It was a conservative pundit’s worst nightmare. In a fit of ecstatic tolerance, sexual discrimination, gender binaries, and the heteronormative hierarchy disappeared. Out of the remaining wormhole came free HIV testing, drag shows, dancing, and wholehearted acceptance–such was the scene at the Rhythm and Queers Dance Party last Friday night.
The resplendent fundraiser was hosted by The Orphanage, a newly reopened Bridgeport music venue. Upon entry, patrons were asked to fill out a form indicating their gender, sexual orientation, and name. A table boasting a smorgasbord of condoms sat adjacent to a display of HIV testing documents, evidence of the greater cause that underlay the party’s general sense of harmony: the gathering was held for the benefit of El Rescate (“the rescue”), a charity that provides housing for homeless LGBTQ youth. El Rescate is a benevolent outgrowth of the Vida/SIDA health clinic, which offers HIV prevention and testing services geared toward the Latino community.
Entertainment at the party ranged from a raucous drag show, featuring flamboyant and militant gay rights crusader Malcolm Sex, to a more subdued raffle for a drum kit, and attendees documented the evening’s debauchery in a leopard-print photo booth decorated with fuchsia streamers.
The bigotry-free atmosphere was evident in the guests’ garb, or lack thereof. Drag queens mingled with the shirtless as topless women hula-hooped with a man whose earlobes were stretched to the size of quarters. The sonic backdrop to all the vivacity was half hardcore punk and half late ’90s club music.
Accoutrements of the indie variety littered the corners of the venue. An old vinyl collection mingled with a sea of vintage board games. The walls of The Orphanage were decked with paintings, a number of which were caricatures in the absinthe-themed style of Lautrec. Cathedral windows, a reminder of the venue’s location inside a Lutheran church, interrupted the overwhelming wall decorations. The most impressive featured a stained glass woman with ghostly hair overlooking center stage, gazing upon the event–where Chicago’s LGBTQ community were given an opportunity to fÃªte their freedom for a righteous cause–like an identity-affirming vixen.