San Francisco’s own Queer Open Mic will close the year Friday with Sonya Renee Taylor, an Oakland-based queer performance artist and the second woman ever to be declared the Individual World Poetry Slam champion.
“She’s inspirational and empowering without being preachy,” said Baruch Porras-Hernandez, curator and co-host of the Queer Open Mic. “She makes loving yourself sexy.”
Queer Open Mic is one of few events in the Bay Area devoted entirely to shining the spotlight on diverse LGBT talent. The acts include spoken word performances, book readings and musical acts. Pushcart Prize nominee Franny Choi has taken the stage, as well as a female Ugandan refugee and a closeted Catholic family man who lives three hours away.
The monthly series was started in 2004, originally taking place at the now-defunct Three Dollar Bill Cafe inside the LGBT Center on Market Street. Porras-Hernandez, who has served as head curator of the event since January 2009, said he initially didn’t expect to take on the role when the event creators decided to step down.
“I had been working as an actor up until then,” he said. “But it’s different performing your own words. It was life-changing.”
The vibe of the event can range widely, depending on the performances. Porras-Hernandez described some nights as similar to going to church or as emotionally charged as riding a roller coaster.
“We want this to be a safe, inclusive space where artists can take risks,” he said. “That’s why we don’t believe in censoring anyone.”
The open-mindedness has not gone on without a certain amount of audience tension, he noted.
“It can get rather intense, but if people want to just be purely entertained, they can go to a drag show,” he continued.
Queer Open Mic welcomes anywhere between 30 to 80 audience members each month, depending on the featured talent. Porras-Hernandez has witnessed that a significant percentage of the attendees are queer youth. “If they can’t get into a bar, they have nowhere else to be on a Friday night,” he said.
However, the show is unapologetically sex-positive, he says, and some performances inspired by bathhouse experiences may be inappropriate for anyone under 18.
As for funding, Queer Open Mic is supported by the local LGBT community and a one-time grant from San Francisco’s Queer Cultural Center. The entry price is a suggested donation of $3. Proceeds go towards the featured talent and to the venue.
Queer Open Mic’s performance by Taylor is scheduled Friday at Modern Times Bookstore Collective at 2919 24th St.