The SF LGBT Center is a local nonprofit organization providing economic services, youth services, community programs and more to the LGBTQIA+ community of San Francisco. You’ve surely seen their bright purple building at 1800 Market Street, which makes quite a statement!
Both of the artists who painted the mural will be hosting “A Conversation with Queeroes” to describe their process. See it Friday, June 10 from 5-7pm, and learn more at the SF LGBT Center calendar.
Juan Manuel Carmona (@manuel165) and Simon Malvaez (@simonmalvaez), two talented local artists belonging to the Queer and Latinx communities of SF, painted this colorful mural depicting both local and international Queer heroes, or “Queeroes,” with special focus on their connections to the Latinx community. Colors were chosen from the Progress Pride Flag.
The Queeroes mural includes Chavela Vargas, Freddie Mercury, Frida Kahlo, Harvey Milk, James Baldwin, Juanita MORE!, Keith Haring, Honey Mahogany, Marsha P. Johnson, Sister Roma, Sylvia Rivera and Willi Ninja. All of these people have played essential roles in shaping Queer history both locally and globally. Although it’s impossible to do justice to each of these icons in just a paragraph, here’s a quick summary of each featured Queero for the next time you pass by the Center:
Chavela Vargas (1919-2012), was a Costa Rica-born Mexican singer who influenced countless Latin American music genres. Vargas’s singing career began in Mexico City in the 1940s, where she blew past stereotypes by dressing in men’s clothes, and smoking and drinking excessively. She was known for her ranchera songs, which are typically sung by men with a lot of instruments; Vargas, however, sang revolutionary and raw versions of these songs with just a guitar. She was also a contemporary of Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Pedro Almodovar. Vargas eventually came out as lesbian in her autobiography, Y si quieres saber de mi pasado (And If You Want to Know About My Past) in 2002.
Possibly the most well-known queer icon in history, Freddie Mercury (1946-1991) was a flamboyant British rock singer and songwriter. As front man of the band Queen, Mercury put out countless hits such as “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “We Are The Champions,” and “We Will Rock You,” which are still sung with gusto by audiences all over the world. Mercury dated both men and women throughout his life, eventually dying from AIDS complications in 1991 at the young age of 45.
Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) is a world-famous Mexican painter who portrayed her relationship with identity, the human body, and death in brilliant fashion. Known for her colorful and unapologetic self portraits, Kahlo communicated her evolving identity and self-perception in unforgettable ways throughout her lifetime. She was also known for a tumultuous relationship with muralist Diego Rivera, who makes an appearance in a number of her paintings. Her most famous works include The Two Fridas, The Broken Column, and Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird.
Hailing from Long Island, New York, Harvey Milk (1930-1978) is known for being a critical gay rights activist and politician in San Francisco in the 1970s. He moved to San Francisco in 1972 and began running for election to the SF Board of Supervisors, where he was eventually elected in 1977, making him one of the first openly gay elected officials in American history. One year later, both Milk and then-mayor George Moscone were shot and killed by conservative former city supervisor Dan White. Milk’s tragic death put an end to his young political career, and his name and legacy still permeate the city. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009 by then-President Barack Obama.
American author James Baldwin (1924-1987) was an essential voice of the American Civil Rights Movement, and his works include Giovanni’s Room, The Fire Next Time, and Go Tell It on the Mountain. His creations chronicling the Black experience in America were a crucial expression of the times, and they often intersect with themes of sexuality and class distinctions. Professor Chris Freeman defined Baldwin’s sexuality as intersectional, and gay and bisexual characters, usually Black, are prominently featured in his works.
Juanita MORE! is one of San Francisco’s most prominent drag queens. She has graced the Bay Area for over 3 decades, and is an essential voice in many of today’s social justice movements. According to her website, Juanita MORE! has raised over $900,000 for local charities, and she continues to illuminate the City with her louder-than-life presence.
American pop artist Keith Haring (1958-1990) was famous for his colorful, playful drawings containing allusions to social issues of the times. His work is often seen in campaigns advocating for safe sex, AIDS awareness, anti-crack and anti-apartheid, and more. Haring was diagnosed with AIDS himself in 1988 and he founded the Keith Haring Foundation shortly before he died in order to ensure his work would continue generating activism. He was one of the first honorees of San Francisco’s Rainbow Honor Walk, a walk of fame installation along Castro and Market Street honoring prominent members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Honey Mahogany is a local drag queen who rose to fame on Season 5 of RuPaul’s Drag Race. She’s also one of the founders of San Francisco’s Transgender District, which is the first legally recognized district of its kind. The district occupies 2 blocks of Sixth Street and 6 blocks in the southeastern Tenderloin, and portions of the streets have been renamed to honor the contributions of transgender people.
Marsha P. Johnson
Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992) was a drag queen and activist during the 1960s and 70s (the “P” stands for “Pay it no mind,” for when people commented on their appearance). They are famous for standing up to the police during the Stonewall Riots of 1969, when New York police raided a gay bar in Greenwich Village and used excessive violence against over 200 patrons. Johnson resisted arrest and then led a series of protests and riots during the following days calling for gay rights. They went on to found the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) along with their good friend Sylvia Rivera, and were known as “The Saint of Christopher Street” for their generosity towards the LGBTQ+ community there. Johnson died under suspicious circumstances in 1992, and although their death was ruled a suicide, police reclassified their death to “undetermined” 10 years later. Many believe Johnson was murdered by a group of thugs seen in the area.
Sister Roma is a prominent member of San Francisco’s Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a charity and performance organization that uses drag and religious imagery to satirize and draw attention to sexual intolerance and social conflicts. Her work there has gained her the title of the “The Most Photographed Nun In The World.” Roma is also a legendary gay pornography director, currently serving as art director at NakedSword. She was selected as SF Pride Community Grand Marshal in 2012, SF’s Most Notable Drag Queen and Best of the Bay’s Best Activist in 2016.
Here’s another veteran of the Stonewall Riots, a drag queen and close friend of Marsha P. Johnson. Sylvia Rivera (1951-2002) advocated for gay and transgender rights, especially for marginalized people of color. She founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) alongside Johnson and was a prominent name in the Gay Liberation Front, a group of gay rights groups that formed in the aftermath of the Stonewall Riots.
Willi Ninja (1961-2006) is known as the godfather of voguing, a type of modern house dance. He was often seen at drag balls in Harlem in the 1980s, and facilitated spaces such as the “House of Ninja” for gay and transgender youth, especially Latinx and Black youth, to express themselves. Ninja is famous for appearing in the 1990 documentary film Paris is Burning and worked as a choreographer, modeling coach, model, and musician for many years. He died from AIDS-related complications at the young age of 45, but his legacy in the ballroom scene, as well as LGBTQ+ spaces, continues on.
There was a period of controversy in May 2021, when famed street artist fnnch received backlash for his honey bear mural on the SF LGBT Center. Many locals felt that he took the opportunity from local queer artists, given that he’s not part of the queer community nor a San Francisco native. This, along with some other complaints, motivated the Center to turn over the mural to Malvaez and Carmona.
Nevertheless, the SF LGBT Center plans to continue the tradition of creating a new mural or installation on this part of their building, with a spotlight on “LGBTQ+ and BIPOC perspectives, art and artists representing our diverse communities.” The next mural is due to take over this year, so check out Queeroes while you can and stay tuned as we hear more about its replacement.
Featured image: @7by7sf via Instagram