The chief executives of D.C., Maryland and Virginia all issued stay-at-home orders last week for area residents to control the spread of the coronavirus.
Though the strict measures are vital to help “flatten the curve” of the deadly disease, they disrupt both the social and economic support LGBTQ businesses often provide for the community.
“It affects everything when bars are closed,” Dave Perruzza, owner of Pitchers and A League of Her Own, told the Washington Blade. “We have a lot of transgender people who don’t feel comfortable but in that space. I’m worried about that portion of my clientele that is now alone and they don’t have the resources and the community now.”
Bryan Van Den Oever, director of business development and marketing and an owner of Red Bear Brewing, said they adjusted their services after restaurants and bars were ordered to convert to carry-out only.
The goal was to keep as much of their staff employed as possible and still “support the queer performers in our city.”
“So, I talked to our resident queen, Desiree Dik, and pitched doing a digital show,” Van Den Oever explained. “People would pick up their beer and get a bingo card, then they would tune in Tuesday to play.”
Van Den Oever said the digital drag bingo shows were popular with usually about 40 participants. However, that was before the recent order ended their beer and bingo card pick up service.
March 31 was the last drag bingo, he said. “Due to the new stay-at-home guidance. We’ll definitely revisit this later…We’ll see what happens when the dust settles. We’ll fight like hell until then.”
Perruzza noted LGBTQ bars are both a social and economic support to the community.
“We sponsor everything that comes our way,” he said. “But if we don’t have money, we can’t give to places like Casa Ruby, SMYAL and [LGBTQ] sports teams.”
Similarly, Van Den Oever said Red Bear donated close to $15, 000 to different LGBTQ organizations last year, “and we wanted to keep ramping that up as we grew.”
But he said there would be nothing left to support community sports teams and nonprofits if they continued to incur tax and other debts without drawing any income.
Perruzza also pointed out that when renovating A League of Her Own, it was important for him to choose another LGBTQ business and further give back to the community.
“I used Annie’s Hardware on Upshur Street because it’s owned by a lesbian,” he said. “If I’m building a lesbian bar, I want to support a lesbian-owned business while I’m doing it.”
Both Perruzza and Van Den Oever stated emphatically that it was important for LGBTQ bars and other businesses to survive this crisis, but they would need help doing so.
“We’re not doing well,” Van Den Oever said. “We’re only pulling in 15-20 percent of our normal sales and we had to lay off about 75 percent of our staff. We’re doing everything we can, but it’s a challenge to keep our doors open.”
Two of the biggest challenges they face right now are rent and sales and property taxes.
“We have to pay sales and property tax without income coming in,” Perruzza said. “Businesses can go out of business” under this strain.
Van Den Oever said Red Bear was negotiating with its landlord about the rent, but hopes the city and the federal government can relax or defer property and sales taxes.
Perruzza added it would be helpful if some of those taxes could at least go back to the LGBTQ community.
“We’re a very small community owning bars,” he said. “We’d like a portion of our taxes guaranteed to go to Casa Ruby and other LGBTQ organizations. My tax money should go back to my community.”
Both bar owners feared the federal stimulus package with its offer of small business loans would exacerbate the problem by adding more debt without real relief.
“Clearly, the law was not written with LGBTQ businesses in mind,” Van Den Oever said, adding that he appreciates the government effort but grants would be more helpful to businesses that provide vital services to niche communities.
Perruzza was more hopeful about D.C.’s Public Health Emergency Small Business Grant Program, which he recently applied for.
Both owners understand the seriousness of the crisis and the drastic measures public officials have to take to save lives. Yet, they remain hopeful for the future.
“Our community will survive,” Van Den Oever said encouragingly. “There will be queer performances again. We’ve got this. We’re going to party again. We’re going to love each other again. We’re just loving people at a distance at this point.”
Perruzza considers himself fortunate to have both his husband Richard Paules and a tennis court near his home.
Currently, he plays against the wall for exercise while his husband continues his landscaping business alone, for now, but Perruzza knows nothing lasts forever.
“When a trans woman of color gets murdered, we come together and take to the streets and march,” he said. “That’s what we do. When something bad happens to someone in our community, we all get together and we support them. When this is all over, this will show how much better we are. We will get stronger when this is done.”