Frequent visitors and locals of the Bay Area have long been familiar with Juanita More, a mother of the city’s queer scene who has played the roles of local drag icon, fabulous party promoter and relentless activist for causes that affect our community. This year marks his 26th year as one of the area’s leading drag personalities — a “soldier in stilettos” — and in the days leading up to yet another eventful San Francisco Pride, we caught up with Juanita More to discuss all that lay in store for the city.
“I mean, after all these years of me being a part of this community and participating in it, it’s special,” More says of his feelings leading up to Pride weekend. “It feels like this is our holiday, this is our day. I mean, I definitely connect with the community, and so this weekend for me isn’t just about partying. It’s about giving back to our community and recognizing those who aren’t fortunate within our community, those we’ve lost and those who have come before us who really let us be where we are today.”
Juanita More’s Sunday Pride party is a famed event each year, and it will take place as always. “It’s magical that I can have a thousand people in a space and that it still feels intimate and familiar and you know everyone,” he says. But in addition, More also has a second event in store for 2018, this one taking place Saturday night at a venue that holds an iconic place in the city’s musical history.
Last November, when More initially walked into the space — which he says a friend acquired for events back in January — it was a car dealership. While he got a good feeling about the space instantaneously, More says, “As we’re leaving he says, ‘Oh, you know this used to be the Fillmore West.'”
Yes, that’s right. San Francisco Pride weekend’s Saturday Juanita More event is in the former Fillmore West space, one of history’s great rock music venues.
“When I came home, I was like, oh, I want to do a little research on that space,” More tells Hornet. “So it was always a ballroom. It was a ballroom in the ’30s called the Carousel Ballroom. Big bands were there in the ’30s and ’40s, and concerts started happening in the ’50s, which was B.B. King, Chuck Berry, Tina Turner, and then when Bill Graham took it over in ’68, it became Fillmore West, which went until ’71. So there was just music and dancing and partying for so many years in there, and I think that’s what I felt when I walked in. I really felt that, and I called my friend back and said, ‘I think I want that for Pride.’ He was like, ‘It’s yours, let’s do it.'”
2018 marks the 15th nonprofit Pride party thrown by Juanita More. The beneficiaries of Juanita More Pride parties vary, but this year’s is TRUTH (TRans yoUTH), a joint program between the Transgender Law Center and GSA Network, an organization More has worked with before. TRUTH is focused on sharing the stories of trans youth in their own words, utilizing video to change people’s hearts and minds.
“The minute I started watching them,” More says, “it made me think back to being their age. Yeah, I was out, I was queer, but I did not have the confidence these kids have in really knowing who they are and being so articulate and able to express it. That really sort of captured my heart and made me want to support this.”
For many people, the world of activism and the world of nightlife (and drag, for that matter) are fully separate spheres of the queer experience, but Juanita More has long seamlessly combined the two.
“For me, they’re not separate,” he says. “I remember when I first started doing drag, and the first two years were about me just trying to figure out who in the hell I was in drag. It was just a lot of going out, a lot of performing, a lot of partying. I was already involved in some nonprofit events and realized that people were listening to my voice and trusting my position. So that’s when I started to switch the use of my personality into something better for the community.”
To date, Juanita More has raised more than $400,000 for various LGBTQ organizations, a truly commendable accomplishment. And more often than not, he does it in heels.
“I think anyone who steps out of the house in drag — it’s political,” says Juanita More. “Anyone who has the balls to do that.”