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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Gainesville celebrates Queer the Fest

The annual event provides a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community

Oct. 28, 2023, a crowd of costumed people amassed for the annual independent Queer the Fest. The “Mutant Disco” theme brought a slew of colorful glittery outfits and creative face makeup.
Oct. 28, 2023, a crowd of costumed people amassed for the annual independent Queer the Fest. The “Mutant Disco” theme brought a slew of colorful glittery outfits and creative face makeup.

While packs of people flocked to Gainesville to celebrate Queer the Fest, a multi-day music festival spread across several venues, an exuberant audience emerged in the Civic Media Center’s courtyard, eager to rock out in a unique and inclusive space.

Saturday, a crowd of costumed people amassed for the annual independent Queer the Fest. The “Mutant Disco” theme brought a slew of colorful glittery outfits and creative face makeup. 

An annual volunteer-run festival that takes place during Fest weekend, Queer the Fest is a much smaller and independent event aimed at bringing the LGBTQ+ community together through local music. 

Unlike a larger, for-profit festival, the proceeds raised at this event supported the Civic Media Center, Books 2 Prisoners and the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. 

Zöe Poulette, a 39-year-old Gainesville resident, was an original organizer of Queer the Fest over a decade ago when the shows took place at Wayward Council, a local volunteer record store that has since closed. 

“It began as a response to what back then felt like an over-representation of cis male bands and an under-representation of queerness in the line-up,” said Poulette. “It is an offshoot that was created to fill a gap and be a space that centered queer joy and safety.”

Punk music, a genre known for its hard-hitting melodies, and anti-establishment lyrics, has provided a platform for the LGBTQ+ community since the mid-1980s with the creation of “Queercore.” A subgenre of punk music, Queercore distinguishes itself through its lyrics that explore themes of gender and sexual identity, as well as its DIY approach to organizing. 

The event kicked off when Out of Harm’s Reach, a volunteer-led harm reduction organization with the mission to educate the community about overdose prevention, led a crash course on how to use Narcan in the Civic Media Center Library. 

Afterward, the crowd shifted to the courtyard to watch Autumn Barksdale, a transgender poet and public speaker, perform spoken word poetry centered on the queer experience for an eager crowd of listeners. 

The music began at 6 p.m. when Carson, a solo artist who creates dreamy electronic music, kicked off a lineup of 11 bands in total. Attendees moshed, communed, danced and dined until the early hours of the next morning. 

Brooke Chekofsky, a 35-year-old Gainesville resident, is a co-coordinator at Reuse Planet and one of the organizers for this year’s event. Their first experience ever playing a live instrument on stage was at 2012’s Queer The Fest. 

Although they didn’t start Queer The Fest, Chekofsky has attended, performed and helped organize them over the last 10 years. 

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“Queer The Fest started as a group of friends that created an amazing, unique party space, and I became one of those friends,” Chekofsky said. “It used to be the best feeling in the world to work with all of your friends and neighbors on something. It felt like a real community.”

Although many of the founders have moved away, Chekofsky is grateful for the safe space they left behind for the community.

With newly introduced state legislation such as HB 1069, which prohibits Pre-K through eighth-grade instructors from educating about sexual orientation or gender identity, and SB 254, which criminalizes doctors if they provide gender-affirming care to minors, the LGBTQ+ community in Florida has been left with uncertainty about the state’s future. 

“It’s also hard for women, queers and trans people to feel safe because of the dangerous ongoing politicizing of our bodies and the uptick of violence against us,” Chekofsky said. “Especially here in Florida. So we provide a safer place during Fest for people to be themselves and dress how they want.”

Though the outcomes of this legislation are precarious, the spirit and determination of the performers illustrated Florida’s LGBTQ+ community won’t back down. 

While performers took turns bringing their unique sounds to the stage, the other bands and audience members merged into a jubilant crowd of listeners. There were solo acts singing original ballads on electric keyboards, indie bands with upbeat music and punk groups whose noisy numbers brought headbangs and mosh pits.

Eliza Goldstein, a 26-year-old Gainesville resident, is the guitar player for Rugh, a local three-person band that performed at Queer The Fest. They described their band’s sound as a mix of indie, math rock and folk music. 

It was their second time performing at Queer the Fest and fifth time attending the event.

“I’ve performed around town and otherwise,” Goldstein said. “Queer the Fest is unique in its specific mission to be a welcoming space for anyone who identifies as queer.”

Another band who took the stage Saturday night was Middle Aged Queers, a punk band from San Francisco formed in 2019. Made up of seasoned punks from the Bay Area scene, the band came to Gainesville this year to perform at The Fest.

Shaun Osburn, who sings lead vocals, sat behind a table adorned with merch featuring the band’s signature pink and black colors. 

Osburn sees local events, such as this one, as more than just a simple show, but a place to foster community. The ability to meet someone at an event and become comfortable with them opens the doors to finding accessible healthcare for women and transgender people, he said.

“Community organizing doesn’t necessarily mean being out in the streets, protesting or collecting signatures,” Osburn said. “I think that having punk shows and especially attending local punk shows and getting to know people in your community, that’s a form of community activism.”

Contact Bonny Matejowsky at bmatejowsky@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @bonnymatejowsky

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Bonny Matejowsky

Bonny Matejowsky is a third-year journalism major and a Fall 2023 Avenue Reporter. When she’s not writing, you can find her thrifting or watching Twin Peaks.


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