Blake Summers did not have very many opportunities to truly be himself as a young boy growing up gay in Mississippi.
“I remember being a kid and listening to ‘E.T.’ by Katy Perry in the shower and imagining myself (performing) in Berlin,” Summers said of the escapist fantasies he often entertained.
Many years later, Summers has become a provider of that safe space he longed for in his youth.
In 2016, Summers — along with his fiancé, the artist Jonathan Kent Adams — co-founded Code Pink as a safe space for queer individuals in the Oxford community.
Code Pink is a monthly LGBTQIA+ dance event that takes place on the Square in Oxford.
How would you describe Code Pink?
I would describe Code Pink as a safe space that gives opportunities to people within the LGBTQIA+ community. It’s a dance nightlife scene and it’s also trying to incorporate and give opportunities for the drag scene.
We tried to just really encompass a safe space for people to have fun, forget their woes and have a drink if they need to. It causes them to be more than their daily selves, so maybe they put on a costume, maybe they put on more makeup than normal. We want to give people the opportunity to pretend they’re in New York, or they’re in London or Berlin.
Code Pink has served as a special place for a lot of queer individuals in the community. Did you have a special place like that growing up? Either physical or emotional through friends or community members?
For me, actually, it was video games. I think that’s what made me like to create worlds for other people. I found myself escaping to those different worlds that were beautiful. It didn’t matter, it was less combative like identity politics. It was more about a goal, a mission where it didn’t matter. I found myself in this digital beautiful space. I thought that I could play it myself, escaping reality.
I want to give people that space, even for a day. Not everyone lives in that same safe space. Some people can’t come out because of their parents, some people are financially unstable. For some people, (Code Pink) is an escape.There’s always the fear of being outed if you can’t come out, but, for most people it doesn’t matter anymore, which is so great. I’m glad to see it.
What would you say is your favorite thing about Code Pink?
I love the moments in Code Pink when I get to look around and see a mixture of people. I love seeing people that come from Batesville. I love seeing people that are foreign exchange students that have never had the opportunity to see a drag show. They see the drag queen for the first time and just mix with people within the community that I’ve known for years.
It’s a really beautiful thing to see a variety of people laughing, having fun, dancing and seeing bubbles in the air.
What advice would you give Southern queer individuals who are looking for a safe space or community?
I would say find people within the community that you feel connected to, or you want to connect with. From there, see what you guys can create together, see what opportunities you want to seek and then see if there’s anyone that person or those people have within their network to help you get to where you want to go. It’s like a fraternity when some people don’t have access to fraternities or sororities.
That’s something that is isolating about Oxford too. If you’re in college, and you don’t have that formal lifestyle, you don’t have swaps, you don’t have any of that, you’re removed completely. That’s changed now, and I think that’s what I wanted Code Pink to be. It’s (crossing) that out and just saying this is your formal. This is your swap. This is whatever you need it to be. This party is for you.
Historically Mississippi has not been the kindest to the LGBTQIA+ community. Growing up in Mississippi, what has it been like creating and finding safe spaces for yourself?
For me, it was personally isolating. We didn’t have a big queer community at all. You notice different cliques and pods. You kind of just stayed in your own lane.
Things have changed, and it’s gotten better. I feel like America is progressing, and it kind of regresses as it progresses, but for the most part, I don’t think it can take back or reclaim a lot of the fear. I feel like once people are allowed to come out, they feel more comfortable. I feel like there’s been a lot of public light that has been shown on the community that makes it less scary.
So people know that we exist, it’s not rare. We’re not as targeted. We’re not as fearful.
Do you mind telling me about your relationship with your family and how you came out to them?
I came out in college. I went home to California to stay with my parents (who had moved to California from Mississippi) for a summer. I had a boyfriend that was in Mississippi, and he was flying to visit to meet my parents. I had all summer to tell my parents that it was my boyfriend and not my friend, but it never happened until we were driving to the airport.
We were over the Golden Gate Bridge going to San Francisco, and I said, “You know this guy is my boyfriend, right?”
My mom put her hand on my dad’s thigh and asked if he was okay. He said yes. So it was all fine.
They’re super supportive. They were just like, “Don’t kiss him yet in front of us.” I was like, that’s understandable.
There’s not a good time to tell your parents. There’s not a good time to tell someone something that you feel will be perceived poorly. That’s the only way I could do it was just by yelling it.
What I tell people is, if you don’t feel comfortable to come out, don’t, because there’s never a good time. But once you do, you feel completely relieved.
Pride Week in Oxford is at the end of the month and it is a pretty grand scale event for the city. What are your hopes for the event?
I just want to see people standing firmly with themselves. I want them to be present and full-bodied — just very unafraid.
I want to see them comfortable and relaxed. I want them to enjoy how thankful we should be to have a space like this. I mean, it’s pretty new.
Code Pink used to have close ties with the university and still does in some ways, but now you just put it on yourself. What was that transition like?
We do communicate a lot, and we try to keep our dates in line with each other. Our scheduling works for programming across the university and the general public. So it didn’t happen on purpose or anything, but it definitely is something that is nice because people seem to perceive the university to own most of the queer programming.
I think it’s important that there are some things that aren’t tied to the university. It doesn’t have to lean on the university, which gave birth, which was the seed, which was the foundation. It has people like Kevin Cozart, Theresa Starkey and Jaime Harker (of The Sarah Isom Center for Women and Gender Studies). They really gave everyone else a good foundation.
Following that, what are your thoughts on having a big event that celebrates the LGBTQIA+ community like this in a place like Oxford?
The more the merrier. I wish more people weren’t afraid to do things like this, but it’s challenging. Some places are afraid to try to host a drag show, so it’s pretty telling that not every town can do it.
I think that’s the important thing, is that we can be kind of a beacon city — we can be a beacon organization or town that brings in other people — and that’s fine if you have to travel, but at least you know it exists in Mississippi.