Last call of lesbian bars during the COVID-19 pandemic
As businesses reel from being shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, the remaining lesbian bars in the country are feeling the brunt of these effects to the point that none may survive afterwards.
Many of the bars are shutting down temporarily in compliance with statewide closure orders for bars and restaurants. However, this temporary closure could become permanent.
This, in turn, means losing spaces for queer women in the LGBTQ community.
Lesbian bars feeling the pinch
Brooklyn’s last remaining lesbian bar, Ginger’s, closed on March 15. The bar’s owner, Sheila Frayne, has expressed worry that their business won’t survive: “The bar business is recession proof– it’s not pandemic proof, though.”
Frayne told NBC News: “It’s really sad, because women-owned businesses are hard anyhow, and women-owned bars are unheard of.”
On the other hand, Henrietta Hudson, the country’s longest operating bar for queer women, is also needing financial help.
Henrietta Hudson co-owner Lisa Cannistraci said in a statement: “Although we have applied for federal and local disaster and payment protection loans, we have been ignored.”
“And it has been extremely disheartening to see news reports showing bigger businesses prioritized for assistance,” Cannistraci said.
More gay bars than lesbian bars
There have always less lesbian bars in the US as compared to bars catering to gay men. This despite the fact that statistically, women are more likely than men to identify as LGBTQ.
In the late 1980s, the number of lesbian bars peaked at an estimated 200 across the US, according to a published study by Greggor Mattson, an associate Sociology professor at Oberlin College and Conservatory.
Presently, the number is estimated to be 16, with places like Henrietta Hudson in New York City, My Sister’s Room in Atlanta, Wildrose in Seattle, Walker’s Pint in Milwaukee, and Gossip Grill in San Diego.
However, in the last five years, iconic lesbian bars like Sisters in Philadelphia and The Lexington Club in San Francisco had shut down.
Overall, there were more than 1,500 LGBTQ bars in the 1980s. But now, there are less than 1,000 today– and most of them catering to male or mixed-gender crowds.
Between 2007 and 2019, an estimated 37 percent of all LGBTQ bars closed. Of this number, bars catering to women and queer people of color declined by 52 percent and 60 percent, respectively.
Lesbian spaces being affected
Another business that has been affected is Walker’s Pint, Milwaukee’s lone lesbian bar, which was temporarily shuttered in March after nonessential businesses were ordered close.
Bar owner Elizabeth Boenning sought the help of her bank to get a loan from the federal Paycheck Protection Program. However, this was only enough to cover expenses for about three months.
“Women don’t have a place that’s for women other than the Pint, really,” Boenning said. She pointed out that the Pint is surrounded by several gay bars.
Meanwhile, Wildrose, the only lesbian bar in Seattle, had to close mid-March because of the pandemic.
Its current owners, Shelley Brothers and Martha Manning, said if they’re unable to reopen, this would be more than the loss of a historic watering hole.
“It’s like a bar in a community center. We’ve always just tried to provide a safe space for women to come,” Brothers said.