“Uhaul” collective builds safe space for LGBTQ+ nightlife

Artie Bennett

Uhaul, a queer event planning organization, is striving to build a space where the New Orleans’ LGBTQ+ community can express themselves, build connections, and have fun in a safe environment, according to Naj Sengbloh, the group’s founder. 

Uhaul organizes events like speed dating, skate nights, and dance nights centered around lesbians within alternative subcultures, like skating and punk groups, though it is open to all queer-identifying people. The name “Uhaul” refers to a joke about lesbians committing to each other and moving in together quickly, Sengbloh said. 

“There’s no more lesbian bars,” Sengbloh said. “We need a place for us to convene, so we made it.”

Sengbloh said Uhaul is working towards building a community of alternative and queer-identified people in New Orleans to help preserve the city’s dwindling queer nightlife scene and create new safe queer spaces. Despite more people identifying as part of the LGBTQ+ community in the US than ever before, there’s only around 15 lesbian bars left in the country, and none in New Orleans.  

“The places around here are obviously predominantly (cisgender heterosexual) people, and we feel uncomfortable there,” Sengbloh said. “It doesn’t matter if we’re in a big group. We feel uncomfortable because these aren’t our people.” 

Though New Orleans is home to a few gay bars in the French Quarter, there are no spaces in the city that cater specifically to queer women, accoridng to Sengbloh. By creating a space designed around the needs of queer women and non-binary people, Uhaul is working to build a family centered around queer joy in New Orleans, Sengbloh said. 

On February 23, Uhaul hosted a Mardi Gras-themed roller skating night in collaboration with the Crescent Skate Krewe at Poor Boys Bar, a Seventh Ward queer hotspot with predominately queer bartenders. Crescent Skate Krewe is a group of queer and women skaters that frequently meet on Sundays at Parasite Skate Park. 

“It’s hard to feel safe out there, but people are so supportive over here,” said Brenna Byrne, member of the Crescent Skate Krewe.  “It’s bringing all of us a lot of joy and security, and that’s exactly what we need.” 

To many attendees, the appeal of Uhaul events is the feeling of community and safety. Queer identified people are four times more likely to be victims of violent crimethan their straight counterparts, making participating in mainstream nightlife daunting for some. Many Uhaul partygoers say their events are different.

“It’s cool to see queer folks build their own networks and care for eachother,” said Aria Alexander, who attended the most recent Uhaul event. “Trans people can be comfortable without having to be hypervigilant and having to look over their shoulder the whole time.” 

The organization works with other local queer-friendly groups and bars to put on monthly events, though they’re working towards meeting more frequently, Sengbloh said.

“You need intentional and explicit queer spaces in a world that is so heteronormative and binary,” said Chelle Kim, member of Crescent Skate Krewe. “People need to be able to be themselves, and here’s that outlet.” 

Though the skate night was only Uhaul’s second major event, turnout was better than organizers expected and the groups plan to make it a regular event, Sengbloh said. Dozens of skaters showed up for the skating portion of the event, and over 100 people attended throughout the evening. Attendees said they felt welcome and safe and they’re looking forward to the next event.

“This is one of the few places where you can be yourself and truly not have to worry about anything but having fun,” said Kelp Jackson, Crescent Skate Krewe member. 

People interested in attending Uhaul events or keeping up with the group can follow them on instagram at @uhaul.dance.night.nola.