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LGBTQ+ student DJs are redefining the music scene at their Florida college towns

Dayanna Peek, a junior at the University of Florida, is one of several LGBTQ+ student DJs who is currently striving to make nightlife in Gainesville and Tallahassee more inclusive and queer-friendly. “I started out making TikToks in my bedroom of me transitioning songs. It's been very uplifting to me because I've been able to see the growth... Within a month of me DJing I was already playing at my first party and now I’m playing at clubs.” (Photo Mariam Vela/WUFT News)
Dayanna Peek, a junior at the University of Florida, is one of several LGBTQ+ student DJs who is currently striving to make nightlife in Gainesville and Tallahassee more inclusive and queer-friendly. “I started out making TikToks in my bedroom of me transitioning songs. It's been very uplifting to me because I've been able to see the growth... Within a month of me DJing I was already playing at my first party and now I’m playing at clubs.” (Photo Mariam Vela/WUFT News)

While queer people have been prominent musicians and throwing parties for centuries, LGBTQ+ students in Florida, specifically in Gainesville and Tallahassee, are striving to establish highly publicized, public and accessible queer-friendly nightlife spaces.

Post-COVID-19, several LGBTQ+ student DJs from the University of Florida and Florida State University have successfully organized various queer-friendly parties and infiltrated the DJ booths of popular local nightclubs.

UF student and LGBTQ+ DJ Dayanna Peek, 21, was swiping through TikTok one day in July 2021, when they stumbled upon a video of a Lesbian party for older people in Los Angeles.

As a sophomore at the time, Peek was inspired to create a strictly sapphic space of their own in Gainesville, but this time, for their fellow students and local young adults.

Dating back to the 1950s, the word “sapphic” became a popular way to describe women who loved women in the United States. Since then, the term has evolved to be more inclusive of people of many genders, and includes lesbian, bisexual and pansexual trans femmes, mascs, non-binary people and cisgender women.

Peek said they recognized a need to create more sacred, public spaces not just for the LGBTQ+ community, but specifically for people who identify as sapphics.

In short, the Sapphic Party is a space where no heterosexual women or cisgender men are allowed. Peek organized their first ever Sapphic Party that same summer in 2021, in collaboration with Sophia de la Cruz, who is now a junior at the University of Florida.

“I have gay guy friends that are like ‘Oh, my God, you need to throw a gay party!’” Peek said, practically giggling to a beat.

“And I'm like 'Yeah, I should,' but at the moment I really want to focus on developing the Sapphic Party.”

In addition to being the founder of the Sapphic Party, Peek has worked as a DJ at Signal Saturdays, Heartwood SoundStage and How Bazar events, all in Gainesville.

Since that one serendipitous social media scroll, Peek has hosted five Sapphic parties in Gainesville and Tallahassee.

At the first one, Peek personally invited 50 attendees. No DJs. No entrance fee. No security guard. Only music blaring on the TV.

On Feb. 11, more than 350 people attended their last Sapphic party in Tallahassee.

Now, guests pay $7 at the door to see Peek and two or three other LGBTQ+ DJs rotate every hour and perform back-to-back sets. Peek advertises the event mainly through digital flyers and photographs on The Sapphic Party’s official Instagram account (@thesapphicparty), as well as by word-of-mouth.

“I try to spin something for the girls. Just real girly bops…something you can bounce and shake to. I really want it to be a night where you can remember, ‘OH MY GOSH I threw ass here, I met XYZ here, I kissed this person,’ ” Peek said.

Hoards of people colored the concrete floors outside the rented, private property the night of the last Sapphic party. And, the line to get into the house started all the way at the street corner.

After shuffling through seemingly infinite rows of lace and silk fabrics, attendees were greeted by a familiar face with a request for money — security guard Melanie Rodriguez-Martinez, 23. Familiar to some because she is also the head of security at University Club, the only official gay nightclub in Gainesville.

Cherry red lighting and a projection screen display of an episode from season one of “The L Word” decorated the modest living room, where people gathered to debate which lesbian from the TV show they would marry.

Outside, more than half of the attendees bopped to vogue beats and jersey club, some even while standing on the sizable fire pit in the middle of the lawn.

When FSU junior, LGBTQ+ DJ and Sapphic Party team member Dylan Garcia, 19, picked up their first mixer board in fall 2020, they said that queer-friendly parties and spaces for college students in Tallahassee were unheard of.

“I didn't feel like there were any places for queer people to listen to queer music and have the concept of a rave and a community where people come out consistently,” Garcia said.

“There was never that.”

In a symphonic twist of tempo and tedious work, the tables turned for Garcia exactly two years later, when they were a featured DJ at TENN Nightclub.

TENN, as most students call it, is one of the most popular nightclubs in Tallahassee, and the DJs at the forefront of it are typically white, cisgender heterosexual men.

“At a school like FSU that isn’t the most diverse, having lineups that are not only diverse in sexuality but in ethnicity and different backgrounds really challenges the standard nightlife scene here, that’s mostly Frat DJs.” Garcia said.

Garcia also noted that local heterosexual male DJs are now beginning to mix and sample underground techno music — a genre invented and spearheaded by Black, LGBTQ+ people.

The House music that they have popularly played and still do today is also a genre of music that was invented by Black LGBTQ+ people.

“There's DJs that already have the opportunity to play in the clubs and have the upper hand in the club scene, in general, usually male and hetero, playing music that’s centered towards those crowds,” Garcia said.

Ironically, but not at all, funnily enough, those very DJs are now imitating LGBTQ+ DJs and implementing the electronic and underground rave scene music into their own sets.

Garcia emphasizes that what is most frustrating is that these heterosexual male DJs largely refuse to give credit to LGBTQ+ people and student DJs when it is due, and then have the nerve to outcast them at work.

“I’ve always felt out of place being a queer person DJing with club DJs here. I’ve never felt really respected the same in their own regard.” Garcia said.

Rhiannon Castillo, 20, a junior at FSU and LGBTQ+ DJ, started secretly crawling out of their window to attend EDM Bass raves at age 17.

Though they now lean more toward '80s synth pop and Electro Pump-style music, Castillo was the first of four DJs on a set lineup at a recent Sapphic party. They began their journey as a DJ nearly a year ago, and so far have worked primarily at house parties and underground raves at private venues like CokeFactory in Tallahassee.

As a Tallahassee native, they explained that there have always been LGBTQ+ DJs in the local music scene.

But there wasn’t a network of LGBTQ+ DJs and music spaces they could connect with in their own age group, like there is today, until after COVID-19.

In fact, Castillo explained that while they were growing up, there were no known LGBTQ+ community spaces or public outlets for young queer people and teenagers to connect with each other. Consequently, Castillo did not have a queer friend group in high school to find resonance and understanding.

“Being a queer child in Tallahassee — it just felt so suffocating,” Castillo said.

 “A lot of us were isolated, but then we created these spaces where all of us come together and show the most amount of unity. It’s really healing.”

Mariam is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.
Mariam is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.