OCEANSIDE, New York -- As soon as patrons step through the doors of the Born This Way bar, better known as BTW, co-owner Gina Wuestmann gives them a warm greeting.
Within five minutes, she's either offering them a free shot or explaining how she and her husband opened their bar on the eve of the pandemic shutdown last year.
Wuestmann and her husband, David Wuestmann, who are a straight couple, often find themselves explaining why they decided to open this safe space for the LGBTQ+ community in the Long Island hamlet of Oceanside.
David's response is always the same.
"Gina and I are allies of the community, and we both felt that this was an underserved community," he said. "There are not too many places on Long Island where people can be themselves. This was just our cause and our mission. We're here to provide space to people who want to be themselves."
Gina has been in the bar business for over 30 years, and many of her loyal customers would tell her how they wanted a place where they could feel at home.
Now, she and her husband have created just such a home.
"I love this place," Gina said. "I've met so many great people in this place who have told me their stories and really appreciate that they have a place like this to come to."
Indeed, customer Ricardo Rodriguez points out there isn't much of a gay bar scene on Long Island.
Rodriguez was sitting at the bar the other day with his fiance while Gina gave them a hearty congratulatory hug on their engagement.
"You can count gay bars on one hand. That's it. As far as Gina being a straight ally, I don't even want to use the word ally; I want to use the word friend because honestly, she is doing a blessing," Rodriguez said.
Customer Diane Catalano drove in from Suffolk County to see what the buzz was about.
"I love that Gina and her husband are true allies to our community," Catalano said. "They are so accepting and loving. A woman empowering our community by giving us a safe, comfortable environment to be in and relax and enjoy, you can't ask for better. We need more places like this in Suffolk County. We need more safe havens."
Now that the COVID-19 restrictions are starting to ease, Gina is planning more events and activities for her bar.
"This is a place where you can go and be whatever you want to be," she said. "Be who you really are, not be questioned about it, not be looked at, and not be made to feel uncomfortable."
Contact Community Journalist Alex Ciccarone