Tamara: Well, we started out in 2004. I started to write a book for which I had to do research. From my research I found that there was a need in the community and, at that time, I didn’t know much about the community. I actually reached out to someone that I knew who introduced me to Sandy. From there, Sandy and I discussed hosting events together, along with one other partner at the time, and it just continued from there. We found that there was a need for upscale LGBTQ events in Chicago.
Angelique: So, where did the name come from?
Tamara: The name is an acronym and it’s basically a description of what we were at the time and the audience that we were seeking to penetrate. As we continued, it’s kind of changed a little bit. Bisexual, bi-curious, lesbian – yes, simply sexy productions.
Tamara: How long has it been? It’s been two years?
Tara: This summer, it’ll be three years.
Tamara: So, three years ago she came on. We met through a meetup group – she was actually a meetup group manager. I reached out to her because I wanted to invite her group to an event we were hosting at the time and I noticed that Tara was very good at finding venues and getting things done. I really, really liked that. So, I coerced her into working with us. It initially started off as a trial run and then she became such a great part of our team that she ended up becoming a partner.
Angelique: And how often does B.BLYSS! throw events?
Tamara: It used to be once a month and now it’s become a little bit more frequent. At times we have two to three events per month.
Sandy: We have a variety of events, so it’s not just parties. We’re doing a comedy show now, business networking, singles stuff…we do events with other promoters, as well as events on our own.
Angelique: How do you come up with ideas for your themed nights?
Sandy: I know one of the aspects that we use is the actual venue. The feel, the décor that it has, and then also Tamara is creative – her mind is always going.
Sandy: So it’s either the venue or if there’s a specific holiday month.
Tamara: It’s really mostly what’s going on in my mind – I like variety. We try to do different themes as much as possible.
Angelique: Regardless of the theme, you guys always have great music and great energy, and I always joke that your parties force me to at least try and step up my game in terms of attire….
Sandy: Sorry! (laughs)
Angelique: For those who haven’t been to one of your events, can you tell us about the overall atmosphere, the clientele and what women can expect?
Sandy: We try to have an inviting atmosphere as much as possible. We definitely try to engage with our guests and we want to make them feel comfortable; make sure they’re having a good time. I’m always going around checking on how people are doing. A lot of the venues that we have are different than what people are used to going to – we do stuff downtown, in the west and south loop, up north sometimes. The venues are out of the norm. We try to do stuff out of the box. As the music director, I try to have a variety of music. We use different deejays – both women and men. We use deejays who are all across the board in terms of ethnicity and the type of music that they play. So, we try to make the event as diverse as possible and we try to give each and every person in the group something they can connect to.
Angelique: Well, Sandy, you very often deejay a set at your parties, what would you say is one song that is always a crowd pleaser and never fails?
Sandy: A crowd pleaser? That could be any number of things. Anything Beyonce – always going to get people up. Any song that has like, a line dance associated with it. As far as house music, I would say Eric Roberson’s “Change for Me.” Old school stuff, like Faith Evans or “Poison”…random songs that people haven’t heard in a while to get them going.
Angelique: So you guys talk about how you always change up the location, whether it’s the Foundation Room at the House of Blues or The Shrine. What specifically do you look for in a venue and which one has been your favorite so far?
Tara: I would say we try to get a venue that no one’s been in before, so we can introduce that place to the community. As Sandy said, we try to pick venues that are out of the norm, so we take mainstream venues and try to make them LGBT-friendly, especially places that typically wouldn’t have a type of event like that. We not only turn people on to the venue, but it also works to give the place publicity as a friendly environment for our community and they invite us back. I would probably say that so far, our favorite has been the Foundation Room, just because of how it’s set up, the two floors, and the exclusivity feel of it…
Sandy: The décor.
Tara: Yeah, the décor. The only bad thing about it is the parking – it kind of sucks if you have to pay to valet or park in a garage. That would be the only drawback.
Sandy: Another thing I would say about the Foundation Room is that the staff is pretty friendly and they’re very open to the events we have there.
Tara: Most definitely! They’re willing to work with the girls, the guys, when we do it alone, when we partner with other promoters. They’re really good about that – very accommodating. We’ve never had a problem with the staff there, ever!
Angelique: Speaking of that, what are some of the challenges you’ve encountered as promoters of a lesbian night or even just promoters of a night for people of color?
Tara: Well…we had a Labor Day party and I heard some not-so-good things that were done. What was that street again? Across the street from Rockit?
