After Club Q, What’s Next for Gay Bars?

On Nov. 22, a shooting at Club Q, a gay club in Colorado Springs, Colorado, claimed the lives of five visitors and injured 25 others. Five days later, a man was accused of threatening staff with a gun at the 19 Bar, one of the oldest gay bars in the Twin Cities, and yelling anti-gay slurs at the employees. Since April in New York City, the LGBTQ community has dealt with a rise in targeted druggings, robbings, and killings—with thousands of dollars stolen from the victims. Beyond the bars, drag story hour events at public libraries have become a political flashpoint and a site for protests. Violence and intolerance against the LGBTQ community continue to be a persistent wound.

At the Saloon, one of Minneapolis’s prominent gay clubs located on Hennepin Avenue, security is a growing focus. Before the Colorado Springs shooting, the club’s security measures included ID checks and occasional bag searches before people could set foot on the dance floor. But now, those protocols are expanding. 

“We’ve started doing bag checks again and we also put larger bags into our coat check,” Bobby Palmer, the general manager of the Saloon, said. “We are reviewing our emergency preparedness plan and we are also putting extra security on. We will also be using metal detection on the weekends.” 

The club held a candlelight vigil on Nov. 23 to honor the people killed and harmed in the Club Q shooting, and welcomed hundreds of community members to offer comfort and speak about the violence that claims lives and frequently affects the LGBTQ community. The club will be teaming up with the Gay 90s, a fellow gay club on Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis, for a benefit on Dec. 17 that’ll include a performance from over 30 local performers to raise money for those affected in shooting and employees of the club. 

“I lost two friends that night, one more hospitalized and several others emotionally and mentally impacted. It’s not a night I will forget anytime soon,” says drag performer Anastasia C Principle, who was at Club Q a week prior to the shooting and helped organize the upcoming benefit. The morning after the shooting, Principle started reaching out to people for donations and raised cash and Venmo tips, which progressed to this Saturday’s benefit performance. 

“Like after Pulse I am back to being aware of my surroundings,” Principle says. “Where are my exits, what can I use to barricade myself if need be, do I have the means to defend myself/others. But I won’t go away from performing, I will not let those who continue to attack our community win. If anything I’m going to be bigger, bolder, and louder than I have before and let them know we won’t be silenced and we will not go back into the closet. We are here to stay. These are our safe spaces, and while they may be a bit uncertain currently, we will reclaim them and they will remain safe for our entire LGBTQ+ community.”

Unlike the Saloon, the 19’s security measures won’t be changing. Since opening its doors in 1952, the bar’s security protocols have included checking ID’s behind the bar, and the Loring Park gay bar will be keeping it that way. No bag checks, no metal detectors, no bouncers. 

“I really don’t have anything eloquent to say about it, it’s shit,” Barak Evertsen, the manager of the 19 Bar said of the incident inside the establishment. “And there’s nothing we can do. It’s what it is.”   

The 19 Bar isn’t alone. Another general manager of a local gay club, wishing to remain unidentified, said they would also keep the same security measures in place, explaining that although the violence at Club Q and in LGBTQ spaces is an atrocity, at the end of the day, there is little anything can be done to stop it.

Increasing security could have unintended effects beyond a perceived sense of safety, excluding groups of people who might be uncomfortable with it. In fact, this manager explained that something like hiring a full-time security guard could have a direct effect on the community that comes to those bars and clubs, and the way that they’ll feel in the bar’s environment. Many LGBTQ spaces pride themselves on offering a warm, inviting, and welcoming feel for all guests. After increased security protocols, that feeling is something that could be directly compromised, and that is something they refuse to lose.

Still, members of the community maintain hope. The benefit will mark the return of the drag performer Christina Action Jackson, who had suffered a near-fatal stroke a year ago that left them partially paralyzed.

“Are we gonna have any safe spaces left for our LGBTQ community members where we can be who we are without the fear of violence?” Jackson said. “We are here. We’re not going anywhere. We will find ways to create spaces for our community members to be their authentic genuine selves.”

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