Viviane Viana pulled her guitar strap over her Hogwarts robes and plugged the guitar in.
She was dressed like Hermione Granger, but most people at the show know her as Vi. She’s the lead singer of Gutless, a self-described “happy sad punk band.”
The crowd knew every word to every song. They belted out anthems of loneliness and heartbreak in unison, kicking and flailing their limbs to the downbeat.
Gutless played Queer the Fest, an annual event hosted by the Civic Media Center. This year, Queer the Fest happened to fall on Halloween. It’s held the night before the start of THE FEST, a punk festival that calls Gainesville home every year on the weekend of the Georgia vs. Florida football game.
Once the orange-and-blue types are out, that’s when the all-black-everything types move in.
Punk is often held up as a home for those who feel like outcasts, but even within this space, some felt the local punk scene didn’t include everyone.
Queer the Fest was created for those who want to engage with the punk scene but may not feel comfortable in other spaces, event coordinator Manu Osorio said. The reasons for discomfort might include venue inaccessibility due to disabilities, social pressure to drink alcohol or simply being unable to afford tickets to other shows.
All the organizers are queer, so they let their own experiences guide planning for the event.
“I believe in a safe space more when it’s being put on by people like me because I trust their experiences,” Osorio said.
The Halloween night event displayed multiple signs of the organizers’ attention to making attendees feel comfortable.
All eight bands that played featured queer members. The venue was wheelchair accessible. Spaces were available away from the stage in case the music got too loud for some attendees. A table was set up with free condoms, Plan B, sanitary products and NARCAN, a nasal spray that can reverse narcotic overdoses in emergency situations. At the bar, a sign reminded people drinking to discuss consent with their partners and to take care of each other.
“All of these things are things you won’t find in a FEST show,” organizer JoJo Sacks said. “Does that mean FEST is bad? Absolutely not. But it’s important to highlight the diversity in punk artists that often a lot of punk festivals don’t.”
Despite these efforts by the queer punk community, some members of the scene still see work to be done.
Queer the Fest attendee and self-described “cripple punk” Catherine Turner said she goes to Queer the Fest every year but has never been to FEST proper because the venues are inaccessible for her.
She needs to be able to sit during shows, but the main FEST events rarely provide appropriate seating. Folding chairs were available at Queer the Fest, but they were taken when she arrived, and her friends asked organizers for more.
“Part of it is that I feel comfortable throwing my weight around in queer punk spaces, not necessarily that things are automatically accessible,” she said. “I feel well-integrated in the community, so I feel comfortable asking the people around me for assistance if I need it.”
Turner said she does not feel the same comfort at regular punk shows.
Attendee Iso Jones, who is also disabled, said they have the same struggles as Turner. Jones identifies as non-binary, which means that they do not identify as either male or female and use the gender-neutral pronouns they/them/their. Jones recommended that show organizers put people with disabilities on their teams and listen to their suggestions to make events more accessible and enjoyable.
“If you have disabled people involved at every level, you will just have that presence where it will become routine,” Jones said.
Bassist Nico Bacigalupo, who is also non-binary, played Queer the Fest for the first time this year with their band GILT. They said they’ve never found a community that they feel more comfortable in than the queer punk scene.
“I’m pretty outward about my anxiety, but I feel like when there’s spaces that are queer or LGBT friendly, a lot of that anxiety goes away,” Bacigalupo said.
GILT also played a set at FEST. Bacigalupo said that while FEST is amazing, they feel it doesn’t showcase all the diverse artists the punk scene has to offer. For that, they appreciate spaces like Queer the Fest.
Tony Weinbender, creator and organizer of FEST said he disagrees with criticisms of FEST as a non-inclusive space.
“It kind of hurts me when people blanket us that way because I think it’s an unfair categorization,” Weinbender said. “I think we’re doing a lot more than a lot of people believe.”
He said that while FEST organizers have little control over venue accessibility, they make special arrangements to accommodate disabled attendees who reach out to them ahead of time.
Weinbender acknowledged that the majority of FEST performers are white and male, but he said he believes FEST’s lineup and the scene in general have become more diverse in the last decade. He said he curates the FEST lineup based on each band’s reputation within the punk scene, how they represent themselves and simply whether he likes their music.
Weinbender encouraged attendees to research the bands playing FEST and their music before forming an opinion of the festival based on someone else’s criticism.
Viana, who has played FEST several times with Gutless and another band, insignificant other, said FEST still feels like a club for cisgender white boys, but she sees it getting better every year.
“We tell stories of how it’s [the punk scene] always been this hyper-inclusive space when really it’s been lacking in representation,” Viana said. “It’s an uphill battle to make space for myself, but it feels completely worth it when others tell me they feel seen and validated after a performance.”
That’s exactly what happened after her Queer the Fest set. People came up to her to tell her how amazing she is, how hard she rocked, how well she’s doing at expressing her queerness through her music.
She gave them all sweaty hugs, then bounded off to meet her next admirer, robes trailing behind her.