photo of two men drinking in a bar outside with rainbow paint on their faces

Gay bars in Sydney survive COVID-19 pandemic

8 February 2023
One of the first post-COVID studies on the LGBTIQ community
A new report from Dr Chris Pepin-Neff, a member of Sydney Policy Lab, shows gay bars, venues, and events in Sydney rebounded by 93 percent post-COVID, after some of the toughest lockdowns and restrictions to the nightlife sector in the world.

Dr Chris Pepin-Neff, Senior Lecturer in Public Policy in the Discipline of Government and International Relations and member of the Sydney Policy Lab, has published preliminary data that shows gay bars, venues and events rebounded following their closure during COVID-19; however, more attention is needed for those in marginalised communities and regional NSW.

“This study suggests Sydney has one of the most resilient LGBTIQ communities in the world,” Dr Pepin-Neff said. “Globally gay bars are struggling, but in Sydney they are thriving.”

Key findings

Based on a review of 56 bars, venues and events:
• 93 percent re-open rate for gay businesses in NSW post-COVID-19 pandemic.
• 7 percent closure rate that highlights a slight disparity as other nightlife businesses grew by 4.6 percent
• NSW regional gay businesses have been slower to reopen than the city; having greater impact on regional communities where gay venues, bars and events are fewer and the social cohesion attached to them is greater.

Impacts of COVID-19 on gay bars

photo of a street sign that says Stonewall Hotel with a pink triangle for the a

Stonewall Hotel in Sydney is one of the city's top LGBTIQ bars. Credit: Dr Chris Pepin-Neff

The new Policy Paper supported by the Sydney Policy Lab and shared with the NSW government has found the LGBTIQ community has helped gay and gay-related businesses to rebound following COVID and with the help of federal programs like JobKeeper and NSW programs like the COVID-19 business grant. However, there are still areas of concern in marginalised communities and the regions that require more attention and research.
Dr Chris Pepin-Neff said the paper, The Impacts of COVID-19 on Gay Bars and Events in New South Wales, Australia, includes preliminary data of a phase-one study and further research  will be conducted to investigate greater impact on the LGBTIQ nightlife sector, which was under strict COVID conditions including no drinking, no dancing, density limits, restricted venue entry times, pre-purchased tickets on top of vaccination guidelines, social distancing and hygiene practices.
“This data illustrates the resilience of the LGBTIQ community in NSW in its ability to rebound following COVID, to save gay spaces, and to be an example to the world in queer community building. We published these initial findings due to the exceptional circumstances of the global pandemic and its impact on marginalised communities,” Dr Pepin-Neff said. “New South Wales has a lot to be proud of as it welcomes WorldPride to Sydney in two weeks. And yet, we need to remember many are still struggling in the regions and this paper highlights this need.”

Global decline in gay bars

Dr Pepin-Neff says globally there has been a decline in gay bars, which is highlighted by research in the U.S., which has found the listings for gay and lesbian bars between 2007 and 2019 declined by 37 percent for gay bars and 52 percent for lesbian bars. This decline started with the global financial crisis, followed by the global pandemic and a shift towards social engagement online.
“There has been a slow death of gay and lesbian bars around the world,” said Dr Pepin-Neff. “However, Sydney is demonstrating success because these bars, venues, and events provide social connection and that’s where you build resilience for getting through tough times.”

Dr Pepin-Neff is a Senior Lecturer in Public Policy in the Discipline of Government and International Relations and a member of the Sydney Policy Lab. (Hero Image: iStock)

Declaration: This paper was supported by the Sydney Policy Lab.

Download the Paper: The Impacts of COVID-19 on Gay Bars and Events in New South Wales, Australia

Download PDF

Dr Chris Pepin-Neff

Senior Lecturer in Public Policy
Visit Dr Pepin-Neff's academic profile

Related articles