Gay Bars in Sydney Survived COVID, New Study Shows

Dr. Chris Pepin-Neff
3 min readFeb 7, 2023

93% of gay bars, venues, and events surveyed in Sydney and regional NSW rebounded following COVID-19, according to a new Policy Paper released today by the Sydney Policy Lab at the University of Sydney.

The study “The Impacts of COVID-19 on Gay Bars and Events in New South Wales, Australia” looked at 56 gay bars, venues, and events and was authored by Chief Investigator Dr. Chris Pepin-Neff, and co-authored by Dr. Laura Welty, Ben Ormerod, and Dr. Juliet Bennett.

The full report is available here:

https://www.sydney.edu.au/content/dam/corporate/documents/sydney-policy-lab/the_impacts_of_covid-19_on_gay_bars_and_events.pdf

Pepin-Neff stated, “Sydney is leading the queer world in the recovery from COVID-19. This data highlights how resilient and determined the NSW LGBTIQ+ community has been to rebound following the pandemic.” Pepin-Neff added, “Following this research, I am suggesting more targeted investment from the NSW Government into more marginalised LGBTIQ+ communities and regional NSW.”

Overall, the paper presents three findings:

  • NSW’s gay communities highlight the stunning success of people and groups to rebound following the worst pandemic in 100 years.
  • Gay bars, venues, and events appear to have a slightly lower growth trend with a disparity to the overall NSW trend for businesses.
  • Regional gay communities appear to have fewer resources and were slower at reopening.

The research found that only six venues, bars, or events (7%) had closed during the height of the COVID-19 time period. This is far below the global trend that has seen the decline of gay and lesbian bars since 2007. In fact, a study by Greggor Mattson in the journal Urban Studies found in 2019 that the Damron Guide, the U.S. national travel guidebook of LGBTQ+ spaces, saw a 36.6% decline in gay bar listings between 2007 and 2019, including a 51.9% decline in lesbian bar listings.

Because the closure rate was so low, researchers examined the duration of time between the 2021 lockdown and subsequent reopening. This would provide a reference point for social cohesion and capacity within a community. Below is a chart outlining the delays experienced by different bars, venues, and events following the COVID lockdown, which lasted around 107 days in NSW.

This Policy Paper addresses the nature of social capital in gay and gay-related spaces in NSW by providing new data through a content analysis of Facebook and media stories regarding the opening and closing of 56 LGBTIQ+ social venues in the Greater Sydney region of New South Wales. Robert Putnam defines social capital as “features of social organisation such as networks, norms, and social trust that facilitate coordination and cooperation for mutual benefit.”

Chris Pepin-Neff (they/them) is an academic and the author of two books. This article does not reflect the views of their employer.

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Dr. Chris Pepin-Neff

Senior Lecturer in Public Policy, focusing on the role of emotions in the policy process. Pronouns (they/them). Opinions are mine.