Lesbian Women in Michigan Have a Space to Be Themselves Thanks to These Event Curators

Lesbian spaces are dying, but not if these Detroit women can help it

It’s not just the beautiful women, craft cocktails and club music attendees get when stepping foot into a Lesbian Social Detroit event — it’s a feeling of acceptance.

“When you come to a Lesbian Social [event], you will see women dancing, singing, and laughing,” says Chelcea Stowers, founder of Lesbian Social. “You'll always see a familiar face and it starts to feel like a huge family reunion.”

For queer women, that’s hard to come by these days, with no lesbian-specific bars in Michigan and a scant number of them nationally, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Consequently, many queer women struggle to find community, especially in smaller cities.

As a way to provide an opportunity for lesbian women 21 and older to connect in Michigan, Chelcea Stowers began curating pop-up events at different venues throughout Metro Detroit when she launched Lesbian Social Detroit. The company hosts multiple events a month around the city, offering a safe space to and for queer women and a way to promote women- and Black-owned businesses.

Stowers, who had early experience promoting events as a high school promoter at 15 years old for her dance team, said that the idea for Lesbian Social first blossomed in 2017, but didn’t fully bloom.

“My first event ended up, I guess, being a flop; it was actually on the day that my grandmother passed away too,” Stowers said.

Following the initial event, Stowers went back to the drawing board for three years.

Then, at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, Stowers says she reached out to one of her promoter mentors with a goal to “provide a space for women downtown.” He connected her with Exodos Lounge, a nightclub in Detroit, where she started hosting weekly events, and her long-gestating idea came to fruition.

“After the first one, they loved the concept,” Stowers said. “There was no incidents afterwards; it was just women coming together, having a great time and enjoying themselves.”

Soon, other venues started reaching out to Stowers and she began hosting events at multiple

rooftops in Detroit. “From there, I just started opening myself up to the community with so many people that wanted to collaborate,” Stowers said. Since then, Lesbian Social has continued to expand with pop-ups being held at local spots including Delmar Rooftop, MIX Bricktown, Annex and Magic Stick.

Stowers said that while Lesbian Social events are focused on lesbian women, they are open to allies as well.

“I've even had women who don't identify as lesbian come out to the event and say ‘oh my god, you know, I had such a great time, I wasn’t harassed by men and it just felt very empowering,’ Stowers said.

This year, Stowers is working on her goal of making Pride in Detroit bigger and queerer. She has a weekend of Pride events planned in June through Lesbian Social, most notably the annual free block party at The Skip, which had over 800 women in attendance last year.

Apart from her work surrounding Lesbian Social, Stowers is a marketing manager at Meijer and a photographer. These other professional experiences all play into the success of Lesbian Social events, which are created and marketed by Stowers alone, with some help from her mother and girlfriend. She is, however, big on collaborating with other queer women to allow them a

platform to grow their passions too, from DJing to catering.

“I definitely have met a few shorties at some of the [Lesbian Social] parties that I’ve been attending and also spinning at…being able to have a place to connect with people close to home at Lesbian Social has been really cool,” says DJ Pressure, whose real name is Precious Irechukwu.

Irechukwu, who left Nigeria when she was 9 and recently moved to Detroit from Ypsilanti, has spun for Lesbian Social events several times. She relishes the welcoming space those events provide, where she can be herself and meet other queer women, especially given how taboo being queer is in other countries like Nigeria.

"I think more people that are queer from other places want to come here to be free to be themselves,” Irechukwu said. “To be able to come find a place you can just relax and let loose and actually enjoy yourself and be in a space that caters to your culture is very, very crucial.”

While Irechukwu said that being openly queer “wasn’t as hardcore” as it may have been if she were back home in Nigeria, there have still been struggles. For instance, even though her mother reacted calmly when Irechukwu spoke to her about being a lesbian, she still told Irechukwu, “Oh, it’s just a phase.”

“I think when I do come to her with a woman that I wanna marry, I’m pretty sure she’ll have a real response at that point,” Irechukwu said.

For now, she’s immersing her in the local queer community through Lesbian Social’s events, which she hopes will grow beyond Michigan.

“There’s a lot of pretty girls there, as expected — a lot of cool people, a lot of style too,” she said. “There's a lot of confidence. It's all good energy in the space… I think they have a very special following, and it's still growing too.”

Amber Chene, a Black nonbinary lesbian, has also attended Lesbian Social events and organizes parties for queer women in Detroit. She said she would love to own a lesbian bar of her own, as she feels there aren't too many spaces for lesbians in the city, especially for older queer women.

Similarly to Stowers, Chene started hosting parties young, at 16. Most recently, she has curated her own party called Press Play, which will have a monthly residency at the Marble Bar in Detroit.

“I feel like there's so many different groups of people that have safe spaces to be themselves, and I think we need that,” Chene said. “I think that in order to grow and to connect, we're definitely going to have to just stick together and come up with different ways that we can show up for one another.”

Chene says she would love to collaborate with Stowers to create more opportunities for lesbian women, as both of them found ways to create spaces for themselves and others to cultivate a community they wanted to be a part of.

“I'm really just trying to create a safe space, and if anyone has a building or a space where I can operate out of that would be amazing,” Chene said.

At some point, Stowers hopes to get a permanent space too, and said she would definitely be down to collaborate with Chene.

“Amber Chene is an amazing creative who continues to help build the Detroit art community as well as creating spaces for the LGBTQ community. I admire her love for the art and musical talents,” Stowers said.

Next up for Stowers is securing a dedicated space based on the community gathering places she’s encountered in New York, a space of her own where women can just come and relax, as well as get lit and party.

“When it comes to other major cities I feel people aren’t afraid to try and bring creative and unique concepts to nightlife,” Stowers said, naming aspirational queer club cities like New York, Atlanta and L.A. “I really want people to say, ‘Hey, Detroit's Pride is this weekend; we need to travel to Detroit.’”