Stonewall, Nightlife Culture and Gay Rights in America

By Gamal Hennessy

The modern era of gay rights in America can be traced back to a small bar in New York’s West Village. When a group of transvestites refused to go into the bathroom to have their genitals inspected to determine their gender, it marked a turning point in the relationship between homosexuals and heterosexuals in the US. To a large extent it also changed the perception of homosexuals about themselves. The annual Pride Parade, positive gay figures in the media, debates on gay marriage and open sexual orientation in military service are all a by-products of the first Stonewall Incident.

Nightlife culture has a social impact that goes beyond bottle service and DJs. It is an environment that pushes the envelope of American culture as a whole. Historically, it is the space where minorities and homosexuals felt accepted when they weren’t accepted anywhere else. It is where modern music and fashion trends are tested before they slip into the mainstream. It is where social protests and movements from anti-Prohibition crime to the start of the gay rights movement found their home. If more progress is going to be made, it may very well continue where it started. Even if common society’s apathy, red state mentality or tabloid media slurs continue to promote division and hate, nightlife can and should be a haven for those who need a place to get away from the negative elements of society. Natives need to protect each other.

As New York celebrates LGBT Pride in parades and parties, we should keep in mind the importance that nightlife culture has played in providing a social haven and building the communities that drive progress in America.

Have fun.
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The Pride of New York Nightlife: The Nightlife Culture Interview with Sabrina Haley

Pride is a cultural celebration born out of New York nightlife. It came from the Stonewall Riots and grew into similar LGBT events around the world. For some nightlife natives, Pride doesn’t just happen once a year. Some people live, breathe and create this culture every week. Sabrina Haley is one of those people. As a producer, bartender, photographer and activist she supports nightlife culture on a year round basis. NCI sat down to talk with her on the eve of her biggest event of the year 

Sabrina Haley Website

NCI: Let’s start by talking about how you got started in nightlife and what you are up to now.


SH: I came to NYC in 2004 to be a photographer. I attended work scholar program at the Aperture Foundation. I worked there forty hours a week but didn’t get paid. I needed to find another way to make some money. An old friend of mine from San Francisco got a DJ gig at a place called Girls Room. The parties were scarce for us back then so I joined her to create a new event. That turned into a weekly party called Girl Scout. We had girl-scout cookie cocktails and gave away merit badges for best breasts and best dancers. Girl’s Room was a dirty spot on Lower East Side but the party took off and I was hooked. I started to promote, attend and photograph as many parties as I could after that. NYC was alive and I wanted to be a part of it. I learned then that life is what happens while you’re making other plans. When you let go of that concept you can succeed and rock anything!  

Right now I am working to support Pride because it is my favorite time of year. I am working to produce some of the biggest and best parties. The biggest one I’m doing this year is the Siren Pride at the Beekman Beach Club. I’m planning to have great music, good food and drinks and sexy mermaid burlesque dancers celebrating with 3,000 people with a beautiful view of the Brooklyn Bridge. 

NCI: Tell me all the different things you do in nightlife culture in a normal week. And then tell me what drives you to do all those things.

SH: Currently I produce and bartend a weekly Tuesday night event called Mix Tape, at Henrietta Hudson’s. It’s a happy hour into night dance party focusing on old school hip hop and throw back dance music.  I also am the lead bartender and host of a Friday party called Lesbo A Go-Go at the infamous Stonewall Inn that has been going on for six years. We offer a high energy dance party with no cover, sexy go-go dancers, and lots of women every week. I also attend many other events to stay connected to the community. I’m out and about taking photographs at a lot of different places; everything from benefits to roof top launches to gay boy dance clubs to special house DJ sets. All my weeks look different! 

My drive comes from the passion I have for my community. I want my life and work to be about helping people and bringing them together. It is so rewarding for me to get emails from young queers thanking me for what I do because it makes it easier for them to be gay and feel comfortable in their own skin. That makes it all worth it to me. What I do sends the message that I believe in our rights and am here to fight for them. That makes much more sense to me than spending my days checking into an office or selling my soul to corporate America.

NCI: Talk about the struggles that go into putting together a successful one off party and a successful weekly party. How many hours go into preparing for one night?

SH: They are very different beasts. When I am doing a one off party, it’s really best to have at least a month of preparation. If it’s a big annual party like Siren Pride our team usually works on it for at least four months. The concepts get kicked around almost as soon as the last one is done.  It takes lots of hours. People really do not have any idea how much work it is to create a good party. It’s not just a FB invite. It’s a long term relationships with venues, talent and guests. It’s marketing across the board. It’s creative work to develop press, fliers and the look and feel of event. It’s decision making. It’s gambling. I have to decide which is the right DJ to make this crowd pop? What are the right hours for this night? The list goes on and on…


For a weekly party, I treat it like a relationship. You are working on it all the time, keeping up the momentum, coming up with new specials, theme nights, drink specials, promo, new talent, continued guests and things like that. You have to make the guest feel wonderful so they come back. A weekly survives on regulars. We love our tourists, and visiting partiers, but they do not keep it alive from week to week.

