Queer Nightlife Talks Discusses Inclusivity

Everyone wants to feel included in the spaces they frequent. But when you walk into a party or event, what about it makes it inclusive for you? How do you decide which ones will be welcoming? What about the event makes you feel like you belong there? On Tuesday, September 15, 2020, the SF Bay Area Queer Nightlife Fund (QNF) hosted the second of its new online Queer Nightlife Talks discussions, “What makes a party inclusive?,” asking community members these questions.

About 30 people attended the Talk with Angel Garfold of QNF and Honey Beatrice Thomas facilitating. Media outlet 48 Hills co-sponsored the event. There was plenty of engaged discussion with a lot of sidebar feedback happening in the Zoom chat.

QNF believes in sharing and that any information or resources that can benefit people in queer nightlife should be readily made available for anyone to use. As we did with our first Talk to ensure that the ideas and comments that arose during the discussion are offered to the entire community as useful information and feedback, we are summarizing the night’s proceedings here. Admittedly, this report is long, but we felt it important to include as much information as possible to ensure this can be appropriately used by party and event producers and venue owners and managers.

We hope this information can be used to make events more inclusive while better educating the entire community on the many aspects to be considered on the topic of inclusivity. Better awareness of and acting on inclusivity can only improve local queer nightlife, whether that is online during the heights of the pandemic or in real time as the Bay Area continues to experiment with outdoor spaces. Once indoor entertainment spaces are able to open, with the necessary limited capacity, the lessons of inclusivity can be put into action there too.

The following summary coalesces the most frequently-raised  ideas and comments.

QNF Continues to Adjust

To start the event, Garfold explained that QNF has reworked its mission. The QNF remains committed to providing resources and opportunities to promote and support those in queer nightlife in the SF Bay Area during the COVID-19 pandemic, while also embracing even greater diversity and inclusion.

Amid the reality of donor fatigue and a longer than anticipated pandemic, QNF is currently taking applications for and distributing grant awards for emergency needs like food and medications. QNF also continues to put money in the pockets of struggling nightlife workers by creating opportunities for queer performers and artists to be paid for their work.

Centering the Group

Garfold mentioned the evening’s discussion will probably not manifest an ideal change immediately. Parties can add components gradually and learn along the way. Absolute, broad, and immediate changes will be hard for organizers, and also not always trusted by attendees.

Thomas started out the discussion by displaying a Venn diagram composed of three intersecting circles labeled Inclusion, Equity and Diversity with the overlapping area labeled Belonging. Belonging, it is suggested, is what we really all want – to Belong. Thomas pointed out that whenever the topic of inclusion comes up you have to also take into consideration equity and diversity because otherwise what are you including?

Thomas mentioned that diversity can only be experienced within a community. Diversity is about the unique and distinct differences that individualize us.

Inclusion is a measure of how the diversity is able to impact the event or organization.

Thomas used the metaphor of diverse people in a car. The car is inclusion and equity is the road. Equity is the system to enact diversity and inclusion so that clear pathways are defined by which individual voices are heard to foster diversity and inclusion.

All three of those factors, diversity, equity and inclusion, taken together create belonging which is ultimately what the session was going to be talking about. A true sense of belonging makes us feel that we are authentically welcome and our perspectives are important as is our comfort in participation.

The entire diversity, inclusion and equity formula creating belonging is an ongoing process in which each of the three former factors are present in various weights to affect how belonging is created or not. Thomas emphasized that the purpose of these discussions is to develop our own lens through which we see by hearing people’s stories and their truths. This allows one to assess, for example, if a situation might have diversity and inclusion present, but not equity. In such situations, the lack of equity allows the dominant group, the dominant social characteristic, to become the standard for assimilation and decision making.

If diversity and equity are present, you have a pathway and the people, but there is no inclusion, there is no “car” to reference back to Thomas’ original metaphor.

So producers, groups, events and venues should constantly assess if any of the three components are out of balance.

