Gay bars provide a sacred setting for the LGBTQ community

United States: Daniel Franzese, an actor, discovered God in all the usual places in Jerusalem in November.

Instead of the Western Wall or the Mount of Olives, their divine encounter took place at a dive gay bar that was holding a "David and Jonathan" themed night for queer religious people.

There was no question that God was with me. "I was in this tiny, tiny gay bar in the city of Jesus, and I was welcome," said Francis, from "Mean Girls" and HBO's "Looking."

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No one would ever be able to convince me that the bar was not a holy and sacred place.

For as long as LGBTQ people have gathered in bars and clubs, those places have given rise to churches, hosted weddings, and been referred to as "heavenly".

However, the shooting at Club Q in November served as a sad reminder that there is still some risk in going to queer clubs. Many LGBTQ people of faith argue that in the face of anti-LGBTQ legislation and a wave of hate crimes it is important to protect the places they hold sacred.

Trey Pearson's career as a Christian musician and his faith community suffered when he came out as gay in 2016. But as soon as he walked into Union Cafe, a gay bar in Columbus, Ohio, he felt welcomed by the drag queens, the bartenders, and the customers. alike

The LGBTQ community includes many spiritual and religious people, according to Pearson, a musician with a new career outside the Christian music industry.

When I would have these conversations with other queer people there, they would share their personal journeys towards self-acceptance, and the space "became a meaningful place for me."

Since then, according to Pearson, bars across the United States have "welcomed" Pearson's to Gaydom, from West Hollywood to Boystown in Chicago. He told RNS that Queer Bar is revered because of his undying love.

I have always been told to love like Jesus. However, he added, "It doesn't matter who you are, you can come here and know that you will be loved and you don't have to hide who you are.

The author said, "I experienced that real, true love in gay bars much more than I did growing up within the four walls of a church."

A Shia Muslim named Jordan Jameel Ahmed, who lives in Boston, sees gay bars as a place for personal expression. There, the former professional dancer and choreographer didn't hesitate to wear a laced bodysuit or heeled boots.

Ahmad told RNS that going to queer bars with their chosen family is a "group ritual" that revolves around dance and that when they dress authentically there is an "element of feeling more connected to God". " It happens. " It happens.

"This concept of ritual and communal movement is fundamental to how we relate to each other. I can trigger that feeling by going to a gay club.

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However, he pointed out that Ahmed's experience in gay and lesbian bars is one of freedom and acceptance, while other gay people are often under-represented.

According to Ahmed, the queer community should reflect on why it prevents some of its own members from visiting these centers of spirituality.

Such walls were not built in a day. In the 1980s there were approximately 200 gay bars in the United States. Since then, the number has dwindled to less than 25 due to financial constraints.

For example, gay bar clientele, which includes transgender women, cisgender women, and non-binary people, typically have less money to spend on nightlife than cisgender gay men.

Marie Cartier, an activist and theologian, recounted how lesbian butch-fame bars were established in the years following World War II and Stonewall served as places of worship for the LGBTQ community in her book "Baby, You Are My Religion". Worked in

These bars and clubs were often the first places where gay people, especially women, could be completely themselves in a society where being gay was seen as a mental illness.

If it's the only place you can interact with others, then it's sacred, he continued.

She heard the story of friendship turn people into people during interviews with more than 100 women, a process Cartier claims is religious in nature.

"For someone to look at you and ask, 'Hey, how's it going?' When you go to the bar for the first time. Have you got parking? I've never seen you here.

It's a baptism, said Cartier. The speaker said, "Someone looking at you as a potential friend, when you've never felt that way before, is a baptism in itself."

According to Cartier, queer bars are just as important today because people leave them differently than they arrived.

Lipstick Lounge, one of the few remaining gay bars in the United States, has been a staple of Nashville's nightlife since 2001. Visitors to the bar can see owner Jonda Valentine singing gospel songs on stage or Lively preaching about God's love inside. with its red, lip-shaped logo

Valentine, a Pentecostal pastor's daughter, was painting in her home studio on a full-time basis when a voice in her head instructed her to "open a bar." 

Even without considering that she wasn't drinking at the time, the financial risk would have been enough to make anyone hesitate. However, she became persuaded after hearing the same message for a few weeks. "I genuinely thought God was telling me to do that,

The bar has played host to weddings, funerals, and Sunday worship services in addition to its fair share of trivia nights and drag performances. 

One of their regulars stocks the outdoor pantry behind the bar with canned goods, and Valentine and co-owner Christa Suppan are renowned for hosting fundraisers or covering customers' electric bills.

Valentine, who avoids labels but identifies as "striving to be Christ-like," also told RNS that she frequently runs into people who have been expelled from their homes and churches for being LGBTQ. She recalled praying for a man who had been expelled from his church and who, six or seven years later, had come back to thank her.

"I want to tell you something, he said. I intended to end my life. I sensed the presence of God when you prayed. I had the impression that he was in love with me. And I thought there might still be hope," recalled Valentine. 

"The Lipstick Lounge is 'God's house,' as I call it. We'll end when he's finished with this task. However, we will continue to be available as long as we are serving and ministering and displaying love and acceptance.

Franzese, who when he's not acting, hosts the "Yass, Jesus!" podcast, a queer-affirming Christian podcast, said it's essential to protect queer bars for future generations. 

A national survey conducted by the Trevor Project in 2022 of nearly 34,000 LGBTQ youth aged 13 to 24 revealed that 45% of LGBTQ youth had seriously considered suicide in the previous year.

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"As a young child, I had trouble picturing myself as an adult because I couldn't imagine anyone who was similar to me who was alive in the future or who was OK, or who felt at home or accepted. Thus, Franzese explained why these areas are so crucial. He sees queer joy as an expression of hope.

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