Isis Club

in Bars, Clubs, and Discos

Isis, a women’s bar, opened at 1400 West 6th Street in 1982. Isis’s co-owners, Chester Davis, John Allen, Russ Reinders, Ed Speagle, Nick Kostis, Bill Lozious, and Jack White opened Isis as a “private club catering to the [professional and] contemporary woman” in February 1982. Though Isis was, for all intendents and purposes, primarily a lesbian bar, “well-behaved” men were permitted to enter if they were escorted in by a woman. On June 4, 1982, only a few short months after the bar had opened, Mary Anne Finegan and her ex-partner — both lesbians and frequent Isis patrons — were abducted outside outside of the bar late at night. The targeted hate crime left Mary Anne dead and her surviving ex-partner suffering from devastating long-term injuries as as result of the ordeal. Mary Anne’s murder shockwaves throughout Cleveland’s lesbian communities and left many lesbian clubgoers on high alert in fear of their safety. Following Mary Anne’s murder, Isis attempted to offer monetary rewards in exchange for information leading to the arrest of her killer. (See the Maryanne Finegan Anti-Violence Project). On June 28th, the club’s management invited Cleveland women to participate in an Open Forum at Isis in order to discuss a number of issues relevant to the women’s community, including security at the bar, the admission of men into the bar, and the bar’s future. Ultimately, Isis’ management decided to enact increased security measures in the form of enhanced door control, an optional police escort, and a membership card system. Additionally, Isis management and patrons decided that Isis would operate as an “exclusive women’s facility six days a week,” with men now being permitted entrance only one night per week. After a considerable amount of confusion regarding the club’s policy on male patrons, it was later clarified that men would be permitted to enter (with a female escort) Monday through Thursday evenings, while “weekends [would be] for women only.” Despite the fear generated by Finegan’s unsolved murder, Isis remained an immensely popular membership-only lesbian bar.

As popular as Isis was, it was not equally accessible to all lesbians. In July 1986, the Gay People’s Chronicle published two letters, penned by Michelle Murrain and the ad-hoc group Customers Against Racist Exclusion (CARE), alleging that Isis had been using its membership card system to intentionally deny entry to (and systematically discriminate against) Black lesbian patrons. Murrain, a student at Case Western Reserve University, noted that she and other Black women had been singled out by the bar’s security while attempting to gain entry alongside a group of white women. Unlike the white women she had arrived with, Murrain alone was asked to show her membership card. Murrain’s white friends were welcomed inside without being carded or hassled, but Murrain, a Black lesbian, was subsequently denied entry into the bar. After speaking with Isis’s management, Murrain discovered that Isis’s owners were systemically denying membership cards to black women, purportedly under the thinly-veiled guise of “keeping out troublemakers.” After speaking with other Black Isis patrons (or would-be patrons), Murrain discovered that Isis’s management had been systematically carding and specifically denying entry to Black women as part of an attempt to keep the club’s population predominantly (over 70%) white. Pointing out the blatant racism inherent in Isis’s membership policies, several white and Black Isis patrons rallied together in support of Murrain and formed the group Customers Against Racist Exclusion in order to protest the club’s discriminatory policies. Following the publication of Murrain and CARE’s letters, Isis’ owners and management subsequently barred the Gay People’s Chronicle from future distribution at Isis. (Isis’ management declined to published a statement or rebuttal in the Chronicle.)

Despite Murrain and CARE’s efforts, Isis’ membership card system remained in place. (Isis’s owners denied systemically discriminating Black lesbian patrons.) By 1987, however, Isis’s management responded to a series of broader “cultural and social changes” afoot in LGBT+ Cleveland and announced their intention to open Isis’ membership to male patrons. In July 1987, Isis announced that it would “open [its] doors to our brothers in the fervent hope that through a better understanding of each other’s unique social and political expressions, we will further our community and move forward to a broader and more communal base.” With this new policy, men were newly permitted to obtain memberships at Isis and to enter at any point throughout the week without needing the company of a female escort. Though this change in policy was welcomed by some Isis patrons, the club’s management endured harsh criticism from others who sought to maintain Isis as a woman-centric space. Isis ultimately closed in 1989.

Additional information coming soon.


  • “1975 to 1984 Nightclubs.” Pride Museum.
  • “Assailant Sought.” High Gear. July 1982. Page 3.
  • “Brynna Fish Interview, 17 August 2023.” Cleveland Voices.
  • “Discrimination at Isis.” Gay People’s Chronicle. July 1986. Page 13.
  • Forbes, Dora. “Isis Bars Chronicle.” Gay People’s Chronicle. September 1986. Page 1.
  • “Isis.” Lost Womyn’s Space. June 28, 2015.
  • “Isis and The Chronicle.” Gay People’s Chronicle. September 1986. Page 4.
  • “Isis Holds Open Forum.” High Gear. August 1982. Page 13.
  • “Isis Unveiled – New Policy Stated.” Valentine News. July 1987. Page 13.
  • Kaleidoscope 1986. Valentine News. Pride Museum.
  • Kersey, Nancy Bigler. “For Women Only, Almost…” Plain Dealer. February 18, 1982.
  • Lynch, Maxine L. “2 Women Abducted, 1 Killed in Flats.” Plain Dealer. June 6, 1982.
  • Murrain, Michelle. “Discrimination.” Gay People’s Chronicle. July 1989. Page 5.
  • “Oppression.” Gay People’s Chronicle. July 1989. Page 2.
  • Ramelle. “Isis Info.” Action Magazine. September 1982. Pages 3-4.
  • Tamas, Barb. “An Open Letter From Isis.” High Gear. July 1982. Page 4.
1400 W 6th St, Cleveland, OH 44113

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