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Hidden Rainbows: Gay Bars as Safe Havens in a Socially Conservative Area Since the Pulse Nightclub Massacre


Gay and lesbian bars are considered a safe haven. Safe havens exist because of the larger cultural environment that makes safe places necessary. Some communities have noted reductions in the need for gay and lesbian bars due to growing acceptance within the community. However, many states and communities within the South and Bible Belt continue to propose and pass bills which target or restrict the freedoms of LGBT persons. These cultural overtones may support or encourage targeted violence, including the Pulse Nightclub Massacre which was the deadliest incidence of violence targeted at LGBT persons in the USA. This manuscript presents two studies: one at gay bars in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a socially conservative city/state, and the other examines four US communities following the Pulse Nightclub Massacre. Study 1 included interviews at entrance to the bar, exit from the bar, and within a week of leaving the bar in order to identify feelings of safety and comfort. Study 2 seeks to compare gay bar attendance and feelings of comfort and safety in gay bars in regions of the USA with varying structural stigma. Results of study 1 suggest that the participants felt safe (82.4%, n = 42) and comfortable (72.5%, n = 37). In study 2, individuals from Tulsa, Oklahoma were compared to individuals in New York and the DC metro area and were significantly less likely to attend gay bars after the Pulse shooting (t = 2.53 and 3.66, p ≤ 0.01 and p ≤ 0.001, respectively). Moreover, compared to individuals living in the DC metro area and Philadelphia, participants residing in the city in a conservative state felt significantly less safe attending gay bars (t = −2.03 and −2.30, respectively; p ≤ 0.05). No differences across the communities were noted by comfort within the gay bar space. In light of a changing political landscape, additional programming efforts may be necessary at gay bars in communities with high structural stigma. These efforts may include supporting the naturally occurring feelings of community connectedness and facilitating community building.

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Correspondence to Julie M. Croff.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Croff, J.M., Hubach, R.D., Currin, J.M. et al. Hidden Rainbows: Gay Bars as Safe Havens in a Socially Conservative Area Since the Pulse Nightclub Massacre. Sex Res Soc Policy 14, 233–240 (2017).

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  • Gay bar
  • Gay
  • Prevention
  • Community participatory research