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  • Dr. Lauren D. Costine

Updated: Oct 2, 2022

Gay Bars and Their Importance to LGBTQ History

The LGBTQ community has grown in strength and numbers today and support has blossomed across the globe like never before but it wasn’t always that way. It wasn’t that long ago that people who identified with a sexuality that fell outside the cultural norm were outsiders, often unwelcome or shunned in public establishments including entertainment establishments. Lesbian love, gay love– it didn’t matter. Gay and lesbian bars were either shut down or their patrons routinely arrested. However, LGBTQ bars through the years have been one of the few safe havens available for the LGBTQ community to gather, make friends, be ourselves, laugh, have fun, create community and even find some company.

With such a hostile attitude towards a segment of the human population, it was up to our community to create a place where we could feel free once inside. The bars are where we found those spaces. While LGBTQ bars have not been known by the dominant culture (except by allies) the bar scene has been and remains today one of the key touchstones of the LGBTQ community.

With June being LGBTQ Pride Month and the recent horrific shootings in Orlando, it seems that LGBT bars and hate crimes against individuals who identify as queer are receiving well-needed attention. Forty-nine people were shot dead in the wee hours of June 12, 2016, by a man who allegedly was set off months earlier by the sight of two men kissing in the city, at least according to his father. The incident left many devastated, particularly the friends, lovers, and families of the deceased. The incident went on for hours and was akin to the school shootings that had swept the country. But this was different; this was a deliberate act intended to hurt and ultimately kill LGBTQ people exclusively. It was a targeted, well thought out plan. To this man, gay love was not something to be celebrated or respected—but something is seen as so disturbing that it had to be violently cut out.

This was done by Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old male from Fort Pierce, Florida. The young man had been previously interviewed by the FBI twice — in 2013 and 2014, but not found to be a threat. On top of it, the shooter called 9-1-1 just hours before the shooting to apparently pledge his allegiance to ISIS. Mateen was well armed, prepared and well organized– he had an assault rifle and a pistol on him as he entered Pulse at two in the morning and started shooting. By the end 49 people were dead and the wounded were estimated to be 53. There was a standoff that lasted three hours, during which the people who were trapped inside with the shooter texted and called their friends and family to let them know they loved them. Many of the people on the receiving ends of those messages would never hear from their loved one again.

The police eventually were able to break into the building using an armored car and stun grenades where they were able to shoot and kill Matee finally stopping his reign of terror. The shooting is the deadliest mass murder in the history of the United States. The act was not random; it was an act of premeditated violence against an all too unprepared community out for a night of fun. And it turns out this man may have been gay himself which begs the conversation about internalized homophobia.

If he was gay, and the investigation is ongoing, then his hatred of himself as gay set off his night of terror. And where does that originate from – our heterocentric society that has been condemning same-sex love for thousands of years –it is a toxic message and gets inside people’s psyches. It is dangerous and can lead to acts of violence if not dealt with. I will be discussing this more in my next article. Stay tuned.

It’s a desperately sad incident and ultimately preventable. The average person may have thought that the gay community would have used this as a reason to bury their head and stay inside. Instead, they are coming out loud and proud, and gaining more support than ever before– from everyday people who want to show that they support love, not hate.

Gay and lesbian bars have also served an important place in the history of LGBTQ culture. They have traditionally been places where people who were lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans and attracted to the same sex, or identified somewhere outside the so-called normal sexual spectrum could not only go and feel safe, but find a place they belonged—with their people who understood precisely what it was like to be marginalized, to be on the fringe, to be hated. There was a feeling of community in these bars that were very rarely accessible anywhere else, and one of the only places that they could be together in public. Perhaps that is why LGBTQ watering holes are still so beloved and such a gathering place in the community to this day.

