Well, that honeymoon didn’t last long.
Only open a month, QUEER BAR, the new LGBTQ bar/club in the former Purr Lounge space on 11th Avenue on Capitol Hill has already run into a controversy. The bar which has widely promoted its Friday/Saturday drag show MX with host/RPDR Season 8 star ROBBIE TURNER made it known at opening that the club would have special out of town guests perform at their weekly shows. It was a tad surprising that they announced that the winner of Season Four of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” SHARON NEEDLES would be their first big guest on November 16th. Needles is both a much loved AND much reviled star from the RPDR empire, with thousands of fans who love her edgy, dark humor and performances.
But, Needles (aka Aaron Coady) has also earned pans from some members of the LGBTQ community who claim that the performer has demonstrated racist, anti-semitic and questionable behavior both in performances and off-stage with the star accused of everything from dropping the “N-bomb” and being abusive to fans as well as charges of using Nazi imagery and donning blackface in performance.
Defenders of Needles have pointed out that the performer has apologized for poor choice of language in the past. Fans have also pointed out that the photos used to criticize the star have been taken out of context. The Nazi uniform worn by Needles also included “Donald Duck” make-up and was making a point about Fascism and corporate culture. The infamous blackface photo was allegedly taken from a photo/video shoot from a production of “The Rocky Horror Show” starring Needles where the famous opening sequence of a singing mouth was replicated and the use of dark make-up was for filming purposes only to create contrast for the visual image.
Sharon Needles was also recently canned from an appearance in a Portland, Oregon club earlier this year based on protests from members of the community. But, conversely, there were no protests when Needles last performed in Seattle on June 22nd at “Dragapalooza” at the Egyptian Cinema. She performed at two sold out shows that night in an all live singing show featuring both local and nationally known drag talent and the star was cheered when she made numerous comments about standing up to Trump and promoting other social justice causes, something Needles has always been very vocal about.
But, the announcement that Needles was appearing at Queer Bar apparently struck a nerve with local social justice warriors who contacted Queer Bar Joey Burgess to demand that the appearance should be canceled. This website was also contacted and asked that we help the protesters with their demands. (We did not respond to that request.)
Burgess responded early yesterday afternoon (Oct 31, 2017) with a post on Queer Bar’s Facebook page indicating they would support Sharon Needles and continue with the event. Here’s the concluding paragraph of that long statement (Click here for full):
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.
But, the pressure continued, flamed by a post on The Stranger’s SLOG and later in the evening, Burgess decided to cancel the appearance and issued a second statement on their Facebook page. Here is that statement, in full:
To My Community from owner of Queer/Bar Joey Burgess,
I want to thank you for allowing me an opportunity to learn and grow from the recent events regarding booking Sharon Needles. After making a statement earlier today, I completely understand the reactions. Initially I was under the impression that Sharon Needles had transformed and moved forward by engaging the community with a new lens, I have since learned that has not been everyone’s experience or opinion. As expressed, I initially chose to move forward with the show as a forgiving and forward looking leader, and while I stand by those principals that decision was a mistake. It was not enough to take Sharon’s statements and apology in the face of controversy as redemption and a pass. I have come to see the trauma that this person has inflicted on my community. This impact takes precedent over all. I hear you. Our staff stands with you. My goal when opening Queer/Bar was to provide a space that my community could feel safe and supported. After all of the feedback and concerns, I stand by my community at large. The need to cancel the show is clear. I am grateful for the feedback that enlightened me to facts I did not know. I am indebted to those who reached out to give constructive criticism and share their personal experiences with this performer.
I am so proud to be working with such a kind, diverse, and open staff. I prioritize building community, and as I said before we are building Queer/Bar to be a safe space for all. We do not tolerate profane, violent language directed towards our community members in any direction. We do not tolerate hate speech or harassment. We will not stand by more division. Queer/Bar is and always will be a space for an undivided, undefined, and unapologetic queer community. This is inherently hypocritical considering my initial decision to defend someone who has not embodied our values. I continue to learn. Queer/Bar’s commitment to justice and building community is the priority. Thank you again to everyone who stands by our journey.
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.
That decision to cancel the appearance delighted detractors of Needles but also disappointed fans of the star and those who think redemption and atonement for past actions should be rewarded instead of punished. If a goal of social justice work is to educate, inform and ultimately change the minds of people opposed to it, sending the message that anyone who does redeem themselves by “seeing the light” will never be forgiven or accepted into the community, isn’t going to help in converting anyone to social justice causes.