The SF Bay Area Queer Nightlife Fund (QNF) was honored to be asked by the San Francisco Entertainment Commission to present a summary of our work supporting workers in queer nightlife struggling due to the pandemic. On Tuesday, September 15, 2020, Angel Garfold, Race Bannon and Shannon Amitin told the Commissioners about QNF and its work. QNF also provided information that the Commission might find useful in their work as they explore ways to safely reopen local nightlife in the future, both outdoors in the short term and indoors in the long term.
Commissioner Laura Thomas, who had invited QNF to the meeting, provided a lead in to the presentation lauding QNF for stepping up early during shelter in place. Thomas explained that QNF quickly understood the challenges that the nightlife industry, the queer nightlife industry in particular, is facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thomas pointed out that QNF is doing one of the things that the queer community does best, figuring out how to take care of our own. Thomas also mentioned that while some of the things we would be presenting were specifically pertinent to queer nightlife, much of the information we have gathered potentially applies to all of San Francisco nightlife too and could help the Entertainment Commission in their decision making and process moving forward
Garfold started the presentation with an overview of what QNF is and what we’ve been doing to date. She explained how Phil Hammack brought together what ended up being the Steering Committee members in mid-March to see what could be done to address the hit nightlife was taking because of the virus. QNF knew that workers in local queer nightlife were going to be severely impacted by the shelter in place orders, unable to work, and otherwise challenged because many nightlife workers are gig workers not eligible for some of the financial relief other workers could access.
We quickly rallied, Garfold said, to begin aggressive fundraising to help struggling workers, much of that money already in the hands of workers with application review for our third round of grants currently underway. Over time, especially in light of more public awareness of racial injustice, QNF shifted its mission to address more heavily impacted marginalized communities.
One of the ways QNF began to raise funds directly from the community itself was hosting its now regular Quaran-Tea Dance online party events that started as weekly events and has lately been produced on a more sustainable monthly basis.
Garfold mentioned our new Queer Nightlife Talks which launched in August with the second one taking place that very same evening (detailed summary report coming soon). Garfold also mentioned our new career and skills development series. She wrapped up her summary of QNF’s activity to date with news about our new DJ podcast series. It was emphasized that all of our DJs, hosts, performers, moderators, and ASL intepreters are compensated to stay true to our mission of helping queer workers survive the pandemic.
Garfold ended her portion of the presentation by highlighting that QNF has become truly aware of the hardship many queer nightlife workers are enduring and that the community needs to help them figure out how to make it through these difficult times.
Bannon then presented on the community feedback and discussion results from the first Queer Nightlife Talk, “What makes it a party for you?” so that this information could potentially be used going forward by the Commission. Rather than reiterate that entire portion of the presentation here we encourage everyone to read the detailed summary report QNF created from that event. The Commission was sent a concise PDF document ahead of time and Bannon strongly suggested the Commission drill down into the details of that report to better inform their work going forward.
Just a few of the points Bannon touched upon are: the technology challenges some producers have in the online world; how some online event attendees love the accessibility they provide; how online events make some queer folks feel more comfortable considering attending real time events in the future; Zoom fatigue and the decrease in online event attendance; that people want to feel safe and secure but are clamoring for in person events when possible; some of the social distancing challenges even in outdoor spaces; the desire to have online events continue to happen for various reasons once in person events remerge on the scene; hybrid events such as limited attendance in person events also announcing an outdoor location where party attendees could gather socially distanced and dance to foster a party feel in a safer manner; and that many of the ideas and input gathered at the Talk pertain to not just queer nightlife but nightlife overall.
Next Amitin mentioned that when shelter-in-place began QNF knew we had to act swiftly. Without unionization or a governmental body to advocate for queer nightlife workers, we knew it was up to the community to care for its own.
