Lesbian bars were created to provide a safe space for queer patrons, who were often sidelined in gay bars that catered to a male clientele. Historically, these bars served as a communal gathering space for people of all ages and enabled an exchange of knowledge. When being lesbian was an underground experience, the only way to explore your own identity and meet other people who shared similar experiences was through lesbian bars. As the movement for queer liberation became more mainstream, and the rights of queer people were legally recognized, the necessity for such spaces have seemed to decline.
The COVID-19 pandemic decimated a lot of lesbian bars that were struggling before the lockdown happened. But it also put a spotlight on the remaining bars that were still struggling to survive. Now that these spaces are in danger of extinction, people are starting to realize their importance. People are banding together to conserve these bars and what they represent.
While society at large is more accepting, and people can be openly queer in more public spaces, exclusively lesbian spaces allow us to form bonds with older people within the community. It is important to keep the history and struggle of queer liberation alive as there is much to be learned from the journey that brought us to the present moment. Furthermore, found family is important for many queer people, and we are losing the physical spaces to make those connections. We can see the sense of camaraderie that these bars foster through the programs they hosted to cater to the different groups that frequented these bars.
But far from being just a safe space, lesbian bars have evolved to be centers of activism and mutual aid in the communities they are situated, as Jill and Bobbi have shown us. According to Jill, instead of competing with each other, the lesbian bars in Columbus followed a cooperative model. They resisted the capitalistic economy they were situated in. Slammer’s hosts multiple programs to spotlight issues of social justice important to Columbus. The staff there have also helped host fundraising events to help long term patrons with financial needs.
Acknowledging and analyzing the impact these bars have had on shaping contemporary queer culture is important. It can help us develop new queer perspectives that are more inclusive and accommodating. The captivation of homonormativity is strong, but the existence of lesbian and queer spaces is still necessary to keep queer nightlife and culture alive. The lesbian clubs and bars that still exist hold an important place in society and have evolved into central institutions in the 15 cities in which they still exist.
We would like to express our gratitude to Professor Mytheli Sreenivas for this opportunity to explore the larger implications of queer night outside the popular perception of just community building and Bobbi Moore and Jill McDonald for providing us with the resources to do so.