This relates specifically to queer nightlife with the feeling of welcome. Welcome is the mechanism by which we can flag or signal that various members of the community feel like they belong. So, Thomas indicates that the focus of the evening was fostering a discussion about how do we manifest a sense of welcome, a sense of belonging, in queer nightlife. This served as the anchor point for the rest of the evening.

The Discussion

The discussion kicked off with a warmup talk between the two moderators while some lively sidebar text chat took place. Then Thomas then asked everyone in attendance to imagine the most amazing and inclusive party or event of their life. What did they see outside the door? What did they see when they first walked in? How were they greeted? What were the symbols of inclusion for them that they saw that told them they were welcome in that space? Everyone was encouraged to write what they envisioned at such a party into the event chat.

Some of the inclusive elements that people mentioned were:

  • Lots of different sensory areas (light levels, sound levels, crowdedness levels).
  • Everything accessible to people with disabilities.
  • Multiple generations of people in attendance.
  • Seeing everyone in the community including drag kings and queens, leather queers, business suits, t-shirts and flip flops, and every single possible age with no one looking askance at others, just celebrating everyone who is there.
  • The event being hosted by BIPOC, queer, disabled, and neurodivergent people, and there is a wide age range and a true mixture of genders (and non-genders).
  • Before the event, the invitation itself matters. Perhaps the organizers list access features of the space and give attendees a way to request other access accommodations, if needed.
  • There would not only be excellent disability access, but there would be access for low income folks.
  • Everyone welcomed to the event warmly.
  • A diverse set of people of different cultures and bodies, but also not in cliques or small isolated groups.
  • Affirmative messages on advance promotional materials inviting trans people and people of color by name.
  • Communicating clear expectations of conduct on venue signage and the designation of staff who can mediate conflict during the event.
  • Lots of trans girls having a great time.
  • No strobes.
  • Event is not majority white.
  • Enough food for everyone.
  • The party is invisible to the police.
  • Different temperatures, textures and sound rooms available.
  • Affirming all bodies on promotional materials.
  • Encouraging people to have fun in their own bodies in ways that make sense in the space.
  • No minimum number of drinks.
  • Remote locations to stream the party, dropping a few pins at public parks and at the beach around the city and streaming the music there.
  • Welcome and support for safe use (or no use) of a variety of intoxicating substances.
  • A space where new faces are welcomed and introduced around and where those with disabilities have enough room to move and interact without being stepped on.
  • Diverse entertainment without segregating it into “theme” nights.
  • Doorways wide enough for mobility devices and there are areas where the mobility devices can roll easily.
  • There are areas close to the stage for deaf and hard of hearing people.
  • Lots of sturdy comfortable chairs without arms available for sitting.
  • A safe injection site.
  • Guide animals allowed.
  • Zero misgendering happening even of nonbinary people with clearly communicated expectations ahead of time and ways to address it.
  • Knowing ahead of time if the space is accessible, and how.
  • The event is deliberately welcoming of all people, not just certain people.
  • If an event is targeting a specific group or demographic it is clearly indicated since it is not fun to show up at an event to find out that although you are allowed in you are not actually really welcome because you are the only person like you in the crowd.
  • No gatekeeping at the door. Incredibly welcoming.
  • The option to wear something indicating pronouns, as appropriate for the situation.
  • Events of varying crowd sizes since not everyone enjoys packed and crowded events.
  • Visual imagery on event or venue promotion collateral that includes people of all colors dancing or gathering together.
  • A variety of soundscapes, crowding levels, and sensory experiences in different parts of the venue.
  • For appropriate events, ASL interpreters should be available or can be requested.
  • Event fees discounted for certain marginalized groups of people.
  • Awareness that what an event is not saying can have just as much of an impact as what they are saying.
  • Event and party promoters are specific in their messaging. Do not leave people wondering if they will or will not be welcome at a certain event or space.
  • Designated people to support or assist anyone with specific needs or questions or who might be in need of civil and productive situation meditation.
  • Designated sober parties or sober spaces within parties are helpful since there can be pressure felt by some sober people when in non-sober spaces.
  • Creating advance standards of engagement and community agreements by which the event or venue will abide.
  • Acknowledgement that making mistakes regarding inclusion is fine as long as producers, venues and participants learn from those mistakes and improve.

