A few days later, Brittany Rae Leach, Gossip’s head of marketing, joins me at the bar during off hours. She has a big smile and auburn hair that’s been waved with precision. When she talks about Gossip, she crackles like a bonfire. She says the decision to identify as a women’s bar and not a lesbian bar is not only motivated by appearances or the bottom line. If anything, it’s personal. “Our choice to view ourselves as a women’s bar affects so many people very deeply rooted in our community,” Leach says. “It was really important to us to be inclusive and as far away from hypocritical as possible.”
Gossip Grill is a community space for queer women. Dina Johnson, a sterile processing tech at a nearby hospital and a Gossip regular for the last 12 years, uses the bar as a home base for various fundraising efforts benefiting the local homeless community. When she learned that Gossip was struggling to keep its doors open in the pandemic, she started a GoFundMe to raise money for out-of-work staff members and to pay off the bar’s lingering utility bills. At first, Johnson only asked for $1000. But donors exceeded that $1000 mark in fewer than three days.
“A lot of people didn’t just donate ten or fifteen dollars. They donated hundreds. That’s how much this place is loved,” she says. “If I were to need anything, I’m pretty sure [Moe] wouldn’t say no to me. Moe is always for it, whatever I’m doing.”
Seated at the high-top at our first meeting, Girton regales me with tidbits of Gossip history. In 2011, during the county-wide blackout that left 1.4 million residents without power, the community flocked to the bar. Chris Shaw, founder of Gossip’s parent company Mo’s Universe, had a generator installed on-site, prompting staff to throw an impromptu dance party that became an annual event. When the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando happened in 2016, the community grieved at Gossip. When Biden was elected president in November 2020, that same crowd partied here. “Whenever something happens and nobody knows what to do, they come here,” Girton says. “This is important. This is home.”
Erica Rose, who created the Lesbian Bar Project with Elina Street, tells me over Zoom that the struggle for space has defined, and in turn confined, lesbian life across the country. “Queer women never occupied neighborhoods in the same way that gay men have,” Rose says. She notes that while gay male communities have managed to colonize entire neighborhoods, there are no lesbian equivalents. And the pandemic, which already burdened small-business owners, disproportionately impacted women.
The lesbian businesses that are going to survive for decades to come will have to follow Gossip’s example and shapeshift into something beyond a bar. “We need to look for new ways that bars can serve the current generation’s needs,” she says. “They’re becoming community centers. They’re becoming restaurants, spaces for family, spaces with sober options, spaces for political organizing. Lesbian bars are more than just bars.”
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