San Francisco's LGBTQ scene was reeling Monday after Bubbles, a local DJ, artist and queer activist was shot to death over the weekend near a Tenderloin strip club. The incident has led one San Francisco Supervisor to call for the club, the New Century theater, to be investigated.
San Francisco Police say an unknown assailant shot Bubbles near the New Century theater around 2:50am Saturday morning. Doctors pronounced Bubbles dead at the hospital.
Police said on Monday that they believe -- so far -- that the shooting was not a hate crime.
On Sunday, social media lit up with remembrances of the beloved character, known for being a ubiquitous presence in San Francisco's nightlife with dreadlock wigs, outrageously tight shirts, oversized sunglasses and a handlebar mustache.
"My heart is breaking for Bubbles," wrote LGBT activist Tom Temprano on Facebook. "They brought so much energy and light to our nightlife community and are truly irreplaceable."
Bubbles, 44, was born Anthony Torres but 20 years ago took on the non-gender-conforming alter ego, often going by the pronoun "they." Bubbles said in an interview that the persona was a product of San Francisco because in the city "you can get away with doing this."
"It’s an escape from every mundane day, and San Francisco allows me to do that,” Bubbles told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2012.
48 Hills editor and Bubbles' former roommate Marke Bieschke says that before the alter ego, Bubbles dressed up only a few nights a week, "satisfied with it as an occasion for dress-up." But after Bubbles moved out, he resurfaced as the Bubbles the full-time performer.
"The defining characteristic of Bubbles was freedom. Everything that you might question yourself doing, Bubbles would immediately go for it," Bieschke said. "It was exhilarating and shocking and sometimes scary to watch."
But even before he moved to the city, Bubbles was out and fearless. Marcus Wilson, also known as the Seattle-based drag performer Ursula Android, said he grew up with Bubbles in Phoenix, Arizona. The two attended junior high school together, and Wilson says that Bubbles dressed outrageously and never let the predictable bullying bring him down.
"Anthony was who I desperately wanted to be, but couldn’t even imagine having the courage to be. Anthony got taunted, chased, beaten up, threatened, and suspended on an almost daily basis, and somehow he really couldn’t care less, even then," Wilson wrote on Facebook. "Anthony’s self-confidence and innate belief in theirself was truly awe-inspiring."
In San Francisco, Bubbles became a fixture in the city's nightlife. They could be seen DJing at a club, selling "tranny snow cones" on the street, or just being a character in the middle of the night.
"Someone recently shared a video of Bubbles pretending to vacuum a piece of the Tenderloin at 3am, re-enacting Queen's 'I Want to Break Free' video," Bieschke said.
Bubbles once considered leaving San Francisco after being gay-bashed in 2008, but stayed anyway. Yet at the end of September, Bubbles expected to move to Berlin -- which captured the longtime San Franciscan's imagination as a place where "people still partied like we did in the '90s."
Instead of a going-away party, Bubbles' friends will hold a moment of silence at this Wednesday's Housepitality, the weekly dance party Bubbles was most associated with.
"We will never forget the amazing art show he produced for us and all the wonderful moments of fun crazyness and weird that he provided us on our dancefloor, outside of our door and in the scene in general," the promoters of Housepitality wrote.
New Century Investigation
San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim says she's investigating the New Century Theater, near where Bubbles' body was found. Kim believes the strip club may be connected to a fatal shooting this weekend, and she says that residents have told her that the New Century Theater contributes to crime on the block.
"They believe that you know they either don't act as a steward of the block and allow the drug dealing to go on," Kim said.
Kim also said her investigation could lead to the removal of one of New Century's business permits.
Additional reporting provided by Sonja Huston.