The alleged first gay bar in Europe and the world was in Cannes on the French Riviera– the Zanzibar. Opened in 1885 and only closed in 2010, the bar drew thousands over the years. In fact, Paris itself was a center for gay culture in the 1800s, becoming something of a “queer capital”. Among other early pioneers of gay culture was the Slide at 157 Bleecker Street in New York, a bar for gay men that opened in 1890 and called the wickedest place in New York by the press at the time. Paris entered a period of toleration for gays in the fifties and sixties, but raids on gay bars were frequent.

Gay club Eldorado opened in Berlin in 1932 as well. Berlin became an attractive destination for gay and lesbian nightlife as early as 1900, and by 1920, the scene was swinging. The Schöneberg district near Nollendorfplatz hosted many cafes as well as bars and clubs, an attractive destination for gay people who had fled their countries out of fear of being persecuted. The club was known around the world for its transvestite shows, however, when the Nazis took over in 1933, many of the popular gay establishments were closed. The gay scene revived again after homosexuality was decriminalized in 1969, and West Berlin became a gay and lesbian-friendly district once more.

Another famous bar was The Cave of the Golden Calf, a London nightclub at 9 Heddon Street that opened up underground in 1912. The establishment quickly became popular among the artistic as well as the wealthy, thanks to Frida Strindberg’s avant-garde vision for the club. It would become an influence on later nightclub models as well. Gay bar culture became more openly visible once homosexuality was decriminalized in 1967 in the UK, and Soho became the new nexus of the LGBTQ community with endless bars, restaurants, clubs, and cafes popping up. The area was considered established by the nineties, although other UK cities became known for their queer bars, such as Manchester’s Canal Street, Liverpool’s Stanley Street Quarter, and the gay village in Birmingham.

There have been others, from The Empire (1911 in Amsterdam to the 1930s) to the Café t Mandje, a gay bar opened by Bet van Beeren, a lesbian (1927-1982 and then opened again in 2008). Still more have been found in Copenhagen’s bar Centralhhjørnet (opened 1917), the Atlantic House in Provincetown (1798), San Francisco’s Black Cat Bar (1906), The Double Header in Seattle (1933), Julius Bar in NYC, Webster Hall on 125 East 11th street in New York and Rockland Palace on 280 W. 155th Street were famous for their drag balls. Eve’s Hangout was a speakeasy run out of West Village by Eva Kotchever at 129 MacDougal Street. She was arrested and later deported after an undercover officer found out she was writing a short story collection called Lesbian Love. And let’s not forget Stonewall of NYC – one of the most important bars of all – that catapulted the LGBTQ rights into our social justice movement in June of 1969.

There can be no doubt that the LGBTQ community has been through horrible things. Instead of this event forcing everyone to live in fear, we are determined to not let one deranged person keep us down. We are coming out stronger and louder and prouder than ever before, with cities all over the world banding together to support us. Our pride parades are going on uninterrupted and vigils are happening everywhere. By now it is certain: we will NOT be kept silent, and we will not cower in fear.

Pulse was not the first gay bar that was targeted in history but hopefully it will be the last. Here’s hoping that the rest of the world catches on to what the gay community is really about; the beauty in diversity and sensitivity, self-actualization and love. One act of hate will NOT bring down an entire community. The past few days of pride, courage, kindness, outrage, love, and support have shown that all too clearly. Here’s to the LGBTQ bars; long may she reign.

  • Dr. Lauren D. Costine

(Facebook Live Video Feed, Friday, June 3, at 4:00 PM Pacific Daylight Time. To view live and comment, visit and “FOLLOW” this Facebook page). Nicholas Snow is excited to welcome BLVD Treatment Centers’ Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Lauren Costine to speak about her latest book, Lesbian Love Addiction: Understanding the Urge to Merge and How To Heal When Things Go Wrong.

Everyone makes mistakes in relationships at one time or another. Somethings they learn from those mistakes – other times, they return to those behaviors and cycle through failed relationship after failed relationship. Sometimes those behaviors become an addiction to love that leave a person feeling unhappy, unfulfilled, lonely, or worse.

