BLACK GAY PRIDE

Les­bian nightlife dur­ing Black Gay Pride and beyond is more than business

GA Voice - - Front Page - By STEPHANIE TOONE

To­day, the names DJ M and Takela “TC” Cor­bitt are syn­ony­mous with lav­ish, large, and lady-filled At­lanta par­ties. DJ M, real name Melissa Scott, a founder of Traxx Girls, and Cor­bitt, founder of Xplo­sion En­ter­tain­ment, are pi­o­neers in At­lanta’s les­bian nightlife. Both host par­ties and events through­out the At­lanta Black Gay Pride week­end that bring in thou­sands of les­bians from across the globe in­ter­ested in danc­ing each evening away to up-and-com­ing DJs, gawk­ing at their fa­vorite straight and gay celebri­ties, and par­tak­ing in fes­tivi- ties that cel­e­brate gay life.

Beyond the tens of thou­sands of fans they gain each At­lanta Black Gay Pride week­end, the party en­trepreneurs have also ex­panded their busi­nesses with en­rich­ment and fundrais­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, year­round nightlife en­ter­tain­ment, and shar­ing their unique party ex­pe­ri­ences in such cit-

ies as Los An­ge­les, New York and Toronto.

FILLING A VOID

Set­ting the trend for At­lanta’s black les­bian nightlife has not been by ac­ci­dent, Cor­bitt says.

“We are all very pro­fes­sional,” Cor­bitt says of At­lanta’s black LGBT party pro­mot­ers. “We are from cor­po­rate Amer­ica, so we ap­ply those skills to nightlife. We re­ally pi­o­neered the qual­ity of At­lanta LGBT nightlife, and we didn’t do that by just throw­ing par­ties with no business acu­men.”

Cor­bitt, a sales ex­ec­u­tive, be­gan her foray into party pro­mot­ing as a way to ex­pand the brand of the Xplo­sion women’s foot­ball team, which she for­merly owned. Cor­bitt be­gan host­ing the Thurs­day hip-hop night at My Sis­ter’s Room in 2006. The weekly events drew at­ten­tion to the niche sports team but also filled the void of party pro­mo­tions of­fered to les­bians of color.

“There was re­ally noth­ing for the foot­ball play­ers to do after their games, and we re­al­ized that meant not much to do for other African-Americans here,” Cor­bitt said. “At­lanta has a strong support base, so it wasn’t long be­fore we were hav­ing par­ties monthly.”

Scott’s fascination with the party scene be­gan be­fore she was old enough to en­ter a club. The Bal­ti­more na­tive and math­e­mat­ics whiz would sneak into her fa­ther’s strip club and take inventory of his liquor as a child. Scott’s school-age cu­rios­ity led to find­ing her way into the deejay booth as a teenager. She be­gan dee­jay­ing and pro­mot­ing par­ties in Au­gusta, and the buzz around “DJ M” caught the at­ten­tion of the founders of Traxx in 2006.

“It was just some­thing we were work­ing to­ward for the ladies, and it es­ca­lated into a large fol­low­ing,” Scott said. “When I started, I thought I could just keep dee­jay­ing and run the par­ties from the booths. That didn’t work for long.”

CAP­I­TAL­IZ­ING ON PRIDE

Scott and Avian Wat­son, Traxx Girls spon­sor­ship di­rec­tor and pub­li­cist, set out to in­no­vate the At­lanta Black Gay Pride party ex­pe­ri­ence. They dis­cov­ered ways to send out text mes­sages to po­ten­tial par­ty­go­ers’ phones and email in­vites to stir up in­ter­est. Scott and Wat­son also vis­ited Prides in Mi­ami and New York to glean ideas on grow­ing their par­ties. Adding the likes of Nicki Mi­naj, Brandy and oth­ers to the week­end lineup ev­ery year had lo­cals and na­tional At­lanta Black Gay Pride at­ten­dants flock­ing to Traxx Girls par­ties.

“Find­ing celebri­ties that found value in the black gay dol­lar def­i­nitely helped,” Scott said. “It’s just in­no­va­tive lit­tle things we added ev­ery year. We al­ways looked at it as a party, but it’s still peo­ple’s money that they worked hard for. They have ex­pec­ta­tions.”

