Major urban areas have suffered notable gay bar closing in recent years, thanks in part to the ubiquity of hookup apps, rising commercial real estate prices and assimilation.
But in less queer welcoming parts of the world, they play vital and even life-saving roles. Witness the popular Phnom Penh, Cambodia, gay bar Blue Chilli, which features drag performers and a welcoming place for outcasts and misfits of all sorts.
Belgium journalist Kris Janssens, currently residing in Phnom Penh, came across a dramatic example of this social and political role that gay bars can still play. At Blue Chilli, he met Preab ‘Henry’ Thearith, a young Cambodian whose story touched him so deeply that he decided to make a video about his stardom at the bar, where he transforms into ‘Rebecca’ and performs the song that reflects his credo: “This is me.”
“Being a part of the LGBTQ-community myself, I have a big heart for coming out stories and for gay people who found a way to overcome the bullying they experienced,” Janssens says. “It is an example of how you can use negative energy to create something beautiful.”