#Takingupspace: A Queer Dance Party Changes Its Tune by Asking Straights to Stay Away

On Feb. 15, Oakland-based queer dance party, Ships in the Night, posted this on its Facebook page:

"if you are *cis* straight & thinking of coming to Ships In The Night, please consider that you are taking the place of a queer person. #realtalk #takingupspace"

And right below that:

"we stand by this sentiment. if you disagree, please find another party. #everyotherpartyisforstraightpeople #realtalk #takingupspace"

The controversial post has naturally garnered many heated comments. Pro-separatist commenters wrote things like:

"Thank you for this!!!!! My group of queers didn't get in last time."

"So many cis straight tears. Life must be so hard with all that privilege."

And "...sometimes being an 'ally' means getting the fuck out of the way and making room for those who you claim to support."

Pro-inclusion commenters pointed out that for an event that purports to promote community and equality, telling allies and whites to go elsewhere isn't the greatest solution:

"I would echo the sentiment that having a space be welcoming to all is big. Before I had any sort of queer community, it was my cis straight best friend that went out with me as I got my first tastes of the homofabulous nightlife scene."

"...for myself and my partner who are both QWOC [queer women of color], this was EXTREMELY DISHEARTENING and evocative of homophobia and racism that we frequently experience and expect in the outside, everyday world."

And "Queer has always been about inclusivity. It's what makes these nights so much better than a strictly 'gay' or 'lesbian' night. It's a beautiful, loving, warm, INVITING community."

Fans of the dance party who were upset over the post responded by making a Change.org petition asking Ships to apologize and recant and by creating a counter-party boycott at TGIFriday's. The outcry also prompted a much lengthier defense from Ships organizers on their blog. Here's a snippet:

"This past year the Ships crew and patrons have been experiencing the changes and shifts that gentrification (among other factors) have had on our communities and events. Gentrification in the Bay Area has influenced the queer community and we can all see it in the crowd at the party. We have noticed an increasing amount of white faces, a lot less of Black and Brown queers, more *cis* straight-identified people coming to the queer dance party; specifically many of our Old Oakland crew and friends are not attending the party. There is also an overall vibe of individual needs being more important than the community's needs and a lack of cognizance of personal space and spatial entitlement. We have had a lot more incidences of people getting overly intoxicated alone, people being pushy at the bar trying to buy a drink, people elbowing their way to the dance floor to claim their spot, constant microaggressions, etc."

The post doesn't specify who is responsible for all the "spatial entitlement," getting drunk alone, and elbowing, but it implies that these are examples of Straight Whites Behaving Badly and not the more likely culprit: Drunks Behaving Badly. Ships continues:

"... If you are a white person (of any gender, sexuality, identity) not directly connected to a network of accountability around your own whiteness, please consider that you may be taking the place of QTPOC [queer and transgender people of color] and white queers who are doing the work and would, with a shift in dynamics, otherwise like to attend Ships."

Part of the problem is that Ships has a space issue. It takes place at The New Parish, which is roughly the size of a breadbox. And like every popular Bay Area queer dance party, long lines abound, many give up or don't get in, and those who do get in face a packed space and still more agonizing lines at the bathroom and bar. Instead of addressing these legitimate concerns — by, say, switching to a bigger venue, hosting more frequently than once a month, ramping up security for those who feel unsafe, and so on — Ships organizers, half of whom are white, instead chose to issue a hostile proclamation based on blanket race and identity assumptions in the guise of political uprightness.

Of course, Ships can't actually control the race and sexuality of those admitted to the party. We'd like to see that screening process: "ID please. Great, thanks. Now are you directly connected to a network of accountability around your own whiteness? Fantastic. If you'll just write up a 3,000-word essay proving how you curtail the dominant paradigms of heteronormative hegemony, we'll let you right in."

Or: "Hi, are you 'doing the work'? If not, I'll have to ask you to leave. The queer person of color behind you does the work by virtue of genetics and a history of lived oppression."

Or: "Is that a Sylvia Plath tattoo on your arm? Please check your white privilege along with your peacoat inside."

Since Ships can't enforce its own racial and political ideals, it is asking patrons to police themselves and any straight/white friends they might want to dance with, a tactic that is only going to alienate and isolate people further. There is no singular enemy at play here, but it's far easier to demonize ALL the straight/white people than it is to look closely at individual behaviors and how we treat others. To bastardize Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous quote: It's not the color of one's skin or who one wants to see naked, but the "content of one's character."

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