Before “safe space” became a dog whistle for white Americans blind to the fact that, by default, every space they occupy is their own, the phrase just described a place for marginalized communities to gather together and, simply, feel safe.
For the LGBTQ community, that space had been the bars of the country’s historic gayborhoods, like New York’s Greenwich Village or San Francisco’s Castro District. It’s no coincidence that Stonewall Inn, the gay mecca that birthed the LGBTQ rights movement (spurred in large part by Marsha P. Johnson throwing a brick at police during another raid), was a local dive bar. Bars have been places where we could be ourselves, among ourselves, without fear of persecution—but only if we were white and gay and male.
Queer womxn (an inclusive term that recognizes transwomen and people of color) have always needed to be a little more creative in finding and building safe spaces for us to unwind.
Enter The Weekend Soiree.
Founded by Imani Grant and Mary Fuller in 2017, The Weekend Soiree was birthed after the two met at the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University and started traveling together after graduation. They quickly realized the lack of expansive queer events and set out to create a community with a “conference meets vacation” vibe that would travel to different destination cities and allow attendees to be diverse in their activities.
There’s a myriad of LGBTQ conferences and organizations that serve our communities, but you’d be hard-pressed to find one that isn’t all work and no play. The annual Pride festivities are most certainly all party and no work, just a lot of werk.
As our Lorde and savior Audre once said: “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” And, as I’m sure other black womxn have said, “Fuck it, we’ll just do it ourselves.”
From TWS’ press release:
In a global climate where marginalized people are struggling for representation, and their civil liberties are under attack, two groups that continue to have the most difficulties being heard and seen are the LGBTQ community and Womxn of Color. And to find yourself at the cross-section of these two groups, as queer womxn of color, the need for allies and resources are compounded.
The Weekend Soiree debuted in 2018 with the “Rocky Mountain Rollout” in Denver. Though it was a success, Grant and Fuller weren’t sure if they would bring it back for the next year. “After the first one, we’d gone through so much in terms of grinding and trying to find the funds to put this together,” Fuller said.
The community Imani and Mary built over a weekend, however, had other plans.
“[E]veryone started hanging around and immediately asked us how they could get involved in the next one, either by helping to put it on, by paying it forward and doing a session themselves or by volunteering,” Fuller explained. “And this is like a year out, before we even had anything planned. Community really stepped in.”
The pair quickly found that black queer womxn were hungry for events that aligned with their current interests. As gay culture has moved into the mainstream and people have become more accepting of their queer family members, the gay bar scene has declined drastically. One estimate stated that from 2005-2011, the number of LGBTQ bars dropped 12 percent. There are a lot of different factors at play—like gentrification, a growing queer culture that doesn’t need to depend on bars or drag shows for hook-ups, and a community that wants to do more than drink cheap cocktails and gyrate to EDM remixes of “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”
Even when resources are pooled to rent a space, discrimination stands between queer womxn and ownership, and when gentrifying developers find an area, the rental properties are the first ones sold. These areas, once mostly black and queer, turned many of our favorite spots into coffee shops and dog hotels.
That’s why spaces like The Weekend Soiree often become more than just parties; it actually helps to grow queer communities.
“The question became ‘How do we make a community that can span across the country?’ And the answer to that is virtual ones, or we build it through The Weekend Soiree and then help them spring up on their own in different places,” Fuller said.
This year, The Weekend Soiree descends on New Orleans for “Bedlam in the Big Easy” over Halloween weekend, Oct. 31 – Nov. 3. The four-day all-inclusive retreat will feature over 50 activities, nine signature events and plenty of opportunities to build community with dynamic “Weekenders.” There’ll even be a Saints and Sinners Weekender Masquerade Ball.
Get your affairs in order, because if you know New Orleans like I know New Orleans, the ancestors will be out in full force. The city is known for its alternative spirituality, so there will also be a group psychic reading, a bounce dance class, and a Weekender Village filled with healers (think reiki, masseuses and tarot card readers).
The schedule promises programming that blends dynamic sessions with some of the community’s most popular creatives—like workout sessions with Carter the Body and passion painting classes hosted by the Muses—with activities that are reflective of the host city. In addition, “Bedlam in the Big Easy” also has panels that gather queer womxn experts to discuss topics like family planning and adoption. And it manages to do all this while balancing workshops that target and feature everyone on the gender spectrum.
“We wanted to be so intentional with our small community,” Grant explained. “You have to actually find these people, [and] as much as the LGBTQ community is getting a lot more media coverage, this slice of the community— the multicultural LGBTQ womxn and nonbinary folks’ space—is kind of an underground movement.”
Activities are divided into three session tracks to pick and choose how to attack the weekend: Enrich (for healing and wellness); Experience (to stoke creative juices); and Expand (for flexing mind over matter). There are plenty of payment options for those who may want to take part but can’t afford the full weekender pass. The hope is, once the weekend ends, the community can continue to build and grow within the host city and when Weekenders head back home.
“What we found in Denver is that once we do come in, people create these micro-spaces where they start to host more events with the people that they met at our event, or people that they see follow us,” Grant said.
If last year’s success is any indication, The Weekend Soiree could be a big step in solidifying safe spaces for queer womxn of color across the country.
“Someone said to me, ‘I’m glad you had this event here. It’s not a place that we would normally come because it didn’t seem like we were welcome here,” added Grant. “It’s nice that we don’t have to just exist in the places that are set out for us.’ That hit home for me.”
To register for “Bedlam in the Big Easy,” view the schedule of events or purchase your all-access passes or single event tickets at theweekendsoiree.com.
Princess McDowell is a poet, writer, and journalist from Dallas. She’s a book nerd introvert who writes about queer masculinity and pop culture. And yes, that is their real name.