s the world continues to grapple with the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, some BIPOC LGBTQ+-led bars and community-building organizations have adapted by implementing increased safety protocols and strengthening their commitments to mutual aid.
Nobody's Darling, an LGBTQ+ bar owned by two Black women, Angela Barnes and Renauda Riddle, opened in May amid the pandemic. This means the owners have always had to grapple with safety protocols to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
"We have to listen to the CDC, we have to listen to our state and local leaders, and be responsible," Barnes said.
Nobody's Darling requires people to wear masks to enter and when moving around the bar, but people are allowed to remove them while drinking. Vaccinations are required among the bar's staff, and they also wear masks while working. The space is cleaned frequently, and extra masks and hand sanitizer are available. People who have symptoms of any illness are encouraged to stay home.
"If there are members of our community, meaning the LGBTQ+ community, who are more at risk and there's something we can do to support equity in terms of keeping them safe, then certainly those spaces we're providing for our community should be supportive," Barnes said.
Although Nobody's Darling requires its staff to be vaccinated, the bar doesn't require guests to provide proof of vaccination (unlike some other LGBTQ+ spots), so as to avoid creating a false sense of security.
"I'm not qualified, and our staff isn't either, to determine whether or not a vaccine card is legitimate," Barnes explained. "We're relying on people to take some ownership and not be around people if they're not feeling well, but to create a situation where we say, 'okay, we checked your card, now everyone in the bar is safe,' I just don't think that makes a lot of sense."
But Barnes is keeping an eye on COVID-19 trends and would consider hiring a separate company to check vaccine cards if positivity rates rise or if it's recommended by officials.
Nobody's Darling hasn't taken part in promoting mutual aid because specific needs haven't been brought to their attention, Barnes said.
"I mean, we've only been open since May, but say one of our regulars or someone in the community brought up something where we could show support, we'd be open to doing that," she added. "Those types of things are important because we are a gathering place."
For more information about Nobody's Darling: https://www.nobodysdarlingbar.com/
Molasses is an organization dedicated to creating "community and opportunity for Black trans and gender-variant people and queer people of color through cultural work, coalition-building, and linkage to (self)care," according to its website.
In the past, Molasses planned in-person events, but the collective has stopped planning in-person gatherings due to safety concerns brought on by the pandemic.
Organizer Choya Webb said the few events Molasses has hosted since March 2020 were outside and guests wore personal protective equipment, adding that organizers have tried to prioritize their own well-being and rest as they too continue to endure the effects of the pandemic.
Molasses has nevertheless increased its work around providing material resources to the BIPOC LGBTQ+ community, including care packages, defense tools and monetary aid.
"Organizers were reactivated around mutual aid and racial justice in April and May of 2020 due to state violence layered with an ongoing pandemic, so a lot of our work moved into more material resources of care and mutual aid for Black and brown trans and queer folx," Webb said.
The organization also worked with Howard Brown to create some public health public service announcements addressing vaccine hesitancy.
Webb explained there have "always been layers" of mutual aid and activism in Molasses' work. The group's projects have simply shifted in response to the pandemic's effects on people's lives.
"Our mode of creating joyful spaces for Black trans folx, and by extension, many other communities, is event planningbut that in itself was in service to mutual aid and activism," Webb said. "Our intention is to ensure Black trans people have their needs met while also showcasing the talent and power of Black trans artistry."
For more information about Molasses, visit https://www.molasseschicago.com/
The Blaq Agenda:
The Blaq Agenda is a "social experiment indexing Black queerness" that hosts events and releases content created by Black LGBTQ+ people about their experiences, according to its website.
Member Elijah McKinnon said COVID-19 has made those in the organization "even more intentional about the gatherings we host."
The Blaq Agenda recently planned a series of events called "Queer Care Day" where attendees can attend a yoga class then explore a market full queer BIPOC creators offering nail art, tarot card readings and haircuts, among other things.
Before committing to any event, The Blaq Agenda "extensively discusses" wellness and protection plans specific to the venue and type of gathering, McKinnon explained, adding,
"Each initiative is different, so we take a custom approach to developing wellness and protection plans that keep our communities feeling brave and cared for while we share space."
These precautions include requiring proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test results upon entry, providing COVID-19 surveys for contact tracing and reducing event capacities. The Blaq Agenda also provides masks and hand sanitizers for event guests.
Like Molasses, the Blaq Agenda has always been involved in activism and providing aid to those in the BIPOC LGBTQ+ community. These efforts are constantly changing as the group works to "amplify the direct needs of the communities we serve," McKinnon said. She noted that the organization sees mutual aid as "just one way to "create equitable opportunities for the communities that we serve. … It is important for us to build in coalition with organizations and initiatives that believe in alternative ways to provide a continuum of care for Black, queer and gender expansive people."
For more information about The Blaq Agenda: https://www.theblaqagenda.com/.