Sandy: It was on Hubbard.
Tara: Apparently the neighboring bar’s owner did not like the fact that it was so many black people in their area.
Angelique: What was the neighboring bar? We’ll call them out, right here! (laughs)
Tara: I don’t remember, I was out of town that weekend. I met up with the manager of the venue at that time and we had a meeting with him. He was a white guy from Brooklyn, so we immediately hit it off, he was really cool and he also manages one of the deejays that we’ve used before, so he was all for it. He had no problem at all. But yeah, basically the owner of the bar next door, who apparently owns a few of the bars on that block, had a real problem with it. I don’t even remember the name of the venue now.
Angelique: Do you feel like that’s a challenge that comes up repeatedly?
Tamara: Well, it’s a challenge that definitely occurs – part of the things that we have to deal with are strategizing who is going to make the phone call, who is going to go to the meeting, really because we know particular venues just do not cater to a minority base. We can tell by the way that their advertisements are shown when they host events, or from their website. If you see diversity coming out from their ads, then you know it won’t be as hard of a sell. But if you never see it…we definitely have to be a bit more strategic in our approach. We’ve had issues where we’ve been trying to get into spaces for years, and they just do not want to do it. They don’t at times say that, but they will beat around the bush to the point where we just have to say, “We’re just going to have to give up on trying to do that.”
Angelique: Yeah, don’t even give them your business.
Tamara: We did have another incident a couple of years ago in the Lincoln Park area and it became rather high profile. So, it’s something that comes around a lot, especially when people assume that because you’re black, Latin, whatever, your behavior is going to be a particular way. And usually, when we call in, we may sound one way, and then when they meet us, as a person of color, the whole thing just changes altogether. At that particular space in Lincoln Park, we were told that we could not advertise on their website. We could not have a certain amount of African American people in their space – we were given a percentage as to how many people of color we would be allowed to have there.
Angelique: Stop it! Shut up.
Tamara: Yeah, it just became really, really bad.
Sandy: The manager herself quit, even though she was Caucasian. She couldn’t believe what the owners were trying to put in place there.
Angelique: Wait a minute, back up. Did I hear you right? You actually said that there was a certain percentage that you had to adhere to?
Tamara and Sandy: Yes.
Tamara: I was personally the one that had to deal with the management on a daily basis and they would tell me that the owner, who I never really met, he was like the person behind the camera, he would tell the general manager to tell me that I can’t do this, I can’t do that… I would have to really tell my team the exact same things that were said to me, and it got to the point where I was like, “Why am I saying this? I mean, I really like this space but do I like it so much that I’m going to go against my own values and who I am as a person?“ So, it ended up ending not so well. The general manager did leave because she was the person who had to relay the messages to me.
Angelique: My God! I don’t even know how I would have handled that. I mean, if someone is mixed, do they count as half? How on earth do you even begin to enforce that ridiculousness?
Tara: That’s pretty funny.
Tamara: I think that the main thing was, if it was too many “brown” people. What he was doing was looking at the camera footage from the events, since he wasn’t there. He was analyzing the footage and having meetings with the general manager and she would relay his demands to us. We were in an area that was predominantly white, and the owner was saying that it was hurting his business—which it was not—and it was very similar to the situation that occurred on Hubbard. Though the door staff at the adjacent venue was black, they were listening to what the other owner was saying. “Why are so many black people here,” blah, blah, blah; and it just turned into…I just couldn’t believe the things that were being said.
Tara: The manager at the place on Hubbard quit, too.
Tamara: Yeah, I forgot about that. That manager quit, too.
Tara: And he was a white guy. Look it up!
Sandy: As far as venue owners and stereotypes of the community and people of color, in one case, we were working with a venue and he had some really bad ideas about having a black crowd at his location. I think it’s because he didn’t know what to expect. Through working with him, he’s become a lot more open to it.
Tamara: Oh yeah, I know exactly what you’re talking about. I initially had to beg for Sandy and Tara to work with him!
Tara: I wouldn’t even go back there. I was like, I’ll never go back there again.
Sandy: But I think, now that he’s had more experience with our group and our partners and our crowd, he’s broadened his mind now. Who knows why he originally had these stereotypes, but I think that we were able to have him see different side of the community and people of color.
Tamara: We opened his eyes. Sometimes you have to just keep working and you can’t give up on everyone who slams the door in your face. You have to just keep knocking because it’s just a matter of teaching people.
