Photo courtesy of DJ Gemini Jones

Though the #TimesUp Movement started with womyn in Hollywood who were tired of yearslong sexual harassment and inequality in the male-dominated entertainment industry, they’re not alone in their fight.

Some of Chicago’s womyn deejays of color are coming together to fight against the unwanted sexual advances and unequal pay they’ve experienced in their own backyard – and DJ Gemini Jones, one of the city’s most popular deejays, is spearheading the effort.

“A lot of times, especially early on [in my career], it was having to decipher if this was business or [if] he is just trying to smash,” Jones says about some Black men who have blurred the lines between professional and business after hiring her to deejay their events and parties.

On March 14 at Reunion Chicago (2557 W North Ave), Jones launched “DJ 101 Workshop: A Workshop/Networking Session For Women By Women,” a monthly safe space for emerging womyn deejays to learn the craft from veterans and discuss ways to overcome the challenges they face as women in the industry.

For Jones, who quit her full-time job as a research assistant and child-safety technician at Children’s Memorial Hospital to become a deejay 10 years ago, the workshop is her way of mentoring turntable newbies. Additionally, the workshop allows her to help young womyn deejays stand up for themselves and avoid many of the ill interactions with men she’s had during her career.

DJ All The Way Kay spins at "DJ 101 Workshop" while other deejays, including The Franchiise, looks on // Gif by Tai Payne

For example, Jones says, she’s received late-night text messages from Black men who want to talk business. She refers to this as the “let’s link lingo.”

“Here is my phone number so we can talk business, but then you are texting me at 11 PM, talking about, ‘What are you doing?’” Jones explains. “As we are talking, the conversation keeps drifting into personal questions.”

Jones also recalls numerous encounters with Black men in the party scene which she describes as “uncomfortable. Once in 2013, she was groped at a Hogs & Honeys event by a Black party promoter who hired her to spin for the night. Jones did not name the promoter because he still works in the Chicago party scene. Hogs & Honeys, a River North bar, has since closed.

“I’m a hugger. I noticed everytime I would give him a hug, his hand would just keep drifting down,” Jones says about the promoter at the Hogs & Honeys event. “One day, he just grabbed my butt and went in like he was about to kiss my neck and it was like, ‘Whoa. You really just pushed that button?’”

Sexual harassment is just one of many issues womyn deejays deal with, according to Jones. Another issue is being underpaid.

DJ Gemini Jones (center) poses with everyone who attended her "DJ 101 Workshop" at Reunion Chicago // photo by Tai Payne

“I felt like I wasn’t getting what I deserved because I would see a guy who just started deejaying last year get $200 to open [a show], and I’m still getting $100 to open,” Jones says. “That was a big problem for me.”

There would even be nights when promoters wouldn’t pay Jones at all, such as her experience in 2012 at the now-closed Geisha Lounge in Wicker Park.

“I’ve actually had a promoter tell me I didn’t deserve to get paid after I [had] already did the event,” Jones adds. “He paid the two other guys who were on the bill with me. He asked if he could pay me the next day. Then, he disappeared.”

Once Jones saw the promoter again months later, she confronted him: “He gave me $10 and told me that was all I deserved. I felt so disrespected.”

It wasn’t until friend DJ Victoriouz asked Jones how much she charged for deejaying shows, that she realized her worth. Victoriouz is one of Chicago’s most respected mixtape deejays, having hosted tapes for all-stars such as King Louie, Fredo Santana, Lil Durk, Ty Money and Valee.

“He asked me how much I was charging and, at that time, it was only like $100 for my full set,” Jones says. “He schooled me on how much I should charge and told me not to go under $125 an hour. That is the first conversation I can remember of someone telling me, ‘No. Don’t let them pay you those types of prices.’”

Jones isn’t the only woman with experiences like these. DJ Ca$h Era, a newcomer to Chicago’s party scene and part-time producer at WGN Radio, says she feels ostracized because she identifies as a gay woman.

“I found that it is just hard to talk to some of these party promoters because I just don’t agree with their outlook on things,” says Era. “Some of them use very derogatory language or they have their feelings about the LGBTQ community and it’s just like, ‘I’m not rocking with you.’”

Despite being a full-time deejay, Era finds it hard to be active in Chicago’s club scene because she doesn’t look “how people expect you to look.” In April 2017, while dressed in a black V-neck, dark-washed jeans and black dress shoes, a white bouncer refused to let her into Room Seven in the Gold Coast. Her outfit fell under the men’s dress code, she explains.

“The [bouncer] looked at me and was like, ‘You can’t wear those shoes and that V-neck does not work,’” Era recalls. “I said, ‘These shoes are dress code. Your bouncer right there is wearing the same shoes as me.’ He said, ‘Yeah, but those are male shoes.’”

"DJ 101 Workshop" // Gif by Tai Payne

DJ Rae Chardonnay, one of the cofounders of Party Noire, shares Era’s sentiment. There is a stereotype surrounding how womyn deejays should look while spinning at the club: sexy and in revealing clothes. But Era and Chardonnay say they shouldn’t have to conform to society’s fetishism of womyn deejays in order to perform a dope set.

“I feel like I can go deejay certain events in jeans and a t-shirt and still be respected and loved for what I do,” Chardonnay adds.

That’s why Chardonnay, along with friends Nick Alder, Lauren Ash, started Party Noire back in 2015. It’s a party series that celebrates the Black creatives and millennials across the gender spectrum. In 2016, Party Noire, which regularly hosts its functions at The Promontory in Hyde Park, was named Chicago’s Best Dance Party by the Chicago Reader.

Era and Chardonnay refer to Chicago’s deejay scene as a “boys club,” which makes it difficult for young women of color to break in.

“There are reasons why so many of us are just creating our own platforms, because of that challenge of breaking through this male-dominated industry,” Chardonnay says.

Ten years ago, when Jones first started out, there weren’t many Black women deejaying in Chicago. With the power of mentorship and unity, though, Jones believes that Chicago soon will become more inclusive.

“Just know that [we] are here and respect that,” Jones says.

The next “DJ 101 Workshop” will be on April 18.