new ho queen

Toronto collective is ushering a new generation of queer Asian nightlife

Stepping into New Ho Queen's Lunar New Year celebration was a beautiful experience. With art installations lining the Rivoli, red neon signs commemorating the new year and one major factor that Toronto lacks in queer nightlife spaces; Asian representation. 

Dancing all night to the sounds of DJ ESL, LL Cool Wei, Lather Rinse RepeatDiscoraphy and Momodachi. With drag and burlesque performances left the audience itching for more. In all honesty, everyone had the same feeling leaving the venue; when and where can we have this queer event again.

There is a sense of warmth entering a space Toronto rarely holds when it comes to nightlife. For the Asian diaspora, clubs in the city tend to hold space primarily for cis-straight members. 

The queer community gets left behind. 

queer asian nightlife

Lunar New Year party is the first New Ho Queen party of 2023, kicking it off at their new home at the Rivoli. Photos by Sameen Mahboubi. 

That's where New Ho Queen comes in.

New Ho Queen, a queer Asian collective, has been challenging that very nightlife scene since its creation in 2018 with the original founders Valerie Soo, John Thai, Lulu Wei and Armand Digdoyo.

Since their formation, the collective has evolved and brought consistent events for Asian queer partygoers in the city

What began as a gathering at Thai's home has evolved into something much grander. 

"It was over dinner at New Ho King where we got together and were thinking we should combine forces and make a party happen," said Wei. "We had seen what BUBBLE_T [in New York] were doing and it was some really cool stuff."

Now, the four cores have changed over time with Raphael Sanchez, Vernon Rubiano, Patrick Salvani and Wei. What has been constant through New Ho Queen is their objective; making a space for queer Asian people in the city. 

queer asian nightlife

New Ho Queen was formed in 2018 and went virual during lockdowns, they kicked back their first post-lockdown event in October 2021. Photo by Kat Cheng. 

I spoke with the four core members of the collective who gave me insight into the world of New Ho Queen and what their bringing to Toronto queer nightlife. 

Wei and Sanchez are both DJs, with Sanchez dealing with the bookings and production of events. Salvani is horror drag queen Ms. Nookie Galore, whose looks bode a demon-esque princess aesthetic. And Rubiano is the house drag queen of New Ho Queen, Phemynina. 

"Our priority has been we're going to have a place for all of you to gather and make connections…and that's what caught on," said Rubiano. 

In 2022, they took to the Wellesley Stage for Pride and have recently shifted their home base from the now closed Round in Kensington Market to the Rivoli.

Wei said the issue also comes from the lack of diverse queer Asian nightlife."I saw a lack of spaces and parties for queer Asians that felt welcoming for women, trans and non-binary folks," said Wei.  "When a bunch of us first started talking about a party like this it just didn't exist and we were like why?"

queer asian nightlife

The event was pact as DJs spun and performers took the stage at the Rivoli. Photo by Kat Cheng.

An important factor for the collective is also booking female and female presenting DJs and performers, said Salvani. It's also about going beyond the Asian-Canadian diaspora and making space for queer Asian immigrants too.

"Maybe from where they've come from, they didn't find [queer community]," said Rubiano. "For a lot of people, this is something to look forward to."

Even with representation at their core, there are other factors that make New Ho Queen different from most collective.

New Ho Queen breaks the convention of Toronto party collectives and movements. Most times, you'll find two to three members organizing events.

But with New Ho Queen, the collective holds space for over a dozen members, more or less depending on the time period and people's bandwidth. 

queer asian nightlife

A new generation of members and partygoers are starting to emerge, bringing in new artists and ideas. Photo by Kat Cheng.

During the lockdowns, they pivoted to the digital landscape via Zoom. Post-lockdown, Rubiano said there was a noticeable shift in those attending their events.

At their first in person event on Halloween, they noticed a new generation of queer Asian partygoers had emerged that they had never seen before. This also impacted their collective internally, as new members began to join.

"I'm finding that a lot of newer contributors are actually younger, including some of the performers… it's great to see," said Rubiano. "I make a joke that the founders are from season one and some of us are from different seasons…but it's nice to see that it's going to be a collective that will continue to change and evolve."

Salvani said a lot of the decision making for the performers came from the community collective for their Lunar New Year party. "We want to have a space for ideas and new artists, and then the community collective is the one who basically filled the line up."

Another huge factor is how their events are set up. 

At New Ho Queen installation and aesthetic is everything. At the Lunar New Year party, much like their others, it wasn't just a line-up of DJs. Drag queens and performers such as Prixm, Milksh00k, Gei Ping Hohl, Century Peg, Kimora Koi and Mango Lassi took the stage.

queer asian nightlife

Installations were set up all over the Rivoli, with the front and stage area showcasing artists work. Photo by Sameen Mahboubi.

Art installations by Lan Yee, Arezu Salamzadeh and Yi Shi filled the venue, having attendees share multiple experiences both interactively and as a viewer.

With all the work that New Ho Queen does, it opens up the conversation of when can we see more spaces like this open up? While their work is important, needed and will continue to be a safe space, the onus cannot rest on the shoulders of one collective alone. 

But, New Ho Queen is just the beginning. 

"There is a shift, being an doing any kind of community work it's nice to see these thing rise up," said Salvani. 

Lead photo by

Kat Cheng

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