After the opening section of the Talk, Garfold asked attendees to provide feedback and comment on what were some experiences people have had when party producers have done things that have fostered an inclusive environment, the positive inclusivity experiences. Some of the feedback was:

  • Events clearly advertising that a variety of body types are welcome.
  • Producers and venues who make their inclusion information easy to find.
  • Some parties are produced in nontraditional spaces and are more underground in part so that they are more accessible and so no one has to be turned away for lack of funds.
  • Especially during this pandemic era, parties need to understand that there are people who are immunocompromised or who otherwise need to keep a distance from events, at least for now, even if held outside.
  • Clearly posting accessibility information ahead of time.
  • Events that livestream (even when there is an in-person event happening) to address accessibility for some who cannot attend the physical event.
  • ASL interpreters on hand to help the deaf or hard of hearing.
  • For online events, providing closed captioning when possible.
  • When a producer is collaborating with a venue or another producer, make the accessibility guidelines the party will abide by available to them as well. This sets expectations for everyone involved in producing or hosting the party. The sharing of equipment between stakeholders can be useful if it improves overall accessibility for an event.
  • When an event learns that they are less than inclusive for some reason, learning from that and improving.

Garfold asked attendees how they felt about virtual events. What has been good about them in terms of inclusion? Garfold also asked how those present are able to assess ahead of time if an event is inclusive to them or not. Not every event is for everyone and how do you learn that ahead of time?

  • A virtual event started to add a pin drop in a park with a location to meet up while remaining masked and socially distanced. Even after we return to in-person events some would like to “attend” parties this way too since the inside, crowded, often heavy base-driven environments are not ideal for everyone.
  • Parties that are held at earlier hours since many are not able to or do not want to stay up late.
  • Outdoor events should be considered more often since that environment appeals to enough people to make them worthwhile.
  • There are not enough events where people with special needs and their caregivers and family who care for them can attend. An event could let it be known that if you have someone in your care, or need certain types of care yourself, there will be a space for them at the event.
  • Events aimed at an older audience. Portland has something called “Hot Flash” (aimed at an older audience of non cis male identifying folks) and it starts early at 8pm. Lots of people like to dance and still go to sleep before midnight.
  • Neurodiverse inclusion should be considered as part of inclusivity. This brought up the comment that often producers are not fully educated about the wide variety of accessibility needs and accommodations and if they were better educated they could provide for those audiences better.
  • There are things to be learned from our fellow queers in smaller towns. They can tend to be far more inclusive out of necessity. Those promoters play a wider variety of music and lines between groups are more blurred racially, socioeconomically, linguistically, or in terms of subculture.
  • Some promoters (especially those in Oakland) make an effort to circulate in places where those who are having a rough night gather. For example, the smoking decks are frequently filled with those who are not feeling comfortable and don’t feel like they have a way to alert someone who can help.
  • Some people have auditory processing disabilities and if events can address those needs it would be helpful. Someone experienced disability access barriers at plenty of queer and other online events. They have an auditory processing disability and the low frequency background sounds from multiple microphones being on are a real disability access barrier for them.
  • Often there is no opportunity for folks to request disability access at the beginning of a meeting or as part of an invitation before the event. Simply providing the option to request an accommodation can go a long way in improving inclusion. Of course, the producer or venue receiving the request needs to respond fully and in a timely manner. If an event cannot provide the accommodation for some reason, be clear about that in the response.
  • People often take calls or participate in online events outside and the wind on microphones makes sounds that cause disability access barriers for some. Auditory processing disabilities aren’t uncommon.
  • Scent sensitivities are often not taken into consideration.
  • Making it clear ahead of time what access is provided, offering the option to make a request, and that you’re receptive to such requests, is useful. Events can say upfront if there are stairs, if they are using scent, if there will be no strobing lights, and so on, on the poster.
  • If the community had access to known people or groups who understand these inclusion issues well and how to best addresses them, that would be a valuable resource for promoters to turn to for education and assistance.This would be especially useful for new party producers, but longstanding producers can utilize these resources to make their existing events more inclusive. These groups could gather and distribute information through social media and other avenues to better educate everyone around these issues. 

