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In Between: Stories of Queer and Trans People of Color in SLO County is an eight-part series from KCBX Public Radio. Through in-depth feature reporting reporter Erick Gabriel shares stories and experiences from queer and trans people of color in San Luis Obispo County. The series explores the systemic barriers they face in education, healthcare, the workplace and more — and also how they’re making change and building community.

In Between: Let There Be Lesbians creates a sapphic space in SLO County

 Let There Be Lesbians is a dance party in San Luis Obispo put on by queer women, for queer women.
Reese Galido
Let There Be Lesbians is a dance party in San Luis Obispo put on by queer women, for queer women.

A queer party takes over Bang the Drum Brewery in San Luis Obispo for a late-night soiree. The space is filled with dancing women from all walks of life: cisgender women, trans women and gender non-confirming individuals. All are welcome, but it’s an intentionally sapphic space — one meant for queer, feminine energy.

Bang the Drum’s dance floor is packed as the festivities begin. Drag kings, burlesque shows and go-go dancers send the crowd into a celebratory frenzy under twinkling neon lights. Women DJ’s have the place bumping as a cascade of rainbow balloons falls from the ceiling. This is Let There Be Lesbians, a brave space for queer women on the Central Coast.

Reese Galido is one of the event’s co-founders. She arrived in San Luis Obispo in 1999 as a Cal Poly student. She was a good student, loved sports and had a bustling social life. But Galido had a question that was stirring inside of her. She grew up in a conservative, Filipino household in the San Fernando Valley, and when she arrived in SLO she began questioning if she really agreed with the values she learned from her parents. After graduating from Cal Poly, she began her queer awakening journey.

"When I was done with school, I was like, ‘I can do and be whatever I want,'" Galido said. "So I started a band, and I started dating a woman for the first time."

She came out at 25 years old, and immersed herself in the local queer community. She found solace in a close-knit group of friends.

"When I came out, there was pretty great blanket acceptance," Galido said. “I didn't have to change my band or my friends or anything like that. [Now] I serve on the board for Planned Parenthood, bringing queer people of color voices to that.”

Galido and her friend Renée Periat started heading down to Palm Springs every year to attend the Dinah Shore Weekend, which calls itself the “world's largest lesbian weekend pool party.” That experience gave them an idea.

"We just looked around and we said, oh my gosh, there's like 6,000 lesbians in a pool," Galido said. "How can we have this in San Luis Obispo? This is not something I've ever experienced."

A year later, they started their own event in SLO. The name was inspired by a T-shirt design from Periat's clothing line Androgynous Fox.

"One of my T-shirt designs says, ‘Let there be lesbians.’ And we're like, what if we hired those go-gos we met at Dinah Shore to come up here?" Periat said. "And it'll be like a promotional event for Androgynous Fox. So that was how it started."

Galido, Periat and their friends held the first Let There Be Lesbians event at the San Luis Obispo Library in 2019. Galido said she was shocked at the turnout. It showed her and Periat there was a big enough audience to keep the event going.

"The need is there, the market is there, and we're getting momentum," Periat said. "[That] has shown us that people want it. Just because there's not a lot of lesbian bars doesn't mean that people just don't want to go out and meet people and have that gathering — have that community. That need and want is there."

 Reese Galido (left) and friends at Let There Be Lesbians.
Reese Galido
Reese Galido (left) and friends at Let There Be Lesbians.

But then, the COVID-19 pandemic began. Stores closed, usual hangouts paused and communal nightlife stopped. Let There Be Lesbians came to a sudden halt. Galido said that time of isolation showed her how important it was to have a place for her and the rest of the local LGBTQ+ community to come together and just hang out.

As the world slowly began to open up post-pandemic, more and more people began to ask when Let There Be Lesbians would return.

Galido said that enthusiasm inspired her to keep going. One of her good friends offered her business as a place to host the events. Galido said that business, Bang the Drum Brewery, has now become San Luis Obispo’s “unofficial queer space.”

"We have hosted the last three Let There Be Lesbians there, and the one coming up in May as well," Galido said. "And then I think after this one, we might have to find a bigger venue."

That’s something Galido said is a fun problem to have. She and her friends hope to continue the momentum of these sapphic spaces, especially as the number of lesbian bars nationwide has dwindled since the late 80’s. In the United States, there are currently only 27 Lesbian bars, according to the Lesbian Bar Project.

Creating a space that not only honors women but also creates a brave space for queer and trans people of color is something both Galido and Periat have always kept in mind when organizing Let There Be Lesbians events.

"It's a welcoming space for queer people of color, especially queer trans people of color," Galido said. "Then it's like, ‘We’ll make it if they will come.’ And they do. And it's because, not only do we make it a safe space, but they're on stage and they're shining, and people see you. You need this representation."

One of the event’s DJs, Suzette Lopez, said she feels at home when she's performing onstage.

"Let There Be Lesbians is giving people of color a platform and I think that's amazing," Lopez said. "And I think what people are trying to do is just be at events where they feel seen, and Let There Be Lesbians creates that."

Lopez grew up in a very strict Catholic and Mexican household in Santa Maria. As an openly queer person, she said living authentically is a daily challenge, but playing bumping tracks at Let There Be Lesbians allows her to be her true self. She said it’s little moments while looking out into the crowd at the diverse sea of people grooving and dancing that makes her excited to be a part of these parties.

"Another thing that I really enjoyed as Mexicana is that I played some Cumbias in the mix, and people were dancing," Lopez said. "They didn't know the words, but it really brought a little bit of like, cultura into the evening. So I think that's always fun to throw in there, too."

For a small town like San Luis Obispo, an event like this is no small feat. With the help of other queer and trans women, and women of color, Reese Galido has been able to bring her version of Palm Springs’ Dinah Shore Weekend to the Central Coast. And she’s not stopping there, with plans for expanding Let There Be Lesbians in the works.

Next week we’ll wrap up In Between exploring another brave space for queer people of color: the thriving drag scene in San Luis Obispo.

In Between is made possible by a grant from the Community Foundation San Luis Obispo County.

Erick Gabriel is a Los Angeles-based multimedia journalist with an interest in current events, breaking news and popular culture.
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