When most of us think of queer nightlife, the New Mexico desert isn’t the first place that springs to mind. But LGBTQ residents of the 47th state have been getting some more time in the spotlight in recent years.
In 2018, Albuquerque-based queen Kalorie Karbdashian-Williams famously sent Miss Vanjie packing in the premiere episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 10. More recently, HBO’s We’re Here traveled to northern New Mexico to visit the town of Farmington, where the world met Lady Shug, a fierce nonbinary indigenous queen, and her friend Nate Lemuel, a gay indigenous photographer who was made over by Bob the Drag Queen.
Although more members of New Mexico’s LGBTQ community are getting recognized, safe places for them to gather are disappearing. Sidewinders Ranch, a popular bar and drag venue where Drag Race queens like Milk and BenDeLaCreme performed, moved to a smaller location earlier this year. Just this week, The Albuquerque Journal reported that the city’s oldest gay bar—Albuquerque Social Club, or the “SOCH,” as it is lovingly known—would be shutting its doors for good after almost 50 years in operation.
“We tried to save it and we had to make a very tough decision, and it’s a decision a lot of us aren’t happy with,” Jay Decker, president of the bar’s board, told The Journal. “But we have to live with it, and it’s not an easy thing to live with.”
In addition to the bar’s owners and patrons, the SOCH’s closing deeply saddened drag queens who performed there—including Kalorie, who was a staple on the club’s stage.
“To me, it was more than just a bar, a place to hang out, it was home. It was where I met my chosen family and fully found myself,” Kalorie tells NewNowNext. “It may sound childish, or immature, but I was heartbroken. Devastated. The only thing I could compare the feelings I felt after hearing about their closing was losing someone I love.”
Kalorie performed at the club countless times. It holds a special place in her heart because that’s where she was crowned Miss Duke City, but her favorite memory was the pride she felt when girls who visited from out of town would compliment Albuquerque’s tight-knit queer community.
“I always loved to hear the out-of-state titleholders be in such awe of the show bar our community had,” she recalls. “The love they could feel from everyone. It made me so happy knowing that this was my family, and my community.”
With queer spaces closing in record numbers all across the country, Kalorie is holding out hope for a future filled with new places for the LGBTQ community to gather, even if 2020 threw everyone a curveball with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I thought I knew what life had in store for so many of us. But the way this year is going, I have no idea,” she admits. “All I can hope is that regardless of what we lost, we don’t lose our sense of community. And once, and if, another safe place is birthed we all come together and help uplift it.”