Scott and Wat­son ex­ceeded ex­pec­ta­tions when they in­tro­duced the PureHeat Com­mu­nity Fes­ti­val in 2011 at Pied­mont Park. The Traxx Girls or­ga­niz­ers con­sulted with the city, brought on na­tional spon­sors and ex­tended their reach beyond the club scene that usu­ally dom­i­nates the Pride week­end.

“We had six weeks to make PureHeat hap­pen the first year,” Wat­son said. “We had wa­ter and a deejay. That alone brought in 8,000 peo­ple to Pied­mont Park in one day. We were re­ally able to see the ‘no’s’ turn to ‘yeses’ at that point.”

The fam­ily-cen­tered fes­ti­val, which is held on the Sun­day of At­lanta Black Gay Pride, has gained spon­sors like Wells Fargo, Mass Mu­tual Fi­nan­cial Group, and New York Life.

Those cor­po­ra­tions have been clued in to the mas­sive spend­ing that takes place ev­ery At­lanta Black Gay Pride week­end. About 50,000 peo­ple come to At­lanta for the fes­tiv­i­ties, Scott says. Each par­tic­i­pant spends $1,000 on Pride ac­tiv­i­ties and another $1,000 in the city on such things as ho­tels, food and more.

BRANCH­ING OUT

The record-break­ing attendance at those events goes back to the pro­fes­sion­al­ism and trend-set­ting savvy of At­lanta party pro­mot­ers, Cor­bitt said. Cor­bitt now or­ga­nizes up to 50 events a year in At­lanta. This year, she is putting on the sec­ond an­nual Queen­dom, a se­ries of events for women par­tic­i­pat­ing in At­lanta Black Gay Pride. In its first year, more than 4,000 peo­ple at­tended Xplo­sion En­ter­tain­ment-spon­sored ac­tiv­i­ties. Her events fea­ture YouTube stars, gay fash­ion de­sign­ers and other lo­cal and na­tional tal­ents. Cor­bitt and her business part­ner Myah Mustafa, also known as DJ Dim­ples, add to the va­ri­ety of­fered to les­bians of color.

For seven years, Mustafa, a Mi­ami na­tive, has hosted the Memo­rial Day week­end event Sweet­Heat for les­bians in the heart of Mi­ami. She sought to bring some of her party pro­mot­ing ideas to At­lanta with Queen­dom.

“I dee­jayed of­ten in At­lanta and no­ticed there weren’t events for 21 and up,” Mustafa said. “I try to make it about the com­mu­nity with all the events I do. Queen­dom is still a baby, but it will soon be as amaz­ing as Sweet­Heat.”

De­spite be­ing in its in­fancy, Queen­dom has ex­panded to Los An­ge­les, where Cor­bitt now lives.

Cor­bitt will soon be an­nounc­ing plans for a Hal­loween party in South­west At­lanta. Her weekly events like IconFri­days and Her­She Thurs­days con­tinue to keep the Xplo­sion brand rel­e­vant in At­lanta.

Hav­ing Xplo­sion, Traxx Girls and other party pro­mot­ers putting on events catered to black les­bians in At­lanta give the va­ri­ety that the com­mu­nity has de­manded for years, Scott said.

“How would you mea­sure your suc­cess if we had noth­ing to com­pare it to?” she said. “We watch our mar­ket trends re­ally closely, so we know it’s im­por­tant to keep the ex­pec­ta­tions high for our dif­fer­ent mar­kets. Our 35-year-old cus­tomer has a com­pletely dif­fer­ent ex­pec­ta­tion than our 20-year-old one does. We cater to those dif­fer­ent de­mo­graph­ics.”

Out­side of the par­ties, Scott and Wat­son have uti­lized the Vi­sion Com­mu­nity Foun­da­tion, a non­profit cre­ated to em­power healthy liv­ing, to dig deeper into the com­mu­nity. The non­profit and Traxx Girls have fed home­less women, of­fered HIV test­ing, and hosted par­ties that col­lect toys for chil­dren.

“With our par­ties, we cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment where peo­ple are happy. They feel free to be them­selves,” Scott said. “We want to even­tu­ally have a fa­cil­ity for gay youth sim­i­lar to the Boys and Girls Club that’s con­ducive to those young peo­ple feel­ing that level of com­fort­able with us. It’s all about keep­ing the smiles on the faces. That’s why I do this.”

Traxx Girls throw mas­sive les­bian par­ties dur­ing At­lanta Black Gay Pride, at­tract­ing thou­sands of women to the city seek­ing to catch a glimpse of some of their fa­vorite stars. (File photo)

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