There were once some 200 lesbian bars across the U.S., but their number has significantly shrunk over the past decade. In New York City, you can count them with one hand.
Some in the lesbian community are calling the disappearance of safe spaces for women a cultural crisis, and a Brooklyn-based filmmaker is looking to change that with "The Lesbian Bar Project" documentary. There are now only 21 lesbian bars in the country and three of them are located in the five boroughs, Erica Rose said.
Cubby Hole and Henrietta Hudson in Manhattan and Ginger's Bar in Brooklyn are the only three spots that have stood the test of time.
Rose says she's afraid that all of them could disappear because of the pandemic and wanted to at least preserve the history of them through her documentary. Gentrification, income disparity and a huge shift to online dating are some of the reasons behind the dwindling numbers, the filmmaker said. She hopes that her film will help keep the living, breathing history of these queer spaces alive.
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"The rights [LGBTQ] folks have today didn't happen by accident," Lisa Cannistraci, the owner of Henrietta Hudson, said. "It was a lot of work and a lot of blood was shed. Everybody deserves a space to call their own."
Her bar, which just marked its 30 year anniversary, closed for 15 months due to the coronavirus and Cannistraci says she spent the time to reimagine her business with more inclusivity in mind. It started with a new logo.
"The reason we wanted to create a new logo was because a lot of women who love women do not identify as lesbians," she says in the film.
"Now we consider ourselves a queer human bar built by lesbians, and engaging the whole community and making all feel safe and welcomed," Cannistraci told NBC New York.
The release of the documentary coincides with Pride Month, which commemorates the queer liberation movement that began with the 1969 Stonewall riots against police in New York City.
"It's part of our culture, our history. If the bars disappear, our history disappears as well," co-director Elina Street said.
The entire documentary is now available to watch for free at thelesbianbarproject.com.