Recent Comments

    Remembering Dixieland Dykes +3 Founder Lisa Canjura-Clayton (1962–2020)

    Photos and Story by Heidi Beeler–

    One of the best people I know left the planet a couple hours before June, the universe blowing one more raspberry at 2020 Pride. Lisa Canjura-Clayton went to what she called “that big band in the sky” late Sunday, May 31, passing from liver cancer at home. None of us—least of all Sally, her life partner of nearly 28 years, or herself—were ready for her to go.

    Lisa was a true Renaissance person, a musician, and a scholar. A former drum major and president of the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band, she was the founder of the Dixieland Dykes +3, Queen and co-captain of the Cosmique Krewe of Colour, and a saxophonist in Lucifer’s Strip Club Band. She was the philosophical core of the 2001 documentary American Mullet and a recipient of the lifetime achievement Jon Sims Award. She was a graduate of San Francisco State University, majoring in mathematics, and won a full scholarship to UC Davis to pursue a master’s degree. She was a proud member of the leather community and of the Unitarian Church of San Mateo.

    From 2000 to 2004, Lisa led the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band as drum major, up Market Street and around the state, swinging a mace about as tall as herself.

    “Lisa is very proud of being able to twirl that big-ass mace,” Sally commented on a photo of Lisa standing beside José Sarria at the 2000 Emperor Norton Ceremony. “We needed to get it on a plane for an out-of-town parade, so Lisa put it in a rifle case. We were watched very carefully at the airport.”

    Lisa was a leader in the Band before she joined, volunteering in 1992 for a Band-hosted national LGBTQ concert at Bill Graham Auditorium to impress her new flame, Sally. Soon Lisa was roped into the bass clarinet section and the Band leadership, and became its first webmaster in the days when you had to know HTML code. She was president from 1994–1995, and produced the Band’s first Dance-Along Nutcracker at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in 1994. That spring, she was honored with the Jon Sims Award. She and Sally, then president of the Jon Sims Center for the Performing Arts (the Band’s nonprofit), tied for the award, the only time the board honored two recipients in one year.

    Lisa and Sally weren’t just a power couple; they were always getting married. Every time an obstacle to gay marriage was lifted, they rushed to line up. They registered as domestic partners at San Francisco City Hall in 1995. On March 26, 1996, when the Band played processional music for the first San Francisco Domestic Partner’s Ceremony at Herbst Auditorium, Sally and Lisa ran up the aisle in marching uniforms to take vows with nearly 200 couples. When California registered domestic partnerships that summer, they signed up under a wedding arch at Santa Cruz Pride.

    In 2004, Gavin Newsom announced same-sex couples could full-on marry in San Francisco, and they joined the crowds at City Hall. Sally and Lisa became the face of same-sex marriage in the San Francisco Chronicle when a front-page photo captured them receiving a wedding bouquet from supporters in Minneapolis. They waited in line 6 am to 4 pm that Friday, and brought the bouquet back the following Monday, February 24, to finally marry under the rotunda. After Proposition 8 was repealed in 2008, their formal church wedding at the UU Church of San Mateo on October 4 was festooned with banners proclaiming “Legal at Last!”

    Dixieland Dykes was Lisa’s brainchild. After watching the Krewe King parade to recorded music at a gay Mardi Gras party, Lisa cornered a few Band mates to play music live. In 1995, the Dixieland Dykes +3 performed at their first Cosmique Krewe of Colour party, and within weeks began playing gigs in support of nonprofits, eventually becoming the longtime house band for the Positive Resource Center’s Pride Brunch.

    You can’t talk about Lisa without mentioning her big brains. She dropped out of UCLA, but was a voracious reader and never waited for a curriculum to tell her what to study. Her first job in San Francisco was data manager for a UCSF lab researching cervical cancer. Although Lisa had no degree, she was listed as a contributing author on 10 or so papers published from this lab. Working nights, she completed her undergraduate degree in mathematics at SFSU in 2006 and was granted a full scholarship to UC Davis to pursue a master’s degree.

    Lisa’s brains were showcased in her thoughtful observations in the 2001 documentary American Mullet, featured at the 2002 Frameline Film Festival.

    “I think my haircut really is an expression not just of my sexuality, but also is an expression of my transgenderism, meaning transcending gender as a category, period,” Lisa said intercut with segments of her twirling the mace in leather chaps and wrist bands at the Dyke March. “I love the mullet because … it’s kind of a genderless haircut.”

    “If I want to influence other people, I want to shock them, or I want to make them think,” she continued. “I want them to watch a very kind of clean-cut, American-looking marching band walk down the street and then realize they’re all homosexuals, just queer as all hell. And that makes them think, because there’s this conflict going on in their mind. That’s one of the reasons I wear my hair this way, because it’s not fashionable, and it screws with people’s ideas.”

    Lisa’s birthday was June 19, and it was a running joke that the Pride Parade was her birthday party. “We threw a parade for you! Aren’t you happy?” was Sally’s running tease.

    This year, with Lisa gone, it feels like it makes special sense to pause the Pride Parade. Lisa, we’re listening for you in that big band in the sky!

    Former “San Francisco Bay Times” columnist Heidi Beeler has been a member of the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band since 1991. 

    Published on June 25, 2020