For members of the queer community in Nova Scotia and beyond, enjoying a night out with friends is not as easy as it should be.
According to Reign Dorfschmidt, it often involves careful prep work — mapping out the bars, clubs and restaurants in advance where everyone will feel safe and welcomed.
“We can’t just get dolled up in our looks and be like, ‘I’m going to go to this bar and that bar,'” they said from their Halifax apartment.
“We have to plan our nights out, we have to make sure there are people with us that will have our back in case something happens, because we’re not always accepted by society, and that sucks.”
For more than a decade, Menz and Mollyz helped removed the anxiety and fear from a night out for the LGBTQ2 community in Halifax.
The Gottingen Street bar, queer-owned and operated, was a place where all were encouraged to express themselves, experiment and discover who they are, among friends. It was also the only dedicated queer bar for adults in the city.
“It was like a home, it was a community,” said Dorfschmidt, who hosted shows and performed at Menz, both as a musician and a drag king, Mike Hunt. “A lot of people made their chosen family at that space.”
Menz and Mollyz initially closed in April of 2020 as the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic swept the city. It reopened later that year for a short while, reigniting hope in the community that it would stay that way.
Global News has independently confirmed that the bar was sold in the last six months.
“It’s hard, it kind of hurts that we lost the bar again,” said Jason Spurrell, one of Menz’ original staffers, house queens and the very first ‘Miss Menz and Mollyz.’ Spurrell is also a drag performer named Rouge Fatale.
“I made relationships and friendships and went through a lot in that place. It was our safe zone, it was a safe place, it was our refuge.”
There are other queer-friendly spaces in Halifax, they explained, but none are strictly 19-plus. While many establishments claim to be spaces that are welcoming to all, they added, many don’t walk the talk.
“I’ve seen it multiple times at multiple venues, where we’re told up the wazoo, ‘Yes, of course, we’re respectful, we’re respectful’ — until it’s 1 a.m. and something goes down.”
Spurrell and others in the community explained that a safe space is a place where the staff know the history and rights of the LGBTQ2 community, understand intersectionality, encourage gender-neutral language and, of course, protect their queer peers and patrons. It involves a profound and proactive respect and appreciation for everyone under the rainbow.
“Safe spaces are life-saving,” said Cape and Cowl Comics and Collectibles owner Jay Aaron Roy.
“People who say that just regular bars as it were that are friendly to everyone is good enough, but you wouldn’t understand that unless you live in the community, that’s not enough. It has to be queer-owned.”
Roy, a transgender man, provides a safe and inclusive youth drop-in space at his small business in Lower Sackville, but says his hands are too full to open up a bar, too, as some in the community have requested.
Adult-only queer spaces are critical, he added, as some members of the LGTBQ2 community are at risk of falling “through the cracks” when they age out of the youth programming they leaned on as teenagers.
Courtney Stanley, a Dartmouth resident whose drag alter ego is Richard Rockhard, agreed. They described Menz and Mollyz as “home.”
“Queers don’t stop growing up,” they said. “Once you move out of that category of being a youth, you still want to interact with people who understand your story and understand where you’re coming from.
“So I feel like it’s going to hurt a lot of us who are over 19 because we have no place to convene anymore.”
The previous owner of Menz and Mollyz did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
Spurrell said they hope the queer community comes to accept that the space belongs to someone else.
“It is what it is. We can’t get angry at the folks that bought it,” they told Global News. “They’re allowed to do what they want to do with their own space; they don’t owe the queer community anything just by purchasing a venue.”
Both Spurrell and Roy said they’re optimistic the community will adapt and thrive, and that another space — perhaps one even better than Menz and Mollyz — will come along when the pandemic is over.
“Our community is used to challenges, and we’re used to overcoming them and being creative while doing it, so I know that we will be fine,” said Roy.