Op-Ed: New York’s LGBTQ Bars Deserve Credit for Requiring Proof of Vaccination

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ATLAS Social Club in Manhattan.
ATLAS Social Club

Starting May 19, New York City bars and restaurants were allowed to open at full capacity with some restrictions. The news was music to the ears of thousands of bar and restaurant owners like a friend who co-owns a couple of bars in Manhattan that cater to the LGBTQ community.

Governor Andrew Cuomo also said the state would allow venues to increase their capacities if they required proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 upon entry.

So, on May 24, one of my friend’s bars — Club Cumming in the East Village — did exactly that. On the bar’s Instagram and Facebook pages, owners posted a message saying they will kindly ask for proof of coronavirus vaccination in order to enter their venue. The message says CDC vaccine cards or New York State’s app, the excelsior pass, are acceptable forms of vaccine proof.

Several other Manhattan gay bars, such as RockbarBoxers NYC, IndustryThe CockThe Eagle and Atlas Social Club (same owner as Club Cumming) as well as others are posting similar messages saying they’ll require proof of vaccination or a recent negative test upon entry.

As more bars and venues follow suit, it’s likely we’ll witness a monumental New York City conversation and debate between those who say vaccines are a personal choice and others who argue that it’s really more a matter of public health.

Judging by the overwhelming “likes” on social media, nightlife establishment decisions to require proof of vaccination have been well received among patrons at least here in New York. That’s not to say there hasn’t been some push back from customers. A few of the hundreds of comments under the Boxers NYC announcement on Instagram criticized the decision.

“I will tell everyone to boycott this business for discrimination, wake up!” said one commenter. Another said “stop helping tyrants carry out their agenda.”

Having worked in restaurants and bars over the years myself, I know how difficult it is to not only take care of customer needs, but also to keep people’s behavior under control, especially when alcohol is in the mix.

Late night bartending duties often cross over into adult babysitting. Trust me, I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult it would be to police a crowded dance floor filled with a mixed vaccinated and unvaccinated crowd — and making sure everyone is masked up — which is what would be necessary were everyone not vaccinated.

The more bars, restaurants, gyms, and other public venues require proof of vaccination upon entry, the more it normalizes being vaccinated — especially among young adults. It’s also a smart business move because it communicates to customers that the owner cares about their customers and staff, not just sales. Common sense dictates that if the majority of nightspots in New York City implement a proof of vaccination requirement, it will probably entice the people who are living for the city’s nightlife to get vaccinated against this ruthless virus.

I’ll admit that despite maintaining full faith in the efficacy of the coronavirus vaccines, I don’t want to be sitting at the bar next to some guy gabbing about his summer plans who might also be spewing drops of a super-gonzo COVID-19 variant.

The day the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that fully vaccinated Americans could stop wearing masks and maintaining social distance at most indoor and outdoor settings regardless of size, I was waiting anxiously for the caveat about some sort of system that might require proof of vaccination in public venues. That didn’t happen. It’s as if the CDC simply gave away the candy for free.

Any chances of a national vaccine passport mandate or proof of vaccine requirements at the federal level looks unlikely thanks in great part to the stubborn vein of dumb running through many of the nation’s conservative states, where issues of personal liberty are on a higher pedestal than people’s health.

Take Florida’s Governor Ron De Santis, who articulates the “all that matters is me” anti-vaccine passport thinking perfectly. “In Florida, your personal choice regarding vaccinations will be protected and no business or government entity will be able to deny you services based on your decision,” said De Santis.

What’s especially grotesque about De Santis’ selfish logic is its blatant idiocy. But as evidenced by some of the comments in the Boxers NYC, Club Cumming, and other bar’s Instagram announcements, dangerous and entitled thinking isn’t limited to the bible belt.

As one person posted in response to Club Cumming’s decision, “my body, my choice.”

That argument loses a lot of its punch considering that individual’s body could become a vector for a highly contagious variant of an already lethal disease because of their irresponsible choice to not get vaxxed up.

Across New York City’s five boroughs, just over 40 percent of eligible residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 according to city data. And that’s why a majority of the people I know are thrilled to see my friend and his partners at Club Cumming do what they did.

The rest of the bar’s message on Facebook and Instagram reads: “We decided to adopt this policy not as a way to discriminate but as a way to encourage our community to get vaccinated. As more LGBTQA+ establishments embrace similar practices, we hope that being able to enjoy all of the benefits of all the fun things that our great city offers will work as a powerful incentive for those on the fence to get their shots, so please get this done and join the party!!”

Club Cumming and all the other bars and restaurants requiring proof of vaccination deserve medals of honor for the public health service they are performing at the risk of alienating some of their misguided customers. They are taking care of their staff and their customers who have done the smart thing and rolled up their sleeves. They are probably doing more to convince New Yorkers to get vaccinated than we’ll ever fully know. And it’s just in time for Pride month. Good for them.

Rest assured, when I’m ready to join the party, it will be at places where owners are demonstrating a commitment to the greater health of New York City by requiring proof of vaccine.