Queer creatives build safe communities online during COVID-19

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Guests and performers at Club Quarantine. Photo credit: @ClubQuarantine.

You might feel like you’re losing your mind at home. Socializing offers a ton of benefits for physical and mental health. For the LGBTQ+ community, going out to safe spaces provides a chance to try out new looks or identity expressions, and share fellowship. Not being able to access those places has left a big hole for some people.

“When you grow up feeling different, and when you have to come out as what you are, it's kind of an isolated or lonely existence. When we do come out, we search desperately for a community,” says Gaby Dunn, bestselling author, podcaster, and TV writer known for talking about her experiences as a bisexual. “A lot of the ways in which queer people hang out with each other are sort of on on pause right now. It can be really, really damaging.”

She and other LGBTQ+ folks have spent the last few weeks figuring out ways to build community online. One night while fighting off some anxiety-induced insomnia, she decided to host a table read of a popular movie. Her friends would be in the leading roles. They’d read through the script together on the teleconferencing app Zoom. 

“So often the movies that we love, we make them queer in our minds, or we wish that they were queer… It's been super fun to do a little wink and a nod with the casting,” she says. “The entire main cast were either trans people or gender nonconforming people... You would never see that in a rom-com really, unless … it's a queer movie, it's niche or whatever. People in Hollywood are sometimes not creative enough to think outside the box in that way.”

Chat rooms on Zoom and other streaming services have become the perfect places to connect with old friends or someone new. Musician Mal Blum usually has to stick to a tight setlist. Online shows gives them plenty of time to speak with the 400 people in the comments, tell stories off the cuff, and answer questions.

“I started low-dose testosterone. And a lot of them [online viewers] are trans, and they are wondering about that. So this person asked, ‘Tell us more about your voice changing on testosterone.’ ” Blum says. “They've been saying that it's been helpful for them to have stuff to do and ways to sort of plug into community without leaving their houses.”

You can also find places to show off, like Club Quarantine. Each night of shelter-in-place orders, friends Brad Allen, Andres Sierra, Casey MQ and Mingus New throw a party over Zoom. They’ve been promoting Club Q primarily on Instagram, and have picked up over 40,000 followers in about two weeks. Going to a club without leaving your living room also has its upsides: You can do a puzzle, cook dinner, or just sit back and watch everyone else. 

“We've had messages from people just as the chat started being like, ‘Hey, I'm here, so happy to be here, but can't put my camera on because ... of not being out or or things like that,” says Casey MQ. “That's totally cool for us. We are happy to have done and still join.”

Being at home has helped creators reach out to their communities in ways that they never thought of before. They’re planning to keep their new projects going once the shutdown ends, even though it will be a relief for all of us to be together.