After an intense flurry of online outrage, Queer/Bar has announced they will not be booking Sharon Needles for a performance on November 16. Needles has been criticized for past racist remarks she made while performing in Seattle.
"I have come to see the trauma that this person has inflicted on my community," said Joey Burgess, Queer/Bar's owner and operator. "This impact takes precedent over all. I hear you. Our staff stands with you."
Queer/Bar, which has been open for less than a month, has become a sticking point in the ongoing debate over the definition, scope, and responsibility of queer programming. "Please be honest and change your name to white gay bar," said one detractor on Facebook.
Moving forward, Sharon Needles will not be booked for this event. This decision is the best decision for the community as a whole. I am also actively taking away lessons from the recent events for future booking. Queer/Bar is moving forward to thinking about structural engagement and visioning.
I genuinely apologize for the re-traumatization that this decision making process has had on members of the queer community. Specifically to Queer People of Color and trans/gender nonconforming folks. I also acknowledge how much time the efforts to correct this decision has taken. I should have done the simple work from the beginning to research this performer and listen when members of the community spoke up. My biggest hope is that through the continued collaboration with community, Queer/Bar can and will do better.
I do not expect that this statement and decision will end this important dialogue that continues to include everyone’s perspective. In fact, we are looking forward to continuing to build together.
The full statement can be read here.
ORIGINAL POST: (10/31 12:54 PM)
Sharon Needles changed RuPaul's Drag Race. RPDR had featured genderqueer, trans, and radical performers prior to Needles' appearance on the show's fourth season, but Needles was presented by the producers as something new. She was aesthetically unique for the show (spooky, transgressive), and she didn't seem to give a fuck about public opinion.
Needles' brash approach to RPDR won her the crown and laid the groundwork for the show's growing mainstream success, but it hasn't come without backlash. In the years following her TV coronation, Needles has dressed in Confederate flags, presented herself in Nazi regalia, and, as the Stranger has covered before, done and said some pretty racist shit.
So, when the newly opened Queer/Bar announced they will be inviting Sharon Needles to perform at their venue on November 16, the Internet backlash was swift and firey. The event page for Needles' performance has been inundated with posts admonishing Needles' visit. Among the complaints, Facebookers decry that the bar is "commodify[ing] queerness for the rich liberal gays" and "support[ing] racism."
Despite the outrage, Queer/Bar's Joey Burgess says Needles should be allowed to perform. Burgess, who identifies as queer, wrote in a statement (posted in full at the bottom of this post) that "Queer/Bar won't be a space to condemn those who are working to become better people."
Queer/Bar, which has been opened for less than a month, has been plagued by criticism.
The bar replaced Purr, a gay bar that had been on 11th Avenue for almost 12 years. In June, the Stranger broke that Purr was being "priced out" of its current location. It appeared Purr's last days on this Earth were nigh, but owner Barbie Roberts assured us Purr would have "some exciting news very soon!" The news, it turned out, was that they were moving to the bustling metropolis of Montlake, which is apparently quite interesting. (FYI don't even think about suggesting Montlake is a boring NIMBY hellhole unless you're prepared for a Slog commenter to call you "an ignorant slut" who lives in the "Socialist Alternative war zone that is modern Capitol Hill.")
Fortunately, a gay flight to Montlake didn't seem necessary/likely, because a new gay bar would be taking Purr's place: Queer/Bar. That's right: queer.
The bar's bold name raised some questions: What the fuck even is a queer bar? How is Queer/Bar different from, say, Pony or Re-bar? To whom does it cater? Does a queer bar have a responsibility to be equitable? Can cis gay men be queer? Is there a queer aesthetic?
Kevin Kauer, a leader of Seattle's nightlife and owner of Nark Magazine, recently posted a status stating "queer has been thoroughly commodified and stricken of meaning" on Capitol Hill:
If a venue is going to call itself Queer/Bar, it seems it better be accessible to queer people. But when Queer/Bar announced its signature show series would be called "MX. A Queer/Drag Show," with performances curated by Seattle's Robbie Turner (RPDR season 8), people were not satisfied. As one detractor commented on Queer/Bar's Facebook page: "Change your name. You're not a queer bar."
