An IRL Peach party from the before times Credit: Kelaine photo

In the before times, Saturdays were filled with cocktails, sequins, queer DJs, and performances. My Saturdays look a lot different nowadays and my Sundays are a little less hungover. Before, I would be plotting, planning, and scheduling days to dance and surround myself with other dancing bodies. Since 2017, the lifestyle and event brand Peach has celebrated LGBTQ women and nonbinary folks with music, drinks, food, and dancing. The parties Peach threw at Market Days and Bad Hunter created a safe space for femme folks to join a community of anywhere from 70 to 400 people. And Peach is so much more than just an outing on a Saturday night. Dancing is self-care. Getting pampered and primped is self-care. Connecting with queer communities is self-care. With events and parties obviously being canceled and postponed, party projects like Peach have been hit hard during the pandemic. During the quarantine period, Peach promoters found that they needed to seek an alternative, digital component for their project. As a response, the Vine was born.

Bre Auberry, the president of Black Thread Agency, which produces Peach, says, “When quarantine went into effect and we saw that events wouldn’t be happening for the foreseeable future, we had team meetings to discuss what Peach should focus on and how we could contribute support to the community during this time. We created the Vine to give a platform to members of the Chicago queer community and create helpful, entertaining videos for our Peaches.” The digital content series, which lives on Instagram @peachpresents, features LGBTQ folks like DJs, health-care professionals, and more discussing sex, dating, wellness, music, art, and more. Where folks went to Peach parties to connect with their queer community, the Vine has stepped up as wellness support for queer people while in isolation.

Black Thread Agency is a multicultural marketing and events firm. Auberry began BTA as a way to create projects that empower her community and colleagues. “We build with intention and use our skills to uplift movements, people, and places that mean the most to us,” she says. To continue this momentum, Auberry’s creation of the Vine helps address certain concerns and anxieties occurring within our society during these precarious times.

A USA Today article from early May looked at how coronavirus is affecting LGBTQ folks, especially those of color, and how the community is—and has been—experiencing discrimination and vulnerability in the health-care system. Since many LGBTQ people live in metropolitan areas with the highest numbers of coronavirus cases, they have also been impacted by job loss and unemployment, as well as disparities in physical health and mental health. With 17 percent of LGBTQ adults not having access to health insurance coverage (compared to 12 percent of non-LGBTQ citizens), it can be a terrifying and mentally distressing time. The inequalities around BIPOC and the LGBTQ community are reflected in their access to health care.

Recently, the Vine published a video with Casey Tanner, who runs Queer Sex Therapy, a virtual brand that promotes anti-oppressive, pleasure-positive, queer content on Instagram, and partners with various sexual health brands that are looking at better ways to reach queer communities. Her “Sex Pros You Gotta Know” highlights BIPOC sex educators, therapists, and artists. Tanner has also been an avid Peach attendee since the collective’s early days.

Tanner’s episode for the Vine was filmed and posted prior to recent protests, but she addresses queer resilience and ways of coping in a healthy way with the stressors and anxiety of COVID. When I ask her how folks can armor themselves amidst the stress of the protests, she explains that she has to look at everyone’s different identity. “White people in the LGBTQ+ community are going to have entirely different experiences than LGBTQ+ Black folks, and Black folks will have different experiences than other people of color. As a white person, I can’t speak to ways in which people of color should cope, however, I can say that other white folks should be armoring themselves as protectors, advocates, and accomplices in this movement. We need to prepare ourselves to have hard conversations with family about white supremacy. We need to practice our distress tolerance skills that help us really self-evaluate our growth edges.”

In her Vine video, Tanner mentions “hypervigilance” as a response during times of stress. “Hypervigilance can look like being extra aware of your surroundings, feeling like you’re constantly on alert, and/or being easily startled,” she says. Our vigilance and alertness can cross the boundary into hypervigilance as we continuously scroll through news feeds, bombard our brains with constant information, and get worked up about negative outcomes. “For example, Black folks have every reason to be hypervigilant about possible experiences of racism, violence, and oppression given that these are very real threats. Thus, coping does not always look like decreasing alertness; rather, it may look like seeking out or creating spaces in which you feel certain you are actually safe. This is why it’s so important for queer folks to have access to queer-only spaces, and for BIPOC to have BIPOC-only spaces—virtual, or otherwise.” High Focus Center, a substance abuse outpatient treatment center in New Jersey, suggests looking at the three pillars of safety—physical safety, emotional safety, and social connections—for trauma symptoms during COVID-19. Support groups, close friends, creative outlets, and therapy sessions can reduce feelings of loneliness, keep you grounded, and begin the healing process.

Right now, folks are taking to the streets and still battling rising numbers of COVID. Patricia Newton, chief executive and medical director of the Black Psychiatrists of America, told the Washington Post that the quarantine was the “kindling, and the police brutality lit the fire.” Anger and isolation have conflated and resulted in a national response. Systemic racism has contributed to decades of trauma and stress, closely linked to PTSD. Psychologists call this “racial trauma,” where years of effects can severely damage the mental and physical health of Black folks. PTSD may be caused by a one-time event, whereas racial trauma is ongoing as Black people continue to be murdered and endure discrimination. For the Black LGBTQ community, trauma takes many roots. With the recent deaths of Riah Milton and Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells plus the Trump administration’s reversal on protections for trans people’s health care, communities are overwhelmed with heartbreak and frustration. As a result, self-care and mental health take a back seat. Tanner’s video addresses concerns surrounding our mental stabilities during the current health climate and how to overcome these obstacles. The Vine shows us that Peach was never just about partying—it’s so much more than that.

“From the start, the goal of Peach has been to create incredible queer experiences and gatherings that we ourselves would want to attend and that also give back,” says Auberry. “Every event and almost every project we do has a giving element with donations, support, resources, etc.” They recently partnered with Raygun to create a “Pride Is a Protest” shirt, and a portion of the proceeds will go to Brave Space Alliance, the only Black-led, trans-led LGBTQ center in Chicago, which is doing great work with jail support, CPS meal distribution, and feeding south- and west-side Chicagoans.

Auberry hopes that viewers will get a “nice little ten-minute mental break while they watch an episode” and feel connected to “others in the community, gaining useful tips for adapting to everything happening now.”   v

Upcoming Vine videos will feature Kara Laricks, a national LGBTQIA+ matchmaker and date coach, and Deivid aka Plantita Papi, who will discuss plants and tips on plant care. You can find the latest episodes of the Vine on Peach’s Instagram account.