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Why We Cannot Stop Fighting For Crews & Tangos

“We are just in the beginning phases of fighting this so hold tight for more opportunities. We’re all in this together and together we stand!”…
 
If you’re a queer person in Toronto or the GTA, you know Crews & Tangos. The building hosts the city’s best drag performances every night of the week and is a staple in the heart of the city’s gay village. By now, you also know that when the Crews & Tangos lease is up in two years, the bar will likely be replaced by – you guessed it – condos.
 
Last week, blogTO reported that Graywood Group, the real estate firm that owns Crews & Tangos, its neighboring cocktail lounge, Boutique Bar, and a parking lot on the property, is in the planning stage for redeveloping the premises.
 
According to a representative for Graywood, “the vision for this site is to introduce a mix of uses, including retail and residential. The development proposal is early in the process and Graywood is committed to working closely with the community as this proposal progresses through the development application process.”
 
This is far from the first time Crews (or any bar in the village, for that matter) has been under threat of closure. “It is way more serious this time,” Tyler Campbell, a bartender who’s worked at Crews & Tangos for eight years tells IN. “Normally, the rumours come and go and don’t have any traction, but this one is real. The building has sold and it’s now gone to the highest bidder.”
 
Responses to CWNA’s Facebook post about the looming closure was met with a defeatist attitude. “I’ve lived in several cities with a village,” one Facebook user wrote in response to the announcement. “Once you build commercial residential towers, nightlife and traditional businesses from the village will die. New property homeowners don’t want loud music and big crowds. Inevitable complaints will lead to liquor licenses being contested and noise complaints.”
 
It’s difficult not to be dismayed by the news. Try as we might, queer spaces in our city are closing left and right, and bylaws prevent us from keeping them. On June 30, 2019, the village suffered the great loss of Fly, Toronto’s most famous queer nightclub.
 
After its initial closure in 2014, Fly briefly re-emerged as Fly 2.0. However, due to an “impossible amount in new rent” owner Shawn Riker was forced to close the venue to build more condos, following similarly beloved venues like The Barn, Zipperz and Statler’s before it.
 
Just days after the Crews news, Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel, also beloved by the queer community for its drag shows, brunches, and panels, was sold to Streetcar Developments and Dream Unlimited. Though plans for the building have not been revealed, founder and president Les Mallins said in a press release that he looks forward to “amplifying the hotel’s offerings with our refreshed vision, enhancing the current building while ensuring the property.” So far, there has been no word on what that means for the building’s queer events.
 
The news of Crews’ pending closure hit staff roughly one week prior to press. “One night after our shift, our head manager called an impromptu meeting,” Campbell recalls. “She said, ‘I’m not going to beat around the bush, the building has been sold.’ It was heartbreaking.”
 
“I know so many people who come to Crews daily, simply to be around likeminded people who accept each other for whoever they want to be,” Campbell continues. “Crews is something special – a place where anybody can come and feel completely comfortable. It’s a shame that won’t be there for future generations.”
 
“Crews & Tangos is so special to me because it’s the place where I got to really discover who Baby Bel Bel was as a performer,” Jordan Timmons, whose drag persona, Baby Bel Bel, is the current reigning Miss Crews & Tangos, tells IN. “It’s become a second home to me and many of my friends and coworkers.”
 
Timmins, like so many of us,  is fearful Toronto’s future queer identity, and is unsure how far the city will go. “It’s sad to see so many iconic spaces close. It feels like the city no longer cares about the gay community,” he says. “The threat of closing Crews & Tangos feels like the newest attack to shut down our spaces and eventually shut down Church Street and Toronto Pride all together.”
 
Still, the LGBTQ+ community is, and has always been, resilient. While Crews closing in two year’s time seems inevitable, we can – and should – fight for what’s ours. You can start by signing this petition, which, as of this writing, has already collected nearly 30,000 signatures. You can also write a letter to city counsel (just going to leave this here), share a personal story about Crews through your social channels and support local performers at the venue. Everything little thing helps.
 
The one thing we can’t do is accept defeat – we cannot lose Crews & Tangos without a fight. From speaking with queer individuals in the city, it is apparent that every single one of us has a beloved memory there.
 
As a former Crews employee, I am no different. From day one, both the staff and the queens welcomed me with open arms and made me feel like family. Fresh out of the closet and new to the city, I cannot express how thankful I am for a space to be my authentic self. I’ve yet to find such a strong sense of community anywhere else. To think such a feeling will be robbed from future generations is devastating.
 
“We are a family and we always will be, but losing our home is absolutely devastating,” Campbell says. “We are just in the beginning phases of fighting this so hold tight for more opportunities. We’re all in this together and together we stand!”
 

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