Garfold then asked those in attendance to offer examples of things that producers or venues have done wrong in terms of inclusion. Some feedback included:

  • Walking into an all male, white, able bodied party. This generated a comment about being able to know ahead of time the environment of the party. If a poster or advertisement only shows certain types of people, perhaps that is the target demographic for that particular party.
  • If a party is held in a basement venue, it is not going to be an able-bodied event. Even having a single step up to get into the event could provide challenges for some. So you might need a lift or some mechanism to increase accessibility. Perhaps there could be assigned people on hand to assist people entering and navigating the venue. It all starts with the venue itself and whether it is equipped for accessibility or can be adapted for accessibility. It is difficult in some instances for a venue to adapt to full accessibility, but efforts should be made. In San Francisco, with so many older buildings, this is sometimes difficult.
  • One local venue that was mentioned always has able-bodied people available to help someone in a wheelchair up or down stairs and they advertise that clearly on their website and in their marketing collateral. It was noted that scooters are heavier than wheelchairs and might require a different strategy.
  • Some events list directions for where to park, but not public transit information. That privileges those with cars in a city and area where many do not have a vehicle. Parking, especially in San Francisco, can be incredibly expensive and makes it economically prohibitive for some. Adding public transit information would be of great benefit.
  • Many events feel like networking events rooted in transactional relationships. This makes it difficult for people on the outside to make it in.
  • Disabled folks are sometimes stepped on by event organizers who didn’t address the need for inclusivity.
  • A failing is when inclusivity is a checklist instead of a cultural value and social norm. Events could provide staff to check in on people who look like they might be on the outside or not feeling like a part of the event.
  • Events can assign some big, buffed and strong men (privilege redistribution as it was described) to help those needing it and check in with them during the event should they need anything or to move to another location or up or down stairs. This is proactive and means the disabled person does not need to find someone to help. That helper is assigned to them from the start. They could exchange cell phone numbers so they can easily contact each other throughout the event.
  • Packed events with everyone bumping into each other may not have a no-touch rule or one is not being enforced. Complaints can be taken as crying wolf because it was not a true consent violation. They take people’s money, whoever wants to come in, with no limit on the number of bodies that fit in the space (heavy crowding). Producers and venues being aware of at what point the space becomes overpacked and difficult to navigate is important since some people do not do well in packed spaces. Perhaps some producers can be slightly less financially motivated and more cognizant of how much more enjoyable a party might be less crowded, but it was acknowledged this can be a difficult thing to do when bills need to be paid.
  • Safety, especially for women/femme/nonbinary people, is important and events could have someone on on hand to address it if there is an issue. Knowing that there are trained staff who can respond to a troubling issue or consent violation feels safer and therefore more inclusive.
  • It is important to recognize that inclusivity is ultimately a choice. It is a choice to approach strangers rather than block them out of conversations. It is a choice to engage with those outside of our houses, packs, tribes and cliques. It is a choice for event organizers to know the spots people go when they are miserable and it is a choice to help them. It is a choice to provide pathways to redemption for those who transgress because we know we will too. It is a choice to make community a priority over individuality or tribeality, to recognize that we need each other to succeed.
  • Perhaps some public or foundation monies that give grants for all kinds of things might need to be encouraged to subsidize some queer events to help foster inclusivity and accessibility. Or perhaps a sponsor might subsidize an event for these purposes. Money is an undeniable factor in creating these inclusive spaces and we need to get creative with how to find and use that money. Thinking carefully and deliberately about who your sponsors are is key.

Thomas then pivoted to discussing the concept of affinity events and venues. An example would be a party that has a sexual component to it, often based on an affinity. Sometimes these affinities can be demographically based (gay male, queer women, and so on) or interest or fetish based (kinky play party, sex party). Thomas asked the group if there is a path forward for parties that want to cater to certain demographics or types of people and how can we all be mindful of inclusivity when such specificity is at the heart of an event?