NCI: Tell me what you are looking for when you are conceptualizing a new event or looking at a new space?

SH: I usually have a creative spark; an idea of the event. Then I estimate the numbers from a 150 to 2000 person party. I try to find a space that is the right size and accommodations for that crowd. I like a nice full room, not too empty and not to packed. And the sound system is key. Finally, the venue has to be queer friendly (obviously) and the staff has to be both professional & fun. 

NCI: What is the single most important thing that goes into a great party?

SH: I like to say..."Energy In, Is Energy Out". It’s a simple concept of physics. I put my heart into my events. I give it my energy and then people feel that. Everyone we hire from DJs, dancers and staff all get behind the idea. Then it becomes a community. That is contagious. The crowd feels it. And that’s when you have a great party.

Sabrina Haley Website


Have fun.

G
 

What Role Did New York Nightlife Play in Same Sex Marriage?

By Gamal Hennessy

I’m not trying to belittle the political choice that the Obama administration made this week. The act of supporting same sex marriage, like getting the marriage equality law passed in New York last year, took an enormous amount of effort and education over the past four decades from thousands of different people. There have been struggles and setbacks within families, among friends, in businesses, courtrooms, schools, churches, legislatures and in the media over this issue. There have also been internal struggles within many people who had a stake in this process to give up, keep fighting or just try to ignore it and hope it would go away. For everyone who is waiting to have the same rights as everyone else, this is a small but significant step.

But just because it is pivotal doesn’t mean that nightlife didn’t play a role in the process. Nightlife was where the LGBT community went to connect with each other and be accepted for who they were. It was in nightlife where people rose up to defend themselves from abuse during the Stonewall Riots. It was in nightlife where people began to organize and share the information that built up their community. It was in nightlife where many of them found their identity, their hustles and the people that they would eventually fall in love with. And it was in nightlife where many of them celebrated the victory of the marriage equality act last year. It will probably be where they celebrate Obama’s announcement tonight.

Saying marriage equality came about because of nightlife might be going too far. But nightlife is a part of that story, so it is a part of our collective story as a society. Who knows where we would be without it.

Have fun.
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Nightilfe Culture Expo Recap Day 2: Celebrating the Gay Foundations of Nightlife Culture

The upper level of Stonewall didn’t have the look of an unusual party. There were women drinking at the bar and couples whispering in the corner. There were old friends reconnecting after a long period apart and new people getting to know each other. The major difference in this room revolved around attraction and identity.

Most of the women were sexually attracted to other women. A few of the men in the room were attracted to men. It was difficult to tell who some of the guests were attracted to. At a certain point, it was hard to tell if someone was a man or a woman. The party had an ambiguous fluidity that you could see, but only if you looked closely. In many ways this wasn’t an unusual party in New York nightlife because of the strong influence the LGBT community has had on us.

Nightlife is a sexual arena. It is a sexual metaphor. Sexual exploration, sexual identity and sexual expression are at the core of the experience. Boundaries are often tested, limits are pushed and possibilities are explored in ways that are not acceptable in most homes, work places, churches or schools. The LGBT community often came together in nightlife venues because it was the one of the few places where they didn’t have to repress who they were. It was in places like Stonewall that the community fought back against institutionalized discrimination. Many of them used nightlife as a springboard for acceptance and success in other parts of society. The influence of their perspective and taste can be felt in venues of all types today whether they are gay, straight or somewhere in between.

When we talk about nightlife culture, we have to recognize the contribution that the LGBT community makes to every type of nightlife. It doesn’t matter if you are talking about music, fashion, sexual exploration or sexual identity. Without the gay community, there really is no modern nightlife. We all need to recognize, appreciate and celebrate that. We did it with powerful and energetic performances from Maor, T.R.I.G.G.A and Paige Turner. You do it every time you go out, whether you realize it or not.

Have fun.
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Fashion and Fantasies: A Nightlife Culture Interview with madison moore

    

 

Vital Statistics

Name: madison moore

Group Affiliation: Interview Magazine, Thought Catalog, Splice Today, Artspace Underground

Hometown: New York, NY

Website: www.madisonmooreonline.com  

Latest Project: Trying to finish this damn dissertation!

madison moore thinks critically and creatively about popular culture. A doctoral candidate in American Studies at Yale University, madison writes primarily about fashion, nightlife, and music, and his writing can be read in Interview, Jezebel, Art in America, Thought Catalog as well as on his weekly pop culture column at Splice Today. His dissertation is about how people in the worlds of fashion, nightlife, and music use glamour as a form of cultural critique. He gained public notoriety on the subject of nightlife largely in relation to a self-designed seminar he taught at Yale on Dance Music and Nightlife Culture in New York City.

