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What's the future of Bay Area nightlife? Talks series explores options

by Jim Provenzano

Masks and Mascara, an outdoor drag show on 18th Street. photo: Gooch
Masks and Mascara, an outdoor drag show on 18th Street. photo: Gooch  

What is the future of local LGBT nightlife and how can businesses, employees and patrons continue to stay active in pandemic times? This and other questions were discussed in the first Queer Nightlife Fund talks series, held online, of course.

As the first Bay Area organization to assemble, raise funds and host online events, members of the group, with 48Hills as a sponsor, hosted an August 11 forum to share ideas.

In a lengthy web page written by former Bay Area Reporter leather columnist Race Bannon, questions, problems and numerous suggestions were shared after the talk.

A public Google document continues to provide a place for shared ideas.

Having raised nearly $300,000 for Bay Area nightlife workers, the prospect of 'donor fatigue' was raised, giving members the idea of adjusting the QNF to shift focus to more ideas beyond fundraisers.

While events ranging from drag shows to DJ sets have proven popular, some in the discussion noted aspects of censorship in now-common platforms like Zoom, Facebook, Twitch and YouTube.

The good points included, as Bannon, reported, "The most mentioned benefit of online events was accessibility and ease of access. For those with a disability or who are unable to afford more expensive queer events and venues, online events offer a welcome ease of entry. More than one person joked that it was nice not having to get dressed or put many clothes on to attend."


An online 'Queerantine' T-Dance  

Online access has grown wider audiences for performers. Also, "Online events can provide access for the more introverted or those dealing with social anxiety, and could serve as a bridge to eventually make them feel more comfortable coming to in-person events they might not otherwise attend," Bannon wrote.

The downside of our current situation included the 'novelty' of online events having run its course. Some critiques included the technological limitations. Other cited the various ways to produce income. Electronic tip jars via Venmo, Paypal and other sources were cited.

As for now-semi-opened bars and nightclubs, city restrictions demanding that food be served with alcohol have led to innovative collaborations between food service businesses and venues.

Safety issues, particularly table and chair placement, have some concerned, while others have happily attended the 'new format' simply to be in company with others.

Outdoor dining and imbibing have been added to 18th Street in the Castro, as well as Beaux on Market Streeet, Oasis' rooftop, and other venues that have built parklets outside their bars.

"Safety protocols such as at the door rapid testing, presenting test results for entry, door temperature checks, drawing circles or designating spaces on the ground, creating physical barriers between pods of attendees, and creating physical barriers people wear like makeshift hoop skirts or certain types of costumes were echoed throughout the event. Mask usage could be encouraged by having a best mask contest."

But while outdoor events are added, online events remain numerous. But will they retain patronage?

"A lot of people are on Zoom events but not using their cameras, and that decreases the sense of communal engagement. While it is understood some are not comfortable on camera, increasing face time can increase a sense of community," wrote Bannon. "The stress of online production is a different ballgame from real life production. Everything goes through one single conduit and if anything goes wrong with the stream the whole event is over."

Among plans for the future, the idea of hybrid events was brought up. Some aspects could be in-person, while streaming online for those who don't want to attend.

Innovation, adaptation and endurance seem to be the keys to keep local nightlife going. To add your voice to the discussions, visit sfqueernightlifefund.org

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