Gay Travel: Pittsburgh in Pride Month

I'll take a trip to Ptown any day, but as an LGBTQ travel writer, I'm less interested in immersing in the queer hotspots of the world than in connecting with local LGBTQ populations as I roam. In practical terms, that often means trekking across town to visit a gay bar.

Pride isn’t parades, it’s community

Pride isn’t parades, it’s community

On the outskirts of Pittsburgh's trending Lawrenceville neighborhood, gay bar Blue Moon is tucked into a tiny storefront.

Drinks were strong and cheap, if you could fight your way to the bar to put in an order! We got there shortly before the drag show began, and the bar was packed with an all-ages crowd.

The room was long and skinny, with a stage opposite the bar area. I couldn't tell you about the bar's decor or seating, because I couldn't see through the crowd. We crunched into maybe eight feet of space between the barstools and stage and waited for the drag show to begin.

The vibe was casual–this wasn’t the sort of gay bar where everyone tried to look cute before going out. I appreciated that, as it put the focus on coming together in queer community rather than standing out. The drag queens were a retro-kitsch sort of glitzy.

The show opened with a Celine Dion number–"My Heart Will Go On"–to much hooting and hollering from the crowd.

Bills went flying toward the stage. I figured this queen was a local favorite, but the crowd turned out to be incredibly generous with each performer. I've never seen so much money change hands at a drag show.

The young woman next to me went through a stash of singles in the first half of the show. After she was out of cash, she screamed and thrashed at every song, attracting the attention of the emcee who called her up on stage at the end of the night so the crowd could clap for her enthusiasm.

While it was a majority queer room, there were plenty of straight patrons–and not the over-the-top bachelorette kind, out for the night to objectify gay culture. The crowd was majority male, but it was welcoming and intersectional, something that reminds me of the gay bars I loved (now closed) in Boston and San Francisco.

The bar's divey, slapdash feel was a contrast to the neighborhood’s self-aware, Instagram-styled boutiques. Set on the outskirts of a gentrifying neighborhood, Blue Moon was a holdout in a city that was changing, quickly and unevenly. A holdout, too, for gay spaces in a time when too many gay bars have closed because apps like Grindr turn any bar into a cruising spot.

I visited during Pride Month, the one month of the year when every major corporation pinkwashes their ads in an effort to sell stuff to queer consumers without, you know, actually giving a damn about LGBTQ lives (many donate to anti-gay causes).

In an era where celebrating pride seems to mean posing for selfies in front of balloon rainbows or grabbing free swag, I found my pride spirit at the gay bar–in community with other LGBTQ folks, taking care of our own and spreading love and positivity.

We can make the world more accepting of LGBTQ folks (and we have, though there's backlash there), but we can also preserve gay spaces. There's so much beautiful history here, and our community doesn't have much in the way of history.

What are your favorite LGBTQ travel destinations?