NCI: A lot of your writing deals with fashion as it relates to American culture. Was it fashion that attracted you to nightlife culture or was it the other way around?

MM: You know, I’m interested in stories, and to my mind there is no greater story than the one a person’s fashion tells. Everybody gets dressed in the morning, and whether we know it or not, how we do it says a lot about who we are or perhaps even more significantly who we want people to think we are.

Whenever I talk to people about the relationship between fashion and nightlife, I always ask the person to think about what is typically the first thing a person does to go out? They get ready, they shave, they wear something new or different, they pull together an outfit—a look. So the question is how will you dress for the theater of nightlife? How will you prepare your body to be visually consumed by a largely anonymous audience? How will you dress to attract people you want to notice you, to get laid if that’s what you’re after (and who isn’t?) ?

I’ve always been a sort of club kid, and my favorite thing about going out at night is the fact that night time is different time—a time to do things we want to do rather than the boring things we have to do. For me, fashion plays a big role in night cultures especially since they are both about fantasy. The kinds of parties I like the most are the ones with the most fashion freaks—men in high heels and corsets, man tits fully out, girls dressed up like a fabulous bootleg Marie-Antoinette, people wearing outrageous wigs or aluminum foil, people serving beekeeper realness. This, for me, is one of the things that makes a nightclub interesting: it really hoists the intensity of the room into a kind of cinematic experience.

NCI: What is it about nightlife culture that attracts so many different types of people?

MM: Well, I’m nervous to talk about a single, monolithic “nightlife culture.” I prefer to call them nightlife cultures because, as a multi-billion dollar industry that’s responsible for a hundred thousand jobs and more than 65 million people every year in this city alone, there are various night worlds and various people who frequent them. There are swingers parties, gay sex parties and sex clubs for people who want to fuck. Some people want the jazz club experience, others want a wine bar. Some want to catch a show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg and go to the after party. Many enjoy an hours long conversation over an equally lengthy dinner. Some people go to a hotel like the Bowery or the W for an after hours cocktail, whereas others can’t wait to walk the categories at vogue balls.

What I’m saying is that there are different ways to do nightlife, and different people participate in it differently depending on what their fantasies are. That’s the key—fantasy. The one thing I think that links all the various night worlds and the pleasure-seekers in them is that everybody wants freedom, action. There’s that Alicia Bridges song, “I Love the Nightlife”—you know it—where she sings joyfully over a saxophone about loving the nightlife because she “wants to live,” she wants some “action,” and I think she leaves it up to us to decide just what she means by “action.” So what brings people out at night? : fantasy, freedom, action, wherever they can find it. 

NCI: Talk about the nightlife culture seminar. What was the reaction that your peers had before it started? What do you think the students expected at the beginning? What do you hope they came away with at the end?

MM: The Dance Music and Nightlife Culture seminar I taught at Yale was probably the most exciting part of my graduate education at Yale. It all started with the dissertation chapter I’m currently working on, which is about fashion and nightlife, and I started thinking about ways to expand that chapter into an entire class. Doing that would also help me see the architecture of the chapter I was about to begin writing. It was a way to introduce students—and myself—to the history of nightlife, and I thought that doing a class on nightlife would ultimately help me write the chapter. I was after how studying nightlife is in fact studying race, class, social issues, gender, sexuality, the law, visual culture—among other things.

The class was awesome, and I have never taught such a captivated audience! Each week was inspiring, and I really believe students responded to my creative teaching methods. Honestly, I think a lot of people (in and outside of the class) thought it was going to be this sort of puff class—you know, one of these classes where you just show up half asleep and get an A. But, no ma’am, I wasn’t having any of that. The subject matter may be fun and I might come to class with spiked shoulder pads on, but don’t make me read you. So the thing is, people still think that the only way to think critically in the humanities with a capital H is to think about old texts written by dead white people. Dead white people are great, and there’s certainly a lot of value in studying them. But there’s equally as much value in what I do, too.

A lot of the critique about my class was on how silly it was, what an easy A it seemed, and why on earth people at Yale, with its hallowed halls and collegiate-gothic architecture, would be studying this. Look, the fact is that thinking about popular culture is hard because everybody just takes it for granted. Everybody thinks pop culture is easy because it’s all surface. But it’s easy to take a single idea and make it overly complicated, which is what a lot of scholars do. It’s hard to take a massive concept and make it easy so that people can understand the world around them. Hard is easy. Easy is hard.

