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‘SNL’ star Bowen Yang talks importance of LGBTQ bars, says they are 'vital, have to be protected'

The SNL cast member is raising awareness on the closure of LGBTQ bars and restaurants and how important they are to the community.

‘SNL’ star Bowen Yang talks importance of LGBTQ bars, says they are 'vital, have to be protected'
Image courtesy/Absolut

Bowen Yang is the third openly gay man in "Saturday Night Live's" cast list spread across 45 years. He is also the first Chinese American in the show and the fourth-ever cast member of Asian descent. Yang's ascension to cast member has seen increased visibility and sensitivity to LGBTQ content on the platform. He is now speaking out about the closure of LGBTQ spaces that are so crucial to the community. The Emmy-nominated comedian is collaborating with Absolut ahead of Pride Month to shine the spotlight on dwindling LGBTQ bars and restaurants across America. Yang stated that many LGBTQ-friendly spaces were being shut down. "These LGBTQ spaces are so vital and have to be protected," said Bowen Yang. “Belonging is hard to find anywhere. And that’s what this campaign is about. It’s a designated space to go where you can feel you’re a part of something,” he told TODAY. "There aren’t that many places for that many marginalized groups of people.”

Bowen Yang/Bronson Farr / Absolut

 

This comes at a time when state governments are drawing up anti-LGBTQ bills across America. A recent study by sociologist Dr. Greggor Mattson found that LGBTQ bar listings declined by 15.2% between 2019 and spring 2021. This comes on the back of a 14.4% decline between 2017 and 2019. Mattson’s research found that the pandemic was a driving factor in many bar closures, some of the other key factors included gentrification, technology and a lack of succession planning. Absolut is holding an "Out & Open campaign" and through it donating to the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce to make succession planning training and education more accessible to LGBTQ business owners.



 

 

Yang said it's important to have a space where LGBTQ individuals to connect with others. “The horizon of possibilities is endless. You listen to a new song. You connect with people like you. You’re safe to be yourself. You try a new thing. There’s no ceiling,” said Yang, who recently wrapped the Judd Apatow-produced “Bros” and Hulu’s gay rom-com “Fire Island.”



 

 

The Out & Open campaign features an audiovisual series that tells stories of LGBTQ spaces and their importance to the community. The series is led by photographer Bronson Farr. Yang is one of the LGBTQ storytellers featured in the series. "LGBTQ bars are monuments to our past, venues for the present, and gateways to our future," he wrote in an open letter about Eastern Bloc, a legendary gay bar that was located in New York City’s East Village for 12 years. The space has since been bought by actor Alan Cumming and relaunched as Club Cumming. Many other LGBTQ members feature in the series as well. “The queer community stands to lose everything if these spaces continue to close,” said Joel, a queer minister in his audiovisual story. “I think that they provide us with one of the only safe places to truly gather together safely, without the fear of other people’s judgment or action against us.”



 

 

“To be queer is to fight,” said HIV activist Dmitry in their audiovisual story. “To be queer is to love. To be queer is to protest, is to shout. You know? And I think that queer spaces are just the perfect place and platform for that social justice.” Odessa, a musician, spoke of the importance of being able to express themselves. “I think the more we see ourselves in free spaces, thinking freely, dressing freely, then it’ll just mean more for not only our community but for the world.”

Absolut has announced that for every listen to an Out & Open story, it will increase its $175,000 donation to the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce by an additional $1 up to $200,000.

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