Aug 15, 2023 - Business

Boston residents are trying to grow its LGBTQ+ nightlife scene

Illustration of a velvet rope wrapped in rainbow colors.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Boston has long lacked nightlife options for its LGBTQ+ community, especially for women and nonbinary people.

Why it matters: Amid an "unprecedented" spike in anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment in some states, per the Human Rights Campaign, these physical places can provide connection away from prejudice, Axios' Annalise Frank reported.

  • LGBTQ+ locals say the dearth of safe, nightlife spaces makes it harder for them to find community.
  • It's become common for many Bostonians to seek them out elsewhere, as far away as Provincetown, Providence and even New York City. Some end up moving away because of it.

Driving the news: Just a handful of LGBTQ+ bars in the city have survived decades of rising rents and the COVID-19 pandemic, but some new projects are underway — like Dani's Queer Bar in the Back Bay and the QT Library, a sober late-night alternative that is looking for a location.

  • Thais Rocha, co-founder of the LGBTQ Nightlife Events company, plans to open Dani's this summer as the city's only brick-and-mortar bar catering to queer women and nonbinary people.

The big picture: The presence of gay bars nationwide has shrunk in the past two decades, with bars serving women and people of color showing sharper declines.

Threat level: Opening an LGBTQ+-friendly space — or any nightlife space — can be especially difficult in Boston, which has a cap on liquor licenses.

  • Would-be entrepreneurs often need either political influence or the stomach to navigate a maze of local permitting boards, says Lizzie Torres, a former city employee and co-founder of Boston Artist Impact.
  • Funding has also been hard to come by in part because institutions have historically excluded LGBTQ+ business ventures from financial opportunities, Torres added.

Flashback: While Boston has gone decades without any lesbian bars, it was home to a variety of LGBTQ+ bars and nightclubs in the early 2000s.

  • But staples like Axis, Buzz and the Machine have given way to condos and other developments.

Reality check: The few nightlife spaces that do exist almost exclusively involve alcohol, cost a lot and tend to be dominated by white, cisgender gay men in their 20s and 30s, locals tell Axios.

What we're watching: Beyond its goal of offering books and zines, QT Library also wants to offer a nightlife option in Boston that's accessible to even more kinds of people, like those who are sober, have disabilities or don't want to spend their nights clubbing.

  • Bars and nightclubs, even those marketed towards the LGBTQ+ community, often leave out other less-represented identities, said Carina Traub, the nonprofit's development director.
  • "If you're looking for a space with more letters of the LGBTQIA++++ acronym, I think these spaces are not always your favorite space."
  • QT Library hopes to change that, she said.

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