spread her own cultural ideas, here she describes the message of her own art and performances “For me it’s been an evolution of reclaiming my femininity and knowing that it’s valid and should be taken seriously in the queer community,”.

 

Conclusion

So now the question why Phase One, why not any other bar must be addressed. While there may be many gay bars in America, there are none that are as unique or have contributed to queer culture in the same way. Phase One may not have been the only gay bar in Washington D.C. but it was one of the handful of lesbian bars in the area. Not only that, Phase One was the longest continuously running lesbian bar in America. Washington D.C. is America’s Political hub. Movements and statements are made here every day. Phase One the lesbian bar that stood here from 1970-2015, has made a long standing statement for the LGBT community. Phase One stood firm in the Lavender Scare and the many fluctuations that Washington went through on its attitude towards LGBT people, and during this time supported many local programs dedicated to bettering the lives of women. Phase One is also the birth place of Phase Fest the fourth largest queer art and music festivals on the East Coast. Festivals are places of great cultural growth and allow artists to freely express themselves and spread their messages to wider populations. Phase One was a home to thousands of women and ensured they had a place to grow into themselves. Phase One is not just a bar, it is a long standing home for women that has created safe spaces for thousands of women to find and express themselves to their fullest extents.

 

 

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