LGBTQ&A: Stro Kyle
By day, Stro Kyle, 30, works at the Attic Youth Center as a program specialist. But after sundown, he’s an emerging black queer-events promoter. Ahead of his all-inclusive Beards N Queers celebration this weekend, Kyle chatted with us about navigating the events scene in the Gayborhood and confronting racial conflicts as a way of bringing more inclusion into Philly’s LGBTQ community.
What made you interested in producing queer events in the city?
Philly is so diverse — it’s a city that thrives on individuality. I was born and molded to be unique and to never see myself as a follower — to find my true identity. The queer community holds these values, and I can identify with the scene. It’s literally a melting pot. I grew up with so many different art forms and musical styles. So for me, I believe my imagination is large enough to inspire the queer community. I’ve always dreamed of holding huge festivals and events that push boundaries. Contrary to what people believe, Philly is a breeding ground, an event promoter’s dream. Going to the Made in America festival confirmed that for me.
What inspired you specifically to do an event celebrating the bearded queer community?
Well, for starters, the beard scene blew up tenfold in the last three to four years among the gay community. But I noticed it was celebrated more in white, bear communities, where suddenly it became a “fashion trend.” Meanwhile, people of color, gay or straight, have embraced their beards for generations. For many of us, rocking beards has a strong cultural and spiritual relevance. For others, it even signifies rebellion against against those who oppress us with respectability politics. I don’t recall white culture really embracing it until recently. I always thought “clean cut, clean shaving” was the norm. Although I have no problem with anyone embracing their beards, it seemed like the events produced were centered around white culture and it didn’t sit too well with me. So being the typical Aries that I am, I took action and reacted by creating Beards N Queers, and couldn’t feel more proud that we as people of color are back in the topic of beard culture in the queer community. It’s so important that we preserve what we identify with.
What’s it like being one of the few black LGBTQ event producers in the Gayborhood?
Well, if you had asked me two or three years ago, I would have taken much pride. But now I find myself going back and forth, questioning if what I’m doing professionally is bringing more good than harm. I strive very deeply to promote inclusion and cultural acknowledgement among people of color in the Gayborhood. I’m serious about these endeavors, specially in nightlife, where there are not many black social outlets available except mobile dating apps — which seems like a setup in my eyes, because we know much of what goes on there is simply hookups. I often run into conflicts because I’m asking my own people to spend their hard-earned money in a district that systematically and subtly keeps pushing us out and squeezes out our identity to fit in. On the flipside, it feels very good when I know that queer people of color come together and feel welcomed through fellowship at my events. For them to experience that in the Gayborhood and enjoy all of the perks that our white counterparts get to enjoy — even if it’s for a moment — is astounding. It’s a feeling like no other. We deserve it.
You’ve recently gotten attention for your outspoken views on alleged racial insensitivity at one of the Gayborhood’s most well-known bars. What made you feel it was important speak out on these issues?
Growing up, I have always been surrounded by many diverse circles of friends. We grew up on ’90s and ’00s hip-hop culture when it was at its peak. LL Cool J, Busta Rhymes, A Tribe Called Quest were always blasting on the stereos at our houses. Wearing a pair of Timbs signified you were hip to the culture. Sometimes Timbs would cost up to $200, but we hustled to get them. For us, this was our version of “trendy fashion,” along with many other costly clothing that we as people of color identify and culturally take pride in. Although our trends and style evolve and are various, you have many who still embrace and infuse hip-hop culture with today’s fashion. The audacity of these LGBTQ clubs telling us that our clothes are not welcomed is clear systemic racism at its finest, and there’s no way anyone can tell me otherwise. If you really look into these dress codes, it’s all about conformity. It’s saying “dress like us, and only attract people like us” to be a part of these establishments. I’m totally against it and disgusted. Which is why if you wear Timbs to “Beards N Queers” you will get free admission!
What do you think it will take to create an all-inclusive Gayborhood atmosphere?
We as queer people of color must know our power! Use our power to create a space where black excellence can be admired and respected from all races. My dream and goal is to take my events to levels no one has ever seen before. I want to get to a point the same way hip-hop did — where it became our outlet, our one ticket into profit and power. But more importantly, how it lead to respect and admiration from all races. Our culture holds that power in our imagination — look how far vogue has come. We have the ability to unite people. If we continue to inspire each other and keep our minds broad and open, it will work wonders across the board. I wholeheartedly believe that this is the solution.
To find out more about Stro Kyle and his lineup of events, check out stroproductionz.com.