New St. Pete queer event series creates space ‘for dykes and the people that love them’

Dyke Night plans to host a variety of parties, clean-ups and other queer gatherings this year.

click to enlarge Dozens of attendees partied at Dyke Night's lovers-themed party in St. Pete last month. - C/o Dyke Night St. Pete
C/o Dyke Night St. Pete
Dozens of attendees partied at Dyke Night's lovers-themed party in St. Pete last month.
When Lee and Rowan arrived back in St. Pete after attending a Dyke Night event in Portland last year, the couple knew that they needed to kick their desire to start a local version into hyperdrive. A few short months later the duo created the Dyke Night St. Pete Instagram and hosted the page’s debut, in-real-life, event last October.

The casual “Leather Dyke” picnic at Maximo Park saw some people drive over an hour to attend.

With 2024 already in full swing, the newly-formed event series has big plans for a variety of trans-inclusive, lesbian-centered parties, laid-back hangouts, trash cleanups, fundraisers and kink and leather-focused gatherings. But what makes Lee and Rowan’s project different from other local lesbian pop-ups and gay club “ladies nights” is the explicit and unapologetic nature of its mission and the language used to describe it. In the words of 32 year-old Lee—who like their partner Rowan, 30, chose not to disclose their last name for safety and privacy purposes—Dyke Night St. Pete is “by dykes, for dykes (and the people that love them).”

While leading LGBTQ media outlet says the term dyke is still “derogatory when used by people outside of the LGBT+ community” and GLAAD recommends that the media steer clear of the word (sorry, GLAAD), the once derogatory term has been widely reclaimed by sapphics and lesbians of all genders and orientations for the past several decades. It’s an ear-catching, and possibly a controversial word for some, but the existence of Dyke Nights across the country date back to the late-‘80s and early-‘90s—the same era when Dyke Marches were widely incorporated into Pride parades and its organizers pushed back against the anti-gay legislation of the time.

“I feel like there’s work to do in order to change the perception of what the word means within our community, because there are people who intentionally identify as a dyke because it doesn’t feel like any other word,” Lee, who uses the descriptor dyke over lesbian, tells Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.

“It’s pretty similar to the way that we’ve reclaimed the word ‘queer’ and are able to defy the people that use it in a pejorative way,” Rowan says in response to Lee.
“It’s like saying, ‘This word is mine now and you don’t get to use it to hurt me.’ Both words are tied to a history that’s much bigger than just us.”

Riding off the success of their second event last month—a lovers-themed, Covid-cautious party with drag performances, mocktails, a set by Tampa’s DJ Jubilee, a photo booth and vendors—both Lee and Rowan are optimistic about the future of their new, community-focused venture. In addition to the couple’s trip to Portland last summer, there were many factors that inspired the creation of St. Pete’s own Dyke Night.
“The idea first came up about three or four years ago, and it was really a response to the pandemic and how it caused a lot of these welcoming spaces to close down, as well as witnessing all of these bigger cities across the country host their own dyke nights,” Rowan explains. “We wanted to tackle this sense of loneliness that the pandemic may have created and welcome the folks that have come out of it with a new sexuality or gender expression.”

“We’re not about policing who can come to these events, but we are going to be explicit about who this space is for,” Lee adds.

“I feel like a lot of the work to be done in the beginning of this project is just getting these people in a room together and breaking through that initial awkwardness.”
While both St. Pete and Tampa have been long regarded as LGBTQ-friendly areas with gayborhhods and some of the largest Pride parades in the state, there’s definitely not many lesbian-forward spaces within the plethora of gay bars and drag hotspots which largely cater to cis, white gay men. The only lesbian bar—not only in the greater Bay area, but the entire state of Florida—The Lady’s Room, quietly closed last year after a short, yet tumultuous time open. Rowan worked there and tells CL that their experience at The Lady’s Room helped them realize that lesbians and gender nonconforming queers of all stripes were in dire need of a place to call their own. It also helped them recognize different ways to start bridging the generational gap between older and younger lesbians, an overarching feat that their own event series can help work towards.

“We understand that they grew up in a different time where it wasn’t OK to be openly gay, but at the same time that mindset applies to us who live in Florida now—like, we still feel the same way,” Lee says. “I think there’s sometimes a resistance to change for some of these people; a resistance to do or see things in a new way.”

Lee and Rowan have a robust calendar planned, including events like a Spring Fling dance, Earth Day trash cleanup, speed dating and matchmaking events, and outdoor activities. Expect more leatherdyke gatherings, too, since Lee runs a bondage and harness-making small business called Love Bites Leather. And with St. Pete’s annual Pride parade returning this summer, the duo hopes to organize a Dyke prom in June.
Socialization, solidarity and community building aren’t the only goals for Dyke Night’s organizers—they have fundraising and education on their minds, too. Rowan also runs the @queerarchivefl Instagram for their Florida-focused history and documentation project and plans to host documentary screenings and other events surrounding LGBTQ history.

“I created Queer Archive Florida in response to the recent rise of aggressive anti-LGBTQ legislation, not just in our state but across the country. I want to battle the narrative that queer people have no history by documenting our events happening now, but also diving into the past to prove that we’ve always been here,” Rowan—who has a background in education and art history—explains. “It’s so important for us to have these historical touchstones to help feel more connected to this greater existence beyond just us.”

Despite the future of the newly-established queer event series having the potential to go wherever its organizers take it, two things will surely remain: its mission and the intentional language used to describe it.

“We specifically like and use the word ‘dyke’ because it does make people feel something. It’s important that we don’t water anything down or always feel like we have to be palatable,” Lee says. “There’s so many other cities that have had dyke nights for years so we’re definitely not reinventing the wheel, and we feel like it’s time to start building that kind of community here."

Head to @dykenitestpete on Instagram for the organization's latest events.

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Kyla Fields

Kyla Fields is the Managing Editor of Creative Loafing Tampa Bay who started their journey at CL as summer 2019 intern. They are the proud owner of a charming, sausage-shaped, four-year-old rescue mutt named Piña.
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