'SoMA Nights' Offers a Glimpse into SF's Queer Club Scene of the '80s and '90s

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Melissa Hawkins, 'Duo With Cigar, The Eagle (undated).' (Courtesy of the artist)

For many LGBTQ+ people, nightlife is where we build community, express ourselves and experience healing through dancing and having fun. It's never just about the party.

This is as much the case now as it was 30 years ago when photographer Melissa Hawkins hit the San Francisco streets to document the vibrant queer club scene for The Sentinel, a now-defunct gay newspaper. Some of the SoMA venues she photographed still host wild parties, such as The Stud and The End Up, while others have since closed their doors amid the city's shifting socioeconomic landscape.

Hawkins' new show at the GLBT Historical Society, SoMa Nights: The Queer Club Photography of Melissa Hawkins 1986-1994, opens up a time capsule into a crucial historical moment, when the LGBTQ+ community sought refuge in nightlife as the AIDS epidemic was at its peak. Co-curated by Hawkins and journalist/historian Marke Bieschke, the show features stunning shots of drag queens, leather ladies and other beautiful, diverse queer and trans people, plus posters, buttons, videos and other artifacts from the time.

SoMA Nights opens on Feb. 15 with music from DJ Junkyard and remarks from the curators, and remains on view through May 27. Details here.