Sarah Akawa, AKA Saint Saunter, is one of the co-organizers of the Hot Summer Gays event series.

Sarah Akawa isn’t entirely sure how to define Hot Summer Gays. Lately, she’s landed on calling it a “summer-long mini-festival series.”

“It’s not quite a party series, because it’s not just parties. It’s not quite a festival, because it’s more ongoing,” said Akawa, a longtime DJ and party organizer in Madison’s queer community.

Whatever it is exactly, Hot Summer Gays is entering its third year as a summer attraction celebrating queer arts and entertainment in Madison and in the broader Midwest. After two initial iterations that were party-centric, Akawa said that the series is now going to be more expansive, with concerts, dances and comedy in the mix.

“It was very, very DIY in the initial two years. This year, it’s a little more thought out, just so we can accommodate all the different artists and what we want to do,” said Akawa.

As it has been in past years, the festival is a joint effort by Akawa and Dyke Dive, a group dedicated to organizing lesbian pop-up bars in town. Previously, Akawa worked on the event through her work with Queer Pressure, a DIY entertainment group for Madison’s queer community that Akawa co-founded. Queer Pressure recently shut down, but Akawa and Dyke Dive have decided to keep the Hot Summer Gays tradition alive.

Akawa said that this year's HSG will be an antidote to the “rainbow capitalism” that she says has become ubiquitous during Pride Month — in other words, a trend in which corporations or other for-profit groups wield pro-LGBT rhetoric to promote their brand.

“As soon as June rolled around, my Instagram ads were flooded with rainbow capitalism,” she said. “Everyone was like, ‘See? We’re queer-friendly.’ But not really following the politics around it.”

Akawa said that the series puts a premium on putting queer people of color and trans performers in the spotlight, on promoting body positivity and a culture of consent, and on rejecting capitalism. Akawa noted that the series has no corporate sponsorship (although she said she’s open to sponsorships from local businesses to keep the event sustainable).

“If you’re looking at the general festival circle as a whole, there’s really nothing like this,” she said.

Following a preliminary event in June at Camp Trippalindee, the fest kicks off officially on Friday, July 19, with a “Pants Off Dance Off” party at Robinia Courtyard. The event is being overseen by Claire Dactyl and Jackson Bradford, two leaders of Milwaukee’s queer entertainment scene, who have organized similar events in that city. Akawa said it will be “where what you want” party, whether that be underwear or a suit.

The next event is the very next night: The Wisco will host a rock concert celebrating an album release by the pop-punk group Gender Confetti on Saturday, July 20. The evening will also feature performances by bands from the Twin Cities and Duluth, and a set of standup comedy by Madison’s Cal Smith.

Drag Queer is next, on Friday, Aug. 16 at Robinia Courtyard once again. Akawa highlighted the event as an example of how this year’s Hot Summer Gays goes deeper than it did in years past. She said that after soliciting community input, she found out there was a demand for amateur drag show opportunities.

“People want an opportunity to do drag in a not-as-formalized manner,” she said. “There are a lot of drag troupes in Madison. But if you just want to try out drag once, you can’t always do it.”

Finishing off the series is Queer All Year, a party that makes a nod to the extension of queer pride well after the end of Pride Month and even Hot Summer Gays. The event at the Majestic Theatre on Saturday, Aug. 17 features performances from a mix of local artists, as well as the hip-hop artist God-Des.

“Anyone who’s down with queer liberation and supporting queer artists is welcome,” said Akawa.

In the meanwhile, while her work on Queer Pressure has come to an end, Akawa said she plans on staying active as a queer entertainment organizer. She’s very active as a DJ (Saint Saunter is her performance handle), plus she’s organizing a series of events called Queer IRL, that strive to connect members of the queer community in settings that aren’t just dances and parties.

“Something I struggle with personally is connecting with people. A lot of my interactions with the queer community are online. So I’m trying to pull myself .. into the real world,” she said.

More details about the festival lineup is available online.

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Erik Lorenzsonn is the Capital Times' tech and culture reporter. He joined the team in 2016, after having served as an online editor for Wisconsin Public Radio and having written for publications like The Progressive Magazine and The Poughkeepsie Journal.