For The First-Time Ever The South by Southwest Festival Embraces The Queer Community

by Heather Cassell

Art, intellectuals, and technology create a perfect storm for cool confabs, like the wildly popular South by Southwest Festival, which turns 30 this year, and kicked off in Austin, Texas on Friday.

The annual indie festival and conference, taking place March 11-20, attracts upward of 72,000 attendees from around the globe to check out hundreds of musicians, artists, innovative thought leaders, and new technologies.

This is the first year that SXSW organizers are actually reaching out to various communities, including the queer community, and producing events and tracks for them, says Chondra Washington, administrative assistant of the interactive festival team of the SXSW Festival and Conference.

“SXSW is a community driven event. We want every community represented equally and to create an environment of inclusion,” writes Chondra in an email, pointing out that the panel discussions are community selected and led. “We all agree that more diversity within the festival creates a more interesting event,” she adds.

SXSW is catching on and is providing some programming for LGBT attendees and reaching out to the local and visiting LGBT community.

“There is a growing population of LGBT attendees at South by Southwest and it’s been happening for maybe for the last five years,” says Ceci Gratias, a 51-year-old lesbian who is the new president and CEO of the Austin Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.

For the past three years the chamber has hosted an unofficial SXSW LGBT kick-off party. This year Ceci is working with Chondra, connecting the local and visiting LGBT community to SXSW.

“I think having a queer component can only have a positive affect,” says Chondra, a 33-year-old queer woman. “Austin is a very LGBTQ-friendly city and having this reflected in the festival will add value.” (See the online SXSW resource guide at the end of this article.)

She’s particularly excited about the “Queer Style: Visual Activism and Fashion’s Frontier,” a session that explores androgynous fashion.

Out of the hundreds of events during the 10-day festival, Chondra, a dedicated foodie, says she’s looking forward to SouthBites.

“There is so much to be jazzed about at SXSW this year,” writes Chondra.

“Greetings from Austin” postcard mural. (Photo: Super G)
“Greetings from Austin” postcard mural. (Photo: Super G)

SXSW Queer Interactive Program

Compiled by Heather Cassell with the assistance of Chondra Washington, administrative assistant of the Interactive Festival at South by Southwest Festival and Conference

March 10

6 – 9 p.m.: Swan Dive: DapperQ cocktail hour at Swan Dive, 615 Red River Street

March 11

3:30 – 4:30 p.m.: “Listen Up: The Future LGBTQ+ Tech Workforce” at the JW Marriott, 110 East 2nd Street, Salon 7,

3:30 – 4:30 p.m.: “Queer Style: Visual Activism & Fashion’s Frontier” at the Westin Austin Downtown, Continental 1-2, 310 East 5th Street,

9 p.m. – 2 a.m.: Ladies Night hosted by Lesbutante & the Boss + Lesbians Who Tech SXSW edition at Highland Lounge, 404 Colorado Street

March 12

12:30 – 1:30 p.m.: “Trans Athletes: the New Frontier of Sports” at the Four Seasons, 98 San Jacinto Boulevard, Ballroom CD,

3:30 – 4:30 p.m.: Lesbians Who Tech (and Friends) Networking Meet Up at the JW Marriott, 110 East 2nd Street, Room 207,

5 – 6 p.m.: “Meet Up for LGBTQ Filmmkers,” an interactive mixer with the Outfest programmers, and other LGBT film festival and filmmaker leaders, such as the New York LGBT Film Festival NewFest and the Screenwriting Lab, at the JW Marriott, 110 East 2nd Street, Room 210,

March 14

12:30 – 1:30 p.m.: “America’s LGBT Spies: Secret Agents (of Change)” at the JW Marriott, 110 East 2nd Street, Salon 3-4,

Times To Be Determined: Online Harassment Summit

“Is A Safer, Saner & Civil Internet Possible?” with Brianna Wu, video game developer,

“Level Up: Overcoming Harassment in Games” with Katherine Cross

“To Catch a Troll” with Ari Waldman, LGBT advocate lawyer, legal editor of Towleroad

For more information about SXSW, visit

There’s still time to head south to South by Southwest, to book your trip contact Heather Cassell at Girls That Roam Travel in association with Travel Advisors of Los Gatos at 408-354-6531 or 415-517-7239 or at .

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