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The Back Door: Queer Inclusivity in Bloomington, Indiana

Robyn Exton

May 17, 2023

The Back Door: Queer Inclusivity in Bloomington, Indiana
  • In the college town of Bloomington, Indiana, a bar called The Back Door has become a haven for the queer community. Known for its inclusive and feminist ethos, the bar garnered attention as a significant queer space in the area. However, a closer look reveals a complex and nuanced story that challenges our expectations. In the Cruising Pod, The Back Door owners delved into the experiences of patrons and performers, exploring issues of consent, inclusivity, and representation.

    A Safe Space with Troubling Realities

    The Back Door presents itself as a radical feminist, queer bar, striving to create a safe and inclusive environment. It has a diverse clientele, including queer women, lesbians, trans individuals, and drag performers. But behind the scenes, the bar has faced internal struggles and allegations that shed light on deeper problems within the community.

    Fighting for Consent and Safety: The Back Door’s Initiative

    Eventually, the Back Door’s owners, Nicci and Smoove, were confronted with the harsh realities of Bloomington’s drinking cultur. One day, they received a phone call reporting incidents of sexual assault originating from their bar. Shocked and determined to take action, they collaborated with the local women’s shelter. They implemented bystander intervention training for their staff. Next, they introduced a “wall of shame” to publicly identify individuals with a history of violence or sexual offenses. The owners hoped they were creating a safer space for patrons.

    Challenges and Misogyny at The Back Door

    While The Back Door’s efforts to address consent and safety were great, it was not immune to the challenges faced by marginalized performers. Soon, a group of drag kings expressed their concerns about unequal treatment compared to drag queens, citing disparities in show pay, access to free drinks, and visibility in promotions. These issues highlighted the larger struggle against misogyny and the dominance of cisgender men in the drag community.

    Efforts to Make Amends: Progress at the Back Door

    Smoove reached out to performers who had stopped appearing at The Back Door to understand their grievances. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed their plans to address the issues. SM has been working with promoters to diversify show lineups and create more opportunities for underrepresented performers. Despite these efforts, the burnout experienced by some performers and the lingering effects of past grievances make progress challenging.

    The Complexity of Labeling The Back Door as a Lesbian Bar

    The Back Door’s inclusion on the Lesbian Bar Project’s list sparked questions about its classification as a lesbian bar. While the bar has lesbian patrons, it never identified itself as exclusively lesbian-centric. The management considers it a queer bar, aiming to provide a safe space for the diverse LGBTQ+ community in Bloomington. Understanding the complexities of identity and inclusivity is crucial in recognizing and respecting the different experiences within the queer community.


    The Back Door in Bloomington, Indiana, stands as a unique case that challenges conventional expectations of a lesbian bar. It serves as a reminder of the ongoing struggles faced by marginalized individuals within the queer community, even in supposedly safe spaces. It’s important to note, the bar’s commitment to addressing issues of consent, safety, and inclusivity is commendable. But it also highlights the need for continuous work and self-reflection within the community. The Back Door’s story reminds us that progress is a complex journey that requires active engagement from all involved parties.

    Disclaimer: The transcript provided and information in this blog post are based on available interviews and sources up to 2021. Understandably, the situation at The Back Door may have evolved or changed since then.

    Robyn Exton

    Robyn is the CEO & Founder of HER. Find her on Twitter.

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