Zeke Thomas, the 29-year-old musician and DJ and son of NBA all-star Isiah Thomas, first publicly told the story of his assault last April in New York Magazine. The account was harrowing not only in its detail, but also in its then-jarring reminder that rape can happen to anyone, anywhere (“No one ever talks about this…Especially men—gay men. It’s like, is it real, did it happen,” Thomas said of the encounter, perpetrated by a man he met on Grindr). Six months later, the New York Times’s Harvey Weinstein exposé would bust open a Pandora’s box of sexual assault allegations across the entertainment and fashion industries—making stories like Thomas’s all too familiar.
Nowadays, it’s hard to imagine that box ever closing. But less than a year ago, says Thomas, there was no such platform. “It’s very interesting to think about [this time last year] because, when I wanted to share my story, a lot of news outlets said they couldn’t cover it,” says Thomas. “They said, ‘We appreciate what you’re doing but this is too much for our audience.’ And now what you’re seeing is it’s covered everywhere. Which is great.”
While many survivors have found a voice in the recent #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, Thomas says that progress has been slower when it comes to the LGBTQ community. “People are talking about it, but it’s almost talked about in a joking manner,” he says. While most liberal backlash to the #MeToo movement has targeted outrage culture or alleged lack of due process, Thomas says the negative discourse within the LGBTQ community has taken a more brazen tone.
“There was an article about a porn star who was hosting parties and least five people were coming out and saying that he assaulted them,” Thomas says, referring to Tegan Zayne’s accusations against Topher DiMaggio. “But there were people commenting and saying, ‘Oh he’s good looking, why wouldn’t you want to be assaulted by him?’ It doesn’t matter if someone is a Greek god – Unwanted attention and unwanted touching is still sexual assault.”
Thomas is helping to shift such skewed perceptions as the first male ambassador for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, which works to prevent and intervene on instances of assault. “Right now, one in six men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, and that number is probably a low estimate because the statistics are so underreported,” he says. “Getting people to report is something we’re going to have to work on.”
Not surprisingly, Thomas brings a level of social consciousness to his DJ work as well. While he has spun for the likes of Cher, Lady Gaga and Diana Ross, Thomas says nightlife is not all about the full fantasy. “Nightlife culture is definitely a place where there is room to improve,” he says. “Security can’t walk around separating people with a ruler like a Catholic school. So when you see someone drunk and being taken advantage of, it is your responsibility to go up and ask them, ‘Are you okay? Do you want to go home with this person? Do you know this person? We can do that as a community to ensure that everyone is okay.”
As New York nightlife’s resident ombudsman, Thomas also wants patrons to understand the source of club culture, which he says has strong LGBT roots. “I’m definitely obsessed with history and knowing where things come from—I think more people need to know where their music originates from,” he says, “because very few things are new, and you have to pay homage. Boy George is someone I love to play, and Frankie Knuckles. We embrace so many [dance] artists as a community.”
That history of the inspiration behind his new single, Shade Box, a tribute to queer house music co-produced by Johnny I. “It’s something that can be played on the circuit party scene or the dance party scene,” says Thomas. “Where house music got its real fire was from the club kids and the misfits – the rejects, so to speak. This is a dance record for them.”