Queer bars provide sacred house for LGBTQ neighborhood

(RNS) — When actor Daniel Franzese visited Jerusalem in November, he regarded for God in all the same old locations.

However it wasn’t on the Western Wall or Mount of Olives the place he encountered the divine, however in a hole-in-the-wall ’80s-style homosexual bar that was internet hosting a “David and Jonathan” theme evening for non secular queer folks.

“There was no denying God was current in that place for me. I used to be within the little, tiny homosexual bar in Jesus’ city, and I used to be welcome there,” mentioned Franzese, of “Imply Women” and HBO’s “Trying.”

“No person can ever inform me that being in that bar wasn’t a sacred and holy place.”

For so long as LGBTQ of us have gathered in bars and nightclubs, such areas have hosted weddings, birthed church buildings and been referred to as “heavenly.” However November’s Membership Q capturing was a grim reminder that even as we speak gathering in queer golf equipment isn’t with out threat. Amid a barrage of anti-LGTBQ laws and hate crimes, many LGBTQ folks of religion say it’s important to guard the places they see as sacred.


This content material is written and produced by Faith Information Service and distributed by The Related Press. RNS and AP associate on some faith information content material. RNS is solely liable for this story.


When musician Trey Pearson got here out as homosexual in 2016, it price him his religion neighborhood and his profession as a Christian artist. However from the second he set foot within the Union Café, a homosexual bar in Columbus, Ohio, he felt embraced by drag queens, bartenders and patrons alike.

“There’s loads of non secular folks within the LGBTQ neighborhood, those who have religion,” noticed Pearson, who has a revamped music career exterior the Christian music world. “That place turned such a significant house to me, the place I’d have these conversations with different queer folks, who shared their journeys about how they got here to simply accept themselves.”

Pearson mentioned he has since been met with heat at bars in “gayborhoods” throughout the U.S., from Boystown in Chicago to West Hollywood. He instructed RNS it’s their unqualified love that makes queer bars sacred.

“I all the time heard about loving like Jesus. However regardless of who you’re, you may stroll on this place, and you can be liked and don’t have to cover part of who you’re,” he mentioned. “I skilled that real, genuine love in homosexual bars greater than I’d ever skilled it rising up within the 4 partitions of the church.”

Jordan Jamil Ahmed, a Shiite Muslim dwelling in Boston, sees homosexual bars as venues for self-expression. There, the skilled dancer/choreographer-turned-organizer is unafraid to sport heeled boots or a laced bodysuit. Ahmed instructed RNS there’s an “component of feeling extra linked to the Divine” once they costume authentically and described going to queer bars with their chosen household as a “collective ritual” that facilities round dancing.

“This concept of communal and ritualized motion is a core a part of how we join to one another. For me, being at a homosexual membership is simply one of many methods to quick observe that feeling.”

However although Ahmed’s expertise in queer bars is marked by freedom and acceptance, they famous that these areas are sometimes extra “occupied by cis white homosexual males than different members of the queer neighborhood.” Ahmed mentioned the queer neighborhood should interrogate the way it bars its personal members from accessing these non secular hubs.

Such limitations weren’t erected in a single day. Within the Eighties, there have been roughly 200 lesbian bars within the U.S. That quantity has since dwindled to fewer than 25, partly attributable to financial limitations — patrons of lesbian bars, together with transgender ladies, cisgender ladies and nonbinary of us, sometimes have much less money to spend on evening life than cisgender homosexual males, for example.

In her e-book “Child, You Are My Faith,” activist and theologian Marie Cartier examines how lesbian butch-femme bars established within the period between World Struggle II and Stonewall operated as non secular websites for the LGBTQ neighborhood. In a context the place being homosexual was equated with psychological sickness, these bars and golf equipment have been usually the primary locations the place queer of us, particularly ladies, may very well be totally themselves.

“If that’s the one place the place you could be in neighborhood with different folks, that’s sacred,” she mentioned.