Angelique: One person at a time, I guess.
Sandy: Now we have a good relationship with him…so far, knock on wood. I guess you could say one way that we were able to knock down that barrier was…
Angelique: Was to actually show him that this is the reality.
Sandy: Right! We’re professionals, too. We’re teachers, lawyers, doctors and we know how to…
Tara: Conduct ourselves with class.
Sandy: That was one positive example I wanted to put out there.
Angelique: Okay, well this leads to my next question: Chicago is a very segregated city so, on the one hand, it’s not altogether shocking to me that the LGBT community mimics this phenomenon, but on the other hand, I’m sometimes a bit surprised by how much. Especially considering that we’re all a part of the same subjugated community. So why do you think that there tend to be more segregated events?
Sandy: I would like to know why, too! As far as our group, we do our best to promote to everybody and we try our best to involve everybody. We’ve cross-promoted with different organizations that do events for predominantly white parties, Latin parties. We’ve all worked together to try to get it to be more diverse. I can’t really pinpoint the issue, but one thing is probably the locations where the parties are happening. If you have events in Andersonville or Boystown, it appeals to a particular crowd. Wicker Park vs. Pilsen. Our neighborhoods are already segregated, it seems like people stick to their own neighborhoods and the events that happen there. I don’t know. I would really like to know the true cause of this phenomenon, as well.
Tamara: We try our best to engage everyone and it’s very hard. Based upon what Sandy said, it has a lot to do with the way the city is broken up. We try to have events in different areas across the city, but it has a lot to do with who is hosting the event, and what kinds of people come out the events and so forth. You get some type of notoriety based off of that – there are more African Americans who come out to our events, so people think we are only promoting to African American people, which is not the case – we promote to everyone.
Angelique: And you do. When I used to party like it was my job, I swear I used to see Sandy everywhere handing out fliers! So I know you guys are out there spreading the word as much as possible.
Sandy: Our team has always been diverse, as well. As you see, as far as us partners, we also have a street team that is very diverse. And we all pretty much listen to the same music.
Tara: There sometimes might be different music at L Stop parties than our parties, because I notice that when we cross promote with L stop or something, we have deejays that play Latin music. Part of the crowd might stick out and start to grumble a little bit because they really don’t want to hear that, basically because they don’t know how to dance to it. That is what it is.
Angelique: So, what do you think can be done to promote more integration and diversity at all events?
Tamara: The only thing I personally think is going to work is if we keep coming together, and by working together I mean the leaders of different organizations and promotional companies and so forth. Work together to build that camaraderie because the only way people will be introduced is if they bring their friends, and they introduce their friends to something new. Also having more open dialogue about it…we don’t understand each other like we should.
Sandy: Can I interrupt for one second? Along those lines of what you are talking about, can you talk about the diversity dinner we were having?
Tamara: We actually started to have a diversity dinner where we brought together people that may have never stepped foot into our events. They represented different cultures, and the purpose was to open dialogue about, “What do you feel about the person next to you, what do you know about their culture, what do you believe is their culture?” Because you can make an assumptions about someone. For instance, when I met Tara, I didn’t have any idea what her race was, I probably could not tell you right now because I don’t look at people based upon their culture, I look at them as who they are. Whereas, some people actually just judge you based on gender, your sexuality, your nationality. Those things help you determine who you will socialize with, how you engage with individuals, etc. That is why we started having the diversity dinners so that we could gain an understanding of people and they could gain an understanding of each other.
Angelique: Right, right.
Tamara: For instance, I grew up on the south side of Chicago. Before I stepped foot out of Chicago for college, I had never really seen different cultures because I grew up in a predominately black environment. If I was not open to that, or if no one had ever decided to say hello to me or shake my hand, or engage with me, I probably would have never been the person that I am right now. You have to make the introduction, that is the main thing that has to occur in the community: you have to build these relationships with each other and then start to come together to produce events and forums that are going to allow for us to dispel some of these assumptions.
Tara: You have to shoot down people’s perceptions because it has a lot to do with where you grow up. I am not from here, I grew up in New York. Honestly, there is no segregation in New York like there is over here. It’s like a class system over there, it has to do with money, either you are poor or rich or middle class. There isn’t racism going on there like in Chicago – all the blacks live on this side of the grid, and the white folks live up north. It is totally integrated over there. I grew up with all different cultures my whole life, and my whole family is mixed up. So, when I moved to Chicago and saw what was going on over here, I was really taken aback by that, how everything is so separated. Plus, if everyone is gay, why aren’t all the gay people together? We are already getting backlash just for being gay. When you add black to it, being black and gay… white gays discriminating against black gays and vice versa, that just asinine to me.
