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Lesbian Bars Have Dwindled Since 1980. A Nashville Owner Explains Why They're Needed

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

In 1980, there were around 200 lesbian bars in the United States. Now only 21 remain. That's according to The Lesbian Bar Project, a campaign working to document the significance and resilience of these spaces. The Lipstick Lounge in Nashville is one of those bars that remains, and we're joined now by owner Christa Suppan. Welcome to the program.

CHRISTA SUPPAN: Hello. Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So tell me about The Lipstick Lounge. When did you open it, and why is it an important space?

SUPPAN: Well, we opened it - my business partner and I, Jonda Valentine - September 4 of 2002. We opened up the space with not just ourselves in mind - obviously, for being a lesbian-friendly bar because when you walk in, you know that the owners are lesbian. But at the same token, just, you know, building a bridge in our community where people who don't feel like they fit into any certain space can just feel welcome in our space.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I know that a lot of the reason why people went to lesbian bars or gay bars, for that matter, was not only to feel safe and to have community, but it was also to meet other women or men, in the case of gay bars that cater to men. And now, of course, you have sort of apps, and there's all sorts of different ways that you can, you know, hook up with someone that you're interested in. And so I'm sort of wondering where you see this space now. What space does it inhabit now? What sort of need does it fill?

SUPPAN: I think we still fill that need of family and cohesiveness and friendship and camaraderie, even if it's from everybody - from all different walks of life, it is this safe spot to go into and literally just get to be who you are. And people aren't going to look at you odd or - they're just going to be lovely. And the people that come in - they're not just a customer. They're not just a credit card. They're not just a name. These are people we know. These are people we love and we've known and loved for almost 20 years. They're a part of our lives.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I want to note something at this point. It has been a particularly hard year for you and not only because of the lockdowns but because The Lipstick Lounge was hit by a tornado right before the pandemic.

SUPPAN: It was pretty crazy. I - we did not know there was a tornado coming. Thank God we were closed on Mondays at that time. So I get down there, and there are three people standing there waiting because they saw - you know, they knew Lipstick had been hit, and they were there just to pass out hugs. We were fortunate - I mean, at the moment, it was just overwhelming. It lifted both the roofs off, took out our front windows and then, like, our chandeliers and stuff inside. It completely ripped through the whole entire patio.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's been a year.

SUPPAN: You know, Nashville is really (laughter) - you know, we - and then we had the derecho - 80-mile-per-hour straight-line winds - come through, and then we had a bombing on Christmas Day. And just - you know, Nashville, this last year, has just been a continuous slam.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: But what I'm hearing in that story of those people standing out in the parking lot at 1:30 in the morning and through your tears is, again, that sense of community and meaning.

SUPPAN: They aren't just customers. You know, these are people who I just love. And they were there immediately. They were there before I even got there.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We want to end this on a happy note because you're fully reopened now.

SUPPAN: Yes, yes. Yay.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And it's Pride Month, after all. How have you been celebrating (laughter)?

SUPPAN: Well (laughter), Bianca Paige was a drag performer here in Nashville - passed away 10 years ago. And we're doing a street dedication party for the Bianca Paige Way - street that they named after her, which is unbelievable and surprising, and we're so honored to be a part of it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Christa Suppan of Nashville, Tenn. She is one of the owners of The Lipstick Lounge, the only lesbian bar in the state. Thank you so much.

SUPPAN: Thank you, Lulu. I appreciate it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRACY CHAPMAN SONG, "FAST CAR") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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