As a gay man and a candidate for DC Council to represent Ward 1, I have found it to be my responsibility to explain the uproar over Uproar as it involves a community I align myself with, and a popular and thriving Ward 1 business. This issue is not only political but also personal. It pains me to see divisiveness within a community I love about an establishment that I have always considered safe and welcoming.
After hearing from Uproar's owner and management, leadership within the DC Gay Flag Football League (DCGFFL), other gay sports leagues/teams in DC, and many others though social media, I believe I have gained a well rounded perspective to how this "uproar" happened.
However, for those of you who do not know, I would like to recap what has happened and catch you up to speed, then give some perspective on the lead up, and then provide my thoughts.
Please note: this account of events is based on what I have been told from first hand sources, and I am recapping this to the best of my understanding despite the discrepancies between parties.
On Sunday March 18th, Uproar, a gay establishment on Florida Ave NW released this statement on their social media page shortly before an event called "Beer Bust" was to commence and when many thirsty sports teams ascend upon the bar. it read:
To my understanding, and with some discrepancies, players with jerseys on who attended this weekly event, were either turned away at the door or refused to give their business to an establishment they did not feel welcome. Many of these players went to other LGBTQ venues in the area, and then they took to social media.
Anger, frustration, confusion as well as comments of support from players and the community at-large flooded the establishment's social media. Patrons posted their opinions on their own personal social media and many sports teams expressed the opinions of their teams and leagues. Many of these social media threads became heated among those who had differing opinions on the matter. It would soon devolve into name calling, threats of boycotts, feelings of being unwelcome, and eventually an announcement from the DCGFFL that they were terminating Uproar's sponsorship of the DCGFFL.
It's important at this point to pause and acknowledge outsiders who may not be familiar with gay culture, why a bar doing this is such a big deal. In the gay community, we all have this shared, yet unique experience of coming out. For some, this has been a time of jubilation and acceptance; As for others, it was a time of great pain and the beginning of the search for a new and chosen family, and often we would find our new families in our bars. To many in the LGBTQ community, our bars become our second homes, churches, places of refuge, a place to celebrate, and a place to mourn. A place of acceptance and tolerance, where you can come as you are, regardless of what you wore. This is why I believe many in our community so strongly reacted. Simply, They felt betrayed.
So lets get into some background...
Tammy- Uproar's owner, and the DCGFFL entered into a sponsorship agreement in 2016 (it is still unclear as to who approached who), but for the first seasons it was agreed upon that The DCGFFL would have a sponsored one night a week on Fridays at Uproar during their season. Soon the league started to appear on Sundays at a previously established Uproar event called "Beer Bust", which is operated and ran by a man named Tom, who by all accounts wanted to have an inclusive, non-clique atmosphere, but apparently had not been very open to the idea of having organized teams at his event.
As more and more Flag Footballers came in uniform, and more and more teams from other sports started to appear in uniform more frequently, so did the complaints from regular patrons to the bar and to the event. As a compromise, after consulting with Tom and the DCGFFL, Tammy asked for the DCGFFL to come in at 6pm instead of 3pm to give the bar a more staggered crowd, and to relieve the pressure off of an initial push at 3pm. Which the League happily complied, and made it into a weekly bar hop, with their last destination being Uproar
This seemed to work, and to the best of DCGFFL's knowledge, there were no more issues. However, others did start to realize that there still seemed to be some unresolved issues between Tom and the sports teams coming to "Beer Bust", and there were claims of abuse of equipment, property damage and drug use, but the issue seemed to go unaddressed for a time, and something DCGFFL denies (but we will address that later).
Come to Jan/Feb of 2018, it's time for sponsorship yet again, and after Tammy had a meeting with board Representatives from DCGFFL, the terms of the agreement were more or less the same. That being said, there was confusion as to the situation would be regarding Sundays. Uproar was under the impression that the agreement was going to continue as it had been in the past with staggered arrivals, while the DCGFFL was under the impression that they were welcome en mass no matter what time.
note: there were differing accounts as to whether this agreement was discussed during this meeting.
on top of 300 DCGFFL players, there was also other teams and leagues from other sports, arriving at the same time, and yet again causing patrons of the bars and the events to complain. Tammy seemed to be at a loss and was confused as to why the DCGFFL would break their agreement, and after consulting Tom, seemed to come up with a no jerseys policy. but this still leaves us with many unanswered questions.
