There officially are 21 lesbian bars in the United States at the moment. But about 40 years ago, there were more than 200 lesbian bars. The Lesbian Bar Project, a short documentary film directed in New York, is trying to halt the alarming disappearance of lesbian bars in the country. Comedian Lea DeLaria stars in the documentary, which aims to save the few lesbian bars left in the country.
Lesbian bars represent a vulnerable business. Not only were they severely impacted economically by the COVID-19 pandemic. They also tend to face discrimination from society. Through their documentary, The Lesbian Bar Project seeks to raise awareness of the social issue and raise funds to support the bars.
Their documentary is available on their official website, where you can also find a 20-minute documentary movie dedicated to this project. The movie was made by Erica Rose, a young producer known for her films “Ponyboy,” which took part at Tribeca Film Festival in 2019, and “Girl Talk,” which gathered a massive audience.
The face of this documentary is Lea DeLaria, an American comedian, actress, and jazz singer. In the film, she travels around the United States to meet the owners of the most popular lesbian bars. Their thought-provoking conversations reveal the struggles that these women went through to build and save these places. The time of lockdown due to the global pandemic was the hardest for them.
Why are Lesbian Bars in Decline?
So, how were 180 lesbian bars lost in four decades?
In the film, Lea DeLaria is on a quest to find it out. She engages with several owners of the bars to understand the social and economic reasons for their decline. In the view of Lisa Menichino, the owner of Cubbyhole, one of the most popular lesbian bars in New York, the bars are disappearing because back in the day, these bars used to be the only places gay people were able to go “to meet anyone, whatever it was romantic or whatever it was social.”
Menichino believes that today, as gay people become more accepted by society, they don’t have to go to a specific place to find themselves company. Lea DeLaria mentions how she hopes “a younger generation could also experience the comradery that we (lesbians) experienced in the bars together.”
She opens up about how she fears for her community because “they don’t seem to know the history, they don’t seem to know how hard we fought to have a place” – a place to gather and feel safe to be themselves.
There are other reasons for the decline of lesbian bars. For instance, the unjust financial system is less open to funding women-owned businesses. The cost of rent is also an influential factor, as they keep increasing – making it harder and harder for small businesses to afford it.
Research also shows that young consumers’ behavior is changing. People are now relying more and more on dating apps rather than spending time at bars like in the old days. The fact that society is also becoming more inclusive reduces the need for people attending lesbian bars for support, community, and open dialogue.
Due to these changing environments, people are often taking lesbian bars for granted. In their eyes, they no longer serve the purpose they used to.
The History of Lesbian Bars: Providing Community in a Discriminating World
Forty years ago, there was no space for gay people in society. At least that’s what the majority of people used to think. In lesbian bars, gay people were able to find friends, lovers, and community. They had to hide to avoid being discriminated against – and lesbian bars were the best “refuge” for them.
Today, the bar as we know it is a place to have fun, to out at night to lose yourself for some time, dance, drink, relax, and forget. But lesbian bars were built for a bigger purpose – to bring people with the same interests together and make them feel comfortable, welcomed, and loved.
Thanks to these fearless lesbian business owners, who had enough strength to open these bars and keep them open for people who really needed them, we have a society vastly more open to homogenous relationships.
In these bars, formed by the first gay communities, people built strength and confidence to go to the outside world and show everybody their nature. These places gathered gay people who later fought for their communities’ rights.
The Lesbian Bar Project has already raised more than $267,000 in its 2021 campaign.
Today, as we live under a peaceful sky, we shouldn’t forget about those who gave us this opportunity. It’s important to know and remember about the past to have a better future. These places shouldn’t be forgotten – and it’s our time now to reciprocate the help they gave us in shaping our paths.