People who commit crimes deserve second chances, but does Sharon Needles, a queen who built her career performing ostentatiously transgressive numbers, deserve a second chance? Has she already used up all her chances, or is there room for forgiveness in Queer culture? The answer appears to be no, at least not among queer Seattleites looking to toss dollars at a queen.
Cucci Binaca, a mainstay of Seattle's alternative and queer drag community, says "Sharon knows exactly why she isn't welcomed here in Seattle," referring to an alleged incident when Needles used the N word "towards a person of color in our community."
Queer/Bar has other feelings. Robbie Turner says she doesn't believe Needles is transphobic or racist. "Moreover," Turner says, "[Needles] has apologized and moved forward 5 years later." Burgess followed up: "We forgive. We allow lives to go on. We allow change and growth to happen. We are providing Sharon a space for that growth to continue."
You can read Burgess' lengthy statement here:
Hello, Joey Burgess here, owner and operator of Queer/Bar. I have been an openly Queer man since my teens and with the opening of Queer/Bar, I have finally been able to realize my goal of creating a space for the broad LGBTQIA spectrum with the hope of being an accepting space for artists, performers, and our entire community. I want to take the time to address the issue of our upcoming performance with Sharon Needles, and do so with transparency and openness because I care about my community feeling supported and heard.
First, I want to thank everyone for the feedback and conversation surrounding this event. We sincerely appreciate and support the conversation and believe communication is vital in advancing social justice issues and that through productive conversation and active listening we can create moments of dialogue that create real change.
So here goes: When Robbie Turner, our Entertainment Director at Queer/Bar, booked Sharon Needles, I didn’t know much about the performer other than the fact the she won season 4 of RuPaul’s Drag Race, has created some iconic looks during the tenure of her career, and appeared this year at The Egyptian Theater in association with PrideFest, was presented by Nark Magazine at Neumos, and has performed at other Seattle venues like The Moore Theater. When I was alerted about the comments and feedback we were receiving on the event page, I was truly taken aback and alarmed regarding the responses. I have spent the past few days researching this performer: her words, her actions, and her art. We have discussed this situation at length with our staff, that which I proudly say represents a broad spectrum of the LGBTQIA community including PoC. Their feedback was crucial in our decision making process.
I learned that Sharon Needles made insensitive and inappropriate remarks during performances in 2012 or years prior including racial and transphobic terms. I've also learned that first and foremost Sharon is an artist and as such she incorporates the world around her in her art, even the darkest and grossest parts. Anyone that's seen one of Sharon's performances would also recognize that not only is she an artist, she's a provocateur. Using her craft and her platform to spark dialogue both internally and socially about the sometimes fucked up world around us. However, I understand the trauma and harm caused by these performances. That noted, she's has recognized that some of the specific performances that myself, commentators, fans and detractors alike have raised issues around have pushed the envelope too far and I am relieved that they have been abandoned by Sharon.
Two years ago, Aaron Coady (Sharon Needles) responded to the issues brought up on this page in the interview imbedded below. If you have taken the time to comment, I recommend taking the time to watch this video to understand more of Sharon’s decisions and behavior. (It’s long, but worth watching in it’s entirety.)
Queer/Bar was founded on a belief that now more than ever, we need an outlet where our community could come together to celebrate all that makes us incredible. We are learning from those that have chosen to walk thru our doors, meet our staff, share a conversation and we'll continue to do so because that's why we're here. Queer/Bar does not and will not ever condone racist or transphobic behavior. However, Queer/Bar is a place that looks forward, allows redemption and creates spaces for artists, controversial or not. We believe that people who make mistakes are capable of growing, understanding how their actions have hurt others and then changing their behavior. And once people make those changes, we believe they deserve the opportunity to redeem themselves. We understand that exploring, understanding, and attempting to create our identity is a challenging and exhausting journey for us individually as well as a community as a whole. As we evolve throughout our lives, we hope that old versions of ourselves don’t haunt us forever but instead are used as reflection points to understand how far we've come. Queer/Bar won't be a space to condemn those who are working to become better people. We forgive. We allow lives to go on. We allow change and growth to happen. We are providing Sharon a space for that growth to continue. Hearing Sharon (Aaron) in his own words helped direct our decision in moving forward with this show.
The statement was also posted to the bar's event page. The first response? "NOPE...Expect pushback."