Dr. Lauren Costine explores these themes and more in her latest work, Lesbian Love Addiction, and closely examines the elements of

BLVD Treatment Centers’ Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Lauren Costine, author, Lesbian Love Addiction: Understanding the Urge to Merge and How To Heal When Things Go Wrong

love addiction that many lesbians suffer from. A former addict turned educator, public speaker, and clinical psychologist with over 20 years of experience in private practice, she brings her expertise to bear as Chief Clinical Officer at BLVD Treatment Centers.

  • Dr. Lauren D. Costine

Love Addiction and Lesbians


By: Dr. Lauren Costine

Have you heard the joke about the lesbian and the U-Haul? It goes like this: What does a lesbian bring on a second date? The punch line, an in-joke about the potent emotional entwinement that happens quickly in lesbian relationships, is a U-Haul. Two dates and it’s a move-in. This harmless enigma makes nearly everyone laugh. Even straight people seem to appreciate the psychology and intensity of lesbian relationships.

Lesbians have long considered the U-Haul joke to be a complex, cute, funny, and sometimes embarrassing component of our unique lesbian lifestyles. It’s sweet, yet intense. You see, we’re close; we know how to bond and we’re not afraid of intimacy. This is one of the things lesbians have to offer the world, the seemingly innate ability to attach to one another and to commit almost effortlessly.

It can be mesmerizing. We also know from a psychological perspective that the U-Haul metaphor does have a dark side. Far from being something ideal, this instant merging often points to a deeper problem: lesbian love addiction, a very common phenomenon with real consequences that millions of lesbians are adversely affected by. Like countless other addictions that have claimed our psyches, love addiction has, for lesbians, become the insidious superglue that offers a quick-fix solution that hides and prevents the real underlying, unmet needs inherent in our addiction to love, women, relationships, and fantasy.

There is a happier, less conflicted way of coupling—a relationship style that is less harmful to the individual self—but it takes awareness of the issues that complicate lesbian relationships for this healthier state to become the new norm.

Let’s get a sense of what makes this lesbian love addiction issue so prevalent that it has turned an in-joke into an allegory. To understand love addiction, let’s look at the three types that commonly manifest in lesbians: the love addict, the love avoidant, and a combination of both, the love ambivalent.

Love Addicts

Love addicts fall in love easily and quickly without really knowing the other woman. They are addicted to the way falling in love makes them feel, more specifically to the feel-good chemicals such as dopamine and oxytocin, which are emitted in the beginning stages of romance. Many love addicts have a sudden need to spend all their time with their new love, and many women move in together within a couple of dates or months (hence the U-haul joke).

Love addicts have difficulty setting boundaries, losing their sense of self once they are in a relationship. Some women even stop taking care of themselves to better fit into their new partner’s life. They lose touch with their own friends, family, self-care, and personal interests. Additionally, love addicts can have a pattern of falling for women who are perpetually unavailable physically and/or emotionally, and have their heart broken over and over again. They can jump into one relationship after another to avoid being alone.

Love Avoidants

Love avoidants are addicted to the seducing and chasing—they get high from pursuing other women. Romeos and Casanovas aren’t gender-specific roles! Like love addicts, love avoidants are also addicted to the high of falling in love. However, they are afraid of authentic intimacy and consequently distance themselves emotionally once the honeymoon period ends. They can feel emotionally smothered by their partners once the glitter wears off. They find fault, criticize, and blame in order to create the distance that makes them feel safe.

Love Ambivalent

Love ambivalents have love addict characteristics in one relationship and then love avoidant in the next. They can also vacillate between love addict and love avoidant behaviors within a single relationship. Love ambivalents are either lightly or deeply ambivalent about their partner and doubt or fear their ability to commit. This is a pattern found in every relationship.

