March 19, 2020 at 4:20 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
LGBTQ workers hit hard by coronavirus closings in area
coronavirus, gay news, Washington Blade
JR.’s is among the local gay bars that have closed due to coronavirus. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

(Editor’s note: The Blade is publishing an abbreviated print edition this week due to the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Readers can find papers in our street boxes and at Metro stations but with the closure of bars, restaurants and gyms, many of our usual pick-up locations are inaccessible. As the pandemic continues, we may be forced to suspend printing and move to digital-only publishing. Please follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter as well as at washingtonblade.com for updates. Send your story ideas related to coronavirus and its impact on the LGBTQ community to editor Kevin Naff at knaff@washblade.com. Take care of each other and be well. —KN)

With LGBTQ people believed to make up a disproportionately high percentage of hospitality industry workers, the coronavirus related shutdown of onsite operations at D.C. area bars, restaurants, and nightclubs and the dramatic drop in people staying at hotels will have an especially severe impact on LGBTQ workers, according to sources familiar with the industry.

An updated emergency directive issued by Mayor Muriel Bowser on Monday requiring all city restaurants and bars to temporarily end onsite service and convert to carry-out only establishments has resulted in the closing of all of the city’s 13 gay bars for in-house patrons and has led to a major cut back in the operations of two D.C. restaurants with a largely LGBTQ clientele – Annie’s and Duplex Diner.

In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan issued an emergency order similar to Bowser’s calling for the on-site closing of all restaurants, bars, and nightclubs as well as the full closing of other establishments such as gyms, health spas and theaters.

Although Virginia had not put in place an order to close restaurants and bars as of Wednesday, the Arlington gay bar Freddie’s Beach Bar, which also operates as a restaurant, announced it too would convert to a carry-out only establishment. Its owner, gay businessman Freddie Lutz, said he has also temporarily converted his other nearby restaurant Federico’s into a carryout only establishment.

D.C. gay nightlife advocates Mark Lee and Dito Sevilla said the coronavirus related developments would have a far greater impact on LGBTQ workers than just the closings of the LGBTQ clubs. The two said a large number of LGBTQ people in the D.C. metro area, including the Virginia and Maryland suburbs, work in service industry jobs at hotels as well as bars and restaurants not specifically catering to an LGBTQ clientele.

“D.C. bars, restaurants, nightclubs, and entertainment venues are in a world of hurt now that all on premise activity has been halted as part of the city’s coronavirus prevention effort,” said Lee, who serves as coordinator of the D.C. Nightlife Council, a local trade association representing bars, restaurants and nightclubs among other entertainment venues.

“The personal toll for out-of-work staff, however, is a great hardship among the nearly 65,000 industry workers,” Lee said. “Employed residents working from home still have paychecks rolling in, but nightlife and hospitality service professionals do not,” he said. “A disproportionate number of these workers are LGBT and literally don’t know how they’re going to make their mortgage or rent payments, pay their bills, or afford groceries.”

Sevilla, a longtime bartender at the 17th Street, N.W. restaurant Floriana, said he has learned of an informal survey that found as many as 30 percent of LGBTQ residents in D.C. work in the hospitality industry.

“I absolutely believe it’s at least 30 percent,” said Sevilla, who said he bases this assumption on his own observation from years of interaction with the local LGBTQ community. “So for us gays this is a major problem. It’s unprecedented with this many people out of work and without income.”

Sevilla and Lee said they were hopeful that an emergency bill approved unanimously on Tuesday by the D.C. City Council to address the impact of the coronavirus on the city’s economy would provide some relief for displaced LGBTQ workers.

Among other things, the legislation, which Mayor Bowser signed, makes it easier for temporarily displaced workers to immediately receive unemployment benefits from the city and expands eligibility to most self-employed and independent contract workers. It also prohibits evictions and the disconnection of electric, gas, and water service during a public health emergency

In addition, the legislation creates a small business grant program to provide financial assistance to businesses that may include the city’s struggling LGBT bars and clubs. Bowser said the U.S. Small Business Administration has also accepted D.C.’s official declaration for assistance in the form of economic injury disaster loans due to the coronavirus outbreak. LGBT clubs could be eligible for those loans.

David Perruzza, owner of the Adams Morgan gay sports bar Pitchers and its adjoining lesbian bar League of Her Own, created a GoFundMe page linked to his bars’ website to help his temporarily unemployed staff.

“With the closing of Pitchers/League of Her Own we have staff that will go without income until we open again,” he said in a message on the GoFundMe site. “The money will go to the people who solely rely on the bars to make a living,” Perruzza said, adding that he will not accept any of the money for himself.

At least two other gay bars, Nellie’s sports bar and Dirty Goose, located in the U Street, N.W. entertainment district, appealed to their customers on their Facebook page to consider offering “tips” to their temporarily laid off employees through Venmo.

Jeffrey DeWitt, D.C.’s Chief Financial Officer, pointed out at a news conference called by Bowser that the hospitality industry accounts for 30 to 50 percent of the city’s sales tax revenue which comes to about $787 million in a normal year. He said the industry makes up about 14 percent of the city’s employment and provides about 8 percent of D.C.’s income tax revenue.

In noting the potential seriousness of the Coronavirus impact on the city, DeWitt said if the coronavirus crisis doesn’t subside in the near future the city would have to cut $500 million from its 2020 spending and the city could face an unemployment rate of between 15 and 20 percent.

Cancellations, postponements continue

SMYAL announced on Tuesday that it would move all of its youth programs normally carried out at its headquarters at 410 7th St., S.E. on Capitol Hill to “virtual platforms.” In a statement, it said “SMYAL is intentional about continuing to offer vital support for LGBTQ youth while mitigating risk by moving programs and service navigation online through Zoom, text, Q Chat Space, phone, and email.”

National Cannabis Festival: The 5th Annual National Cannabis Festival originally scheduled for April 18 at the grounds surrounding D.C.’s RFK Stadium has been postponed and rescheduled for Sept. 19 at the same location. In an announcement this week organizers said all purchases for the April date will be honored for the rescheduled date in September.

AIDS/LifeCycle cancelled: Organizers of AIDS/LifeCycle, the annual seven-day, 545-mile fundraising bicycle journey from San Francisco to Los Angeles scheduled for May 31-June 6, has been cancelled “in order to protect vulnerable communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Bicyclists from the D.C. area were expected to participate in the event. The Los Angeles LGBT Center and the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, which organize the marathon bike ride, urged those who planned to participate in the ride to conduct individual fundraising for AIDS related cause and to consider joining the 2021 AIDS/LifeClycle ride.

Visit washingtonblade.com for an updated list of cancellations and postponements. Here are some recent closings.

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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