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Queer bars have historically been places where members of LGBTQ+ communities have felt safe from the dangers of the outside world. We gather in these spaces to build community, celebrate victories in the struggle for justice, soothe one another in defeat or grief, and socialize away from those who would harm us for being ourselves.

But not all of these spaces are safe for everyone. 

Bars and clubs with patios can offer a cool escape from a noisy crowded interior but smoking on the patio can make that open space less appealing and physically harmful. Some other bars have rooms with one wall open to the outside where smoking is allowed, forcing everyone inside — including bar workers — to breathe toxic air.

Unhealthy Air on Bar Patios

Air quality measurements were taken at 13 bars in San Francisco and Oakland in 2022. At 8 of 13 bars that allowed smoking on patios or in semi-enclosed areas, the measurements reached EPA “Unhealthy” levels over the course of an hour.

Some outdoor smoking spaces can create more harmful air quality inside the bar than existed when it was legal to smoke inside, and simply having one wall of a smoking room open to the outside does not create a space free from secondhand smoke.

“Cigarette smoke can make me cough up blood. I have cystic fibrosis, a chronic lung disease, and I do not appreciate walking through a cloud of smoke to hang out with friends. Please make LGBT bars and their outdoor patios accessible to people like me.”

– Devin Wakefield

Bar patio group of friends enjoying clean air

Stock photo. Posed by models.

Bar Workers Are Forced to Breathe Toxic Smoke

Bar customers can choose whether or not to spend time in these spaces, but bar employees have no choice. 1 in 3 young adults in Alameda and San Francisco counties are exposed to secondhand smoke on the job, and these workers are disproportionately low-income and Latina/o/e.

Just as more people of color (POC) were exposed to — and died from — COVID-19 due to the nature of their jobs, more POC are breathing unhealthy air at work so they can put food on the table. No one should have to choose between their job and their health.

“The bar kept filling with smoke from the patio, so I had to choose between my health, my job and my community. My health won.”

– Anonymous ex-bartender at a San Francisco Queer Bar

Cocktail Making

Smoke-Free Spaces Can Inspire LGBTQ+ People to Quit Smoking

These quotes from a recent survey of queer women in San Francisco show that LGBTQ+ community members that are currently smokers are influenced by an awareness of the impact smoking in smoke-free spaces has upon others, and that they can be encouraged to quit by a non-smoking environment.

“… sometimes you can see them signs and it reminding you know, Oh, I need to quit, sometimes signs do help.”

– Queer woman, current smoker

“… you have to be mindful of other people's preference and not wanting to be around tobacco smoke … when you decide … for yourself to do things that are unhealthy, it’s not fair for you to expose other people to your unhealthy habits.”

– Queer woman, current smoker

The same survey revealed that participants were especially receptive to signs that provided information on quit-smoking resources

Dapper butch with bowtie
Thoughtful woman with dreadlocks and tatoo

Stock photos. Posed by models.

In a 2021 poll, 70% of Californian LGBTQ former smokers believed that smoke-free outdoor bars would help people quit using tobacco.

Bay Area Bar-Goers Want Smoke-Free Bar Patios


of people who enjoy Oakland or San Francisco nightlife support smoke-free bar patios and semi-enclosed areas, including 86% of those surveyed who use cannabis, 73% who smoke combustible tobacco, and 70% who vape.


of people who enjoy Oakland or San Francisco nightlife use bar patios for recreation, socializing, or fresh air, but never for smoking.


of people who enjoy Oakland or San Francisco nightlife would go to bars more often or the same if those cities required bar patios to be smoke-free.

Results from a 2022 LGBTQ Minus Tobacco survey of over 300 attendees at Pridefest Oakland, San Francisco Pride, and San Francisco Carnaval.

Serious young lesbian couple
Loving gay male couple

Stock photos. Posed by models.


Stock photo. Posed by models.

105 California Cities Require Bar Patios to Be Smoke-Free

As of April 2021, 105 cities and counties in California, including 50 in the Bay Area have chosen to protect their residents and workers from secondhand smoke exposure by adopting policies requiring all outdoor dining and bar patio areas to be smoke-free.

LGBTQ Minus Tobacco is working in Oakland and San Francisco on this issue of importance to LGBTQ+ communities.

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