Who Needs Gay Bars?

Gay bars – who needs them these days? No really, who needs them? The newly out or newly widowed? The LGBTQ+ people who’ve rarely found a welcome in them? Since 2015 I have been researching and writing on the role of gay bars in urban processes including gentrification, LGBTQ+ community development, and social inequality. This forms the basis of my forthcoming book with Redwood Press, Who Needs Gay Bars? It is based on interviews with more than 120 gay bar owners and managers, site visits to over 250 gay bars in 38 states, and a vast database of gay bar business listings from 1972 to 2021. Who Needs Gay Bars? explores the changing role of physical places in LGBTQ+ life given rising social equality, geolocating smartphone apps, local economic pressures, and responses to two global pandemics.

Selected public writings on gay bars:

  • “Shuttered by the coronavirus, many gay bars—already struggling—are now on life support.” Slate. May 1, 2020
  • “The Stonewall Riots didn’t start the gay rights movement.” JSTOR Daily. Jun. 12, 2019
  • “‘We have a gay bar here.’ You don’t need a coast to be cosmopolitan.” With Tory Sparks. Lit Hub. Jul. 19, 2018
    • Reprinted in Red State Blues, Ed. by Martha Bynes
  • “Post-Orlando truth for you: Gay bars aren’t ‘safe spaces.’ Daily Beast Jun. 18, 2016
  • “Before it was Hingetown.” Belt Magazine. Jun. 15, 2016
    • Best Writing From and About Northeast Ohio, Cleveland Scene
    • Reprinted in Cleveland Neighborhood Guidebook ed. by Anne Trubek
    • “This queer artist’s latest work shows public art’s complicated link to gentrification.” them. Aug. 1, 2018

Scientific research on gay bars (publicly available copies):

  • “Gay bars and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.” under review, preprint available here
  • “The impact of lesbian bar ownership on lesbian bar geographies: all-gender/straight-integrated LGBTQ+ places by design.” accepted to Gender Place & Culture
  • “Small-city gay bars, big-city urbanism.” City & Community 2020
    • Fourth most downloaded article of 2021
  • “Are gay bars closing? Using business listings to infer rates of gay bar closure in the United States, 1977-2019.” Socius 2019
  • “Style and the value of gay nightlife.” Urban Studies 2015
    • Reprinted with updates in The Gayborhood: From Sexual Liberation to Cosmopolitan Spectacle 2021
  • “Bar districts as subcultural amenities.” City, Culture and Society 2015

Selected media interviews:

Recent research updates:

New data: gay bars and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S.

This report is currently undergoing peer review but the preprint with data table is freely available at SocArxiv. Abstract: “What was the impact on gay bars of COVID-19 public closure orders? Gay bars were already quite vulnerable, retaining only 63.4% of their business listings from 2007 to 2019. Historic data from printed business guides were…

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Chapter: The changing role of gay bars in American LGBTQ+ life

In Introducing the New Sexuality Studies 4th Edition, released June 2022. “Gay bars are iconic in part because they are the most common and accessible LGBTQ+ places, but they are in decline. About one third of gay bars closed in the 2010s, but new ones continued to open to serve their communities as one of…

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