Garfold offered specific examples of not wanting to infringe on a party’s right to cater to one demographic, such as gay men or lesbians, but still be inclusive within that targeted affinity group (demographic). and how to communicate that the event is not being intentionally “negatively” exclusive.

  • It is important to know that one is truly welcome at an event for everyone’s enjoyment and comfort.
  • Affinity spaces are important for building confidence, being recognized and building relationships.
  • Even if some events are exclusive they still need to be explicitly anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-ableist, and so on. Just because it is “bear night” should not mean it is “hate femmes night.” This person felt every party should be a POC, disabled, transfemme, neurodivergent, sex worker, immigrant, immunocompromised party, and other identity groups should only be secondary.
  • One person felt that it doesn’t feel like a queer party if there’s no sensitivity to intersectionality.
  • There can be instances where a party is definitely for an affinity group, but still open to others and they need to be clear upfront that such is the case.
  • It was asked if it is important that everyone wants to and does party and socialize together or is it okay for there to be some combination of inclusive and exclusive events? Not everyone believes that all parties and events need to be fully inclusive, but it is important to be clear when an event is for a specific affinity group and that such exclusivity not be conveyed in a mean-spirited or dismissive manner. Just because many want more inclusion generally does not mean that everything needs to be fully inclusive.
  • Centering is fine, but it would be great if there was more trans and nonbinary centering and expectations communicated. Perhaps a party can state it will assume an attendee is a “they/them” unless told otherwise. Maybe buttons could be worn as indicators.
  • At some convention play events they night have a separate men’s play space, women’s play space, and pan play space, and the pan space ends up being basically heterosexual which is not always comfortable. Some don’t feel entirely comfortable in any of those three spaces.
  • Some events say they are open to trans people but make an assumption that the trans person will present in a way that they consider in line with the typical appearance of the particular affinity group to which the party caters.
  • Mediators at parties can be important when you are mixing types of people and others at the party may make some wrong assumptions (for example, misgendering). Making this a practice and policy would be beneficial.
  • When you have parties that center certain groups at which others are welcome there is always the risk of chasers and that must be monitored and addressed quickly.
  • Those who might hold privileged positions should take some responsibility for having the difficult conversations with producers and sharing information that might help parties be more inclusive and respectful.
  • Some felt it is complicated in that there are different minority groups for which privilege is not a single dimensionally comparative point to determine who is the “most oppressed group” that must accommodate the other.
  • Some felt every party should be open to include anyone.
  • Centered parties, at which a particular demographic or affinity group is the focal point, can be great whether they are exclusive or welcoming of others not part of those groups.
  • Someone suggested the idea of a party staffer like a gogo person who was also tasked with readily welcoming others to the party to generate an environment in which attendees feel they belong.
  • Affinity parties and events are important as are inclusive parties and events. They each have their place from the larger community perspective. Setting expectations around an affinity party does not need to be offensive. Affinity spaces are a home base. Everyone needs a home community, anda a place to mingle in confidence.
  • So much of creating inclusion is figuring out the language to use. Changing a single word can have significant positive (or negative) ramifications. We need to shift to language that is kind and allows people to maintain their dignity.
  • Having an emcee or host who embodies a welcoming and inclusive attitude can help. Party hosts should actually “host” and welcome people and make them feel included.
  • Events could post a survey on their site for use after the event to solicit feedback.
  • Someone felt that there is a difference between “exclusively for” versus “oriented towards” and that parties that have tickets available publicly shouldn’t be “exclusively for” events. Someone agreed with that distinction because publicly-available exclusively for approaches turns into gatekeeping at the door. They mentioned that if an event is advertised on facebook, anyone should feel welcome. There was some disagreement. It was pointed out that it is difficult to build an audience for an affinity-based event without using Facebook.
  • Scaled prices along lines of privilege in “centered” events can be an interesting idea, such as charging more for white folks or more for cis men. This is also a way for the less marginalized to be financial allies to the more marginalized.
  • One person mentioned that the leather community has a calendar that seems complete and maintained, but that they have not seen a consolidated calendar for general LGBTQ+ nightlife. A well maintained LGBTQ+ calendar of events would be welcome. The target event audience, if there is one, could be listed there too.
  • Workshare options for events is a great way to foster inclusion. Not everyone can physically work an event. So try to provide opportunities for the less able to contribute as well. Workshare is also a community building strategy, and builds investment in the event itself.
  • Events can strategically mention that discounted tickets are available for those in need, but it is not publicly available on Eventbrite (or another ticketing platform) without a code, to avoid someone just grabbing the lowest priced ticket available and ensure those tickets go to who needs them..
  • Events can offer opportunities to new performers in a work/trade partnership for access into the event. It is also important to create such pathways so that new talent can become better known and used at bigger events.
  • Events should create mechanisms for providing feedback to the organizers which would help improve future parties.
  • Perhaps we can use some of the physical spaces not being used for parties for other queer uses such as art, bodyworkers and healers, and community organization meetings. Nightclub venues are also great for events such as book clubs, game nights, healer/bodywork nights, skillshares, studio nights, mixers, open mics, and space for local artists/vendors. Venues can still make money through dance events and alcohol sales while offering their spaces for other uses too. (Obviously only when it is safe to do so.)
  • Is there a way to document diversity at parties? Can we ask at the door, or is that too intrusive? One strategy is to count how people present, such as being of color, rather than asking people the questions directly. That approach is not perfect, but it brings awareness to the diversity in the room. The payoff for producers is that you become better at what you do and meet the needs of the community more. Casual data by scanning the room can help. You don’t necessarily need hard data. Use a clicker while walking around the room. Maybe give a drink ticket for turning in a survey?
  • Documenting diversity could be made fun. Have some tokens and place them in the jars that represent you. Best if those are in a place where it’s not highly visible while you are putting them in, or alternatively, maybe put them somewhere in the open so people coming in could see them and have a sense of whether they want to come in.
  • Create a standard training for people staffing the door at events to be better aware of inclusivity issues. Make the training required for everyone at the door, maybe bartenders too. It can help them practice their non-marginalizing language skills such as gender neutral pronoun usage and to best welcome a diverse cross-section of people.

