Rouge Fatale, also known as Jason Spurrell, was upbeat as she walked around a classroom of makeup students giving tips on how to apply creative, bold looks. But she teared up as soon as she stopped to talk about the permanent closure of Halifax’s only dedicated gay bar.
“It kills me because that was our only home, that was our only place, our only safe place,” she said in an interview.
Businesses across the country are struggling to keep up with financial pressures amid the forced closures and continued restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But in some smaller cities, when an LGBTQ club closes it means the loss of the community’s only safe space.
Fatale, who’s performed in drag for 17 years and was one of the main performers at Halifax’s Menz & Mollyz Bar until it closed in April, said the bar was already struggling and couldn’t survive the pandemic. She said word of other gay bars closing “terrifies” her.
Fredericton’s Boom! Nightclub, the only gay bar in that city, closed permanently last weekend, also citing the pandemic.
“Unfortunately, with the new limitations, the past and future loss is too great,” said a statement posted to the club’s Facebook page.
Amour Love, also known as Mitchell Goodine, had performed in drag at Boom! for the past two years.
She said the performances saved her life by giving her a safe place to feel encouragement and positivity. Goodine had gone through gay conversion therapy and struggled with depression, anxiety and emotional intensity disorder.
“It’s pretty profound and pretty important that everybody understands why it’s a safe space,” she said during a virtual-only performance for Pride month. She was performing in an empty room, with only a camera operator present.
“It’s not that it has a lock or the windows are secure, it’s not a physical safety, it’s an emotional safety space,” she said at the Charlotte Street Arts Centre in Fredericton.
She said even when other establishments, not focused on serving the LGBTQ community, start to welcome audiences back, it won’t be the same.
“I can almost guarantee that when I do go out to any other bar other than a gay bar, I will get looked at, talked about, or pointed at, at least five to six times before I even take my coat off,” she said.
She also said verbal harassment that can even lead to physical confrontations are “still very real and present today.”
Regina club staying afloat
Regina’s LGBTQ social club has been struggling too, but things are a little different there. Q Nightclub And Lounge, which has been in operation since 1972, has managed to stay afloat so far.
It’s a co-op, owned and operated by the community. Its staff and board members have been keeping the place running by working for nothing since reopening on June 8. They also started a GoFundMe page, which has raised nearly $25,000 in two weeks.
Cory Oxelgren, president of the Gay and Lesbian Community of Regina, said he thinks the crowdfunding has been so successful because the club means a great deal to the community, its members and others who support them.
“I’ve seen donations and messages from people that haven’t been here for 15 years that talk about how much this place meant to them when they were coming out,” he said.
He said the club is not in the clear yet, but the donations should be able to help pay off debts acquired when the club was forced to shut down for nearly three months.
He said he thinks dedicated gay bars are still “extremely necessary,” especially for people who are just coming out.
“I’m worried about it,” he said. “I was lucky because I did have this place when I was coming out and it helped me a lot.”
For performers the loss of gay bars also means a loss of income, but Fatale said it is so much more than that. She said gay bars are also more than a place to drink, they’re more like community centres — used to gather, celebrate and even mourn.
“It’s scary when you don’t have a church, and to some folks, that was their haven. That was their place to go to be protected, to be safe, to know that they weren’t going to be judged.”