The Osborn Building where Doc Marie's is set to open. Kat Leon/PSU Vanguard

Queer community reacts to Portland’s new lesbian bar

Doc Marie’s is first self-described lesbian bar in over a decade

The Portland queer community was abuzz with news of the self-proclaimed lesbian bar for everyone, Doc Marie’s, opening May 21. In a divisive time for queer people everywhere, it is nice to have the promise of a new safe haven. While Portland has gained a name for being a safe and inclusive city for members of the LGBTQ+ community, some have argued that nightlife catering specifically to lesbians was lacking.


Olga Bichko and Nikki Ferry are the new owners of Doc Marie’s and seek to fill this perceived need in the community. 


“We say, every time we go out, ‘Why isn’t there a lesbian bar in Portland?'” said Bichko in a Portland Eater interview. “It was clearly something really needed and wanted in the community.”


Portland has vibrant queer communities online, and several bars that generally accept the queer community or specifically cater to gay men. Unfortunately, the nightlife scene for women who love women has been nonexistent since the closing of the Egyptian Club in 2010. 


In 2016, Ellena Rosenthal wrote in the Willamette Week that, due to identity politics, a bar labeling itself as a lesbian bar was a sure way to not survive in Portland, given that other LGBTQ+ people felt excluded by the term.


“The fights over language may seem academic and obscure if you’re not part of them,” Rosenthal stated. “But they are increasingly the battlegrounds over how people see themselves.” 


While it is true that identity and the ability to see oneself however one wants are essential, it is equally crucial that lesbian-specific bars exist. 


“Women, trans femme people and many afab [assigned female at birth] nonbinary people feel safer in lesbian spaces than in straight or even gay [male] spaces because of how toxic men can be,” stated queer community member Luna Phelps.


In addition, if Rosenthal’s theory is correct and identity politics is why lesbian bars have not thrived, why is it that bars that cater specifically to gay men have and continue to thrive in Portland? According to Susan Cox of the Feminist Current, there are at least eight bars for gay men in the city.


As for how some of the members of the queer community feel about Doc Marie’s new label, fears of exclusion were smoothed over by the fact that the bar stated it is also “for everyone.”


“I feel [the] label is relatively accurate,” Phelps stated. “And [it] really only excludes cishet men, as it should.” 


Kris Lauck, who is queer but does not identify as a lesbian, stated that they felt conflicted given that they agree with the bar’s desire to allow other queers to feel welcome in the space, but worried about “the number of non-queer people this label [of being for everyone] will attract.” 


“I worry that cis straight people will take this as an invitation to occupy our space, and I worry that will lead to this space feeling less safe for us queer people,” Lauck said.


Twi, who asked not to be identified by their full name, is another member of the queer community who does not identify as a lesbian. Twi said that they felt “nervous about invading a space” which does not match their own identity. Nonetheless, they agreed that the label does not feel exclusive or unsafe to them, but they still desire to respect the fact that the bar is lesbian-centric. 


All interviewed individuals agreed that they wanted to go to the bar, despite their own personal feelings about how the owners chose to label it. And, despite their opinions, a safe space is considered a welcome addition to Portland’s nightlife, given the slough of repressive legislation sweeping U.S. politics. 


“I do not feel safe as a queer person in America at all,” Twi stated.


Back in March 2022, NBC reported that, since the start of 2022, a record 238 bills were proposed by state lawmakers that would limit the rights of LGBTQ+ people. 


“With the passing of each new bill and the overturning of each existing bill, I find myself wanting to leave this country more and more,” Lauck stated.


Despite all the progress the queer community has made, it has become increasingly frightening for some. 


“I am having to narrow down where it would be safe for me to move if I ever moved out of Portland,” Phelps said. 


While the consensus is that Portland generally accepts the queer community, discrimination still exists here. For example, Twi stated increased physical attacks since moving to Portland from their hometown in Florida. Phelps remarked they left an enjoyable job last year due to transphobia.


“This year, I am in the closet about being nonbinary because I work for a relatively conservative company,” Phillips said.


While Portland is very far from the queer utopia that some might believe it to be, the community is relatively supportive of each other. 


“Portland is where I finally felt safe enough to come out as a nonbinary and queer individual,” Lauck stated.


Ultimately at times such as these, it is essential that members of the LGBTQ+ community rally around each other. With the help of the vibrant queer community in Portland, Doc Marie’s can become a community space as well as a safe haven for lesbians—and all queers. 


While Doc Marie’s is not open yet, Lauck stated that they plan to visit the space. 


“[I’m going to] check it out and support fellow queers,” Lauck said.