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Kotic Couture On Pride, Protests, And Parties

Kotic Couture. Photo by Antonio Hernandez (used with permission)
Kotic Couture. Photo by Antonio Hernandez (used with permission)

June is Pride month, which marks the anniversary of 1969’s Stonewall Inn uprising in New York City. It’s a chance for LGBTQ communities to both celebrate life and protest continuing inequities. For the second year in a row, Baltimore’s annual Pride traditions have been shaken up—the block parties, parades, concerts, and park hangouts that mark Baltimore’s official Pride celebrations have been cancelled once again because of COVID.

But Pride is still on, and as COVID cases continue to trend downward and restrictions on bars and restaurants loosen, there are a number of events coming up that bring the community together in person.

One is a queer dance party called Password happening this Friday night at Mt. Vernon’s Hotel Revival. It’s a fundraiser for Baltimore Safe Haven. Baltimore Safe Haven is a space and an organization that provides drop-in services, mobile outreach, transitional housing, and does advocacy for trans people and other members of LGBTQ communities in Baltimore.

The host of that party, Kotic Couture, joined WYPR's The Daily Dose for a conversation about that party, the roots of Pride and what it means to mark Pride this year. Kotic Couture is a musician who hosts a monthly queer dance party along with Trillnatured called Version. They were featured in the film Dark City Beneath The Beat, which was recently released on Netflix.

Originally aired on The Daily Dose on June 16, 2021

"Pride Started As An Uprising"

Mark Gunnery: Can you tell us about this Friday's event, Password, and why you wanted to raise money for Baltimore Safe Haven?

Kotic Couture: So I wanted to make sure with Pride, in sticking to the root of what Pride means, having a private dance party that still celebrates queer people, that still celebrates trans people, and have it kind of tucked away to get away from that police presence but still have the safety and everything and really get back to the root and the culture of what Pride started as and what it's really about.

So Jason Bass from Revival, I did a live stream with them last year and he hit me up again this year about doing a party and we just happened to be able to do something in person. And I try anytime that I have a platform to connect people and make sure that I'm giving back in some way as well. So I wanted to team with Safe Haven just because I love everything that they stand for. A lot of times when there are queer resources or LGBTQIA resources in general, they can be from a cishet perspective. So having somewhere like Safe Haven, who is ran by a trans woman who has a queer staff, and they're really in the community and they know the issues and the things that the community needs. I think it's important to build up those kinds of organizations so that they can continue to thrive and have existence in the community.

Mark Gunnery: So you were talking about the roots of Pride, can you talk more about that? And Pride historically has been about both partying and protesting, where do both of those fit into how you're marking Pride?

Kotic Couture: So of course the history of Pride started as an uprising. And a Black trans woman and a Latinx woman, they literally threw the bricks that started the uprising against the police riots of people getting arrested for going into gay bars in New York City. Among with other things, Pride has become really commercialized. So in a sense, you lose that essence or the “allies” that you have around you don't know the real meaning of Pride. I am out a lot at protests, whether it be Black Lives Matter protests, whether it be for Black trans lives, I try to stay active in the community because we constantly need that resistance. We constantly need to remind people of the things that are going on within our communities, how they can help and keep this on the forefront of people's minds.

But I also think it is important as queer people and especially as a Black queer person to not solely be rooted in the trauma that we experience, to also have the joy. So having something like Safe Haven, having them step in and remind people, hey, there are still these things that happen in our community, we are here, these are ways that you can support us tonight and moving forward, but still having the light and love of a party. It's important to marry those two things and remind people where we came from. Because knowing what we came from and why this started, it's going to help us continue to move forward in the future.

"Bring The Community Back Together"

Mark Gunnery: As I said earlier, you, along with Trillnatured, host the monthly dance party Version. Can you talk a little bit more about the importance of dance in queer community and how you're thinking about dance parties now, as people are starting to gather again in person?

Kotic Couture: To me, culture is everything. And I just think that queer people a lot of times, again, specifically Black queer people, in hip hop culture and dance culture are written out and we're not given our contributions. You have people like Sylvester to disco music and you have ballroom and the influence that ballroom has had on hip hop and dance culture in Baltimore club music. You have Miss Tony. We have always been a part of the creation of club music, of party music, of house music, and really creating that essence and that aura. And it's important to spread that joy with so much going on, especially after the last year, and even still experiencing the pandemic. Because I know a lot of people like to think that it's over, but it's not. Experiencing the pandemic, there's been such a dark cloud looming over everyone.

I think that Version is that space that is very rare to a lot of people. I’m someone who came up partying in the Paradox, and Version reminds me of the Dox before social media was a thing, as popular, so people aren't on their phones trying to capture every second, they're just living in the essence. I think that that is an important thing for the culture in general and what we capture with Version, with dance parties. Because you want to be in the moment, you want to be able to share experiences with like-minded people where you know that you're safe and you're comfortable. And having people able to do that again after the pandemic, moving back into actual dance parties, it's a beautiful thing.

There's a reason why over the pandemic, Trill and I decided against doing live streamed Version events. And it's because a lot of the essence of Version is that in person community and the family that you build. Going to an event by yourself because you know that you're going to find community in that space and run into people that you know, it's important to me to cultivate that space. So I can't wait to have that back. That's what I'm most excited about. It's not even the DJing, it's giving Safe Haven some light, being able to donate to them and just being able to bring the community back together.

Mark Gunnery: What goes into planning an in-person party during a time when the pandemic still isn't over? And what kind of precautions are you considering that are different than you would be if you were planning a party pre-pandemic?

Kotic Couture: Space is definitely the number one thing, and trying to make sure that we're in an area where there is enough space and being intentional with what we have. We set up the bar for the event in a different room, just so that there is a place where if people are feeling overwhelmed with the amount of bodies in the room, they can kind of take a moment just to get away. And then we made sure that we lowered the capacity for what the event would typically be, just to make sure that people could still have fun and be safe. If you're vaccinated and you feel comfortable without a mask, mask optional. If you're vaccinated and you still feel comfortable with the mask, that's good too. It's inside, so it's a little nicer so it'll be easier to breathe with a mask on if you're dancing. So we took a lot of things into account when we were thinking about location and how we were going to set up the actual layout of the party.

"Queer People Are The Backbone Of The Culture"

Mark Gunnery: Baltimore's LGBTQ artists, musicians, and creatives have been hit especially hard by the COVID crisis. What are ways that people can support queer and trans artists, both during Pride and all year long?

Kotic Couture: Events like this that queer people are running you can put your money directly to. Donate money if artists have their Cash Apps out. Buying their music. It doesn't necessarily need to involve monetary gain, it could be spreading people's music, reposting videos, photos, sharing to Instagram, telling people like, "Hey, this is somebody who I love. You should check out for them." If you're a curator, I think that every event should have at least two queer people, two women on the bill. It doesn't matter what kind of show it is, if it's a rap show, if it's a DJ show, there should be more diversity in the lineups that are coming out.

Because absolutely no shade, but everybody knows the queer people in the city are the backbone of the culture. So I think that needs to be reflected more when people are throwing events and when people are showing love to the city, because a lot of times we get forgotten or we get buried, but people always reach out to us when they need resources. So really just spreading the love and spreading the resources and letting people know about the artists and the people leading the way in your community and in your city.

Mark is a producer at WYPR
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