By: Joelle Bayaa-Uzuri

Queer spaces have always been critical and crucial to my black, queer TGNCNB journey.

I can remember back in high school, there was a coffee/ice creamery in St. Louis’s Central West End area called Coffee Cartel.  While Coffee Cartel was an overall popular place, it gained notoriety as a popular queer-friendly meeting space and hangout spot.  On Tuesdays evenings, I recall going to a black LGBTQ group down the street at ‘H.E.Y. (Health and Education for Youth), and afterwards, having the group migrate to Coffee Cartel.

Coffee Cartel was my first experience meeting and mingling with other black, queer people in public.  Coffee Cartel was not merely a public meeting place, it served as a safe space for many in the LGBTQ community to come, meet, and hangout.  It was one of the first places I felt comfortable to not only openly express my queerness, but to also network.  It was a gateway into the community, and various queer spaces that existed in St. Louis.  It’s how I first found out about the balls, the clubs, and other peer support groups.


I moved to Los Angeles for school in 2003.  Being new to the city, it was imperative for me to find those queer spaces.


While I had went to school, and lived in L.A. for several years after that, it wasn’t until about 6 years later, that I encountered a few queer spaces that shaped the development of my queer identity and journey.  Right around the fall of 2009, I had become stumbled upon an underground community anchored by a downtown L.A. club called Mustache Mondays.

Mustache Mondays was a weekly party created by the Godfather of L.A. nightlife and the underground DTLA art scene, Nacho Nava (may he rest in power.)


I remember stepping into the club, housed in the Mexican-themed La Cita Bar, and immediately feeling at home.  I distinctly remember DJ Josh Peace playing Beyonce’s latest record, and a dance floor with energy I had never seen or experienced before.  After a performance from one of the staple tranimal drag queens, Fade-Dra, to Vanity 6’s “Make-up”, DJ Total Freedom closed out the night playing tracks and mixes of songs and artists I had never heard of.


I didn’t want the night to end.  I had found a place, and a community that spoke to the inner dancer, inner artist, and to my developing queer identity.  It was a space where you could be open in your expression, and your identity.  Everything was free-forming and fluid.


Right around this time, I had also encountered another L.A. scene through the (now-defunct) party, Shits-n-Giggles.  Shits-n-Giggles was an L.A. version of ‘Studio 54’ that existed in L.A.’s queer, hipster bear and cub scene.  Shits-n-Giggles was known for its house music, fun crowd, and entertaining performers.  It was at Shits-n-Giggles where I got my first break as a performer.


It was through these communities and scenes that I not only networked and met people (to which I gained many deep-rooted connections, friendships, and associations), I also was able to connect other sects of the community.


These communities and queer spaces became a family for many.  These spaces took care of the people within their community; whether it was giving space for people questioning or developing their queer identity, or people without a support system.


The L.A. queer not only was a safe space for me to openly express my creativity and artistic space, it was a space for me to lean on and rely on for resources.  It was these queer spaces that helped me when there were long periods of unemployment by providing performing and club hosting gigs as ways of income.  When I didn’t have a place to stay, it was through these spaces that I met people and friends that helped me get a roof over my head.


Even when I relocated to Houston, it was the queer spaces that truly made me feel at home and welcomed me.


These queer spaces not only taught me about myself, about the importance of family and community, it taught me about the  importance of the future.  Taking part in not only the building of the future, but also helping to instill into those new to the spaces and community, the importance of the history and its continued legacy.


Queer spaces offer a sense of safety, family, and network that is important to LGBTQ folx; exponentially so to black and brown LGBTQ folx.


It is these spaces that are currently in danger.


While the Covid-19 pandemic has had an effect on nearly every industry, one of the most hard hit areas have been queer spaces.  Queer spaces, such as bars, coffee shops, community centers, and other spaces where LGBTQ+ folx can safely come together, have been forced to close due to social distancing and quarantine restrictions.


Many queer spaces have been forced to remain closed for nearly a year, with a lot of the spaces, with few avenues to support themselves financially, being forced to close permanently.


The closure of these spaces is detrimental to the LGBTQ community.  These queer spaces not only provide a safe space for LGBTQ+ people to meet, network, and congregate; for many with the community, it is often the only safe space.  These spaces also not only keep rich history and queer culture alive, but they also provide support and help build friendships and community.

With no end of the pandemic in sight, these queer spaces continue to be in danger of closing.  So, what can we do to help support?


With the deep financial strain the pandemic is putting on, donating to these spaces is one easy way to help support.  As Covid-19 has continued, many groups and spaces have transitioned to virtual as a way to still connect with the community and retain some sort of openness as well.   Many are throwing virtual events or repositioning themselves as virtual hangouts.  It’s important that we continue to follow/support/like/engage through these changes.


Even in a virtual world, we cannot forget the importance of these physical places, as well as the history they’ve created, and the strong foundation of community they’ve established.  While they may not be deemed “essential” businesses, they are essential; both to our LGBTQ community and to many queer experiences and journeys.