The Current

Why the pandemic might change queer spaces

Following the closure of queer spaces across the country, a researcher based in London suggests that remaining venues might become more inclusive following the pandemic.

The decline of LGBTQ venues might mean those that remain after COVID-19 become more inclusive

LGBTQ bar The Beaver, loved by some for its cramped conditions, has announced it won't be able to reopen with fewer patrons allowed as COVID-19 restrictions gradually lift. (Ramy Arida/The Beaver Facebook page)

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In July the iconic Toronto dive bar The Beaver announced it would not reopen following its closure in March due to COVID-19 restrictions. 

This queer space — known for drag shows, trivia nights and karaoke — was opened in 2006. Its purpose was to provide a space for queer communities away from Church Street. 

The Beaver was famed for its events brought together LGBTQ crowds in a space away from Toronto's gay village on Church Street. (Andrew Kounitskiy)

"It's definitely been something for us to be gathering and thinking about right now," said drag performer Allysin Chaynes. 

Although the restrictions forced by the pandemic are unprecedented, threats to queer spaces are nothing new. 

Continuing decline

Noah Powers is a masters student who has studied the decline of queer spaces in Montreal and in London. 

"The queer community has always kind of been isolated," Powers says. 

"When you're going into these smaller towns having that beacon of hope from people from all over the region that there's a physical place for us…. It's something that is really powerful."

Powers argues that pressure on queer communities — and their meetings places — has been the catalyst for queer empowerment. The researcher cites Stonewall riots in the U.S. in 1969 as being a turning point, where police raids on LGBTQ spaces were followed by protests. 

The riots at the Stonewall Inn were followed by protests through The Gay Liberation Front in 1969. (Mark Segal)

But, while spaces that remain open during the pandemic are able to provide a sense of community online, Powers argues that there's still something missing. 

"It's amazing to be able to still have some access to queer performances and to interact with other queer people," Powers said. "But my fear is that it will never replace that physical space and will never replace having 100 people in a room, for instance."

Creating connections

This additional blow to LGBTQ nightlife is part of a pattern across Canada. 

Since the pandemic started, London and Halifax's only dedicated spaces for the LGBTQ community are now gone.

The spaces remaining across the country are struggling under restrictions. 

Deonie Hudson is a resident designer at Theatre Outre, a company that stages queer theatre at Didi's Playhaus in Lethbridge, Alta. It is the only space for the queer community in Lethbridge. 

With restrictions on gatherings due to COVID-19, the company has been forced to use digital technologies to create an online space for the LGBTQ community. But, as Hudson claims, these changes are not enough. 

Deonie Hudson worries that digital content cannot offer the same support structures that physical queer spaces were able to provide before the pandemic. (Jaime Vedres)

"I worry every day for a lot of the people that are regular attendees to the space because a lot of them don't have other connections," Hudson says. 

"A lot of them don't really have much left for family after coming out." 

Queer spaces post-pandemic

In cities like London, U.K., grants have been offered to help queer spaces get through this crisis in the short term. 

"In the long term what these spaces look like is going to be dramatically different," Powers says. 

"We don't necessarily know how long this period of social distancing is going to last, but we might see only the bigger venues being able to survive."

However, Powers remains optimistic and suggests that crises like these may be able to bring the community closer together. 

"A lot of the places that you go to have kind of the same crowd of white and relatively young gay men, and there isn't a lot of diversity," Powers says. 

"I think that definitely does need to be brought more into the mainstream of how these spaces can persevere for the future."

Written by Oliver Thompson. Produced by Cameron Perrier. Edited for length and clarity. 

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