How QREW D.C. puts in ‘WERQ’ for queer womxn

Confetti, velvet, mesh, wingtips, dreads piled high, cat ears and short-sleeved button-downs — these are the textures that lay the groundwork for the drinks, dancing and mingling at a QREW D.C. event one February night. It’s nippy on the Wharf, the Washington, D.C. waterfront that hosts Union Stage, the site of the night’s event, “QREW: WERQ.”

As to be expected, partygoers still come out in their clubbing best, biting wind bedamned, for a chance to blow off some steam and unload the weight of the world from their shimmying shoulders. Soon, after DJ Tezrah finishes spinning her first set, POC drag king collective Pretty Boi Drag will come out and tantalize the crowd with Kings of Leon and Jason Derulo. And then the dancing and merrymaking will start back up again.

Kristen Voorhees and Dani Kightlinger are the culprits behind this rabble-rousing Friday night and other fabulous, late-night parties in the D.C. area. Back in 2016, following the closure of lesbian bar Phase 1 and the shuttering of the GlittHER parties, Kightlinger, Voorhees and a few others teamed up to fill the fresh void of events for LGBTQ+ communities.

“We felt — people in the community felt — as though we just didn’t have a space anymore. There were a couple of other parties, like Coven and Bear [Crue], which were around, but those were only once a month,” Voorhees says. “There was definitely an appetite for people to gather in the queer womxn’s community. We figured we would try to fill a space that was in demand.”

So, they picked the brains of folks in D.C.’s LGBTQ+ scene and collaborated over happy hour drinks. Soon, Kightlinger and Voorhees were on their way to perfecting the late-night, social space format they had found that the D.C. area needed. Both of QREW’s co-founders have full-time day jobs outside of event planning — Kightlinger works in forensic toxicology and Voorhees works in communications for a civil rights organization. So QREW events have moved from being monthly to quarterly, so that the two can put their best foot forward with the parties.

Photos by  Caroline Colvin

Photos by Caroline Colvin

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Anti-tobacco advocacy group This Free Life  was present at the event handing out goodies such as T-shirts, fanny packs and enamel pins.

Anti-tobacco advocacy group This Free Life was present at the event handing out goodies such as T-shirts, fanny packs and enamel pins.

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After hosting events at Adams Morgan’s Songbyrd Music House and Record Café for a little over a year, QREW switched over to Union Stage — which was monumental for a few reasons. “It’s the largest venue we’ve been at,” Kightlinger says. “It’s ADA-accessible, which is feedback we had received from the community as something people were looking for. So, we’re really happy we can finally provide that.”

Accessibility beyond just Metro accessibility was a missing puzzle piece for QREW event planning. Other things the team tries to keep in mind, Voorhees says, are: ““Is there a good sound system? Is there a good social space for people to chat, away from the loud music? Is there a dance floor? What’s the capacity?”

“Another thing we take very seriously is: we want our guests to feel as though they can celebrate their unique identities, without the fear of discrimination or persecution,” Voorhees says. “The way that looks, really, is having candid and honest conversations with managers and owners of these establishments saying, ‘Listen, we’re going to host a party here. It’s a reflection on us.’ The last thing we want is for someone to feel unsafe at one of our parties.”

The duo defines QREW as a group that hosts events for queer womxn and their friends who want to celebrate their unique identities. In regard to this, Kightlinger says, “We aim to provide inclusive, safe spaces for individuals within the LGBTQ+ community.” A small way to do this is promoting events toward queer womxn and making the active choice to use an “x” instead of an “e.”

When it actually comes to the idea of “safe space” in action, Voorhees wants to make one thing clear: that doesn’t necessarily mean that nothing bad will ever happen at a QREW party. “So many of those factors are out of our control,” Voorhees says. “What we do guarantee is that, should something happen and we alerted of it, it will be adjudicated. Guaranteed.”

For example, Voorhees recounts going to a party a couple of years ago where some guys came in — the party was held at a venue and was open to the public — and started grabbing partygoers’ asses. Someone alerted the event’s organizers. “The host — this 110-pound-soaking-wet girl in 6-inch heels — goes over to those guys, grabs them by the collar, brings over the bouncer and kicks them out,” Voorhees says. “That’s the kind of safe space we’re trying to create… That’s really what we’re looking for: a relationship of trust and accountability between us and the venue.

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When asked what they want people to get out QREW D.C. events, Kightlinger says, “We want them to come home feeling like they had a great night, just being themselves. I want them to come to our party and dress how they feel comfortable. Dance like no one’s watching. I want them to come and when they come home, just feel, like maybe, for a night, they’ve released tension from the real world, their job, whatever situation they’re facing.”

Voorhees agrees, coming back to the idea of true community. She wants to feel “as though that community has been manifested and facilitated and encouraged” through their event. And while Kightlinger and Voorhees are aiming to create community within their events, they emphasize that they don’t want to be the end-all, be-all as far as queer-womxn-focused spaces in D.C. go. Mentioning A League of Her Own (a queer womxn’s bar adjacent to gay sports bar Pitchers) and XX+ Crostino, Kightlinger says, “Community is so important. We don’t look at QREW as wanting to compete with the other events or parties.” She also says that QREW plans its events around other LGBTQ+ events, as to limit conflict.

Voorhees elaborates. “One of the struggles that we had at the beginning is that everybody and their mother had the same exact idea that we did when these spaces started to close. QREW was only one of many parties that started to pop up,” Voorhees explains. “We had to navigate knowing that we also have overlapping markets. From a business perspective, it makes sense for us not to overlap. But at the same time, scheduling around each other: we went from having maybe one thing to do a month to every single weekend night, there was something to do with queer womxn.”

It happened over the course of about four months, she says, and she finds that incredible. ““And once we started doing that, we try to — as much as we can — lift up each people’s events, other people’s projects.” Voorhees mentions that promotion will be anything from other late-night parties to a peer’s queer and trans bachata lessons.

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More than just serving the needs of an underserved community (within an underserved community), QREW also recognizes its specific importance as far as what kind of entity it is. It’s quarterly and its locations are fluid. In the past, QREW has hosted events at Maketto near the NOMA neighborhood, at Tropicalia on U St and at Ten Tigers Parlour in the Petworth neighborhood. There’s as much power in that, the duo explains, as a permanent space like A League of Her Own or XX+.

“They provide permanent space, which is absolutely needed and in high demand in the queer community — in the queer womxn’s community, particularly in D.C. What is so cool, when we started QREW, we thought of these parties as, really, a Band-Aid to put over a bullet-hole, which was the fact that we don’t have space, period. And we needed to create it,” Voorhees says. There’s a wealth of parties and one-off events, along with spaces like A League of Her Own and XX+. Both are important. To quote gay icons Miguel and Tulio from The Road to El Dorado, “Both is good.”

“Now, we have evolved into this community where both can coexist. We now have this more sustainable solution to physical space. But also, we have these parties that allow us to explore different parts of the city. Like going down to the Wharf, on the SW waterfront? I’ve don’t think I’ve been down there for a queer event. Ever!” Voorhees says. “That’s really cool, because now we’re gonna see — hopefully — more diverse crowds, people who are kind of walking down the street and who have never seen something like this.” 🍒

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Kristen Voorhees and Dani Kightlinger of QREW D.C.

Kristen Voorhees and Dani Kightlinger of QREW D.C.