Over the past two decades, The Ali Forney Center has become the largest LGBT community centre aiding LGBTQ homeless youth in the United States. For their twentieth anniversary, the non-profit organisation is hosting an all-night dance-a-thon event celebrating New York City – as a place where the LGBTQ+ Community have always been at the fore of cultural and historical change, it acts as the perfect backdrop for the We Are Family Dance-a-thon.
Taking place on Trans Day of Remembrance, the event also commemorates Ali Forney, the gender non-binary youth from which the Centre takes its name who was murdered on the streets of New York City. Aiming to support a new generation, the event fuses the celebratory aspect of dance culture with raising crucial awareness.
One person who will definitely be hitting the dancefloor is actor and star of Amazon Prime’s Anything’s Possible (Bilie Porter’s directorial debut) Eva Reign – “I will absolutely be on the dance floor acting a fool” – who will be hosting the event alongside NYC-based drag artist Marti Gould Cummings.
Ahead of the event, we spoke to Reign about why iniatives like this are vital to the LGBTQ+ community, and how moving to New York helped shape her.
“The LGBTQ community here in New York is everything. We set every fashion trend, make the best music and have the best parties.”
Hey Eva! How did you first get involved with the We Are Family Dance-a-Thon?
Eva Reign: I was asked by my friend Dev Doe to join. Dev is one of the first people I met when I first moved to New York. She’s always been such a light in my life, so when she asked me to be a part of this event, it was a no-brainer.
How important is the event in terms of the organisations it helps and the significance of bringing communities together?
ER: Coming together to support each other is vital to our survival. Everyday trans and queer people should be supported, but especially on days like Transgender Day of Rememberance. It’s a day to honour all the trans people we’ve lost to violence throughout the year. It’s also a day to think about what needs to be done to prevent these tragedies from ever occurring. There are so many people in this world without the proper resources to live healthy, full and safe lives due to various systems of oppression. Couple that with queerness or transness or both, and the obstacles multiply. Everyone needs to be thinking about what they can do to support queer and trans folks in need. This event is one way to get the ball rolling, but support needs to continue well after this event.
Can you tell us what the NYC LGBTQ+ community means to you, as someone who moved from St Louis to New York?
ER: The LGBTQ community here in New York is everything. We set every fashion trend, make the best music and have the best parties. Coming from St. Louis makes me value the community here more than anything. I love my hometown with all my heart, but it’s a blue dot in a sea of red. All those small-town attitudes and bigoted mindsets surrounding the city can trickle in when you least expect it. That can make it difficult to garner necessary support around queer events, which are much more commonplace here in New York.
Putting on a large event full of queer and trans people is a radical act because we’re all coming together and proudly being ourselves without compromise. Gatherings like the Dance-a-Thon, in any city, can be dangerous because being visible as trans and queer folks can potentially put us at risk for violence, but there’s safety in numbers. That’s what makes events in this city so special. There are so many of us coming from all over the world to celebrate who we are. Trans and queer people are embedded in the histories of this city, and we’ll continue to shape and mould it into a beautiful array of diverse people.
“Everyone needs to be thinking about what they can do to support queer and trans folks in need.”
Especially after the isolation of Covid, events like this are vital. Have you seen a difference in attitude or energy at events similar to this?
ER: Definitely. As an actress, I have to still be very mindful of Covid because if I test positive for it before going on set, I’m not allowed to work. So I have to minimize how much I’m in the club in order to keep doing my job. Aside from work opportunities, I want to still be mindful of how I may or may not be contributing to the spread of the ongoing pandemic. I love the club, and I love being around people, but I also love the idea of not harming anyone immunocompromised.
Things are definitely different in these large gatherings since 2020. A lot of people still don’t know how to exist freely in such densely populated spaces, and I would count myself among that group. Sometimes I still get pretty anxious in large crowds, but it’s easier when I’m surrounded by my friends.
Dancing has long been a vehicle of escapism and joy – do you find this? Will you be getting on the dancefloor?
ER: I love dancing, and I will absolutely be on the dance floor acting a fool. Bet on it.
Lastly, we had Tourmaline on the cover of HEROINE magazine in 2019 – I’m interested to hear about your experience working with her as your mentor.
ER: Tourmaline is a force of nature. She mentored me for Queer|Art’s mentorship program. Our focus was on film, and I developed a screenplay about a Midwestern Black trans woman finding her power. My mentorship with Tourmaline taught me more than how to screen write. Tourmaline helped me find my confidence as not only a writer, but an artist. During my time working with her, I began auditioning for Billy Porter’s Anything’s Possible, got the part and began filming. The practices she taught kept me grounded throughout the entire process.
We Are Family Dance-a-Thon will take place from 11am-6pm on 20th November at the Knockdown Center in New York City. For more info click here.