Angelique: It’s much deeper than that, why can’t gay boys and lesbians hang out together?
Tara: I don’t understand that concept either, why gay boys and gay girls don’t play together either.
Sandy: That’s why we have been throwing the events with the boys, as well. We pretty much want to be one, big family.
Tamara: Tara mentioned something about class; I think there is a class issue that exists in Chicago, as well. We have race issues, class issues, and then we also have the issue in the LGBTQ community just understanding what LGBTQ means and then the A. Half the time, people don’t understand it and they don’t really engage with half of those other letters. If you identify with lesbian, you don’t like bisexual people; if you are bisexual you don’t like this person, if you are transgender, you don’t feel like you can fit into this group. There is so much going on, it’s just a big ball of problems.
Angelique: Ultimately, if you don’t get our own house in order, we can’t expect anyone else to view us with respect either.
Tara: That’s true.
Sandy: The question that you asked about challenges: were you referring just to race issues?
Angelique: Race or sexuality.
Tamara: We did actually have one venue that did not want us there after we hosted an LGBT event. They were very upset because a group of straight men came in and they thought, when they saw all the women there, they would have a great opportunity to hook up. So, when they got in and realized that wasn’t the case… We typically let everyone know, before they walk in the door, what the event is; because we know some people are just not comfortable or haven’t been properly introduced to what the community is about. We don’t want them to feel uncomfortable. So they ended up walking in anyway, and walking right back out after a few minutes. The owner got upset from their complaints and said he didn’t want to do it again. He went into this whole, “You guys are not right” thing. That was the only experience we’ve had where it’s been that blatant. But in some ways, it’s been helpful for us to figure out the best ways to go to venues and talk about how they can market to the community and educate them. Sometimes they just don’t know.
Sandy: That particular instance was really confusing because, anytime we went by the place, it was empty! We were bringing business into this venue, which on any other weekend wasn’t making money like that.
Angelique: And your parties are always packed, which I’d like to point out to anyone who is reading this and doesn’t know that.
Sandy: Thank you. But yeah, I was really like, where is this coming from? Because a couple of people walked out? He just all of sudden was like, I can’t have these events here anymore.
Tamara: And I think it was also a cultural thing.
Sandy: Well, now his business is closed. Isn’t it closed?
Angelique: Meh. Karma. Well, what do you see as the future of B.BLYSS! right now? Where do you want this to go?
Tamara: We want to continue to do what we’re doing: we want to help people to understand each other. The reason why we started doing this is because there was a need for upscale events. Then it changed into something far greater than that. As we started to work on events, we developed relationships with individual people and saw their needs. We are counselors: people call us and talk to us about things. We have to be a resource. That is the biggest thing is that we have to continue to be a resource. We want to start talking to corporations and helping them to understand the community, as well. That’s the main thing we are focusing on, growing the business in the direction that is going to change, not just in Chicago, but nationally, and the way people see people of color and people within the LGBT community.
Sandy: We try to be all encompassing and inclusive, we try to bring people together, different organizations together. That is what we need to do to show the heterosexual community that we are all one.
Tara: We try to do events that are not just parties. We try to do movies, comedy shows, brunches, dinners, retreats, we are going to start to do things like that to tap different areas of the community. It’s not all about partying all the time and hitting up a nightclub. We are getting older and we want to do more things that resonate more with people, not just going out and getting drunk, but actually learning something. Not that we won’t do parties anymore. One of the things that really attracted me to B.BLYSS! is that, when you go to an event, you might see someone who is twenty-two and you might see someone who is sixty-two. The fact that such a wide age range can hang out together is really pretty cool to me. You don’t find that a lot at other parties throughout the city.
Tamara: When we first started out, people just thought that being gay was just all about sex. Everything we saw that was out there, like fliers and ads, was about dripping wet sex. We are human beings and we have something to offer; we’re the people that buy homes and network and go out to dinner and talk to each other.
We just really want to change the way that people see the community as whole.
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Angelique worked in advertising for six years, but quit once they stole her soul. She has been the Marketing & PR Director for Reeling, Chicago’s LGBT International Film Festival, for the last three years. She can currently be seen going out too much and ignoring the stack of books on her floor that she really wants to find the time to read.