Six months into the QNF effort Amitin offered that the Entertainment Commission is the queer community’s best ally in this moment and that it is imperative that we meet folks where they are at — and to do that, we must provide any and all resources to support a community that has continuously faced discrimination, a loss of venues, and unbearable displacement.
Amitin mentioned that unemployment extensions and long-gone PPP loans are not enough. As we stare down a long road of recovery, QNF believes we must take a harm reduction approach and work now to provide the necessary permits to gather safely outdoors. He reiterated that QNF recently held a public forum to discuss the future of queer nightlife, and while we covered both in person and virtual events, the majority of the time was spent brainstorming ways to hold future safe in person events.
This demonstrates a deep-seated need for in person events, and we are looking for a way to help the community to gather again face to face safely. Amitin offered that the organizers of the Castro Shared Spaces program, of which Amitin is one, were provided all the information and tools necessary to host safe, weekly outdoor events. Now we see how well a safe, structured reopening can work.
Since gyms may pull a $25 permit to hold classes in city parks, and neighborhood organizations can receive Shared Spaces permits of their own, QNF asked that the Entertainment Commission prioritize small-scale party promoter outdoor events.
Amitin concluded that people around the world associate San Francisco with LGBTQ culture, but well before the pandemic local queer nightlife was suffering. We simply cannot afford to take its survival for granted.
During the post-presentation question and answer portion of the meeting, Commissioners asked questions and provided feedback.
Commissioner Steven Lee brought up internal Commission discussions about what a Stage 4 reopening of some venues, likely months away for now, might look like and asked if QNF might be willing to provide suggestions for appropriate safety protocols and best practices based on what we have learned thus far. Much of that information already existed in the detailed report we provided from our first Queer Nightlife Talk commuity public forum, but QNF agreed to assist the Commission in any way possible. It was acknowledged that while the San Francisco Department of Public Health (DPH) must appropriately take the lead in what is safer, perhaps the QNF could provide input that would dovetail nicely with DPH’s guidelines to better prepare venues for reopening while maintaining community health.
What might work for the queer nightlife community would likely work for other nightlife communites in the city too. QNF said it would consider such an advisory alliance once the QNF Steering Committee discussed it further. Another idea suggested by Amitin was a QNF and Entertainment Commission co-produced event during which the entire San Francisco nightlife community would provide input that could benefit the creation of future protocols and strategies for venue and event reopenings.
Another point brought up by Commissioner Thomas was that drag performers, since most lip sync, already abide by the “no singing” guidelines and perhaps that is yet one more opportunity for performers to begin working again at some point while abiding by the current guidelines.
Bannon brought up that some other countries are ahead of the United States in figuring out how to hold outdoor events and slowly reopen brick and mortar venues and perhaps we could look to them for some guidance also when determining what might work for San Francisco. Amitrin pointed out that San Francisco is already permitting limited outdoor events such as the Shared Spaces program and that that experience and data can be used too when creating future protocols and guidelines.
Commissioner Lee mentioned the challenges weather might pose as San Francisco gets colder and wetter in the coming months. So, while it has to be done safely and in compliance with DPH’s directives, giving some thought to being inside ahead of time now makes some sense.
Commissioner Cyn Wang thanked the QNF and pointed out that San Francisco’s queer community and famous nightlife scene is part of what makes San Francisco special and draws in visitors from around the world. Wang also mentioned that the Entertainment Commission is already working on some accessory entertainment uses as part of already approved outdoor events or street authorizations and asked asked QNF that if there is anything we think should be advocated for with policy makers or pushing for in terms of regulatory changes, to let the Commission know and they would take that under serious consideration. Wang wants to be especially sure that the needs of the queer nightlife community are always part of decision making or policies. Wang reinterated that the Commission is an ally to the queer nightlife commuity.
