Good afternoon, YouthMundees! At YouthMundus, we aim to not only be a platform for music, film and global change, but for the artists and global changemakers who create them. Our Artist Spotlight series aims to create a space for discovery of new, budding global talent, while simultaneously offering you an exclusive glimpse into their creative process.
Few people are better qualified to tell us about the dwindling number of lesbian bars in the United States than Brooklyn-based filmmaker Erica Rose. Her directing and producing work has screened worldwide, and she's created projects for high-profile companies such as HBO, Netflix, and PBS. In October, Rose co-directed a PSA documentary for The Lesbian Project, catapulting the organization into the spotlight.
How have lesbian bars had to change over the past pandemic months?
As with most small business across the country, Lesbian Bars have had to face unthinkable obstacles with the on-set of COVID-19. An already endangered species, Lesbian Bars now face complete extinction in this country. Though, the women behind these bars are hustlers and innovators. Lisa Cannistraci of New York’s Henrietta Hudson is reimagining her space and turning it into what she calls a ‘European Café’ experience. Many are galvanizing the support received from the campaign to do their own virtual events, like Jo McDaniel of A League of Her Own in D.C. Julie Mabry of Houston’s Pearl Bar has opened a kitchen. Businesses that cater to marginalized populations already have a disadvantage within our economy, but these owners won’t go down without a fight.
What place do lesbian bars hold within the LGBTQ+ community?
I like to say that Cubbyhole knew I was gay even before I did. Nearly a decade ago, I was new to New York and was very confused about my sexuality! I walked into Cubbyhole as curious and walked back out pretty much knowing I was gay. It was the first time I had seen queer women up close! I was overcome with excitement, relief and a sense of belonging. Lesbian Bars are not just for hook-ups – yes, I’ve had my share of hot times lez-be-honet – but they are place for community building, intergenerational dialogue, and a place to be unabashedly yourself without the scrutiny or pressures of heteronormativity. Lesbian Bars are spaces for all marginalized people within the LGBTQIA community; all queer women cis and trans, non-binary folks, and trans men. Having a space catered to our identities and experience is invaluable. There are so many elements fueling the demise of our bars; including misogyny, gentrification, assimilation, technology, Covid-19, transphobia, and homophobia. When space is taken away from us, sometimes violently, ‘space’ beyond the four walls emerges through activism, political action, and community building. The Covid-19 pandemic exposed and exasperated the fissures within the social and economic infrastructure of America and abroad. The health, safety, and spiritual wealth of marginalized communities are under siege. The disappearance of Lesbian Bars is a microcosm, a physical representation of the fractures and potential extinction that plague and threaten disenfranchised groups.
The disappearance of Lesbian Bars speaks to a possible future that brutally and bluntly prioritizes hetero-centric and male space. But it also leads us to question, track, and explore how Lesbian Culture is changing and evolving. It’s important to look at all aspects of this and to keep the conversation going.
How has your background in filmmaking informed the way you’ve spearheaded the Lesbian Bar Project?
I’ve always centered my filmmaking around queer and female driven stories. We approached the PSA the same way that I approach any new project. Figure out what the story is and how to tell it. I’m deeply appreciative of everyone who helped bring this story to life. With any project, you’re no one without your incredible team.
Do you have any advice for future artists and change-makers in finding and fighting for their cause?
My advice would be - figure out what story you want to tell. I think one thing that really helped amplify our message was that it was clear, and our mission was streamlined. In addition, we researched significantly and interviewed so many folks within the bar culture and community. It’s important to get to know the people you want to help so you can build that trust and relationship.
You've worked with many reputable artists such as Mary Lambert and Lea DeLaria. How has art been a part of the campaign journey?
Film has always been my primary vehicle of activism and The Lesbian Bar Project is first and foremost a film piece to raise awareness and tell the stories behind these sacred establishments. My co-director Elina Street and I always planned on having a unifying voice serve as our narrator; an evocative way to transport through time and space. To enter these bars even when their doors were shuttered. Lea DeLaria calls herself, rightfully so, Empress – and has been such an ardent and active voice within LGBTQIA representation. As a frequent patron of Cubbyhole, Lea was an obvious and wonderful choice as our narrator and Executive Producer. I know this project wouldn’t have received the kind of attention it did without her behind it. I actually discovered Mary Lambert through a photograph by Nate Gowdy. As you can see in the PSA, we relied heavily on archival to tell our story. There’s this wonderful photo of Mary at Wildrose (that we didn’t end up using), but I couldn’t get her mesmerizing face and expression out of my head. Turns out – she’s a world-renowned musician. We reached out to her through Wildrose and she became such a great advocate of The Lesbian Bar Project and participated in our fundraising efforts.
What can we expect next from you? I've heard word of a documentary in the works…
Yes! We’re working on expanding The Lesbian Bar Project and I’m also in development for a couple of other great projects.
Thank you all so much for your continued support. We look forward to bringing you the voice of more inspiring artists and changemakers in 2021.