Walking around Oakland, affectionately called "the Town" by locals, is like using the most warm and friendly search engine you can imagine. Lead with a smile and you are guaranteed to get your questions answered, find out about 10 innovative happenings and, as a result, have a great time. Oakland is a place where people make the effort to get to know their neighbors, attend community events and support the arts in so many ways.
Because Oakland is inclusive and supportive of creativity, the city has become a natural hub for LGBT artists. The love here is for the community, and all of the neighbors, business owners and artists who call it home. See for yourself—here are a few of the city’s most creative corners, the LGBT artists and attractions and activities to be found there, and some great things happening in other places, too.
Artists have long flocked to West Oakland for studios—this area's large warehouses and former industrial buildings make for great DIY spaces. A relative newcomer on the scene, CTRL+SHIFT Collective is an all-woman-run studio collective dedicated to empowering underrepresented creative voices including queers, women and experimental artists. After building out the studio themselves (you go girls!), these creative ladies have produced six shows in their first seven months (I stopped in to tour the artists’ studios and galleries when founding members Andrea Fritsch [print making and fabric construction] and Jessica Hubbard [sculpting] were still in recovery mode from a pop-up art party).
This past summer, CTRL+SHIFT Collective was transformed into a shared workspace for Alessandra Belltrame, queer visual artist Kico le Strange (Marco Garcia) and Grace Chen, who were free to mingle, create and collaborate to their hearts’ content. Stay tuned as the CRTL+SHIFTERers are always planning more events, such as a multimedia exploration of the relationship between architecture, sound and installation art (!!!).
If you want to collaborate on some body art of your own, stop by the nearby Diving Swallow Tattoo and General Store. Staffed entirely by women and gender queer artists, they are skilled at working on all shades of skin—and they sell fine art prints, too.
Downtown Oakland is chock full of galleries and boutiques that often have queer and queer-friendly content. For example: Betti Ono Gallery is a progressive gallery focused on uplifting marginalized populations through thought-provoking experimental art. The gallery is proudly owned by black women and seriously invested in amplifying the voices of underrepresented artists, as well as community involvement. When I visited they were featuring the multi-artist narrative Viral: 25 years from Rodney King and had just closed Femme as In, a photography show highlighting femme-identified queer women.
If you flip "don't ask don't tell," you get Show & Tell, the adjoining shop dedicated to building community, being your awesome queer self and embodying your truth. Owner Alayah Baker, who identifies as a queer woman of color, and her shop are all about supporting Oakland artists and showcasing unique merchandise you won't find anywhere else, such as “so black so beautiful” prints and shibori-dyed sarongs. Take a moment to leave your mark on the Show & Tell chalk self-affirmation wall, which is always covered in joyful self-expression.
If you fancy yourself a writer, Laurel Book Store will gladly be your literary muse. Located just a few doors down, this neighborhood institution has lesbian and LGBTQ fiction sections, and loads of events catering to the queer community. The friendly staff will be happy to recommend something that will tickle your fancy, and don’t miss all the postings of local events in the back of the store.
Not far down 15th Street, you’ll find Town Biz. Stocked full of merchandise made by Oakland artisans, artists and makers, Town Biz wants you to come hang out and have a good time whether you need new socks or not. The motto of this cozy QWOC-owned biz is "Oakland doing business with Oakland," and this is the place to score hella cool locally themed t-shirts and other merchandise. Town Biz also opens its doors on Friday for a community happy hour with free drinks and snacks.
Check out Liberating Ourselves Locally (LOL). Led by people of color, it’s a social justice space for makers in East Oakland. LOL's dedicated leaders provide the space for the community to "come learn, play, experiment and build skills while working on projects they love, for self-determination and community power.” Check out their locally famous Monday night hackathons, where queers come together to make, learn and share with each other.
If you're lucky enough to be in town on the first Friday of the month, don't miss Shameless, a backyard house party for creative queers of color, dedicated to their nonstop hustle to survive and thrive in a creative community. Before or after, check out The New Parkway Theater, a movie theatre, performance space and community venue that’s as multidimensional as any Oaklander. The New Parkway Theater shows LGBTQ films that you definitely would not see at your local mega-plex, and you’ll often find the filmmakers themselves in house for a post-showing Q&A. Bonus: New Parkway also serves pizza and beer and hosts bingo on Tuesday nights!
There's a lot going on in Oakland, but locals still make time to stop and chat about new projects, established fun and how do you dos. In simplest terms, people here are multidimensional and trying to make stuff happen. Open yourself up to the magic of this city, and you just might get inspired too. There's always room for one more story in Oakland.
The first Friday evening of every month, rain or shine, walk along Telegraph Avenue (from West Grand to 27th Street) to see art, hear music, have fun and enjoy the community. Stop in to galleries, listen to free poetry, watch twirling dancers and munch on street food—it’s truly electric.
The girls will be boys every first and third Wednesday of each month at the The Rebel Kings drag show going down at the White Horse Bar. If you need a laugh, don't miss their comedy night (Man Haters) or weekly karaoke (ear haters?).
If you’re in town from late-May through early July, check out the National Queer Arts Festival, a multi-venue celebration of LGBTQ art, exhibits and performances. Plus, it’s a great place to meet friendly locals. During my 2016 meanderings, I met a bartender/DJ who also paints, and a woman who works at a non-profit, does circus performance and drums in a band.
In only its second year, this groundbreaking event brings together designers, models, community leaders and queers who like to look good for a week of events and celebration of queer couture.
The Qulture Collective knows that when queers support each other they are even more collectively awesome. To promote this togetherness, the Qulture Collective offers a multi-use space that is here to support all of your creative needs: stay perky with a dose of queer coffee from their cafe, enjoy locally produced art at their gallery and shop or get busy in their maker and co-working spaces.
Since you can't live on creativity alone, when your stomach starts to rumble check out QWOC-owned Juhu Beach Club, located in the Temescal district. This is a super creative take on Indian Street food that includes slider sized sandwiches called Pavs, sticky wings and masala fries. Wash it all down with a "Sassy Lassi" and get back out there!