Garfold wrapped up the session by reiterating what QNF is and what we have been up to lately. Then Thomas ended the night with a group grounding, breathing and community bonding exercise.

In summary, much of the night’s discussion can be boiled down to party promoters, event organizers, and bars and venues seriously attempting to discern how they can best welcome as wide a variety of people as possible, how they can communicate that in their advertising and messaging, and how can they accommodate all people best within the space. Even if an event caters to a specific demographic, such as gay men, while still communicating that specifically, how can events also include as many diverse people within that demographic as possible?

We, those who produce, work in and frequent queer nightlife, have the answer to better inclusion. We simply have to act on it.

It’s not expected that every producer or venue will do things perfectly. Pick one thing to improve upon and do that, then build from there.  Party producers, promoters, venue owners, performers and artists are all creative people and we can come up with creative solutions to provide greater inclusivity while hosting some of the hottest events around. QNF strongly encourages community members to continue to have these discussions amongst themselves so that the topic of inclusion becomes a standard discussion point when planning all of our queer events.

Next Queer Nightlife Talk

The next Queer Nightlife Talk will be “How do you live without the party?” on Tuesday, November 10, 20202, 7pm-9pm on Zoom.

QNF knows we are all dealing with restrictions on our social lives. The loss of our events at which we gather combined with being unable to hang out with some of our friends pulls at the threads of the fabric of our mental health. And so many are struggling financially. Taken together, the current situation can be a perfect storm for mental health challenges, even for the most emotionally strong among us.

This next Ttalk will be a professionally moderated public forum on the mental health issues facing both queer nightlife workers and the queer community at large.

Check out our site and social media soon for an announcement about this Talk.

Questions? Ideas?

If there are any questions about this summary or if you have an idea for a topic for a future Queer Nightlife Talk, contact QNF at qnf-info@sfqueernightlifefund.org.

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