The number of bars and clubs catering specifically to the gay male population is declining nationwide, according to a new study examining the effects of COVID-19 lockdowns on LGBTQ spaces in the United States.
The study’s author, Greggor Mattson, a professor of Sociology at Ohio’s Oberlin College, who also curates the Who Needs Gay Bars project on Twitter, found that between 2019 and Spring 2021, the number of gay bars in the country dropped by about 15 percent.
Compared with a similar decline between 2017 and 2019, Mattson writes, this indicates a steady rate of decline in recent years.
Mattson and his researchers studied historical data from the Damron Travel Guide and compared it to an online census of gay bars taken from February to May of 2021.
“[Over] 36 percent of gay bar listings disappeared between 2007 and 2019,” Mattson said in an an interview with ABC News. “So more than a third of gay bars closed in a 12-year period.”
According to the study, bars serving LGBTQ people of color fared particularly poorly, dropping by nearly 24 percent between 2019 and Spring 2021.
Meanwhile, Mattson and his associates found that no lesbian bars closed during the pandemic, possibly due to “intensive media and philanthropic attention,” including from the Lesbian Bar Project.
The potential causes for the decline in gay bars around the United States, cited by Mattson are, on their face, positive. Social equality and greater acceptance of LGBTQ people have led to more welcoming attitudes in bars that don’t cater specifically to the community, as well as a greater willingness of queer people to socialize in non-gay venues. There’s also the rise of social media and the prevalence of location-based apps like Grindr and Scruff that allow LGBTQ people to meet virtually.
The study cautions, however that “rates of change in listings may not reflect actual changes in the number of establishments.” It also suggests that the decline in gay bar listings was not dramatically increased by the pandemic.
Still, Mattson finds the numbers troubling. “In most parts of the country, gay bars are the only public LGBTQ+ place,” he says. “In other words, they’re the only place where queer people can reliably encounter other queer people in public.”
That could certainly have larger implications for LGBTQ culture.
Larger, multi-cultural clubs that serve a variety of community subsets have often been an opportunity for individuals from varied gender, cultural, economic and ethnic backgrounds to come together and socialize, while sharing ideas and cultivating friendships that might not otherwise develop. The potential result: a larger degree of segregation within the community itself.
Drag entertainment, long a staple in the LGBTQ community could also be largely impacted.
“If the only bar with a purpose-built drag stage closes, then it leaves drag queens and drag kings without a place to practice their art,” Mattson lamented.