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Sue Ellen’s Is One of 15 Lesbian Bars Left. One Campaign Wants to Keep It Around.

The Lesbian Bar Project is a national fundraising campaign to get bars through the pandemic, including the storied Oak Lawn lesbian nightclub.
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An exterior shot of Sue Ellen's nightclub in Oak Lawn
Sue Ellen's

Bars have had it rough this year, being one of the few businesses closed the longest with the hardest path to reopening. Add to this an already dying breed of lesbian and gay bars that were ample once upon a time. Perhaps we’re all just so much more welcoming now. Perhaps neighborhoods where LBGTQ spaces thrived have seen a lot of development in recent years. (Some call it gentrification, others, plainly, change.) No matter myriad factors, lesbian bars have shrunk in number, in COVID times and previously. The Lesbian Bar Project wants to help the remaining ones stay alive and well.

According the national fundraising campaign, out of 60,000 bars in the U.S., just 15 are lesbian bars. Among them is Sue Ellen’s, whose two-story nightclub has served the queer community in Oak Lawn for some 31 years. Sue Ellen’s opened in 1989 and has since survived both an economic recession and an epidemic that stole many LBGTQ lives. If history is any indication, this place is built to last.

In a Texas Monthly profile from July, Sue Ellen’s 62-year-old owner Kathy Jack told the magazine she “believes the bar will live on forever, and so do her regulars…” After all, Sue Ellen’s is Texas’ oldest lesbian bar (the other is Pearl Bar, in Houston). Even with a life’s worth of struggles under its belt, Sue Ellen’s joins 14 other bars as part of a four-week fundraising run. (SideDish had reached out to Kathy Jack and Sue Ellen’s for comment, but there was no response by press time.)

The Lesbian Bar Project (with its corporate partner Jägermeister) is on a mission to support and raise greater awareness of these spaces. During the late 1980s, there were an estimated 200 lesbian bars across the country, according to the project’s website, but by early 2020 there were just 16 (one closing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic knocks us down to that 15).

You can watch the project’s 90-sec public service video co-directed by Erica Rose and Elina Street that aims to show the importance of queer spaces alongside vignettes of the long-gone lesbian bars of yore. One hundred percent of all proceeds from the donation pool fund will be split evenly between the participating bars to support these establishments, helping them not only survive but hopefully thrive in the post-pandemic landscape.

If there’s one truth after COVID is over, after this election is through, it’s that we’ll need these places to rebuild community again. Not only a good drinking spot, but one that’s truly inviting—not only inviting, but safe and accepting of all.

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