BY RYAN HOWE | Five years ago, Avory Agony decided to change career paths after a tarot card reading at Short Mountain Sanctuary, a radical faerie retreat in the Tennessee woods.
The New York native, who prefers to be referred to with the pronoun “they,” had been working as a union carpenter for six years when the job started to take its toll. Agony started hitting gay bars throughout the week, just to be surrounded by people in the LGBTQ community. As the economy tanked, jobs came in less and less for women in the union, Agony explained.
“It was a really oppressive environment, and I found I was working with the city’s dark wizards that were doing construction,” Agony said.
It was during that five-week vacation at Short Mountain Sanctuary that Agony learned more about the queer community and how to speak in “American Faggot” as well as to pee standing up.
“After I had that crazy tarot card reading from a witch, I realized that I needed to be a leader in our community, and I started throwing gay dance parties,” Agony said.
It was the start of “Hey Queen!”
Agony launched “Hey Queen!,” a monthly queer party, with friend Scout Rose when they noticed that there wasn’t a scene where queers of all backgrounds were coming together in New York. After attending different parties that their friends hosted, they grew tired of seeing rooms filled with what seemed liked crowds of clones drinking together.
The goal of “Hey Queen!” was to create a space that is truly mixed with people from different orientations, ethnicities, and genders, busting open the city’s segregated queer communities.
“I’d go to these parties that my friends threw and there would be 300 white gay men, and aside from drag queens or entertainment I was the only person who was not a white gay guy,” Agony explained.
Rose, who bartended at Sugarland in Williamsburg, pressed Agony to throw Friday parties at the bar. Agony had experience with venue booking, event planning, and political organizing from college, so together they hatched the first “Hey Queen!” event, in June 2009.
Agony’s success in promoting the event and booking performers paid off, as 400 people spilled out of the small bar that first night. Since then, “Hey Queen!” hasn’t missed a month, except for Decembers when it takes a holiday hiatus each year.
There have been many changes since that first event five years ago. Different crowds have come and gone, the party moved from Sugarland to the Littlefield Performance and Art Space in Gowanus, and a new co-producer, Sarah Jenny, joined the team.
But one thing has remained constant: the party still focuses on bringing together a diverse group of queers to have a good time.
On May 17, a large crowd was packed in front of the stage at the Littlefield, each of them with a hand stamp made up of five blocky, capital letters reading “QUEEN.” Co-producers Agony and Jenny stood on the stage with microphones in hand waiting for the crowd to settle down.
“Queens, I need you to go to the back room and buy some raffle tickets to support sex workers here in New York,” Jenny announced as she pointed to the back of the room. “Performances will be starting soon. Welcome to ‘Hey Queen!’”
Immediately after they walked off the stage, cockyboy Chris Harder walked out with a golden pizza box and started stripping to start the show. One thing the producers of “Hey Queen!” pride themselves on is paying queer performers who are on the road or need support. By never booking the same performance twice, they are able to increase the number of acts they can bring in.
“A lot of people come out to these events not only for the very accepting atmosphere, but the wide range of performances we have,” Agony said. “We have anything from singers to dancers to strippers to DJs. It’s always something new and entertaining.”
The welcoming vibe was the first thing Connor Donahue noticed. He first attended “Hey Queen!” before he was 21 as a background dancer for performers. Once he turned 21 and could get into the party without performing, he found the event a breath of fresh air where he could meet new people.
“It’s a comfortable place to be, but you can also have these incredibly deep conversations about radical politics,” Donahue said. “The people that come are incredibly open-minded, and I’ve met so many friends through the party.”
Every month a Queen of Honor is recognized. Sometimes they are performers, other times they are political activists. Last month’s Queen of Honor was Janet Mock, the transgender journalist and author of “Redefining Realness.” It was also one of the party’s twice-a-year fundraising events, gathering more than $8,800 to support sex workers in the city.
A June 28 party will benefit Sylvia’s Place, a homeless LGBTQ youth shelter run by the Metropolitan Community Church of New York. The fifth anniversary of “Hey Queen,” the party’s Queen of Honor will be musician Rye Rye. The venue is SRB Brooklyn, 177 Second Avenue, between 13th and 14th Streets in Gowanus (advance tickets at heyqueen.b
“We really try and stress giving back to our community,” Jenny said. “This year it just happened that both fundraising parties fell on consecutive months, and it’s been rough but it’s always worth it.”
Jenny — who first got involved in helping produce “Hey Queen!” after Agony saw her perform a Madonna number that involved her pouring soy milk all over her body — explained she joined the team because of the contribution it makes to the queer community.
On top of celebrating its five-year anniversary in June, “Hey Queen!,” for the second year in a row, is co-hosting a party, “Everybooty,” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Information on the June 27 event can be found at heyqueen.org or at bam.org.
“’Hey Queen!’ will continue as long as people keep coming to the event,” Jenny said. “It’s a necessity for our community to have this outlet, and I think people realize that.”