Finding queer community during a global pandemic has been difficult for many of us. For a community that is used to gathering in-person together, the pandemic has left many people looking elsewhere. Due to this void, a plethora of online queer spaces have emerged, including a “virtual safe space” for the LGBTQ community called As You Are Bar.
According to the Lesbian Bar Project, there are 15 lesbian bars left in the United States. Jo McDaniel and Rach Pike used to work at one of them, Washington D.C.’s A League of Her Own (ALOHO). In December 2020, McDaniel and Pike (also known as Coach) organized a virtual New Year’s Eve party for ALOHO, which attracted people from across the country. At that point, they realized that “the community has shifted, and our needs have shifted.”
Since McDaniel and Pike began the project in February, the two have spearheaded online events such as a weekly “Click in with Coach” happy hour on Monday nights. “We’ve had a couple of people come in that have been socially anxious and have been worried about being out and finding connections in the queer world. And they have grown so much in the weeks we’ve been doing the Click in [series],” says Pike.
In addition, McDaniel hosts an Instagram Live on Wednesdays called “Hey Jo,” where she interviews people from the LGBTQ community. The pair have also been featuring a monthly trivia night, which has reached people in places as far as London and Bahrain. Earlier this month, As You Are Bar also introduced a virtual dance party called “Bring That Booty,” as well as “Our Side of the Bar,” which features tutorials from queer and allied bartenders.
McDaniel and Pike are especially proud of these endeavors because they “highlight our community as much as possible,” and that’s exactly what the platform is all about.
As You Are Bar isn’t the only virtual LGBTQ space that blossomed during the pandemic. Last year, entrepreneur Sarah Massey created Joie De Vivre, a confidential video platform for body-positive and LGBTQ individuals. Other groups have simply shifted their in-person events online, such as Papi Juice, a Brooklyn-based art collective that throws parties and community events for queer and trans people of color. Likewise, many organizations hosted online Pride events last year in place of physical parades, and some cities like Boston and Seattle have continued that trend into 2021.
McDaniel and Pike are currently working on securing a brick and mortar location for As You Are Bar in Washington, D.C. They hope to create a space that has a café and community-centered vibe during the day and a dance floor at night. The goal is to make the space more accessible for younger people, families, and the aging LGBTQ population.
“If you put booze in a box, gay men will go,” jokes McDaniel. “Our community is a little bit more nuanced than that, so our priority is to ask questions of our community and then provide what they’re asking for.”