Bay Area/ San Francisco/ Arts & Culture
Published on March 17, 2020
LGBTQ+ nightlife community rallies to raise funds during coronavirus closuresLocal drag queen Amora Teese performing at Hamburger Mary's. | Photo: AJ Huff

It happened in a matter of days. First, events of more than 1,000 attendees were put on ice; then it was more than 250 people, and then 100. Finally, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Sunday that all bars must close. And on Monday, San Francisco Mayor London Breed ordered residents to no longer leave their homes except for essential reasons — until April 7 at the earliest.

The near-instant dissolution of nightlife in San Francisco has left LGBTQ+ venue owners, promoters and performers reeling. 

"Everyone is scrambling to figure out how to make ends meet," said event organizer and drag queen Juanita More. "It's a time to reach out and help each other any way we can."

She encouraged supporters to donate to the Queer Nightlife Fund, one of many efforts organized in the past few days to help those whose evening gigs are their main jobs.

Juanita More. | Photo: Cole Church

One of the fund's organizers, Phil Hammack, said those workers are "so in need" right now.

"Many of them have to come to rely on nightlife income as a regular source of income in our very expensive city," he said.

The fund has set a goal of $140,000, in order to spread $700 payments among 200 nightlife performers. While the money will funnel into 501(c)4 organization CLEAR (the Center for LGBTQ Economic Advancement & Research), Hammack said 100% of donations will be given to performers.

Local DJ Prince Wolfe says he's out about $2,000 from halted DJ and door check gigs, and is considering signing up to receive a payment from the new fund.

"Covering my rent will be the biggest issue," he said. "In general, I have always had a nicely stocked pantry to last me some time."

DJ Prince Wolfe mixing at The Stud. | Photo: Garaje Gooch

Drag queen Amora Teese said performing is a full-time gig for her. More than a dozen planned appearances have been canceled since the bar closures began, and she's asked fans and friends for Venmo donations to help recoup some money.

"I’ve heard backlash from non-entertainers who’ve been exclaiming 'get a real job,'" she said. "[They're] referring to drag and community involvement as not an occupation, because it doesn’t pay the same or have the consistency of a typical 9-to-5. But it truly is."

Historic SoMa bar The Stud initially tried to remain open after attendance caps went into effect, but was forced to close Sunday. Co-owner Marke Bieschke said local billionaires should help pay for the income losses.

"One of these billionaires could donate something," said Bieschke. "That money would amount to just another boat to him, and it would save the community."

The Stud needs to pay about $26,000 to cover two months' rent, but Bieschke and his cohort of owners say they're even more concerned about staff and performers. They've been tweeting Venmo accounts and GoFundMe campaigns to support artists, and plan to organize a Patreon in the next two weeks for people to donate towards online, streamed performances.

Other bars are trying to mitigate their costs, too.

"Don't let DNA Lounge be one of the COVID-19 fatalities," reads its website, which invites guests to contribute to its Patreon.

Charlie Stuart Evans, a co-owner of the Lone Star Saloon in SoMa, said that the bar "does need to lessen the blow this is bringing." It's been promoting its T-shirts and other merchandise for sale online.

"I have nothing else to do, it feels so helpless," he said. "So I thought, 'What can I do that doesn't involved gathering people together?'"

Front-line nightlife workers and performers say they feel the sting of the financial loss, but also feel "lucky" they have other jobs or means to help them through the closures.

"I am one of the lucky ones who has been able to set aside savings that I can survive on for the time being," said Nick Reed, who bartends at the Castro's Detour.

"If I'm one of the fortunate ones and I'm nervous, you can imagine the profound fear that many who are scraping by must feel. And nearly everyone I know in the industry is living paycheck to paycheck."

Nick Reed at The Detour. | Photo: Raph Angeles

Drag queens Poly Poptart and Mercedez Munro also said they feel fortunate.

"I work for a genetic testing lab for my day job, so I am lucky enough to have a relatively steady stream of income," said Poptart.

Nonetheless, she's disappointed that her Queens of Brunch event at The Alice Collective had been put on hold, just as the ball got rolling to a sold-out crowd.

"Now all that momentum that we created will need to be restarted, once this quarantine sashays away."

Drag queen Poly Poptart performing at the Space Monkey. | Photo: DaKarai

Munro — who runs Munro's at Midnight Sun on Mondays and also performs at Hamburger Mary's — said she will "definitely feel the sting of being negative $1,000 from missed gigs."

However, she manages a store in Noe Valley that is remaining open for deliveries during the shelter-in-place order.

"I honestly look at it the same way some people are hoarding items or food," she said. "If they would take from someone else and not share resources to guarantee their safety and comfort alone, they're an interesting kind of human."

Mercedes Munro performing at Beaux. | Photo: Garaje Gooch

Here's a partial list of all the Venmo, GoFundMe, and other donation efforts to help nightlife workers and venues, especially in the LGBTQ+ community. To learn more or donate, check out the following: