The LGBTQ community has seen unprecedented gains with the passage of landmark legal battles and incredible social change, but the very bars and dance parties that the community has historically used as safe places to come together have seen a steady decline across the U.S.
While no one knows exactly why we are seeing the closure of bars catering to LGBTQ people specifically, many speculate it’s due to a mixture of the rise of digital applications like Grindr and the fact that many young LGBTQ people increasingly feel more comfortable going to straight bars.
But this news doesn’t phase the increasingly popular dance party Slo ‘Mo in Chicago that is celebrating its five-year anniversary this week.
Out chatted with one of the party founders, Kristen Kaza, about how Slo ‘Mo will keep growing and why the space she’s helped create is more than just a dance party, but a place for people who are often forgotten to finally feel celebrated.
Out: How did Slo'Mo come about? The party isn't just at bars—you do more than just get people to dance, right?
Kristen Kaza: Slo ‘Mo came into concept five years ago when I felt an absence in the LGBTQ party spectrum of places that not only prioritized space for queer women, but also created a sexy environment where you could either lounge with friends or hit up the dance floor and still feel comfortable.
Kristen Kaza (L) with DJs Audio Jack and Tess
If you come to Slo ‘Mo, you’ll see people singing, crying, closing their eyes, embracing—it’s like church up in there and DJTess and DJ Audio Jack are the preachers! They are performing with the song. They are reason alone to come experience the party because they are so present and connected with the crowd. Sade or Whitney or Prince comes on and seriously, how can you not get into that?
So, it's that aspect, compounded by the fact that the spaces for queer women are actually shrinking not growing, and women take up a good amount of room at Slo ‘Mo, which makes it a very unique space not just as a queer party, but as an environment in Chicago generally.
What we’ve learned is our mission and need is to cultivate joy. Especially given the last two years, people need that cathartic experience more than ever. We have to have a place we can go and get down and feel good. That’s what we’re trying to do with every event we offer: generate joy.
The party is thrown by women and largely attended by women or female-identified folks. Why did you approach a party in this way?
We’ve had so many guest DJs and performers over the years, it’s a big part of our platform to provide these opportunities and we try to prioritize queer people, women/femme-identified folks and people of color because, again, these are the people generally marginalized from these industries and spaces. But beyond that, it really just feels good to have a place where women and femme-identified people are at the front. You can sense that at the party. It feels respectful and welcoming and that’s its appeal. That’s what I love the most about Slo ‘Mo—the positive vibes that emanate are just life giving! There's a sense of security in the room and I do believe it has something to do with all that femme presence. We aren't always aware of how much masculine energy dominates our environments because we've become accustomed to it.
And honestly, men get a lot, you know? It's also about spreading the love in terms of opportunities. When we help each other out, we can get further ahead.
The 'L' is largely ignored in nightlife across the U.S. with many lesbian and queer lady bars now closed. Why do you think that is? And do you think Slo 'Mo is a way to help bring the 'L' back into the nightlife?
This is a topic I’m super passionate about! First off, this is partly an issue of economics. Women make less money than men, then add on being a queer woman, and even more of a strain, statistically, if you’re a woman of color. Not only do we not have the same means as our male-identified counterparts to spend at bars/clubs, but also to own and invest in them and therefore keep the culture thriving. Back in the day, most of the lesbian bars were dives, and few queer women are carrying the torch of these spaces, or opening new ones. Partly, I think there isn’t the same capital to invest in the spaces, but also they aren’t used as a vital resource.
Historically, dyke bars were often the only safe space for queer women, and now that we have more of a perceived culture of acceptance of LGBTQ identities, there’s a feeling of having many places we can be out about and living our lives. But it’s still so essential we have spaces where we can see ourselves reflected. LBQT women’s stories, identities, and histories are still so often left out.
What's next for you all at Slo'Mo? I've heard you all are doing some sober events lately, too.
Slo ‘Mo is in its 5th year now, and it’s clear there is such a need for unity and quality time together beyond nightlife environments. Also, being that the party is five now, we’re all getting older! Our needs are evolving. This is a grown folks party! So people are becoming more interested in even daytime/early evening opportunities.
Zach Stafford is editor at large at Out magazine.