One Month After Pulse: DJs Speak On The Reality Of Safe Spaces
Photo by Elijah C. Watson for Okayplayer.
It's Sunday, June 19th and there's a collection of twentysomethings slowly arriving at C'Mon Everybody in Brooklyn, New York City. The event is a fundraiser for the tragic shooting that occurred at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida — only a week earlier. The incident is still fresh in everybody's mind and you can sense the discomfort and unease throughout the venue. Past the entrance attendees go one of two ways: to the dance floor or to the congregation area which features food and a tribute table for the victims of the Pulse shooting.
Displayed on the table is a collage of the victim's faces — all of them young; some smiling, some not — alongside a picture frame with their names. A person is writing a letter, trying to hold back tears as they rush down his face, his friends encircling him and putting their heads on his shoulders.
He finishes and slowly walks away to join the rest of his friends.
"Mourn the dead and fight like hell for the living," was what he wrote for all to witness.
On the dance floor DJ Oscar Nñ is playing a remix of Prince's "Let's Go Crazy." The iconic Purple Rain opener is timely not only because of his own untimely passing, but also because of Pulse itself: a hub for queer and trans-people of color served as a weekly celebration where one another could embrace their culture. Sadly, during Pulse's weekly Latin Night event, those individuals were unaware that this moment might be their last.
We are gathered here today,
To get through this thing called 'Life'."
Oscar chops the introduction into one part, repeating the word "Life" until it transforms into a mantra over booming bass. Life was taken from over 50 people that night at Pulse nightclub. Lives that were a part of a community that took care of each other and they found safety within. Lives that were taken from family and friends much too soon. Lives full of hope, joy and promise.
A collection of colors shone behind Oscar and hit the floor, creating a rainbow that surrounded the bodies that were on the dance floor. These colors brought comfort to a certain group of people in this country. They're symbolic of the ongoing fight queer and trans-people in America are currently going through. These colors mean so much more on a day like this, reminding everyone that these spaces are not only important but necessary.
The bodies slowly start to dance — the space is being reclaimed.
Now, we fast forward a month later, and the Pulse shooting is still on everyone's minds. The sanctity of safe spaces for QTPOCs has been brought into question, with many in the nightlife industry wondering what needs to be done to insure another tragedy like this doesn't happen again.
Oscar, who's one of the four founders of QTPOC party Papi Juice, understands the importance of these spaces for people. "It's a celebration of love and the beauty of queer and trans people of color," Oscar said. "That we can come together and accept and understand each other for all of our differences — this is why these spaces mean so much to us."
Papi Juice just celebrated it's third anniversary towards the end of June at Baby's All Right. The celebration occurred during New York City's Pride weekend, and featured performances from Princess Nokia, Mike Q, Juliana Huxtable and False Witness. With every Papi Juice event comes the following advisory:
"PAPI JUICE IS A SAFE & INTENTIONAL SPACE FOR QUEER PEOPLE OF COLOR. ANY RACIST, CLASSIST, SEXIST, HOMOPHOBIC AND/OR TRANSPHOBIC BEHAVIOR WILL NOT BE TOLERATED. IF YOUR BEHAVIOR IS FOUND TO BE DISRUPTIVE YOU WILL BE ASKED TO LEAVE."
Photo by Elijah C. Watson for Okayplayer.
The warning is necessary, cautioning those that wish to enjoy and partake in it to give it the respect it deserves. Ushka, another DJ that's based out of Brooklyn (and who was also a part of the Pulse fundraiser), hosts her own monthly iBomba event alongside fellow DJ Beto at C'Mon Everybody. The duo share not only DJ duties during iBomba, but also walkthroughs in the crowd to make sure everyone is comfortable and enjoying themselves.
"If someone is being aggressive or harassing other folks on the dance floor, I'll ask what's going on and if it seems like it has the potential to turn violent, I'll alert staff immediately," Ushka said. "I try to maintain a balance of having fun but always being alert."
For Ushka the solution to making spaces safer isn't increased policing on QTPOC places, but creating a system within the nightlife community that supports the creation of these places and events. She and Beto run iBomba out of C'Mon Everybody because of the familial relationship they have with the bartenders, staff and bouncers.
"Making sure that the venue knows what kind of event you're throwing and who your audience is can help prepare them to support you," Ushka said. "And if a venue isn't supportive, you probably don't wanna throw something there."
The ease in which people in the United States can purchase guns has been a long and strenuous problem for this country, with the latest series of gun measures made and rejected by the senate. "Serious reform needs to be made," DJ FLO said. A veteran DJ based in New York City, the talented spin-master believes in people's right to the Second Amendment, but that better regulation needs to be made. He references Chris Rock's "$5,000 bullet" bit as a commentary on controlling the country's gun epidemic.
Others, however, are more frustrated with congress' lack of change. "A gun related tragedy happened dozens of times a year and yet still they will protect powerful lobbies instead of thousands of people's lives," Ushka said. "We need a radical re-envisioning of this country and its priorities."
Although congress may be failing in its attempts at passing progressive gun control laws, DJs Ushka, Oscar and many others are still doing a necessary service by creating these spaces and, more importantly, building a community. "One of the sole reasons I started DJ'ing was because I wanted to craft and create spaces for all my communities — people of color, immigrants, queer people — for anyone where we could feel safe," Ushka said. "We believe the appropriate response is to do what we do best — which is to foster dance floor spaces for queer people to feel joyful."