Stonewall, a gay bar in Allentown, shut down in May 2021, marking the closure of the last gay bar in the Lehigh Valley.
In the month leading up to Stonewall’s final date of operation, Brian Lucas, ‘23, said he celebrated the 50-year-old establishment as many nights of the week as he could.
Upon the eventual closure, Lucas said he felt struck by a lack of safe and inclusive spaces in the Lehigh Valley, despite a rich history of LGBTQ+ activism within the valley.
As president of the Student Political Action Coalition and an active member of the Lehigh community, Lucas began posturing ways to create an inclusive space for South Bethlehem.
“For me, as an activist, I’m always trying to think of ways I can leverage personal power for social gain,” Lucas said.
According to Lucas, the Lehigh Valley has the second largest queer community in Pennsylvania, a fact that Lucas believes a lot of people wouldn’t know or believe.
Lucas and several of his peers are interested in pursuing the development of a space that could serve as a queer community center by day and nightclub by night.
“There are so many different ways that you can organize and leverage a local business into ways that really help the community, especially when we consider a non-profit model,” Lucas said.
Lucas said community centers like Bradbury Sullivan of Allentown fill an important role in providing visibility to queer youth within the Lehigh Valley, such as organizing an annual pride parade. However, they do not satisfy the same needs an intersectional adult space would.
“Gay bars have served the community in the same way that queer youth centers as a whole serve the community – they do the same thing, just in two very different ways,” Lucas said. “Regardless of what you’re looking for, you need safe and friendly spaces that are inclusive and accommodating to your needs. You need a network.”
Micheal Hobeen, ‘22, is a longtime friend of Lucas, who has worked on market research and data analysis regarding the details of the project.
Hobeen said on campus, the establishment of social circles like multicultural fraternities speaks volumes about the number of people seeking alternative spaces but he said there is a lack of accessibility to them.
“Our hope is not just to create space for LGBTQ+ members, but is more of an open community where you don’t have to be worried about ridicule,” Hobeen said.
Scott Burden, director of the Pride Center, was made aware of Lucas’s plans last fall. He believes that the visibility aspect of Lucas’s plans will help promote the idea that queer people are successful, thriving and supporting one another.”
“Having spaces defined by values of inclusion, community and safety are so critical for all of us, regardless of being queer,” Burden said .
Burden hopes that his office can be a resource for Lucas’s project in the future, since the Pride Center has historically engaged with community partners like Bradbury Sullivan, HAVEN and local high school Gay-Straight Alliance programs.
Lucas and Hobeen said Lehigh peers and community investors are interested in pursuing the project full-time upon graduation. Their sentiments echo a passion for serving an echelon of young people.
“I’m willing to risk and even sacrifice that part of my 20s to try and do something really incredible that will benefit the Southside,” Lucas said.