When Lisa Kerner came out back in the nineties, there was no rich and varied LGBTQI+ cultural scene waiting to greet her. Every gay and lesbian club featured the same scene with the same music. For starters, places for men and women were very clearly divided, and the trans community had no safe space to meet up. The idea of what gays and lesbians looked like was also quite homogeneous, not to mention stereotypical.
“Jorgelina de Simone – my partner at the time – and I felt that we couldn’t relate to that scene,” Lisa Kerner told The Bubble. “So we started thinking that if we felt a need for a more diverse place, then many others probably felt that way, too.” Lisa and Jorgenlina took matters into their own hands, and thus the first seed of what would one day become Casa Brandon was born: the Brandon Parties, named after trans man Brandon Teena, whose tragic real life story was featured in the movie “Boys Don’t Cry” and which had moved Lisa and Jorgelina deeply.
The Brandon Parties started out small and were held every Wednesday. “We called it Brandon Gay Day because we wanted to word ‘gay’ to be featured in the flyers: we wanted to work on visibility from that very early stage.” You, esteemed reader, might be too young to remember this, but there was a dark time in the pages of history when the Internet was not a thing. With computers just starting to take over every household at the turn of the millennium, the first year of Brandon found Lisa and her colleagues handing out flyers – by hand, mind you! – at art galleries and restaurants.
The parties, which featured a dance floor and a “talking room,” where people could get to know each other and do some much-needed networking among the LGBTQI+ community, started growing not only in size but also in content. Brandon started holding poetry readings and plays, and even organized a film and a book club.
When every venue in the city seemed too small for the diverse creature Brandon had evolved to become, Lisa Kerner signed a lease on a former party hall located at Luis María Drago 236, at the heart of Villa Crespo, and thus Casa Brandon was born in 2005. “It was hard work, and it took a lot of effort to make it what it is today,” Kerner said. “Not many people came at first, and soon we learned that we had to put together interesting programming so that people would come to hang out, regardless of the events held on a particular night.”
Today, Casa Brandon is home to all sorts of events, which range from music and poetry with Paula Maffia and Mana Bugallo in Boca de Buzón, to Ciclo Positivo, a series of talks which aim to address HIV and AIDS from an irreverent point of view, and provide a safe space to ask all the questions people might be to afraid to verbalize anywhere else.
“Our slogan is “love, visibility, and respect,” and our goal is to bring people in who might not have experience in activism or who might not know much about the different issues in the LGBTQI+ community,” said Kerner. “People who come to Casa Brandon are open to new experiences, to learning and sharing, to rethinking and questioning, to becoming empowered and creating networks. In short, to really live as a community rather than just talk about it.” Brandon managed to create a space for this that surpassed all hopes and expectations; it was even recognized by the Buenos Aires Legislature in 2011 for its role as a venue that promoted human rights.
When Jorgelina died in 2017, the hashtag #JorEver was used to publish content which paid homage to her on social media. Virtual world aside, Casa Brandon lived up to its title, and served as a real home to Lisa and the rest of the crew. “We didn’t even close our doors for a second,” she told The Bubble. “We needed to be here. It was the place where we felt most protected and loved.” As a way to heal, Kerner did what she knows best: organize an event called “When it Hurts,” where people got together to talk about the different stages of grief, how to go through it and, most importantly, why nobody talked about it.
In many ways, that sums up what Casa Brandon has been doing since it started in 2005: it has been making things visible. It provided a home for members of the LGBTQI+ community that didn’t fall into the standards some people thought were necessary to be gay or lesbian. It talked about disease and grief. It provided a stage for trans artists such as Susy Shock. It has become a place of activism, so much so that the group that went on to demand and write a new legislation for HIV and AIDS treatment was created thanks to a Ciclo Positivo.
“This is the form of activism I exercise the most,” Kerner said. “I believe art has the power to carry messages with a different impact that plain discourse. It reaches people in a much more sensitive way, and I find it to be a wonderful tool to communicate and propose changes both culturally and socially.” Casa Brandon is also Brandon Records, a publishing house and a gallery, and thus offers palpable means for the LGBTQI+ community to broadcast their work.
There’s a saying in Casa Brandon that is very often repeated when promoting events: “The capacity is limited, but the heart is huge.” As much as that might be a cutesy way to let people know they have to be there on time if they want to get in at all, it also speaks volumes to what happens inside those rainbow-colored walls. What was born to serve as a home for a community became a refuge for many who were looking for a place to tear themselves apart just to put themselves back together, this time with greater tools of what it meant to be diverse and accepting.
“With Jor, we defined Brandon with the cartoon the Wonder Twins, who used to put their rings together and say “Wonder Twin Power: Activate!” and took on different forms.” Thirteen years on, Casa Brandon has brought thousands of people together, and has certainly helped them activate into any shape and form they desire.