LGBTQ+ venues across the US are sending a clear message to patrons; ‘Get the jab if you want to party.’
Gay bars and nightclubs are increasingly requiring would-be-revellers to supply not only a valid form of photo ID but also proof of vaccination in order to gain entry. With reports of several attendees of the LGBTQI+ street fair Folsom Street Festival in San Francisco on July 25 testing positive for COvID and with the virus continuing to spread, vaccination requirements for entry into Queer spaces are becoming commonplace.
Pandemic Of The Unvaccinated
Rochelle Walensky, Director for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the US had stated that COVID-19,“is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”
Ibiza Nightclub in Wilmington, North Carolina posted on their social media pages, “We are making VACCINATION CARDS MANDATORY…for anyone who wishes to enter through our doors going forward. We are sorry for any inconvenience this may cause and hope everyone understands your health and the health of others is more important to us than anything.”
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While the news met with a generally positive response, one Ibiza customer commented, “I’ll never go back to this club until they lift this mandate!”
Ibiza doubled down on its policy in another recent post. “This Delta COVID variant is pretty serious stuff and while everyone has to make their own choice we are asking that you get the vaccine before coming to Ibiza if you haven’t already.”
‘Bring Your Vaccine Card’
In New York City, Rockbar posted on its Instagram page, “Bring your vaccine card…NO EXCEPTIONS!!! Get vaccinated to come drink, dance and play with us again.”
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Rockbar owner Jason Romas, told Star Observer, said the “vaccination policy has been working really well. We implemented it as soon as NYC announced we could do that. People need to present their proof of vaccination and their ID to enter.”
The policy hasn’t made everyone happy, admits Romas. “There has been some push back when they aren’t allowed in, but it is a small amount in contrast to having people feel safe inside. Many of our customers, especially the older ones have thanked us for doing this, as they feel safer with the policy.”
Romas decided to implement the policy for several reasons. “At one point all of the staff had the virus. Two of them were very sick and hospitalised. Thankfully they survived. I feel better knowing the vaccine can make that not happen to anyone else. I would rather lose the few dollars [than let] unvaccinated people in if it means no one will die and life can have some feeling of normalcy return.”
Incentive To Get Vaccinated
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New York City hotspot, Club Cumming, owned by actor Alan Cumming, began requiring customers to be vaccinated in May.
The club, posting on its Instagram page, said, “We will kindly ask for proof of vaccinations order to enter our venue…we decided to adopt this new policy not as a way to discriminate but as a way to encourage our community to get vaccinated. We hope that being able to enjoy all of the benefits of all the fun things that our great city offers will work as a powerful incentive for those on the fence to get their shots. So please get this done and join the party.”
One commentator expressed concerns over Club Cumming’s policy saying, “Queer spaces should be especially mindful of what it means to create unequal tiers of access to public accommodations, especially when that access is predicated on unequal (and racialized) access to other public goods, like healthcare and vaccination. This is a real shame.”
The vaccination requirement put in place by Club Cumming, Rockbar and others, predates a motion by New York City to require proof of vaccination when entering any indoor business. The policy is set to be enforced from September 13.
“If you’re unvaccinated, unfortunately, you will not be able to participate in many things. If you want to participate in society fully, you’ve got to get vaccinated,” said New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Romas is thrilled by the move. “I cannot wait and I hope it helps to end this virus and other cities take this example and copy it.”
San Francisco Bar Owners Lead With COVID Safe Measures
Other cities, indeed, have begun to follow suit. The office of San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced on August 13, that proof of vaccination would be required for entry to “certain indoor businesses and all large indoor events.”
A number of businesses, large and small, have already led by requiring proof of vaccination before this.
This new health order is about protecting the health of employees, residents, and visitors, and keeping our businesses open.
— London Breed (@LondonBreed) August 12, 2021
The businesses include “bars, restaurants, clubs, theatres and entertainment venues.” Additionally, indoor venues holding large events, with 1000 people or more will require attendees, 12 years or older, to provide proof of vaccination, making the city the first in the US to implement such a requirement.
