It was September 2006 when Monica Avery and Jessie Holmquist, the founders of Pink Party Productions, held their first event, a party at a house in Millvale. By house-party standards, it was a success: The police showed up. It was a routine noise-ordinance call, but the party itself was a bit out of the ordinary.
"Some of the cops looked kind of confused looking around and only seeing girls," Holmquist recalls impishly.
Pink Party Productions (www.myspace.com/pinkpartyproductions) is a DIY event-planning collective serving Pittsburgh's young lesbian and transwoman community, and most of its events are limited to a queer-woman clientele. It's a demographic that's largely underserved in terms of social opportunities, locally and elsewhere.
Pittsburgh's reputation for being behind the times notwithstanding, there are a considerable number of GLBT-friendly organizations and events. The previously moribund Delta Foundation (www.pittsburghpridespace.com), for example, has recently taken up the charge of organizing the city's annual Pride Week, in June; Squirrel Hill's Gay and Lesbian Community Center (5808 Forward Ave., 412-422-0114) has been a community touchstone for nearly 30 years; and the city has an annual Gay and Lesbian Film Festival each fall (www.pilgff.org).
But in Pittsburgh as elsewhere, say the women of Pink Party, disparities exist.
"There's always a bevy of options for gay men," explains Avery, "way more than for gay women."
Pink Party started, Holmquist says, because the women "wanted another place that wasn't Donny's," the staple lesbian bar in Polish Hill. "We want to build more visibility for the dyke community," she adds, "and to actually build a dyke community."
It's not a moneymaking venture: The idea of turning a profit, in fact, makes the organizers break out into peals of laughter. "I think we've all given money at one point or another," says collective member Sena Hockenberry, whose early involvement with the group involved buying the alcohol, because she was working while the other women were in school.
Any money that PPP events do earn goes right into the next party, or else is donated to a good cause. Earlier this year, the group held a date auction that raised $600 for this year's Dyke March (a lesbian visibility march that is a separate counterpart to Pride Week festivities).
Avery and Holmquist put together the first Pink Party in town, but since then the collective has grown: Hockenberry, Ali Haimson, Eva Stulc and Fabiola Torres all take part in the regular event-planning now as well. The women bring forth events roughly once a month, though not at a fixed venue or on a fixed date.
"At first, we did it month-to-month, but sometimes we didn't have time to do it -- we were in school, or had jobs. Now we meet every three months and decide what to do for that quarter," says Holmquist. Events are planned tentatively for each month, and if one doesn't come together, there'll still be one in the works for the following month.
"It's a form like the old ACT UP groups used," Avery says, alluding to the AIDS-activism network that sprang up in the late '80s. "If two people try for every month, it's not going to work out that well."
And Pink Party Productions doesn't just hold parties in the strict sense of the word. While some of the events are still house parties, the group has shown movies in Schenley Park, and built a float for this year's Dyke March. It's also put together shows like last spring's "Gay-Straight Defiance Party" at Lawrenceville hangout Belvedere's (where Avery works running the sound board). That event featured local and national bands and local DJs, and was billed as an event for the GLBTQ community and its straight allies. The event was a huge success; Avery says it drew about 200 people.
Among other things, the gathering was a way to reach out to the community that normally isn't welcome at Pink Parties. But for the most part, collective members aren't troubled by being a bit exclusive.
"There are not always women-only spaces available," Avery says -- and women-only spaces are important so gay women can hold a social event in comfort. "We want to be safe, not a spectacle," Avery adds.
But as the cheeky double entendre in the group's name suggest, safe doesn't have to mean stodgy. In the near future, Torres says, the group plans to sponsor more overtly sex-themed activities: "I'm really into the sex-positive aspect of things," she says. "I want to bring in fetishes and stuff; that doesn't always go over well, but we'll see."
The PPP ethic is a mix of politics and party -- while their business is mostly pleasure, the women of the collective are completely aware of the inherently political nature of their role, right down to the way they work together. Avery cites her work with Food Not Bombs, an antiwar/antipoverty activist group, as having influenced her view of organizing with PPP, which she hopes is strong enough to continue even if some of the current organizers bow out.
"Someday, when we're 50, we might not want to be doing this anymore," Avery says. "But hopefully it's set up so that it's alive as long as people want it to be."