At home in the club: the LGBT parties changing the face of Brooklyn’s nightlife

With long lines of expectant attendees, these nights illustrate both the necessity and demand for unapologetically open and inclusive clubs

At an unmarked location in Bushwicks industrial zone on Thursday night, GHE20G0TH1K (pronounced Ghetto Gothic) has taken over. A blue neon sign declaring Play With My Pussy encircling a biohazard symbol lights up the dark warehouse.

Inside, more than 500 people dance half-naked with sweat pouring from their bodies as they mosh to the music of experimental rap collective Divine Council. GHE20G0TH1K is part of a new trend in Brooklyn nightlife one that is created by and for LGBT people of color. In the midst of New Yorks rapid gentrification, Brooklyns nightlife seems to be getting more diverse.

GHE20G0TH1K. Photograph: Whitney Wei for the Guardian
As one of the earliest parties that strove for diversity on the DJ lineup and the dance floor, GHE20G0TH1Ks goal is to provide safe spaces for queer and trans people of color. Since it was founded in 2009, its influenced a swathe of similar parties in Brooklyn including iBomba, Azucar, Papi Juice, Fake Accent and Shock Value.

Anuradha Golder is a staple at GHE20G0TH1K and frequently commutes from the Bronx to attend. For Golder, these parties are a few hours of communal celebration in which club-goers can get a short reprieve from judgment, hate speech, and sexual harassment. These nights do so much, from fostering a safe space where everyone is encouraged to enjoy themselves no matter where they are from or what gender and sexual orientation they identify with to providing visibility for under-recognized queer artists and POC artists. Plus, theyre definitely some of the most energetic parties youll find in the city, she says.

For Anuradha Golder, these parties are a few hours of communal celebration in which club-goers can get a short reprieve from judgment, hate speech and sexual harassment. Photograph: Whitney Wei for the Guardian

In the aftermath of the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, organizers say the protection of these safe spaces is more important than ever. For many members of the community like Dion McKenzie, a DJ and founder of the party Fake Accent, the dance floor is a sanctuary and functions as one of the few places that offers the freedom of self-expression.

Pulse nightclub happened and it shakes our community to the core and there is no way we can turn a blind eye to that. You feel you were spared, you were saved because it couldve happened to anyone that night. Everyone that night was celebrating. We were all out.

After moving from Jamaica to New York four years ago, McKenzie established Fake Accent, a monthly event to showcase under-represented DJs. New York is a plethora of ethnicity, she states, Why would you want to just play one genre of music when you want to include everyone in the community? I play dancehall, I play club, I play ballroom, I am eclectic about my music selection so I dont alienate people.

Dion McKenzie: Why would you want to just play one genre of music when you want to include everyone in the community? Photograph: Whitney Wei for the Guardian

Papi Juice, a dance party with a self-described mission to affirm and uplift queer and trans people of color, originally began in the small performance venue and neighborhood bar One Last Shag with 300 supporters in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. In the three years since it started, it has grown and moved locations to the music venue Babys All Right in Williamsburg, which attracts crowds of up to 750 people.

From reggaeton to cumbia to R&B, the array of music chosen at Papi Juice reflects the diverse ethnicities and backgrounds of attendees. Having people play that kind of music, party founder Cristobal Guerra says, it feels like theyre telling my story.

The parties offer an alternative to Brooklyns rapidly whitening nightlife landscape one more inclusive of a community now being displaced by increasing rents and cost of living. The neighborhoods where these parties are based are all included in the top 10 gentrifying areas on an annual housing and neighborhood data report released by the NYU Furman Center on Urban Policy.

Williamsburg/Greenpoint tops the list with a 78.7% average change in rent from 1990 to 2014, closely followed by Bushwick at 44% and Bed-Stuy at 36.1%. The centers research analysis also notes a large decrease in the black population of gentrifying neighborhoods as well as a decrease in the Hispanic population of Williamsburg/Greenpoint.

Cristobal Guerra: Having people play that kind of music, it feels like theyre telling my story. Photograph: Whitney Wei for the Guardian

McKenzie says the sense of displacement residents feel is similar to that of LGBT people. Gentrification is pushing out a community from their land. For the queer community, we have always dealt with displacement. Were always feeling like were being pushed out of spaces. To have some balance and stability, we need to find a space that we can call our home, she says. And that is within the club.

Parties such as Fake Accent and Papi Juice follow a historical precedent of New York Citys dance floors being safe spaces for self expression. Derived from the ballrooms of Harlem, voguing rose to prominence in the late 1960s nurtured by gay black and Latino performers. From the South Bronx, hip-hop, MCing, and b-boying (breakdancing) blossomed in poor black and Latino communities during the 1980s. Such underground movements resuscitated the citys nightlife after the first wave of the Aids epidemic and counteracted violence at the height of gang activity.

As nights like GHE20G0TH1K strengthen, with long lines of expectant attendees like this past Thursday night, it illustrates both the necessity and demand for inclusive club nights.

When people talk about our parties and what we do, they talk about how authentic it is and how unpretentious it is. It is unapologetically open and inclusive, McKenzie proudly reports. You can be from the Bronx, you can be from the neighborhood, you can be from Flatbush, but when you enter that space, you feel unified.

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