But they weren’t. In fact, they were not only welcomed with open arms, management asked them to return. Thus far, besides the Franklin Cafe, Tom English’s, and Shenanigan’s, the group has met at L Street Tavern (made famous by Good Will Hunting), the Junction, and the Stadium. Each and every establishment was happy to have them. No bar fights broke out, and aside from a few stares and several under-the-breath comments, the group’s monthly bar hopping has been a smashing success.
“Other than a few gay jokes here and there, people don’t seem to be too concerned that a bunch of local gay guys are having a few beers at their local bar,” says Sheats.
“It’s just not that big of a deal,” he adds, “and that’s exactly the point I’m trying to make.”
I check in with three born-and-bred South Boston girls at Shenanigan’s, who aren’t concerned with the evening’s crowd of gay men, as for them it means a night’s reprieve from staving off drunken Southie meatheads looking to impress via endless shots of Jaeger. What does concern them is the rise in housing costs attributed to Southie’s changing makeup, with one of the women angrily confessing, “It’s not the gays we have a problem with . . . or any of the new people here. The problem is I can no longer afford to live here and had to move out, as did a lot of people who grew up here. It isn’t fair.”
On the other side of the bar, I come across part-time manager Domenic Stewart. Stewart is gay and emigrated to Southie from Ireland more than 10 years ago. He, too, has found that the Southie gay community is growing and, nowadays around these parts, it’s much easier to be outward about one’s sexuality. “Years ago, there would be finger pointing, staring, and more,” notes Stewart, “but now it’s different — you can feel more comfortable being yourself in the ‘hood.”
Professional boxer Aaron Emmons, who was born and raised in South Boston but has since moved to Chicago, remembers when this wasn’t exactly the case. The priest at his local Catholic school used to let him and his brother out early so they could run home before they got the shit kicked out of them by homophobic bullies because their mother (another Southie native) was a lesbian.
“I caught the brunt of the intolerance in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s,” he recalls. “There was an old guard of people in the neighborhood that were not tolerant of my mother. It stopped when I started being big enough to fight on my own.”
Any remaining negativity toward outsiders in the neighborhood has nothing to do with race or sexual orientation, in Emmons’s opinion. “Think about it,” he says, “you have people that are being forced out of their homes and bars are no longer filled with familiar faces. Of course the locals aren’t going to be okay with having to leave their own neighborhood, their homes, where they grew up. [These] people don’t like change.”