San Francisco bar owners, however, have been one step ahead of the announcement. On July 26, the San Francisco Bar Owner’s Alliance voted 85 percent in favour of requiring patrons to provide evidence of vaccination or a recent negative test in order to enter member establishments.
The Powerhouse in San Francisco posted “Mask on ALWAYS unless taking a sip, swallow or guzzle…proof of vaccination REQUIRED too! Let’s nip this in the butt…bud.”
In response, one customer replied that the move was “one of the many reasons why I like the Powerhouse. Y’all care about who walks through your door,” while another argued “masks are not going to save anyone nor will the vax.”
The Eagle San Francisco also requires proof of vaccination and its website clearly sets out its condition of entry.
Cal Callahan, the District Manager for the Leather & LGBTQ Cultural District in San Francisco, which hosts an outdoor event, SOMA Second Saturdays, told the Star Observer that since the event is outdoors “we cannot require proof of vaccination, but masking is mandatory for volunteers, vendors and staff. Volunteers greeting attendees will strongly encourage masking, and all our promotional material has added that.”
Backlash From Some Customers
Akbar, in the Silverlake district of Los Angeles, posted, “Proof of vaccination and a mask are now required to gain entry into Akbar…we value our community health and feel we all must accept the responsibility to keep each other safe while socialising.”
Akbar customers expressed their support, with one saying, “Wow, Akbar is leading the way,” while another called it a “fantastic move.”
Speaking with the Star Observer, Akbar co-owner Peter Alexander, said they had “nearly unanimous positive acceptance,” of the policy. “People seem happy to do what it takes to feel safer in public and being in a room full of vaccinated people gives them that.”
The Boulevard Bar in Pasadena, California meanwhile hosted a vaccination clinic which had “great attendance,” a spokesperson told the Star Observer, who also noted that their own vaccination requirement had received “little backlash.”
Mandatory vaccination policies have been criticised by some who say a pre exisiting medical condition prevents them from being vaccinated, and argue the move is essentially discriminating against them.
When asked if Akbar had a medical exemption policy in place, Peter Alexander said they hadn’t, but that their immediate question was “why would you want to come into a crowded bar if you’re not vaccinated?”
Meanwhile, the Abbey in West Hollywood appealed to its customers on Instagram to treat its staff with respect; who have been at the receiving end of both verbal and physical abuse while trying to enforce safety rules.
“Since the pandemic began, our staff has been repeatedly screamed at, spit on, slapped and punched by angry customers for enforcing safety protocols. If you have a problem with our policy, please just go somewhere else, like to the nearest vaccination site.”
Many Gay Bars Shut Down Permanently During Pandemic
The move for mandatory proof of vaccination comes at a vital time for the industry as bars and other LGBTQ+ businesses begin to reopen after being shuttered since the beginning of the pandemic.
Prior to the onset of COVID-19, many bars, including the Boulevard, catering to the LGBTQ+ community were already faced with severe cash flow issues. A study by Greggor Mattson found that an estimated 37 percent of LGBTQ+ bars in the US shut their doors permanently between 2007 to 2019.
Making vaccinations a requirement for entry follows the highly controversial behaviour of some members of the LGBTQ+ community during the first waves of the COVID pandemic last year.
Social media vigilantes, such as the now-infamous Gays Over COVID instagram account, began to circulate photos and videos of people attending raves and other large-scale LGBTQ+ events, without masks and other protective measures while the pandemic raged around them.
The seeming indifference of the partygoers to the virus created heated discussions about personal responsibility and a perceived lack of ethical behaviour. The move to make vaccinations mandatory for entry may soothe some critics who saw the LGBTQ+ community as valuing their enjoyment over their own health.
The Star Observer reached out to a number of LGBTQ+ establishments in the Sydney area to gauge whether similar requirements will be in place following the lifting of the lockdown, and will update the story when we receive their responses.