I think my greatest accomplishment with the nightlife seminar was that, over and over, students told me how much taking the class changed their whole perception of the world, not just nightlife. They were able to see and understand the cues of visual culture better than ever before, and some who did come into the class perhaps a bit skeptical realized that, in fact, things are not as easy as they seem.

NCI: Talk about the role nightlife plays in terms of class, race and sexual orientation in America.

MM: This is a huge question, because I would say that nightlife cultures are unfortunately already segmented along the lines of race, class, and sexual orientation. I get really annoyed when I go into a space it’s all the same kind of people. Isn’t that boring? Some straight dudes are terrified of going to gay joints lest they be “hit on,” woe is them. There’s that funny story about Park Slope being nervous about having a hip-hop club (i.e. black people) move into the neighborhood. There are clubs that enforce strict dress codes, which is just another way of racially stereotyping so that certain kinds of “undesirables” don’t get to come in. If you really want to know, I think a club should have gay people and straight people and drag queens and transsexuals and fashion freaks and people who don’t know what the fuck is going on and Wall Street types and men and women and the gay dudes are making out with women and the straight dudes are making out with the gay dudes and the music is ridiculous, and everyone just tosses their inhibitions and roles out the door. You enter the space as a body, not as a preprogrammed black heterosexual male who works on Wall Street, but as a body that wants to consume.

This, I think, was initially the spirit of the Harlem cabaret circuit in the 1920s. Cabarets were small, intimate spaces where all sorts and kinds of people were forced to bump into one another, dine together. It was intimate, and that very intimacy helped to shatter preconceived notions about social groups. The rent parties of Harlem also had that kind of spirit, so did David Mancuso’s loft parties and even a commercial space like Studio 54. I don’t think we see much of that mixing anymore, perhaps not in New York, anyway. Though I did recently go see one of my favorite bands SSION perform at the Highline Ballroom, and it certainly seemed like a very mixed crowd. When I go to some gay clubs in New York (I won’t name names!) I’m amazed at how monocultural the room is. I do not go out to be bored or, for that matter, to hear the Top 40!

NCI: To what extent does nightlife culture play a positive or negative role on the broader culture? Going forward, do you see more of less impact from nightlife culture on the broader society and why?

MM: Nightlife reform is a fascinating topic, because the social ills the media uses to scare us about the dangers of young people get framed through nightlife. The media associates nightlife with debauchery, noise, underage drinking, pre-marital sex, not to mention recreational drug use, all of which is true. But you know, nightlife is kind of this catch-22. No matter how people frame nightlife as inherently negative, the fact is that if you look at any post-industrial city in America that is currently in the process of gentrification, and so of bringing single white people and empty nesters back into the city core, what is the first thing they advertise? Inevitably they say: we have shopping, we have dining, and we have nightlife, and then there’s a photo of some people drinking a glass of wine or posing at a bar at a “hot” local club. The point is, reformers have always chastised nightlife whereas developers see it as an industry that brings in hundreds of millions of dollars into the city core and which brings with it the power to gentrify whole neighborhoods if not entire cities. In New York City alone, just think about how the neighborhoods of Chelsea, the East Village, Williamsburg, and now the Meatpacking District all came to be.

Nightlife isn’t going anywhere, even if people in New York never stop complaining that it isn’t what it used to be.

Have fun.

G

 

 

Did Marriage Equality Start With Nightlife?

By Gamal Hennessy

I don’t mean to belittle the historic event that took place last weekend. The act of getting the marriage equality law passed in New York took an enormous amount of effort and education over the past four decades from thousands of different people. There have been struggles and setbacks within families, among friends, in businesses, courtrooms, schools, churches, legislatures and the media over this issue. There have also been internal struggles within many people who had a stake in this process to give up, keep fighting or just move away. For everyone who was waiting to have the same rights as everyone else and for everyone who wondered if this time would ever come, this weekend might be a pivotal moment in history.

But just because it is pivotal doesn’t mean that nightlife didn’t play a role in the process. Nightlife was where the LGBT community went to connect with each other and be accepted for who they were. It was in nightlife where people rose up to defend themselves from abuse during the Stonewall Riots. It was in nightlife where people began to organize and share the information that built up their community. It was in nightlife where many of them found their identity, their hustles and the people that they would eventually fall in love with. And it was in nightlife where many of them celebrated the victory of the marriage equality act last weekend.

Saying marriage equality came about because of nightlife might be going too far. But nightlife is a part of that story, so it is a part of our story as a society. Who knows where we would be without it.

Have fun.
G