Commissioner Lt. Dave Falzon mentioned how important it was to hear from an organization like QNF who works in a “boots on the ground” fashion with the nightlife community. Falzon also highlighted something that surprised him during the report on the Queer Nightlife Talk that many community members hoped that some online events would continue post-pandemic. He now holds the view that perhaps online programming could be part of San Francisco’s overall nightlife future. He also brought up that he’s mindful of how performers get compensated during online events and QNF responded that compensation for performers and artists is part of our core values and we agree.
Bannon pointed out that in the future when we have returned to some semblance of nightlife normality, online events seen around the world could draw people to visit San Francisco to be part of our amazing nightlife scene.
Garfold used the Quaran-Tea Dance done in collaboration with the Sisters Perpetual Indulgence for their Easter event as an example of a local event having a huge worldwide audience that also allowed former or displaced San Francisco residents to experience the wonders of our party culture too.
Commissioner Dori Caminong lauded the QNF’s fundraising total of $300,000 raised thus far and how important the giving of grants were at this time. Caminong said fundraising is something people are often afraid of or not good at and was impressed at QNF’s fundraising abilities. When we create these spaces for people to come together and break down barriers for them to come together, you end up falling in love and that courtship happens and the money comes, the volunteers come, the network comes, and QNF is at the forefront of a movement right now.
Garfold added to Caminong’s comments letting the Commission know that about $240,000 of the money QNF has raised has come directly from individuals in the community itself helping other community members survive. Some of the money came from Horizons Foundation and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (we’d like to thank our generous corporate sponsor, PLUS Products, too), but most of it came from individuals.
QNF made it clear when the Commission asked about the sharing of QNF’s content on the Entertainment Commission’s platforms and channels that QNF is a transparent organization and we consider everything we do to belong to the community itself. So everything is quite shareable.
Commissioner Ben Bleiman was impressed at QNF’s ability to engage so quickly and raise so much money. He mentioned that he is hopefulthat sometime soon we will hawe the ability to have outdoor entertainment as part of the Shared Spaces program and he expects the queer nightlife community to be a signficant part of driving such efforts.
Bleiman also acknowledged QNF’s suggestion of using outdoor and park areas for outdoor events. He gave DPH credit for doing an incredible job of keeping COVID-19 numbers low in our city and we all need to give them kudos for protecting us so well. Bleiman said it appears to him that DPH’s philosophy is to discourage people from leaving their homes. Therefore, permitting more outdoor events in more places might be challenging at this time. He admitted this was just his perception since he has not had those deep, direct conversations yet with DPH. He felt that since DPH’s overarching metric by which they judge reopenings and things like event permitting is the numbers and that primary goal likely matters to DPH over other personal or cultural needs of the community.
Bleiman expressed his hopes that DPH and the Entertainment Commission can work closely together to create safe social opportunities for residents. He felt is is worth examining with the DPH if there are ways for people to leave their homes and have small gatherings with queer nightlife performers, non-aerosal instruments, and so on, that remain safe. He said it does appear that until there is a vaccine it appears that the more extreme approach to restrictions dominates at the moment. The Entertainment Commission cares deeply about nightlife, and queer nightlife specifically, but it is important to set expectations about what might be possible in terms of gatherings in the short term.
Bleiman again lauded what QNF has done thus far. There are other groups, such as the Independent Venue Alliance, who have found fundraising a struggle and perhaps they can look to QNF for strategies.
Commissioner Thomas ended the QNF presentation portion of the meeting by saying that it is clear the Entertainment Commision is enthusiastic in figuring out how to support the queer nightlife community and that includes the workers, event attendees, event producers and promoters, and venues. She hoped that some other Commissioners would attend some of the Queer Nightlife Talks to better understand what is happening currently in the nightlife community. Attending the QNF Quaran-Tea Dance parties was encouraged.
Comissioner Thomas ended by thanking QNF again and encouraging her fellow Comissioners to read the report on the first Queer NIghtlife Talk and that it was one of the best reports she has seen from a community event.
The SF Entertainment Commission’s meetings are public record and you can view the recording of the meeting on the SFGovTV site.