Drag queen bingo and book clubs go virtual, as LGBT+ people support each other through the COVID-19 epidemic
By Rachel Savage
HORSLEY, England, March 23 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - From a fire-eater performing for a lesbian club night from her garden to virtual quiz nights and book clubs, LGBT+ communities around the world are moving online as the coronavirus epidemic makes it harder to get together in person.
With gay, bisexual and transgender people at a higher risk of mental health problems, LGBT+ event organisers say they want to help them combat loneliness and anxiety as people are forced to stay inside.
Measures rolled out around the world to combat the spread of the virus range from closing bars, clubs and restaurants to imposing lockdowns that bar people from leaving their homes except to buy food and for emergencies.
"In the queer community we need that sense of community more than a lot of people," said Mitra Wicks, who has cancelled her monthly Lez Events London club nights until further notice.
The events usually attract between 200 and 400 people, but on Saturday she tested a virtual club night with about 15 friends using a Zoom video conference, which enables participants to see one another via live video.
DJ Nikky G played music, while the event's regular fire breather performed in her garden and people flirted via instant messaging.
"This is a good opportunity to meet new people, to form human connections at a time when they're going to be feeling lonely and worried," said Wicks, who is planning a public, donation-based virtual party for Saturday, April 4th.
Members of the London-based Lez Book Club are moving to Google Hangouts to discuss Jenny Hval's "Paradise Rot" on Wednesday and Jeanette Winterson's "Frankissstein" on Thursday.
"We wanted to make sure our community could still come together," said organiser Eleonore Pratoussy.
Hotel Gaythering, a gay-friendly hotel in Miami Beach, Florida, closed its bar on March 15 and moved the regular karaoke, trivia and bingo nights online.
"We're reinventing the wheel by the minute," said co-owner Alex Guerra.
The Wednesday quiz usually has eight to 12 teams, but 34 teams from Greece to the Cayman Islands entered online, said Guerra, who reprised his role as quiz master on Instagram Live.
"I had 100% faith that my regular patrons ... were going to embrace it," said Guerra, who made the events free but asked for donations to the karaoke and bingo hosts, drag queens Karla Croqueta and Blamie Forret.
"What I found that was amazing is that I had people that just follow our Instagram casually, they got to experience us and they've never been able to before."
(Reporting by Rachel Savage @rachelmsavage; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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