“We’re going to do the traditional ham and a turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, dressing, the whole works,” Michael R., who handles promotions and advertisements for the bar, told The Daily Beast. “It’s a big production for us—and it’s no cost to anybody other than us.”
The Sun Trapp has held the holiday dinner for over 25 years running, providing a safe haven for LGBT people who may not feel comfortable spending some—or all—of the day with their biological family. It is one of a small smattering of gay bars that stay open on Christmas Day to help those who might not feel fully accepted or welcome at home.
Michael says that mission is especially vital in Utah, where the Mormon church has such a strong presence. Michael himself comes from a Mormon family that has accepted him after he came out, but not everyone in the community has been so lucky.
“We’re open 365 days a year and we are indeed a safe haven for our LGBTQ community, not only on Christmas but every day,” said Michael. “But this particular day, when so many or displaced or shunned or just flat out disowned by their LDS families, we are a safe haven where they can come and be who they are and not have any judgment.”
And sometimes, the bar plays host to a Christmas miracle: During one memorable December 25 celebration, Michael watched as one of his older regulars, long estranged from her family, got an unexpected visit from her sisters. He will forever remember “the joy and happiness that was on this woman’s face because her family finally came to her.”
“It was simple,” Michael remembered. “They came in, dropped off a card, gave her a hug and a kiss, said, ‘We love you,’ and walked out—but that was all it took. They knew where to find her on Christmas Day.”
Look around long enough and you may be able to find at least one gay bar in your area that stays open on Christmas.
These events can fulfill a vital function for LGBT adults, many of whom have nowhere else to go on the holidays.
In 2013, nearly four in 10 LGBT respondents to a Pew Research Center survey said that they had been “rejected by a family member or close friend because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. And half of those who responded to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey said that they had been rejected in some way by their family, their partner, or even their own children.
That rejection from relatives causes many LGBT people to form “families we choose,” as anthropologist Kath Weston described them in her classic 1991 book on the subject, or “chosen families”—networks of support bound by love rather than by blood.
Because acceptance from loved ones falls on a wide spectrum, some LGBT adults might like to spend some part of Christmas Day with their blood relatives, but then escape sometime that night to be with chosen family. That’s how Houston drag queen Angelina DM Trailz plans to divide her time on December 25.
Trailz’s daylight hours will be spent back at home, which will be a challenge, “because [she’s] still not 100 percent good with [her] family.”
But come evening, she will head to local bar Guava Lamp, where she’s the resident drag queen and social media marketing director. There, she’ll attend the same event the bar hosts every Tuesday: Drag Queen Bingo.
“I think it’s important for our marginalized community to create a space where people can come together, especially during the holidays,” Trailz told The Daily Beast. “There are so many disenfranchised people within the queer community that need a space to experience family and friendship in what can feel like the loneliest time of year.”
Last Christmas, Trailz had dinner with her family and then went over to Guava Lamp for a much-needed drink—or rather a few drinks. Her favorite memory? “There’s nothing that sticks out really, because it gets blurry by the end of the night.”
But she can recall a few magical Christmas moments: “Mostly just us gathering around the bar and really lip-syncing to Mariah Carey and all the other gay icons, getting on stage and doing a little bit of Gaga as well.”
Sometimes, Christmas in a gay bar means as much to the people putting it on as it does to the patrons. Mirtha Rivera, who moved to Canada from Chile over 40 years ago, has long held a Thanksgiving dinner at Q Nightclub in Saskatchewan, as CBC News noted.
For at least six or seven years now, she estimates, Rivera has made food on Christmas, too, for a sizable group of regulars.
“I cook the turkey and all the trimmings and I usually bring a few side dishes,” she told The Daily Beast. “Some people—most of them—they bring anything and everything they can bring. They don’t have to bring anything, but most people do.”
For Rivera, it’s a chance to give back to the people she called “her extended family,” who welcomed her into the LGBT community in Saskatchewan’s capital city of Regina. Rivera serves on the board of Q Nightclub, which is run as a non-profit organization—but she says that she would keep cooking Christmas dinner even if she weren’t. She calls the event “a really special time for some people who don’t have anywhere to go.”
Her favorite Christmas at Q Nightclub came two years ago: “People decided to bring their card games and board games—and they were all around, sitting and talking and visiting and playing. And it felt like you were at home.”
One could say that was exactly where they were.