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Party promoters speak about lesbian spaces at Center in Halsted
Video below
by Melissa Wasserman
2018-05-13

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Center on Halsted introduced the women's faces behind the spaces for the program "Courageous Conversations: What the L" on May 11.

While lesbian bars in Chicago have been disappearing over the years, there are still women who create lesbian spaces that encourage women to be themselves and have fun. "Courageous Conversations" featured a panel of these driven women who have and are creating these women-centric spaces.

The event itself was a space for women to mingle, network and learn more about where to go for a party in the city.

"I'm very proud to say that every single panelist is someone I've connected with, talked to, or attended one of their events," said Center on Halsted Art Director Vivian Gonzalez. "I get to see first-hand how hard they work to create space for LBTQ-identified women, and specifically to center lesbian-identified people, I feel like that we're put on the backburner, so it's nice to see us put in the fore front once in a while as a community. These are the people doing that and that's why I thought they needed a platform today."

Gonzalez said the event was intended to elevate and give a voice to the women who are continuing to give women a space, even if the lesbian bars are disappearing. The events, she went on to say, are usually held as a pop-up event and in a bar that is not necessarily known for being a queer or a lesbian space.

"I think it's a two-way win because we're breaking down barriers, as a lot of panelists said tonight, but also we're journeying into different parts of the communities and different parts of our landscape that maybe wouldn't have a queer space to begin with," said Gonzalez. "So we're bringing visibility to communities that need that."

The panelists were: Brooke Webster of Meow Mix and Clandestina; Amie Klujian of Back Lot Bash and Curve Chicago; Bre Berry of Peach; Elena May Sotirin of LezBe; Jenae Williams of LBC and Chicago Dirty Girls; Eva Castro of Stargaze and Castro Entertainment; Pat McCombs of Executive Sweet; Alma Izquierdo of Amigas Latinas and Clandestina; Renauda Riddle of By Women for Women and BrunchReMixed; Kristen Kaza of Slo 'Mo; and Tamara Allen of B.BLYSS! Windy City Times Publisher Tracy Baim moderated the panel.

"The one thing that all these women are selling when you come [to their parties] is that you are authentic," said Gonzalez. "That might be the only time in your busy day, busy week, busy month, that you can be yourself, be authentic and that's a beautiful thing."

Baim asked the promoters questions surrounding their own personal experiences of going to parties and their inspirations that led them to pursue their passions and projects, tips for sustaining their parties financially and staying motivated, and their goals for collaborations across the community as well as the successes and failures they have already encountered within collaborations.

Baim also mentioned existing women-owned spaces, including The Closet, Big Chicks, Spyner's, Forest View Lounge and Joie de Vine.

"I thought it was quite informative and it was good to see the different aspects and to listen to the different voices and how they felt and the different ideals that they had in terms of promoting parties and being a part of the whole LGBTQ community," said McCombs, a retired party promoter, LGBT activist and retired special education teacher.

McCombs, having been a party promoter for over 30 years, added it was enlightening to see how the party scene is carrying on.

"I'm still involved in terms of being involved with what's happening and I want to continue to support even the young people," said McCombs, joking that she still enjoys going to the parties and is not dead in age or spirit.

About 160 attendees filled the theater and also had the opportunity to ask the panel questions. Panelists shared their experiences of being in the party business and the ways in which they make people feel welcome in a space, diversifying programming, promoting connections that make up the party and creating an intergenerational atmosphere within a party.

"I'm just glad to see more women of color starting to do more things," said McCombs. "I just wish there was more women of color that were in involved in not just the party scene, but being more involved in the actual community in terms of a lot of other different things within the community."

McCombs further explained that she thinks more women of color need to venture out of their comfort zones, get more involved in activism, intermingling with others.

"What was important to me is that it continues," said McCombs. "It's the continuing of women having the passion to make things happen for the community and that's what I like. If you noticed throughout the whole conversation, it was about community. Being part of community and filling a gap of what's needed in the community; doing a service for the community. That's what stood out to me, regardless of which way we're thinking or what our ideals are, in the end, it's the community. Satisfying a need."

To learn more about Center on Halsted, visit www.centeronhalsted.org .



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