No to Norman!
On June 5th, 2009, Discovery will be having their “live from Amsterdam” party and Fed Up Queers will be there in full (and fabulous) force. You will find more information below about Norman Jones, Discovery and his very dangerous monopoly.
Frequently (Un)asked Questions:
Who is Norman Jones?
Norman Jones is a horse breeder, well-to-do drag queen and currently the owner of 4 bars in the central Arkansas area. These bars are Discovery/Disco, Backstreet, Off Center and 610 Off Center. He won the title of Miss Gay America in 1973 and then proceeded to purchase the pageant, which he owned until recently. Norman Jones has had his thumb on the pulse of gay Arkansas for some time now, and owns almost every outlet for Queer and Trans young folk in Arkansas; he has created a pretty powerful monopoly in the process.
Well, isn’t that just business?
Sure, when someone invests in business, they ought to try to be successful. But Norman based his entire business on the social life of an oppressed group, and actively created a monopoly on opportunity for that group to meet one another and build a community. We believe that anyone who profits from of an oppressed group to which he actually belongs, particularly in an especially unwelcoming area, is in turn obligated to that community. His failure to that obligation, we believe, amounts to nothing less than exploitation.
Isn’t providing a place for community enough?
Norman Jones’ businesses provide a very important need for the trans/queer community of Arkansas. They are places that at least ‘feel’ welcoming, places where other young people in the community are made available. But we believe that charging $15 for folks under 21 at Backstreet, for instance, and limiting the function of the space to simply dancing and drinking is unacceptable. Backstreet is the only one of Jones’ establishments that allow folks 18+ to enter, and the high prices and carding policies make his establishments inaccessible to a large portion of the Queer/Trans community in Arkansas. He strictly forbids anything political from his clubs, including brochures for sympathetic organizations inside or outside and even safety information left in the bathroom. We see this as a great disservice to our community.
Young Queer and Trans people of Arkansas turn to his establishments to fill their need for community, but in return for their $15, they get the social-nutritional equivalent to cotton candy.
Aren’t his clubs, besides being social outlets, also safe spaces?
Because his establishments are supposed to be “gay friendly clubs,” Queer and Trans Arkansans naturally see them as safe spaces. We believe this is a false sense of security. Many people have had unwelcoming, even discriminatory experiences from both security guards and patrons in his establishments.
One person we talked to has experienced harassment in the bathrooms and dance floor at Discoveryfrom security guards for a gender presentation that was not in the ‘norm’. Another person, who identifies as a bear cub, was asked to put his shirt back on by security guards; however, the other shirtless, stereotypically “beautiful” people were not confronted at all (Needless to say, he did not put his shirt back on).
One would think that Norman would treat the performers at Discovery & Backstreet like royalty (as this is the reason many people visit his establishments), but this is simply not the case. We spoke with a former performer at Backstreet who says that “if you aren’t willing to sell your soul to Norman Kristie’s Inc., don’t even try to get in.” She heard Norman refer to a lesbian identified woman as a “fucking dyke” and told us of atime where a performer wore a “Got Midol?” shirt and underwear covered in (fake?) blood; Norman thought that was a “laugh riot”. Her overall feeling was that performers of color are “treated like hired help” by Norman and remembers hearing him make offensive comments towards people of size and color. It appears that not even people who are working for Norman and are bringing in customers are treated with any dignity at all.
Norman owns places where Queer and Trans folks happen to go, nothing more.
He probably just donates money to fund politicians and causes on his own, like any business owner would.
The only non-profit he is known to donate to is his own, Helping People With AIDS, HWPA, which we believe to be another of his shams. We have not been able to find any person or organization who is familiar with HWPA’s work. We believe that this “non-profit” that Norman has created is just for legality and is being used as just another part of his empire.
Two phone numbers are available for HWPA, the first one leading to a voicemail message that mentions all of his bars, but makes no mention of HWPA or its services. The second phone number has no voicemail and continues to ring forever without any answer. Both of these numbers have been tried repeatedly on Tuesday, the only day that HWPA is claimed to be open. Throughout the week as well, we have not ever been able to get a response.
There is also no evidence of financial contribution to political campaigns, not even to oppose Act 1. We’re still digging for information, but the opaque nature of his non-profit leads us to believe that we won’t find any inspiring success stories. We want to know how a non-profit which has no obvious presence outside of papers registering it could be seen as valid help for people with AIDS? You can’t even call them.
Why should I care?
Overall, we feel that Norman Jones and his for-profit empire, while it may have started with good intentions, has become corrupt and is being used to exploit Queer and Trans folk across the state. We are fed up with the overall sense in the community of Norman being some sort of leader, as it is clear that he only wishes to lead himself to your wallet.
What can you do?
Stop supporting his establishments! Don’t stop at just not visiting Discovery, Backstreet, Off Center or 610 Off Center, but tell your friends not to go!
Let him know you are fed up! Feel free to call him at 501-666-6900, let him know you are fed up with being treated as nothing more than capitol gain for his empire!
Find other spaces or make your own! You don’t need Norman or his establishments to have fun! Host a house party, play your own music and let everyone enjoy it!