In interviews with over 100 ladies, she heard story after story of individuals remodeled by friendship — a course of Cartier says is non secular in nature.

“If you enter the bar for the primary time, for anyone to have a look at you and say, ‘Hey, how’s it going? Did you discover parking? Haven’t seen you right here earlier than.’ That may be a baptism,” mentioned Cartier. “It’s a baptism into the self as a result of anyone’s seeing you as a potential good friend, once you’ve by no means felt that approach earlier than.”

Cartier says queer bars proceed to hold that very same significance as we speak: Folks go away these areas completely different from how they entered them.

That’s definitely true of the Lipstick Lounge, a fixture of Nashville nightlife since 2001 and one of many few lesbian bars nonetheless working within the U.S. Inside the intense purple constructing with its purple, lip-shaped brand, bar-goers are more likely to see proprietor Jonda Valentine onstage, singing gospel songs or preaching about God’s love.

The daughter of a Pentecostal pastor, Valentine was working as a full-time artist portray in her dwelling studio when a voice in her head mentioned, “open a bar.” The monetary gamble was sufficient to provide anybody pause, by no means thoughts the truth that she didn’t drink on the time. However after listening to the identical message over the subsequent few weeks, she was satisfied. “I actually believed that’s what God wished me to do,” she instructed RNS.

Whereas the bar is dwelling to its share of trivia nights and drag exhibits, it has additionally hosted Sunday worship companies, weddings and funerals. An out of doors pantry behind the bar presents canned items stocked by considered one of their regulars, and Valentine and her co-owner, Christa Suppan, are identified for holding fundraisers or paying electrical payments for patrons.

Valentine — who shies away from labels however describes herself as “striving to be Christ-like” — additionally instructed RNS she frequently encounters individuals who’ve been kicked out of their church buildings and houses for being LGBTQ. She remembered praying for one man who’d been solid out of his church who returned after six or seven years to thank her.

“He mentioned, ‘I wish to let you know one thing. I used to be going to commit suicide. If you prayed, I felt the spirit of God. I felt like he liked me. And I felt like there was hope,’” recalled Valentine. “I name the Lipstick Lounge ‘God’s home,’ as a result of it’s. And when he’s completed with this work, we are going to shut. However so long as we’re serving to and ministering, exhibiting love and acceptance, we are going to stay open.”

Franzese, who, when he’s not appearing, hosts a queer-affirming Christian podcast referred to as “Yass, Jesus!” mentioned it’s essential to protect queer bars for future generations. The Trevor Undertaking’s 2022 nationwide survey of practically 34,000 LGBTQ youth ages 13 to 24 discovered that 45% of LGBTQ youth critically contemplated suicide over the previous 12 months.

“After I was a toddler, I couldn’t see a imaginative and prescient of myself as an grownup as a result of I couldn’t see anybody that was like me that was alive sooner or later, or that was OK, or that felt snug or that felt accepted. So this is the reason these areas are so vital,” mentioned Franzese. To him, embracing queer pleasure is an act of hope.

The Rev. Nicole Garcia, a Colorado-based trans-Latina minister within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, is aware of the influence such hope can have.

A one-time parole officer who’s now the religion work director of the Nationwide LGBTQ Process Drive, Garcia credit queer bars and drag performers with serving to her hook up with her internal self. “It actually was the bars that gave delivery to my first idea of self as Nicole.”

In November, Garcia supplied hugs and non secular steerage to Colorado Springs’ LGBTQ neighborhood within the wake of the Membership Q capturing. She believes that as queer golf equipment come below assault, there are alternatives for non secular communities to place their religion into motion. When Membership Q couldn’t host its annual vacation dinner after it closed because of the capturing, she famous, Pikes Peak Metropolitan Group Church in Colorado Springs stepped in to host the dinner, which an area resort helped sponsor.

“Golf equipment and bars are a sound type of neighborhood constructing,” mentioned Garcia. “If you happen to actually wish to attain folks, it’s a must to go the place they’re.”


This protection is offered with the assist of the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Basis.

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