Why 2016 is the Year of Queer Women in Nightlife
From skyrocketing DJs to thriving pop-up parties, queer women are doing big things—and finally being rewarded for it.
Pride is right around the corner, which means it's been about a year since my last op-ed on THUMP, "Who Says the Lesbian Party Scene Is Dead?," debunked whispers of the decline of queer female nightlife and DJ culture. As event invites for Pride parties pile up in my Facebook inbox, it seems like a good time to return to the topic: what is the current status of queer women in music and nightlife?
The developments I see in this small, interconnected world of LGBTQ women around the country are predominantly positive. Although the parties may not have necessarily increased in number, the caliber of what's being delivered—from the lineups, to the venues, to the marketing—is noticeably higher. Queer women like Honey Dijon, The Black Madonna, Lauren Flax, and JD Samson are being invited to perform and DJ at places like Red Rocks in Denver, Movement festival in Detroit, Yo Sissy! In Berlin, and Mysteryland in New York, among other major festivals and clubs. These champions are holding it down in the face of the skeptics, fighting tirelessly to be represented in this space.
With the closure of a handful of landmark lesbian bars in recent years —including The Lexington in San Francisco and Candybar in London—there was a clear shift towards special events and pop-up parties. As far as I know, there haven't been any new brick-and-mortar lesbian hangouts opening in the US, but some of the bars that have survived near-extinction are stepping up their game, and in a big way.
Take, for example, the very thought-out revival of Henrietta Hudson, AKA "Hens,"—one of the last lesbian watering holes left in Manhattan—which has dramatically upgraded the quality of its lineups and marketing in the past year or so. In addition to updating its logo and flyers with fresher designs, the bar has also started offering more variety in its programming, with a new soul music night called HoMotown, a night for serious music heads called Sessions on Fridays, and queer icons like Daniela Sea from The L Word and JD throwing down sets on a regular basis. Hens also runs Siren—a big, open-air Pride event in New York on June 25, which I'll be DJing along with Sea, and a live performance by Nina Sky, the seasoned twins behind the modern-day classic "Move Ya Body."
Lesbian and LGBTQ parties are also starting to find new homes in top-tier venues like the Burner-friendly House of Yes in Brooklyn, where my event, "WE ARE Brooklyn Pride" went down on June 11. In addition, Pride Sunday, for LGBTQ women and their friends, has become synonymous with the superclub Marquee, a venue with one of the most tricked-out A/V systems in the city. For the fourth year in a row, 1,500 women and their allies will gather here after the annual Pride parade on Sunday, June 26 for a massive celebration that goes well into the night—with Baltimore Club queen TT The Artist, whose 2015 banger "Fly Girl" empowered women around the world, as the headlining act.
Special events thrown by and for LGBTQ women are even going beyond the club. During NYFW this past September, leading queer fashion website dapperQ—which has been increasing visibility for the queer fashion scene for over half a decade with its feature articles, reviews, and event listings—produced one of their highly buzzed-about runway shows at the Brooklyn Museum. Over a thousand people came out to watch queer models like Ryley Pogensky, Ari Fitz, and Rain Dove show off designs made by NotEqual, KQK by Karen Quirion, LACTIC, Fony, MARKANTOINE, and other LGBTQ designers. Gorgeous, interesting, and style-conscious queer women are everywhere now, and to see so many together in one room is powerful.
This "revival" of the lesbian party scene isn't unique to New York. About a year and a half ago I began segueing to a bi-coastal life, which gave me the ability to observe what's going on in the LA lesbian scene. The notion that queer women and lesbians are doing big things at this very moment is palpable. Milk Milk Lemonade—one of a handful of crews run by queer, bi, and non-binary women—is regularly throwing pop-up parties while building community, raising money, and keeping things fresh by offering something out of the box, like their "paint party rave" back in May.
Recently I DJ'd a different party with Milk Milk Lemonade called The May Mingle on a Sunday afternoon at a gorgeous mansion. It was the most L-Word scene I've ever experienced, but in the best possible way: beautiful women, live girl-bands, five queer female DJs, body painting, and medical cannabis being passed around. One woman even stripped naked and went swimming in the pool and no one batted an eyelash—it was just feel-good, easy-living California vibes.
This year, I've traveled more for gigs than I've ever done before, and I see so many of my peers and the female DJs I admire rapidly moving upwards: Honey Dijon was recently on tour with Disclosure; the Black Madonna's schedule is said to be booked solid through the rest of the year; Lauren Flax's name is popping up more and more in the cross-pollinating electronic music scenes; and Susan Morabito is enjoying a second-wave revival, with whole the Fire Island and gay circuit scene seemingly wrapped around her finger.
These DJs are success stories, as are the women running the parties, websites, and clothing labels that are pushing queer feminist culture to the forefront. Five years ago, nightlife culture for LGBTQ women was more segregated and geared towards "lipstick lesbians." Now, it's much more mixed and inclusive of queer women across the spectrum—demonstrating how our scene is continuing to grow and become more visible. The hustle and talent of this community is finally being respected and rewarded, and that's one of the many things we need celebrate this Pride.
Whitney Day is bi-coastal DJ, producer, and events promoter. Follow her on Twitter and catch her this weekend at these Pride parties:
Fri 6/24 @ Cielo: DJs Amanda Louise, Colby B., WhitneyDay + Live Drummings by G-Money & Cielo Dancers. (More info)
Sun 6/26 @ Marquee: TT The Artist, M.O., June, Kamikace, WhitneyDay + Batala NYC, Emcee Specs, Marquee Dancers & Surprise Performers (More info)