Distributing Face Masks in Gay Bars – How the Pittsburgh MasQUe ProjecT is Ahead of the CDC Recommended Curve

Spoiler: The Pittsburgh MasQue ProjecT has distributed more than 10,000 masks to trans and queer households since early April. Please help us keep doing good work by sharing this post. Sign up for masks http://bit.ly/FaceMaskRequest

Our efforts to distribute face masks to the region’s trans and queer households has redoubled with the horrifying increase in infection rates and the encouragement of the CDC. 

The CDC has gradually been strengthening its recommendations on mask use. “Compelling evidence now supports the benefits of cloth face masks for both source control (to protect others) and, to a lesser extent, protection of the wearer,” the team wrote.

Masks work so well that certain communities should consider giving them out, the CDC team said. 

“A community-level plan for distribution of face masks to specific populations, such as those who might experience barriers to access, should be developed,” the CDC team wrote in the agency’s weekly report.

So we are about 9 months ahead of the curve on that suggestion. Ahem. We have a model and funding for a year and a fiscal sponsor and great volunteers. We have a list of vendors who are good to us and a Q&A series about their businesses –> buy masks at these makers stores.

Packing face masks to give to the community
Diane packing donated items for our volunteer drivers to take to the community using no-contact protocols

I was actually filling my car with supplies when my colleague Diane sent the quote and link to me via text. Diane was sorting tote bags and ‘bagged’ masks in her living room for the six distribution routes. I was moving a lot of stuff to her basement for storage and some extra ‘goodies’ for this winter distribution where we combined three months into one delivery to minimize wear and tear on the volunteers.

By the end of November, we had distributed over 7000 face masks through direct drop-offs/mailers and via the many LGBTQ community groups in the region. Our project is committed to providing recipients with 2 masks per person in their household every month. Thanks to our recent successful crowdfund, we have secured operational support through 2021.

But it is December. We are a little behind schedule because we poured so much energy into that crowdfund. So this weekend, we tried to catch up. Diane packed and sent another 1000 masks to the community (I just did that math) along with gloves, wipes, and some hand sanitizers. The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust donated tote bags so thank you to them.

“A community-level plan for distribution of face masks to specific populations, such as those who might experience barriers to access, should be developed,” the CDC team wrote in the agency’s weekly report.

We also launched a new effort – taking face masks to the local gay bars for distribution. Our thinking process is that the masks worn while in the bar will protect staff and other customers. We anticipate some people will keep the reusable mask, give it a wash and wear it somewhere else. Some may sign up for our monthly distributions.

Others will probably toss it in the trash or to the ground after they leave the bar.

But then we’ll be back next month even if that’s further down the road because of closures. And the month after. Our distributors are very well known in the ‘bar scene’ and doing this as volunteers because they want to keep their friends safe.

So Saturday night, Alistair and Colleen took 1750 face masks to divide between. We asked a few other bars, but haven’t heard back as of yet.

  • The Blue Moon
  • Donny’s
  • There Ultra Lounge
  • Brewers
  • 5801
  • Ptown
  • Lucky’s

And then we have our community partners. Those masks will be delivered this week. And we’ll begin mailers, including mailing to all new recipients until direct deliveries resume in the new year.

This isn’t magic. It is the result of many people bringing our skill sets to the table as well as lessons forged in our collective past. If magic is determination, hard work, and a deep desire to protect our community, well then I guess we are magical.

Want to help? We always need volunteers such as Alistair and Colleen who took masks to the spaces in their lives that they value. We need people to make masks, whether 10 or 100 each month. We need people to pack the masks in bags for delivery. We need drivers. We need lots of things. Mostly, we need each other to get through this pandemic.

And we can always use donations

  • Venmo @pghlesbian
  • Ca$hApp @pghlesbian
  • Paypal.me/pghlesbian

If you’d like to figure out how to distribute masks to your community, email us pghmasqueproject@gmail.com  We’ll share everything we’ve learned because it matters – you can have an immediate impact in your own community.

I can admit that I’m frustrated by this news, even if it is a solid recommendation. Almost every single time I approached a journalist either local to Pittsburgh or a national LGBTQ journalist about this project, I was summarily dismissed because there was “no angle’ to explain why trans and queer people required their own face mask project. They ask me over and over for some bloody story about a mask maker discriminating against someone in our community, preferably trans and willing to talk on camera, to PROVE that our project was necessary. How disgusting.

So now it seems the CDC gets why we are doing this, but our own media does not. They do not understand our lived experiences in the best of times. They knew damn well that earned media about our project would get more people connected to face masks, but without the juicy hook – it wasn’t enough. That really bothers me.

So we saved ourselves because there is no calvary coming for us.

“A community-level plan for distribution of face masks to specific populations, such as those who might experience barriers to access, should be developed,” the CDC team wrote in the agency’s weekly report.

Distributing face masks in gay bars
Alistair distributing face masks to 7 local gay bars


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