El Rio gets funding to keep serving local LGBTQ+ community

Mission District bar and queer mainstay El Rio was awarded a grant from national LGBTQ advocacy organization Human Rights Campaign and Showtime on Tuesday as COVID-19 and rent prices continue to surge.

The “Queer to Stay: An LGBTQ+ Business Preservation Initiative” is a partnership between the nonprofit and the television network recognizing businesses that serve the community, particularly LGBTQ and transgender people of color.

Each awarded business received an amount “in the five figures,” according to reporting by the Bay Area Reporter.

El Rio general manager Lynne Angel said she felt “absolutely honored” on behalf of the staff, while acknowledging “a long road ahead” for the San Francisco legacy business defined by commitment to LGBTQ minorities and lively dance parties since its first incarnation as a Brazilian leather gay bar in 1978.

“Oh, how we wish for a sweaty dance party in the patio. We strive to make sure we can safely get folks together again because we sure do miss the collective hum of El Rio,” said Angel. “We hope when this is all over that we can join once again and center those who need support most – those the most impacted by this year, the most impacted by this world – and be an ongoing foundation for years to come.”

Two of El Rio’s signature events are Salsa Sundays, a mixed live music party centered around salsa dancing, and Mango, a monthly dance tea party for queer women of color. Salsa Sundays has been established for over 35 years, while Mango celebrated a 24th anniversary in 2020.

Another association that interweaves El Rio into the very fabric of San Francisco’s LGBTQ pride scene are past afterparties hosted on-site for San Francisco Dyke March and San Francisco Trans March – solid threads identified by in a 2017 San Francisco Planning Department Legacy Business Registry Case Report.

“These events are central to our foundation and formation. They have grown with us and helped establish our presence and commitment to community,” Angel said. “We feel these events house us as much as we house them.”

Moving forward, the losses of other San Francisco gay bars in the Mission like Amelia’s in 1991 and The Lexington Club in 2015 have not been forgotten by Angel or other community members. Former and current gender-diverse outlets prove pivotal for people in their journeys toward self-acceptance.

“Since the onset of COVID-19 we know that El Rio is among the many LGBTQ+ businesses who are struggling to stay open and continue providing space for its queer community,” said Nicole Cozier, the HRC senior vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion. “El Rio has played such a vital role in creating intentional, safe spaces for all members of the LGBTQ+ community.”

Hence, the collective goal of El Rio and other inclusionary places in 2020 has not changed much – persevere, provide and party.

“These LGBTQ+ businesses become safe havens – a space, a community, a home for folks who may not have supportive families or communities at home,” said Nicole Cozier, the HRC senior vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion. “Often times, these are the only places where LGBTQ+ people can come to find community, their friends, [or] partners and simply be their authentic selves. I can’t think of a time when I would not need that.”

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