Twin Peaks in San Francisco's Castro district, in business since 1973 and one of many LGBTQ bars that almost closed during the pandemic
We’re being told the pandemic is over, though the data, not to mention our social media feeds, are telling us otherwise. But for many communities, including LGBTQ people and businesses, the pandemic’s impact will be felt for years — and that's true for many gathering places like the local LGBTQ bar.
During 2020, tens of thousands of bars closed. For LGBTQ-friendly bars, the pandemic hastened their decline across the U.S. Already challenged by gentrification, dating apps and changing demographics, the pandemic led to more closures of many an LGBTQ bar in liberal cities and conservative rural outposts alike.
Now, the evidence suggests that the neighborhood LGBTQ bar is making a slow, even steady comeback. Grassroots initiatives such as the Lesbian Bar Project are seeking to celebrate and preserve what few lesbian bars are left. Meanwhile, more entrepreneurs across the U.S. are refurbishing and investing in bars, and even reinventing them so they’re more than a place to down a cold one — more importantly, they are also reinventing these spaces, making them more welcoming to those who are non-binary or transgender and historically never felt entirely welcomed in a “gay” or “lesbian” bar.
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Here’s the reality: Bars have often been a safe haven for many LGBTQ people, and at a time when we hear constant banter about “community,” many bars have served that purpose for years. To that end, with companies opening their wallets, purses and fanny packs during Pride Month, here’s an idea: If supporting the local community matters so much, then put your money and mouth where your expense account is and take your team out to the local LGBTQ bar.
There’s no shortage of data concluding that the best place to spend money for maximum impact is as close the home office as possible. Sponsoring a float or booth for a Gay Pride parade is a nice enough gesture, though those same funds could be used more at a neighborhood LGBTQ center or youth homeless shelter. Sending a check to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is great for optics if your company scored 100 percent from that group; journalists such as Judd Legum, however, have pointed out that the coveted HRC rankings don’t take into account those same corporations’ donations to anti-LGBTQ and anti-trans politicians.
So, this suggestion may not be on your company’s Pride Month-themed bingo card, but here’s how your company can show it’s an ally of the LGBTQ community: Take the team to the local LGBTQ club or bar. Don’t make a big show of it: To be clear, this isn’t a call to sponsor a “happy hour,” as this is an exercise in inclusion, not branding. Here’s how you go about it: Ask your queer employees for suggestions on where everyone would feel welcome, and then go. After all, there’s no better way to align oneself with a community than to share their experiences. As Ella Braidwood summed up for the Washington Post earlier this week:
“If you are straight, try to imagine that: what it would feel like to know that, at some point — not if, but when — you’ll get heckled for simply holding your partner’s hand. It might not bother you the first time, maybe not even in the second or third instance. But consider how 10 years of it, the length of time that I’ve been 'out,' might grind you down. That’s the thing with discrimination: It’s exhausting. There is an attrition to it. I am tired of being shouted at.
What I’m trying to say is this: LGBTQ clubs are like sanctuaries to me; pink-lit paradises, where I can forget about all of that…They are among the few places where I can kiss whom I want, knowing I won’t get harassed.”
Image credit: Matt Dodd via Unsplash
Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.
Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.