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Sunday, November 27, 2022

How Bazar hosts sapphic space Saturday

Saturday’s event aimed to address a large void in queer nightlife

<p> Attendees dance under the neon lights of the How Bazar at Saturday’s event. </p>

 Attendees dance under the neon lights of the How Bazar at Saturday’s event.

Covered by the pink hue of flashing multicolor lights, an exuberant crowd filled How Bazar’s “D*ke Night” Saturday. Queer women and nonbinary folks of all ages danced to jams from Doja Cat to Daddy Yankee, smoked American Spirit cigarettes and spun around on roller skates.

The event pulled in more than 100 people and lasted from 10 p.m. to about 2 a.m. Patrons tucked pride flags, available on the counter, into their ponytails.

Inspiration for the event came from co-founders Maureen Murtha, a 34-year-old lesbian communications specialist, and Shré Jethwani, a 25-year-old nonbinary queer activist and DJ. They noticed a lack of inclusive sapphic, or lesbian, events in and around Gainesville.

The two set out to create a more welcoming and inclusive event. They said the name helped signal that.

“What would be the thing or the word or the phrase that I would immediately recognize as [me] belonging there?’ … It’s ‘D*ke Nite,’” Murtha said.

She described the definition as anyone who unapologetically rejects patriarchy.

“I do feel like it's important to own those words,” she said. “To me, the word is the most politicized, and it has the most weight of acknowledging our history.”

The event, one of two sapphic-specific events Gainesville offers, was inspired from Murtha and Jethwani’s time at St. Petersburg Pride last year. Some of their friends were excluded from every bar they went to, which Jethwani said was a product of transphobia in lesbian spaces. 

University Club hosts a “ladies loving ladies” night on the first and third Thursday of every month. 

Monica Ditch, a 26-year-old lesbian marine biologist at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said the one bi-monthly event is not enough, as Thursday events exclude adults who work Friday mornings and students with early classes.

“We're relegated to Thursday. It’s sad,” Ditch said. “We deserve more.” 

Ditch and her friend Jenn, a 29-year-old middle school teacher who declined to give her last name out of concern for job security, said when they want to be around other lesbians, they either throw their own gatherings or drive two hours to Orlando for a party.

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Dayanna Peek, a 20-year-old UF international studies and public relations junior, has thrown three sapphic parties in Gainesville. As a nonbinary lesbian, they said it’s all about the energy.

“I like to just be in this space where it's just like me and my femme gals just chatting it up,” Peek said. “It's always just so warm and welcoming and cool to be around.” 

Ditch and Peek both noted the beneficial company of those with similar backgrounds.

“You're oppressed as a woman and any brand of queer woman, so it's the multiple layers of oppression. We can all come together and share an experience together,” Ditch said.

Safety isn’t just about acceptance: it’s also about being physically secure.

Identity-specific events are especially important for a community often branded as predatory for miscalculated advances, Murtha said. She said it’s difficult to comfortably approach others with interest without some layer of security, and the event’s space is that layer of protection.

It also provided a space for sapphics to escape the sexism they face in all spaces — queer included. Instances of men who feel entitled to grab women’s bodies do not escape those not sexually attracted to them, according to Jane Perez, a 22-year-old lesbian UF Latin American studies graduate student.

“Here, nobody's grabbed my ass without my consent,” she said.

Many attendees said UC suffers a slight disconnect with the queer community. Its growing popularity with straight people brings tension to an otherwise safe space.

“You still have that fear of, ‘Okay, this person’s in a gay bar, but are they actually an ally or a member of the community?’” Jenn said.

How Bazar seems to be a fresh, real and open ally the queer community needs, Jethwani said.

“It’s owned by a number of queer community members, so the space is intrinsically our own,” they said.

Murtha said that the fresh space of the newly opened How Bazar separated it from the heavy history another location may have.

She said it’s also vital to provide a space for intergenerational contact, a space where people can witness others they can identify with at different life stages.

“Seeing a married lesbian couple with a baby — there's something so valuable about that,” Murtha said. “That is so deeply validating. Like, they made it, they survived, they're here.” 

Susie Vought, a 48-year-old lesbian Gainesville resident, used to attend events similar to Saturday in the building that is now the How Bazar. Lesbian bands booked gigs there ten years ago, back when the space was Brophy’s Irish Pub.

Without spaces like these, the sapphic community becomes broken, isolated and stereotyped, Murtha said, a consequence voiced by others.

“You meet fewer people, you have less community, there’s smaller groups and you’re more fragmented,” Ditch said.

Contact Anna Ward at award@alligator.org. Follow her Twitter @AnnaWard_.

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