On the corner of a busy Market Street intersection in San Francisco stands a three-story purple building, with large, triangular Pride flags on its front and side.
It’s the San Francisco LGBT Center, and it’s where “Queer Vibes,” a monthly concert series that gives center stage to LGBTQ+ singer-songwriters, bands and spoken word artists, takes place, with a performance by Anaís Azul, a queer, nonbinary singer-songwriter, slated for April 7.
“We’ve created the stage for beautiful queer people … to come and present to us and show us what they can do,” says Timothy Hampton, associate director of the center’s newly formed Cultural Programs department and the creator of Queer Vibes.
The queer and BIPOC music-focused series is a testament to the community-centering work of the SF LGBT Center, a nonprofit organization that has had a positive impact on countless lives.
Director of Programs Jennifer (Jen) Valles says, “Our mission is to connect our diverse community — because we are very, very diverse — to opportunities, resources and each other to achieve our mission of a stronger, healthier and more equitable world for LGBT people and our allies. … [W]e are the only organization serving the full spectrum of the LGBTQ+ community.”
Throughout its 21 years, the center has offered resources including financial and employment services that support LGBTQ+ people. Other programs, including arts and culture, serve as a means of connection among the local queer community, while correspondingly promoting LGBTQ+ diversity, visibility and history.
Explains Valles, “We’ve often been a sanctuary, a central place for the community and our allies just to gather, to organize and, ideally, to celebrate.”
Queer Vibes is cause for celebration in its aim to give a safe and supportive platform to musicians who have been without one. Hampton explains that there was a lack of welcoming venues for LGBTQ+ musicians in the city prior to the onset of COVID-19, and the pandemic itself has exacerbated the dearth of available performing spaces for queer artists.
Hampton says, “I saw a lot of beautiful artists performing on the streets, and I really wanted to create a safe space for my queer and BIPOC brothers and sisters.”
From performers to stage personnel (videographer, sound technician and production workers), the Queer Vibes series is queer through and through. What began as a virtual show has become an in-person event, recognized and anticipated by both the local LGBTQ+ community and musicians.
Says Hampton, “The first year, I think it was kind of like, ‘Whoa, what is this?’ By the second year, we had many people reaching out to us because they wanted to perform.”
Now in its third season and thriving, the series continues to feature a diverse array of musicians, providing not only a way to present their music to an audience, but also to increase their fanbase, connect to other projects and opportunities and receive an honorarium.
Explains Hampton, “We know how important paying someone for their performance is not just for that person, but for their whole being; it can change their whole perspective and how they view their own art.”
Anaís Azul, who recently released the song Ninachay on Spotify, recalls their excitement when Hampton reached out to them to gauge their interest in a live show.
They share, “I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, getting to perform in an LGBT center is so special, especially in the city where I grew up.’ … I’ve performed in a lot of queer events, at queer pop-ups or things like that, but never in a space that is distinctly queer for [the] community and for education.”
Azul, who is a music teacher, describes their songs as “spells” to aid in recovering from challenging moments and circumstances. Their music is bilingual, incorporating English and Spanish, and they play various instruments, such as a charango. As an artist whose Peruvian heritage and queerness factor into their songs, they see Queer Vibes as a safe and welcoming entry point for those questioning their identities.
Says Azul, “A queer-questioning person may feel like, ‘OK, I’m not ready to come here [to the SF LGBT Center] to claim that I’m a part of the community, but I want to support queer artists or I want to learn more.’ … So you don’t have to come out and have yourself all figured out to go into the center, to just listen to some music and experience some art.”
Queer representation and visibility are unquestionably important now, at a time when LGBTQ+ rights are being rescinded, drag artists and shows are being protested against and trans individuals are encountering ongoing discrimination.
Valles sees Queer Vibes as a protest to the inequalities and injustices directed toward the LGBTQ+ community: “To be able to come and connect with other incredible, talented, queer people putting love and joy and just all of our amazingness out into the world and to see themselves reflected is part of what creates a shield for us in the world to say, ‘No, I’m not wrong. I am not wrong in just existing as who I am. Actually, I’m incredible, and I just saw that reflected back at myself today.’”
To further such reflections and their impact, Hampton and Valles hope for Queer Vibes to eventually expand by offering concerts at locations and venues throughout San Francisco.
For now, though, that purple-hued building on the corner of Market Street and Octavia Boulevard is the receptive home to the sound-filled celebration of the queer community.
“Being a Black queer artist, I know the importance of a space that is affirming, caring and where I can just be my joyous, queer, fingernail-polished self. So that’s what Queer Vibes means. It means love; it means life; it means happiness; it means joy. All of those different things,” says Hampton.
Anaís Azul appears from 6 to 9 p.m. April 7 at Queer Vibes at the SF LGBT Center, 1800 Market St., San Francisco. Admission is free. To RSVP, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/queer-vibes-season-3-vibin-live-concerts-tickets-528629985517?aff=ebdssbdestsearch .