But what would this accomplish? and why?
Tammy felt the need to protect her team and customers the best way she knew how. She knew that the teams were susceptible to harsh criticism from other patrons because they were easily identified in uniform and that patrons were lumping all sports teams into one giant group... and the group seeming to take most was DCGFFL. So, to ensure they did not stand out to other patrons so that they couldn't be singled out she decided to implement this policy. I believe the best comparison would be the idea of school uniforms, that everyone would look the same, and it would become the great equalizer.
Now, what about Tom?
While I was not able to get ahold of Tom for comment, it does seem that there was a strong influence from him in the guidance of this policy. He has shown publicly his dislike for the DCGFFL with posts that reference to serving DCGFFL players rats. While this may be in jest, there have been accounts from all angles that Tom did not welcome the players. There has even been thoughts that Tom (or maybe patrons) fabricated drug use, abuse of equipment and property damage at Uproar which would go unaddressed even to this day.
Exactly how much influence he had, we do not know. He has publicly denied any wrong doing and any involvement in the implementation of this new no jerseys policy. To which Tammy exclaimed "he has thrown me under the bus".
What could have been done differently?
Lots. but one thing that I gleam from all of this is:
I believe that a lot of this could have been resolved with better communication skills on all sides.
-There should have been clear communication of the terms on the negotiations to the attendance on Sundays
-There should have been previous email communication with the DCGFFL to the changes in jersey policy in advance
-There should have been communication prior about any suspicion of drug use or property damage
-There should have been initial clear communication as to why this policy was implemented in the first place so that the public would understand
-Theres should have been a second pair of eyes on the message before it was sent out to to ensure clear grammar, on point messaging, and clarity (note, I know I am also not the best at grammar, so thank you for sticking with me this long)
So can be done now?
First, I invite you to look at yourself. If you have participated in this discussion online or in person, (myself included), ask yourself, was I the best person I could have been in that moment? While we all have a right to our emotions, tearing each other down, jumping to conclusions, and saying hurtful things just adds to an already painful situation.
I invite you to think of Tammy, as I have invited her to think about our pain as a community.
At the end of the day, Tammy is a business owner, friend, ally, mother and person trying to provide a safe space for our community the best way she knows how. As a CIS-gendered, straight, female, immigrant she doesn't need to care about us, or cater to our community, and I commend her for her efforts. Like any great learning experience, she is bound to make some mistakes. Instead of tearing her down, lets build her up!
We as a community do not, cannot and should not foster a climate of fear. We are better than this.
I also believe that Tammy, being a second language English user doesn't always help. I won't bore you with the linguistic details, but as an interpreter as my profession, I deal with cultural and linguistic misunderstandings all the time, where one culture or language perceives another to be too hostile or aggressive and does not always translate well into written form and comes across as very direct, blunt and sometimes rude.
I also invite you to think of the teams, who now feel unwelcome in a place they once thought to be safe, and where they can express themselves freely. However, treating someone who you felt has wronged you with respect is equally as important.
Respect and Communication is the key to understanding.
So what can be done in a tangible way?
As far as I can see it, all hope is not lost. I believe, as well as many others, that a formal sincere apology from Uproar is needed to begin the healing process in the community (as this post was being edited, a statement has come out from Uproar). I also believe that Uproar needs to find a new sponsor for "beer bust", as Tom has been publicly very hostile, and to regain the trust of the sports community, he would need to not be present at the event as the host.
It may take some time, as all good things take time, but I believe and encourage other sports, leagues and patrons to acknowledge the past and embrace the future and continue relationships with not only Uproar, but other LGBTQ establishments that have always been a cornerstone of our communities.
Everyone has a right to feel safe and welcome in our community, and at the same time balancing the safety and viability of a business. I just hope that we as the DC Gay community, in tandem with Ward 1's rich history of diversity, can find common ground, and move on as better, more informed, more engaged citizens of our community.