“People still need a space where they don’t have to feel labelled, where they can come out and party and just have fun without all the politics of our community,” says promoter Polly Watkis, the power behind queer urban parties like The Gemini Jam and Lick 2008.
Born in Montreal, Watkis’s father was a successful ’80s dancehall selector DJ in Montreal, Jamaica and the US. So when Polly first experienced the party scene in Toronto she was mortified by the lack of R’n’B, hip hop, reggae, dancehall, calypso and soca. In the early ’90s not many promoters had dedicated themselves to carving out queer urban spaces in Toronto.
In 1999, alongside her business partner Janet Campbell, Watkis helped fill the void by introducing a weekly Saturday night at Club Manhattan (the club, which both women ran, used to be on Balmuto St) — it became the longest-running queer urban event in Toronto, running for four years.
Never satisfied Watkis was ready to turn it up. She launched Anopenmind Group in 2006 hoping to offer queer urban entertainment throughout the city. “My goal is to continue providing safe spaces for people to party,” says Watkis, “all the while bridging the gap between all the colourful people and lifestyles of Toronto.”
Her policy of inclusive social space for black queers has struck a chord, attracting a mix of men and women, young and old. Her parties appeal beyond the gender politics and colour and age barriers that often can marginalize queers.
Safe fun remains at the heart of her events. Watkis describes the percentage of women to men as 70 to 30, ranging in age from 22 to 38. She is committed to break the stereotype that queer women can’t share space with queer men.
“As long as I can provide a space where everyone feels comfortable and everyone respects each other, why should I restrict anyone?” she asks.
Watkis feels there’s still a lot of work to do to bring people together so in addition to her regular parties with Anopenmind Group, she’s also a founding member of Toronto Splash, Toronto’s Black Pride that launched in the summer 2007.
Coming up on Fri, Apr 10 is Pumps, Sneaks and Tees, a playful T-shirt jam with MVP Soundcrew and RMX the Genius ($15 cover). Then Watkis turns back the clock with Evolution: the Old School Jam on Sat, May 23. Both events take place at a new venue for Anopenmind, Alice Fazooli’s (294 Adelaide St W), which has a big space to dance and a heated patio.
To release your ghetto fab on the dancefloor or simply just shake it like a saltshaker check out one of Watkis’s fun, fresh and funky events. The crowds are always full of energy and if you’re looking for your fix of urban music, these are the parties to quench your appetite.