DENVER — On a dreary Friday afternoon, the mood inside of a longtime, colorful and art-filled bar on Colfax Avenue, Blush and Blu, was one of preparation and excitement.
To a toast, staff kicked off Pride Weekend on Friday, which finally happened in Denver, a year after there were almost no in-person events due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We almost didn't survive for sure," said owner Jody Bouffard. "I mean, the shutdown from March 15 to June 15 was one thing, but the second shutdown from November 15 to January 5 was during all the holiday seasons where we book all parties and have potlucks and gatherings. And that affected the community for sure."
Blush and Blu is one of the last remaining lesbian bars in the country and one of the only ones in Colorado, according to the Lesbian Bar Project.
These bars, of course, are welcoming to all, but the Lesbian Bar Project, which has identified just 21 lesbian bars nationwide, saw that the number of these bars dwindling, so they stepped up to help.
Sacred space gets help
Bouffard first opened the bar in 2005. It went through a name change and growth, and made Colfax Avenue its home.
It's also been home to a whole community.
"It's lesbian run, but queer run, also," Bouffard said. "And the clientele is very queer and part of the LGBTQIA community."
Despite a growing clientele, the bar wasn't immune to the impacts of the pandemic.
"Well, when they started the project, it was during that second shutdown of the holiday season, so the timing couldn't have been more perfect, to be honest with you," she said.
The project she was talking about was the Lesbian Bar Project, co-founded by Elina Street and Erica Rose.
The project aimed to bring awareness to the dwindling number of lesbian bars across the country and shine a light on what makes them a great place to go.
Street and Rose first noticed the issue after the pandemic hit New York City.
"Our industry shut down," Street said. "So we were left with nothing but reflection about our self, our identity and most importantly, the spaces that we gather in with our chosen family. ... And even though I consider myself a pretty active member of my community, I actually didn't know the numbers were so low. So I decided that we had to do something about it."
Along with making a documentary and a website, the project was able to identify 21 remaining bars across the country, one of which was Blush and Blu in Denver.
The documentary by the project stated that in 1980, there were 200 lesbian bars in the United States..
A campaign raised about $117,000, with a chunk of that going toward Blush and Blu.
"The money allowed me to be able to pay half the rent here for the next couple of months that we were closed. So it was a blessing," Bouffard said.
Now the campaign is launching another campaign, intending to raise $200,000. To donate, click here.
Bouffard says while there might not be an in-person pride parade this year, she's excited to have everyone celebrate in person again.
"I'm missing the parade, but I'm not missing the the people that are coming in from out of town that have waited all year to come out," she said. "I'm excited for people reuniting again and seeing everybody hug each other. And I get a ton of hugs during pride. So I'm you know, I'm excited."
She added that she believes there needs to be more lesbian bars across major cities.
"It's a sense of community when people come here, when they meet other people here, everyone that walks through my door has come from all walks of life, all age groups," Bouffard said. "So to have that experience of being in a room, I mean, have you ever been in a room full of hundred women with different backgrounds? It's an energy thing. ... They're sacred spaces at the end of the day, and they need to be saved. And then, quite frankly, more needs to be opened up in other cities so that there's a hub for the queer community to go to, not just one letter of the alphabet."
As for the campaign, Street said that these welcoming places for the community need to be supported.
"For those of us who have the option to have those bars where they live, then they should absolutely go, show up and spread the word," she said. "And if you can't show up in person, maybe it means you can donate. Maybe it means that you can send this information to someone else. There's so many ways to help and be an activist today, and that's really empowering."
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