Iconic Lesbian Bar Will Close Forever Tonight, Here’s Why

“This bar represents a life here.”

Activists tried to save the Norfolk lesbian bar that’s meant so much to so many. Photo by YouTube (Sarah Hustead)

Hershee Bar in Norfolk, Virginia—one of the East Coast’s oldest and best-loved lesbian bars and dance clubs—is being forced to close its doors tonight.

Why?

Not because of a diminishing regular clientele. Quite the opposite. Hershee Bar has enjoyed an abundant, diverse, loyal crowd for over 35 years, hosts amazing parties with top-notch live entertainment, and is a hub of the local LGBTQ community. 

It’s because the city-owned space that the bar occupies is now scheduled for demolition.

According to The Washington Post, Hershee Bar is situated in a four-building lot, which was sold to the city of Norfolk by its former owners, Cooper Realty. Now the city plans to raze the property to kickstart a revitalization project. And today, October 31, is the last day that Hershee Bar can continue operating in that space.

After fighting long and hard with city officials, backed by activists and passionate supporters, Hershee’s owner Annette Stone will have to close the doors tonight at midnight.

To express what Hershee Bar has meant to them—and to the greater LGBTQ community in the area—patrons put together a thought-provoking and gut-wrenching YouTube video that is a must-watch. The video features Cathleen Rhodes, Barb James, Robbin Love, and Sarah Hustead.

Rhodes spoke about why queer spaces still matter:

“I think a lot of times, in 2018, people feel like we’ve moved beyond the need for queer-specific spaces,” Rhodes said in the video. “So we look at things like marriage equality and the ability to serve in the military—although both of those come with conditions for some people—but we look at progress like that, and we think, ‘Oh, well… we’ve really fully been incorporated into mainstream society.’ And, in fact, we haven’t. If you look at the numbers of queer youth who end up homeless, for example, or the ways that violence is still enacted on queer people and on queer bodies, there are just lots of reasons why it matters to be in a space full of people who look like you and have similar experiences to you.”

James talked about her personal connection to the space and its importance in her own life history:

“Hershee Bar is the first bar I ever set foot in, when I was 18 and terrified,” she said. “People here have given me a real sense of comfort I probably wouldn’t have found otherwise. Throughout the 30 years that I’ve been out… I’ve always returned to it… I’ve seen births; I’ve seen deaths; I’ve seen fundraisers and happiness and sorrow and just life. This bar represents a life here.”

As for simply relocating Hershee Bar, as Rhodes added, that is “an expensive proposition.” And with so many people personally connected to the space itself, closing the doors will be a tragic loss to the LGBTQ community, no matter the eventual outcome. Tonight, we raise a glass to Hershee Bar throwing the best gay Halloween party– to go out in style.