LGBTQ businesses struggle as Pride events are canceled

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Businesses are out of money after being struck by both the pandemic and Pride Month closures.

LGBTQ businesses are suffering after the cancellation of Pride events, most of which have been nixed over concerns that mass gatherings will further fuel the ongoing pandemic.

Some events are continuing as scheduled but are functioning more as solidarity protests against police brutality, in line with the many anti-racism protests that followed the death of George Floyd, a black Minneapolis man killed last month by a white police officer.

Other Pride organizers have turned their previous plans into virtual events to both celebrate Pride and stand against racism and police violence.

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But the sudden change in plans has shifted otherwise reliable revenue streams away from LGBTQ-owned businesses across the country, leaving many of them scrambling.

Pride events in St. Petersburg, Florida, for instance, were canceled last month due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19. Business owners there told local Fox affiliate WTVT they have lost money from tent rentals and food purchases made well in advance of the celebration. Hotels in the area say they're also losing guest bookings over the canceled events.

During this time last year, a quarter-million people descended on the city and spent around $67 million at local businesses, WTVT reported.

Business owners in Tampa Bay are also likely to lose big while also struggling to keep their heads above water as they make it through the pandemic.

One business owner told the Tampa Bay Times he had spent $25,000 on alcohol in anticipation of Pride and, as a result, is now "cash-poor."

"I was being 'smart' and had already ordered all the alcohol for Pride," Bradley Nelson said. "(I) ended up shut down being alcohol-rich and cash-poor."

Tampa Pride President Carrie West told the outlet that Pride events helped businesses take in between $8 million and $10 million in 2018.

"We knew this year would be another major influx because we were bringing in three major concerts," West said.

Chrys Bundy, president of St. Petersburg Pride, echoed business owners' concerns, telling the Tampa Bay Times, "To have such an event not happen is certainly a big blow to the county."

Across the country, the cancellation of San Francisco Pride, which was also done as a safety precaution, is expected to harm businesses in the Castro District, where there is a high concentration of LGBTQ bars.

Each year, Pride event attendees in San Francisco spend millions of dollars at local businesses — $186.9 million in 2015, alone, with $33.6 million going to restaurants and bars and $14.3 million going to hotels that year.

Chris Hastings, who owns a Castro restaurant and gay bar and co-owns a number of other establishments, told Hoodline in April that he had already applied for 22 federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans since March, when he was forced to shut down to keep those businesses going.

None of those applications had been approved. Now, the cancellation of Pride has made things worse.

"Unless we receive aid, I can probably last another month," he said. "All three of my businesses were in a healthy, strong position going into this ... It has been the most stressful month of my life."

Others are similarly facing the dual struggle of surviving the pandemic and the wave of Pride cancellations.

In New York City, Alibi Lounge, one of very few black-owned LGBTQ bars in Harlem, is trying to keep its doors open after having trouble making rent and utility payments when the pandemic first began. According to Eater New York, the bar still has to make rent for July, pay state taxes, and pay fees for renewing its liquor license.

The bar has been approved for a federal loan, but owner Alexi Minko said he was concerned about paying off that loan later, if troubles continued.

"If Alibi goes away, it will be a tragedy for the LGBTQ community uptown," Minko said.

The financial uncertainty LGBTQ-owned businesses are facing has naturally trickled down to their employees.

In March, the Human Rights Campaign released a research brief analyzing General Social Survey data and found that LGBTQ people are more likely to work in industries that are highly affected by the pandemic, including restaurants and food services, hospitals, K-12 education, retail, and colleges and universities.

That means more than 5 million LGBTQ workers could be impacted by COVID-19 and other business closures, with 2 million potentially affected in food services alone.

Recent polls have also found that 30% of LGBTQ respondents have had their work hours reduced compared to 22% of the general population.

In addition to the pandemic, police brutality and instances of violence against LGBTQ people have weighed heavily on the community of late.

There have already been at least 12 killings of transgender and gender non-conforming people in the past year alone, many of whom are black. Among them is Tony McDade, a black transgender man, was shot and killed by a white police officer in Florida on May 27, and has been memorialized at recent protests against police brutality.

Since those protests began, LGBTQ people have also experienced increased sexual harassment from police, have faced intolerable conditions in jail, and in some cases, have had their establishments raided by police after aiding protesters.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.