Soirée, the annual dinner gala held by the SF LGBT Center, is a fixture in San Francisco.
San Francisco is largely considered the queer mecca of the world. This is no surprise to any of us lucky to call this 49-square-mile, rather hilly part of Northern California home.
SF is a cornucopia of idiosyncrasies; a kaleidoscope of iridescence that’s refracted in the city’s residents. It’s why members of the LGBTQIA+ community continue flocking to San Francisco, even amid the city going through a coming out of its own: finding its place in a world recovering from a global pandemic.
One such place helping San Francisco’s queer community, including its newest members, navigate the city is the SF LGBT Center. Established in 2002, the community center has evolved into a multi-faceted touchstone serving San Francisco’s queer residents.
The deep-purple building — the same structure that boasts the “Queeroes” mural painted by local artists, Juan Manuel Carmona and Simón Malvaez, features prominent queer icons like Juanita MORE! And Harvey Milk — was built in 2017; the state-of-the-art facility, to this day, remains the only nonprofit in San Francisco serving all members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities.
The Center’s foremost party and community fundraising event, Soirée, has evolved into a calendar staple event in San Francisco — a night oscillated around its hours-long dinner party featuring Center updates, fundraising, entertainment, and sublime food and drink, all of which is punctuated by a lively afterparty event.
Soirée, itself, didn’t begin as the grand and glamorous event we know it as today. It actually started as a celebration of the opening of the Center.
“The idea of [Soirée] began as a big party celebration in 2002 to honor the opening of the Center,” says Director of Development and Communications, Dani Siragusa, to Underscore_SF, before mentioning that there was a bit of a lull after the initial opening ceremony: “There was kind of a break after that first party. Then there was an idea to have an idea of the annual celebration that would celebrate the Center and highlight San Francisco’s queer culture.”
It was about ten years ago that Soirée saw its biggest concrete change: The event transformed from a party to expanding into an hours-long dinner gala program. Soirée, as we know it today, is the product of that upswing.
Faster forward now twenty-one years later, and the celebration has remained a constant touch point in San Francisco. Even during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Soirée adopted a virtual program — a move akin to what other popular cultural events conducted. The webcam-facilitated event highlighted one evergreen aspect of Soirée: putting the focus on the community members the Center serves.
“One of the things Soirée does is concentrate on all the people the Center works with,” Siragusa notes. “It helps people understand what the impact of the Center has on our local community.”
Soirée also serves as one of the largest funnels for the Center to raise unrestricted funding — resources that can be used to physically support programs and services that otherwise wouldn’t garner support from City, State, or Federal grants.
“The party raises vital funds that might not otherwise be able to come from more state and government,” Siragusa continues, raising awareness on the difference between restricted and non-restricted funding.
(For example: Government-given funds granted to nonprofits, like the SF LGBT Center, are provided under certain requirements, i.e. their allocations have been pre-determined and can’t disregard those conditions. But unrestricted funds, like donations given by individuals and other organizations, can be used to facilitate programs that are at risk of sunsetting due to a lack of budget.)
“It allows us to give to programs that might otherwise be overlooked and underfunded,” Siragusa continues. “It’s an annual vital fundraising opportunity that allows the Center to present so many important programs, events, and opportunities to the community that might not exist if it weren’t for those funds.”
Soirée symbolizes the Center’s largest fundraising event of the year and hopes to raise $300,000 for 2023 in support of their programs; these services span the gamut from supporting queer youth experiencing homelessness to helping HIV-positive individuals navigate healthcare systems.
This year’s dinner program sold out quite quickly (though tickets to the event’s official after-party [that has an open bar, no less] remain on sale).
Sister Roma, the self-described “most photographed nun in the world,” and trailblazer Honey Mahogany will serve as the hosts for 2023. Serial philanthropist and drag extraordinaire Juanita MORE! has worked with the Center to put together a fanatics list of performers for the gala.
Soirée’s trans and drag representation for 2023 falls in a particularly important canon of advocacy amid the growing wave of anti-trans, anti-drag legislation sweeping the country. As San Franciscans, we know this is a farce — a dangerous ideology that goes against the very notions of our collective humanity.
The Center’s dedication to acting as a megaphone for San Francisco’s queer community doesn’t go unappreciated. And as Soirée continues on in the years — decades — to come, it’s that community mirroring that exists as the organizing principle around the annual gala.
“We will always take our leads from the communities we serve,” says Siragusa. “Soirée will always be a celebration of community and the members we serve, advocate, and fight for. We’ll continue adapting as an inclusive element of this dynamic city.”
For more information on Soirée 2023, click here — and you can purchase your after-party tickets at this link before they run out; the Center’s major program areas are Financial Services, Employment Services, Youth Services, Community Programs, Cultural Programs, and Room Rentals; more information on the initiatives and philanthropic agendas can be seen at sfcenter.org/resources.
Feature image: Courtesy of SF LGBT Center