The Female Brain

As we now know, men and women don’t have the same exact brains as male researchers once assumed. Recent discoveries indicate there are significant differences in communication modes and the connections made between the sexes. For example, women are more wired to connect to others. It’s a biological strategy that helps human beings form groups and thus create community, which in turn improves our chances of surviving in hostile environments. In other words, we crave relationships because our brains are wired to favor them. This explains, in part, why two women might be more inclined to connect more quickly than men traditionally do. This insight helps us understand how, following directions from the brain, lesbians suffering from love addiction slip into habitual patterns and roles that adversely shape their lives. We also omit oxytocin and dopamine when falling in love—men do not in the same way—therefore when two women get together the “oxyfest” is beyond intoxicating. It can also lead to addictive tendencies for those who cannot get enough of how these chemicals make them feel.


Typically, addictive relationships don’t just fizzle out or finish with mutual understanding and a kiss goodbye. Instead, they end as abruptly as they started. They come crashing down with the force that sudden withdrawal produces in someone coming off of alcohol or drugs. The body and central nervous system go into a state of duress from physical withdrawal. Science has shown that breaking up, at least when love is involved, creates a type of physiological withdrawal in the body. Humans are wired to dislike this kind of rejection or sudden change in connection. When we throw love addiction into the mix—when a person is not only attempting to heal from a broken heart, but the added wound of a toxic relationship—the withdrawal can feel like a death. Recovering from lesbian love addiction can produce this kind of all-consuming grief, but the experience is essential to the healing process.

It is during this incredibly painful period that many women seek help through therapy or Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA) or similar support groups. Without the support of others, many lesbians find it impossible to detach from their partner, to resist reaching out—calling and texting or visiting places they know they will see their ex. If they don’t get help and support at this time, the pull to end the pain by returning to the drug is too powerful. Symptoms often include:

  • Cravings to act out irrationally with love addicted behaviors

  • Inexplicable aches and pains

  • Physical illness or exhaustion

  • Switching to new addictions

  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns

  • Overwhelming self-doubt

  • Desperation and fear

  • Feeling crazy

  • Suicidal thoughts or impulses

  • Desire to isolate

  • Obsessive thinking or fantasizing about the partner

  • Sadness, despair or depression

  • Emotional highs and lows

  • Irritability, anger or rage

The healing process from love addiction can prove to be one of the most difficult things a person will ever have to endure, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I tell my clients that one day withdrawing will be over and they’ll feel like a new person. In order to recover from love addiction, clients have to commit to the process of healing. This means experiencing the withdrawals and avoiding the urge to return to their partner. Once the psychological separation from toxic behaviors and ways of thinking is made, and the person who truly cares for herself and her needs emerges, a new person with a strong internal sense of liberation will step in. Allowing clients to go through (not around) the pain is the essential part of healing. Avoidance leads to repetitive behaviors; true insight comes from the ability to stop, notice, and experience what is taking place, no matter how painful.

Help Clients Develop a Relationship with Themselves

For clients, learning how to reestablish a relationship with themselves after going through withdrawals isn’t easy. It takes time and determination to get to know themselves outside continual love relationships with other women. I advise my clients against jumping into dating again until they have a well-developed sense of who they are and why they became addicted to love, romance, sex, and fantasy. The reasons women suffer from this addiction become apparent once they can identify the root causes of their cravings, which are often deep-seated unmet needs. In my experience, women who do the work continue to experience greater and greater freedom in their lives. They are better prepared for healthy intimate relationships after this process, and are more likely to attract partners who are ready for this, too.

In many ways, it’s simple. If clients spend all their time and attention focused on finding and maintaining girlfriends, partners or wives, they have less time for self-care. Ideally, they all make time in their lives for inner work such as therapy, SLAA, support groups, somatic healing work, experiential activities such as working with animals or at the very least, exercise, self-time, and mindfulness practice. The more clients see what stands in their way to a healthier self and what prevents them from creating healthier partnerships, the better they all become at healing the wounds.

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