Gay bars lead the way in requesting vaccine proof but policies vary wildly across US

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A man holds a vaccine card
Posed by model (Photo: Shutterstock)

San Francisco recently announced that from August 20, anyone wishing to enter bars and restaurants will have to show proof of full vaccination. It became the first US city to demand proof of full vaccination.

The day before San Francisco made its announcement, Los Angeles City Council voted unaminously to draw up a similar ordinance that mandates all indoor spaces ask for at least partial proof of vaccination. This will include restaurants, bars, gyms, concert venues, movie theaters and even “retail establishments”.

The move follows a similar move in New Orleans and New York City. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “Key to NYC” plan took effect at the start of the week (8/16). It requires proof of at least partial vaccination at indoor dining, entertainment, and fitness facilities across the five boroughs.

Related: 5 reasons gay men should get the Covid-19 vaccine

However, some gay bars have already been quick to introduce such policies of their own initiative. Like many businesses, they want to do whatever they can to avoid future lockdowns and protect their staff and patrons.

Last month, a spokesperson for Eagle NYC told GayCities, “Currently we are only permitting those that show proof of vaccination to enter. This allows us to have no restrictions in place. Initially we were turning away around 30% of the patrons but now it’s near 0%. We did get some pushback about our policy from those who choose not to be vaccinated but we are resolved to protect our staff and our patrons from Covid.”

Boxers in New York City (Photo: Supplied)

Bob Fluet is the co-owner of the long-running Boxers in Chelsea and the recently launched club, Q.

“At Boxers, we will start requiring it from August 16, per NYC guidelines,” he told GayCities. “We have been checking for the last couple of weeks but not requiring it for entry. We’ve been doing this to prepare our patrons. For the most part, the patrons appreciate it and understand.

“Q has been requiring proof of vaccination for three weeks now and it’s been very smooth as well. The patrons do appreciate it here as well.”

The recently opened Q in New York City (Photo: Supplied)

The Stonewall Inn, probably the most famous gay bar in the world, was also carrying out vaccine checks in advance of the Mayor’s order. Likewise, Gym Sportsbar in Chelsea and the long-running lesbian bar, Henrietta Hudson’s.

The order has not gone down well with everyone. Some venues are concerned about losing customers (businesses can no longer offer the option of a negative Covid test in lieu of vaccine proof), and staff, who must also be inoculated.

On the West Coast, The Abbey Food and Bar in West Hollywood has been asking for vaccine proof, or a negative Covid test, since the end of July. A spokesperson says most people have been understanding.

“Since the pandemic began, our staff has been repeatedly screamed at, spit on, slapped and punched by angry customers for enforcing safety protocols,” Todd Barnes, the Abbey’s General Manager, told GayCities.

“However, our vaccine policy has been met with mostly positive feedback and our customers continue to voice and express their support online, in-person and with personal emails directly to our management team.”

“We had to turn away 20-30% of our customers the first weekend, but the majority of our patrons understand that they have a choice: to get vaccinated and take accountability for their actions or continue to fuel the spread of a deadly virus putting lives and livelihoods at risk.”

On its social media, the Abbey is blunt: “If you have a problem with our policy, please just go somewhere else, like to the nearest vaccination site.”

Precinct DTLA, another of Los Angeles’ best spots for drinking and dancing, operates a similar protocol.

It’s not known yet if the Los Angeles mandate will offer the option of a negative Covid test instead of vaccine proof: the initial proposal made no mention of it. It did note that as of the beginning of August, over 71% of LA residents have had at least one shot.

In fact, nationwide, this is another area where LGBTQ people are ahead. A recent study commissioned by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation (HRCF) found that approximately 92 percent of LGBTQ adults have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or received at least one dose of a currently available vaccine.

In early August, the Market Days festival returned to Chicago. The predominantly three-day event took part in the LGBTQ neighborhood of Northalsted and attracted tens of thousands of attendees. Organizers offered Covid testing at entrances for anyone who wanted it, while almost all the bars within the festival requested proof of vaccination for entry.

“I know we are not out of a pandemic but it was nice that the bars required proof of vaccination so it made me feel a little safer to enjoy myself,” one attendee, Matthew, from Indianapolis, told GayCities.

Related: Northalsted Market Days returns with a bang to Chicago

Maybe, after AIDS, the gay scene is more primed to swing into action when threatened by a pandemic. Or, maybe these are just businesses trying to protect their livelihoods. Either way, health experts agree that mass vaccination is the way forward out of the pandemic and are doing all they can to persuade those still reluctant.

Posed by models
Posed by models (Photo: Shutterstock)

News of the Los Angeles mandate comes in the same week it was announced that more than 99.99% of people who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 have not had a breakthrough case resulting in hospitalization or death.

According to a CNN analysis of CDC data, as of August 2, “more than 164 million people in the United States were fully vaccinated against Covid-19 … Fewer than 0.001% of those individuals — 1,507 people — died and fewer than 0.005% — 7,101 people — were hospitalized with Covid-19.”

In other words, the vaccines work.

But will the threat of no admission to bars and clubs encourage all? Some say it may promote more people to throw house parties instead. Also, as we all know, the picture outside those cities mentioned above varies greatly.

In Austin, in mid-August, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission threatened to revoke the liquor license of restaurants that demand proof of vaccination from customers, saying they are in violation of Section 14 of Senate Bill 968. This recently-passed law bans businesses from requiring customers to provide any documentation of their COVID-19 vaccination.

None of the gay bars we approached in Austin responded to requests for comment.

Related: Six places to take your ‘southernmost selfie’ on a dream vacation in Key West

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for a well-known venue in Key West, Florida, spoke to GayCities, on the condition of anonymity. They said they were unwilling to ask for vaccination proof unless mandated to do so. In Florida, that’s highly unlikely.

“Florida is and has been very open and without restrictions for some time. Which is obvious with us attributing to over 30% of new Covid cases nationwide recently,” they said.

“As a business we sacrificed a lot at the beginning of Covid, having very strict policies through the initial shutdown and months following. We wanted our staff and patrons to have the safest environment possible. Many other local businesses chose to follow the bare minimum required. That made our jobs tougher, our policies harder to enforce, and confused patrons.

“As much as we believe in vaccinations and following protocols necessary to keep people safe and healthy until the state and/or nation can decide on how to act uniformly, we will continue to operate as we are now. Without restrictions.

“We pray those that choose not to get vaccinated don’t end up regretting it.”