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The history of safe havens for Toledo's LGBTQ+ community

Many of the places that people once went to for acceptance and belonging sit empty and abandoned. Here's a look at the then and now of LGBTQ+ safe spaces in Toledo.

TOLEDO, Ohio — This Pride Month, we're taking a look back at the spaces the LGBTQ community deemed safe at a time when they weren't accepted in society.

Numerous buildings sit vacant right now but were once buzzing with music, dancing, drinking and community.

"You felt at home, you felt safe, you felt at ease, you didn't have to worry about anybody coming up and doing anything bad to you or anything like that," Drag Performer Mark Allen Ceglio said.

Mark Allen Ceglio began performing drag in Toledo in the early 1980s.

When we met, he handed me a list of 26 local gay bars from over the years with names like Hooterville, Blush, Blu Jean, Scaramouche and Ripcord.

They have all closed.

"I mean we fought for acceptance everywhere, and now that we have it there's no gay bar, so to speak," Ceglio said.

A trip down Adams Street takes you to Georgjz419, the remaining local gay bar with drag shows.

It's also where Barb Best slings drinks following the shutdown of Bretz back in 2018.

Credit: WTOL 11

"The memories flood back, I can't even get past 13th [Street] and I start thinking about Bretz and the times there and the people I met," Best said.

Best believes that gay spaces are needed still and is proud of the community Georgjz419 has created.

"You need a physical space for people to get together and feel welcome and feel appreciated," Best said.

While many of the bars of yesterday have closed, new places like an LGBTQ coffee shop called Grindhrs have opened, with drag performer and barista Jaymes Mull behind the counter.

Credit: Diane Woodring/WTOL 11
Amber Stone performing at Grindhrs Co. in Toledo, Ohio. (June 19, 2021)

"Now that it's so acceptable for someone to come out as whoever they want to come out as at any age, it's amazing to have these spaces available. It's so important," Mull said.

Mull got his start at several now-closed drag bars and still performs.

Like Best and Ceglio, he believes having gay spaces allows the LGBTQ community to still have the freedom to feel like they can be themselves.

For Ceglio, looking back at the past 40 years, he sees progress but also a disappearing culture of places to call home.

"This is all we have left, hopefully, we can go on and build a couple more places for us," Ceglio said.

Credit: Emma Henderson

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