Representation, particularly of women (of whom there were few even in house’s early years), has become a hot topic in the dance scene and industry at large, but for many event organizers, addressing the issue isn't a priority. “I find these subjects extremely counterproductive,” says Correal. “I look for the talent. I don’t want to let politics disrupt the focus on making the parties badass.”
The mainstream EDM scene is, in theory, open to LGBTQ artists. In early May, house producer Kandy came out on social media and got support from stars like DJ Snake, Marshmello and Diplo. Diplo also recently pushed boundaries of EDM heteronormativity by kissing Brazilian drag queen Pabllo Vittar in Vittar’s video for “Então Vai.”
Still, LGBTQ representation remains paltry. “Coming into the EDM scene as an aspiring producer, there were no standout LGBTQ-plus artists for me to look up to,” says Kandy. Longtime music journalist Zel McCarthy notes that the business model hasn't changed “because the people running the business are straight men.” As those men fortify their networks in a world designed after their interests, it stands to reason that they’ll keep occupying those positions. (Of the 74 executives, agents and industry figures on Billboard’s 2018 Dance Power Players list, 54 are white men.)
Meanwhile, gay club culture continues evolving in (and out of) the underground. “I don’t feel the mainstreaming of dance music has had a significant effect on gay dance clubs,” says veteran journalist Michael Musto, who has been covering club culture since the ’90s. In San Francisco, Honey Soundsystem has emerged as a leader; New York’s Discwoman promotes female-identified artists and hosts shows; and Los Angeles’ A Club Called Rhonda attracts thousands of revelers each month with dancefloor hedonism and a pansexual ethos. Co-founders Gregory Alexander (who is gay) and Loren Granich (who is straight) have focused on booking new artists alongside gay icons. “The scene has changed to where the trailblazers are finally being celebrated,” says Granich.
In the last few years, Alexander says he has seen a particular rise in parties focused more on activist causes supporting lesbians, trans people and other at-risk subsets. “We have to realize that being a gay man comes with a certain amount of privilege at this point,” says Alexander. “The world has opened up to accept that type of person, whereas trans people are still fighting for their lives.”
While representation among gay artists is certainly limited, a scene welcoming fans of all orientations is baked into the old-school rave values of peace, love, unity and respect. For these fans, the core message of house music -- and the gay black men who created it -- endures. “House is and always has been,” says Dunson, “music of hope, love and inclusion.”