Features

The LGBTQ Guide to Pittsburgh

From raves in bathhouses to drag shows in dive bars, there's always something going on.

by Ezra Marcus; illustrated by Lia Kantrowitz
Jun 23 2017, 2:53pm

This month, THUMP honors Pride with a celebration of LGBTQ nightlife all across America. Follow our coverage here.

Sam Perry grew up 20 minutes outside of Pittsburgh, in a conservative part of Western Pennsylvania that offered little in the way of an LGBTQ scene. It wasn't until 2011, after high school, that he moved into the city and found the community he'd been looking for his whole life. Now, he's heavily involved in his city's electronic music and drag scenes, and performs under the name Moon Baby. He's been able to spread his wings in a city that many people might not associate with thriving queer nightlife.

These days, the Pittsburgh crew Honcho is a national concern, appearing at parties across the country (they recently made us a sweet mix to celebrate a big New York gig). But they're far from the only thing happening in the city—over the last five years Perry's watched the scene grow and expand, with crucial new parties and spaces popping up constantly. Over the phone, he explains that Pittsburgh is exciting because people aren't dependent on big clubs for fun. "It's more of a punk, drag, and after-hours-type city," he explains.

Pittsburgh has outgrown its erroneousreputation for Rust Belt disrepair and become a new creative hotspot. "The city's just gotten a lot of attention and all of the queer community that's been here and been doing things, we've just kind of maintained our spaces and made sure that they're protected," Perry explains. "Because of that, we've only grown."

Read on for his guide to everything that makes the scene so exciting, from raves in bathhouses to drag shows in dive bars.

All images provided by Sam Perry

Blue Moon Bar

Blue Moon Bar is the bar I got my start in and is the former playground of drag superstars Sharon Needles and Alaska Thunderfuck 5000. Every Wednesday is an open stage competition hosted by my sisters Bambi Deerest, Cindy Crochford, and Dixie Surewood. It preaches the accepting message of the Blue Moon, opening it's stage to performance art, drag, burlesque, and live music.

When I moved to Pittsburgh in 2011, it was the season of Drag Race that Sharon Needles was on. Sharon still lives in Pittsburgh and she won that season, so drag in Pittsburgh really blew up, specifically at the Blue Moon, which was the bar that she kind of got her start at. It's a very punk venue that, as Sharon has toured and exited the city in a way, has been taken over by a whole crew of queens that still preach that inclusiveness and openness, but it's not necessarily political punk drag anymore. There's certainly space for it. I mean, I'm a recording artist that happens to be a drag queen and I'm very welcome there.

Amidst all the death drops and lip syncing, I can still get up on a stage and have people enjoy it and want to see me. It's an interesting space; it's super small, like maybe 90 people can fit in there. On a Wednesday, at the open stage thing I had mentioned, there will be a line out the door, because there will be like 15 performers that can't wait to perform and they bring all of their friends and you never know what you're going to see. I've drank my own urine on that stage. It gets crazy, so it's really cool, but you can also see just truly good, traditional drag there. It's fun.

Mario Josie

As far as scene figureheads go, Josie represents inclusivity and progress. They are a video and performance artist, and they're involved in a free Monday dinner that has been going on for five years now called Community Dinner, just one small example of small intentions that have made Josie a person to look to. Mario and I met when I moved to Pittsburgh.

We delved into the community together, building just a really strong group of friends. We've all continued to just exist and support our efforts. As for the dinners, they're really great. They're just at our friend's house. It's happened for five years now, and the people who organize it are really savvy in terms of growing their own food, but also using their food stamps to feed themselves and like twenty other people every Monday of the year. The conversation there doesn't feel like an echo chamber, which can happen in a small city and certainly in a queer scene where it just feels like you're all talking about the election and you're all saying the same thing. It's different, and it's really a space for creatives to meet and talk about what they're up to, so that's pretty special.

Hot Mass

Hot Mass is a Saturday after-hours held in Club Pittsburgh, a gay bathhouse in the city. It's run by several different crews to keep things fresh every week and has progressed with the community to be a space of inclusivity. The family of Hot Mass really cares for one another and takes the time when the party is over to see and support one another. The music that we are blessed with every Saturday in such an intimate space is spectacular.

In the past two years, it's really just become my family. There's a perception, I think, from the outside of it being very bro-y, or not safe for trans people, or not safe for women, but they've done everything they can to accommodate and make safe spaces for people. In terms of the party, it's just this bizarre, intimate little club, and typically everyone that goes is in for the night. You go at 1am or 2am and stay until 8am and ask each other what's going on after.


Ace Hotel

The Ace Hotel in Pittsburgh has become a safe space and breeding ground for people to party and feel comfortable. The Pittsburgh location mostly employs LGBTQIA people and Ace as a company has given real agency to their employees to make it a place they are proud to go. Most recently, my good friend Judy, Josh Bondi and I threw Jock Strap Lube Wrestling in the Ace gym with Neon Burgundy from New Orleans through our new venture, Hated Inc. LLC. It's just a refreshing space, and I work there. I can't see myself leaving that position because I have healthcare, I have paid time off, and I work with essentially all of my friends. For me as an employee, I feel super safe and understood there.


MESH

Speaking of new party ventures, MESH is a monthly dance party that first benefited Planned Parenthood. The charity and DJs are going to change month to month. This month, Chicago god Jarvi is in the house. Right now, it's happening at this new theater space that's very queer and friendly. They have big plans.

MESH isn't an after-party. It's not trying to compete with existing things. It just wants to be its own thing. What I like about Pittsburgh is it's not competitive in nature. It's very much like, "Oh, you're bringing her in? Fuck, I can't wait to see that." It's not like, "how am I going to top you?" You know? Everyone's just really excited by what we get to have, because it just feels like there are a lot of bigger cities out there that have this kind of stuff all the time, so when we get to have it we feel like it's special. We don't really take it for granted.

GirlFX

GirlFX are a new crew of gals and their pals that throw events around art, music, and expression. The sisters are doing it for themselves, as they say, and they do a damn good job of it. They have a night at Hot Mass. They have a DJ night at Ace. It's very much girl-gang, female-empowerment group of people. They're like six months old but there are plenty of groups that have made space for GirlFX, in terms of laying that groundwork. They just throw wild, wild parties. Everyone seems to throw wild, wild parties.

True T Entertainment

True T s integral to the vogue and ball community in the city. They are bringing Leiomy Maldonado for a vogue workshop as part of their August Blackout Weekend, which is just a small indication of the intimate special moments that happen in Pittsburgh; we're a really hard working city that isn't out to prove itself or buy into the magical center of the universe mentality. We keep doing what we do because we just really love doing it together. I am consistently gagged.