For decades lesbian bars have been disappearing from American cities, gutted in part by increased gentrification in gay neighborhoods driving up rents. But with covid-19 shuttering restaurants and bars across the country, the last few remaining lesbian bars are in danger of closing for good.
NBC News interviews Sheila Frayne, owner of the lesbian bar Ginger’s in Brooklyn’s Park Slope neighborhood, who says that the pandemic “may be the end” for the bar, which has served as a vital community space in a gentrifying area of the city. “It’s really sad, because women-owned businesses are hard anyhow, and women-owned bars are unheard of,” she says. “Usually, they have somebody backing them or something like that, but I did do it by myself, and it’s just blood, sweat and tears to get where I did and keep surviving.”
Another bar owner, Elizabeth Boenning of Milkwaukee’s Walker’s Pint, says that she received a Paycheck Protection Program loan to cover expenses for three months after having to shutter in March. “Women don’t have a place that’s for women other than the Pint, really,” Boenning said. Several bars, like Boenning’s, have turned to crowdsourcing; she raised over $3,500 for her staff through a GoFundMe. Cubby Hole, a rare New York City lesbian bar, raised $48,000 for staff after its owner wasn’t able to receive federal aid.
Lesbian bars struggle historically in part because it’s difficult for queer women to access the finances to keep them alive, Alana Integlia, co-founder of the New York group Queer Visibility and host of “Dyke Bar Walking Tour”, told Jezebel in 2018. They’re also frequently sidelined in a queer nightlife culture that still centers around gay men.
According to a 2019 study conducted by Oberlin College associate professor of sociology Greggor Mattson, there are only 16 estimated lesbian bars across the country, with 37 percent of all LGBTQ bars shuttering between 2007 and 2019, NBC News reports. While gay bars and queer spaces across the country are suffering right now, many of them have turned to live Zoom events and community fundraising them reports. But lesbian bars, having been vulnerable for decades, will likely have an even more difficult time weathering the pandemic.