Heavily bearded and dressed in tight spandex shorts, a seersucker blazer and a rhinestone-encrusted shirt, Tom Temprano, who spins as DJ Carnita, calmly stood behind the turntables at El Rio on Sept. 1. Playing classics like “Get Ready” by Little Eva Harris and “Do Wah Diddy” by The Exciters, Temprano had the crowd captivated. Over the course of the day, more than 600 people patiently waited to get into Hard French, his jam-packed soul dance party.
The diverse crowd danced and drank for hours, many not knowing that their DJ was moonlighting. During the week, Temprano can be found in a more conservative button-down, sitting behind a desk at District 9 Supervisor David Campos’ headquarters on 22nd Street. As communications director for Campos’ campaign, Temprano acts as a liaison to the Mission community.
Temprano, 26, credits his hippie parents with sparking his interest in politics at an early age. At age 18 he moved from Southern California to attend San Francisco State University, where he majored in political science and interned for then-Supervisor Chris Daly.
“The more I got a broad appreciation of what sort of an impact you can have on your community by being politically active and engaged, the more I realized that it’s what I wanted to dedicate my life to,” Temprano said.
In Daly’s office he met John Avalos, who was Daly’s aide. Temprano would stay with Avalos, working on his campaigns for supervisor and mayor, and later become vice president of external affairs for the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, a position he currently holds.
In 2007 Temprano moved to Portland, where he says he found himself bored and often stuck in rainy weather. For comfort he turned to the soul music he listened to with his parents while growing up. Eventually he moved back to San Francisco with a newfound determination to become a soul DJ. An ex-boyfriend gave him his moniker, inspired by their second-date meal of carnitas tacos at Taqueria San Jose.
After DJing by himself for a while, Temprano met DJ Brown Amy, who shared his love of soul. In 2010 they got word of an open afternoon spot at El Rio and jumped on it, and Hard French was born. At the time there were many straight soul music DJs and parties, but Hard French was to be for the queer community.
At first people “didn’t get it,” Temprano said, but three years later Hard French’s popularity cuts across demographics. It has won the Best of the Bay award from the San Francisco Bay Guardian, Best of SF Weekly honors and “San Francisco’s favorite event” from Asterisk San Francisco Magazine.
While Hard French has been crucial to Temprano’s success as a DJ, it’s also where he first met David Campos. When some friends of Temprano who lived in the Mission were displaced by a fire, he threw a benefit for them at El Rio. Campos, who wasn’t personally invited, came just to show his support.
“That had a huge impact on my view of [Campos] going forward and is one of the reasons I’m even doing this,” Temprano said of his decision to work with the supervisor. “There’s very few things that would get me to have two crazy jobs, and one of those things was working for someone I respect as much as David.”
Even though Campos is running without opposition, he sees the election as critical and wants to use the opportunity to reconnect with his constituents. Hiring Temprano was a no-brainer, partly because of his background in nightlife.
“Tom’s experience, his background, is perfectly suited for something like this,” Campos said. “Given entertainment and nightlife’s importance to our neighborhood, it just made sense.”
Temprano tries to bring advocacy and politics to his DJing gigs whenever possible. In addition to Hard French, he produces other events at El Rio and donates a portion of their proceeds to charity. “I want for every one of my events to have a philanthropic component and a community component to them,” he said. “I’m always down to lend that skill set … to organize and raise money for the community.”
Proceeds from the Sept. 1 Hard French supported El/La, an organization that educates transsexual Latinas about health and safety issues and provides support. Partygoers who got tested for HIV at a van set up out front by the group Asian and Pacific Islander Wellness skipped the line and got in for free.
During the last election cycle, Hard French hosted a voter drive where the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club and League of Pissed-Off Voters registered partiers to vote. Temprano also invited candidates, including Campos, to attend and connect with a different crowd.
“I think that if you’re throwing events and you’re promoting, you’re actually organizing your community, bringing them together and helping them to develop relationships with each other that can carry outside of a bar or a club,” Temprano said.
Drew Beck, a graphic designer who lives in the Mission, has been going to Hard French since it began. Although unaware of Temprano’s background in politics, he’s not surprised. “Throwing this kind of party, it created a community. There wasn’t visibility for this cross-section of queers” before Hard French, he said. Beck added that he hasn’t felt as comfortable anywhere since college.
The event “brings people together,” said Kelly Lovemonster, Temprano’s roommate and a go-go dancer (or self-proclaimed “dance babe”) at Hard French. “I think it’s one of the few spaces that has diversity in the crowd. It crosses lots of borders.”
Temprano notes that community organizing through bars is well established in queer politics. “Big revolutionary moments in queer organizing and queer history came literally out of the bars,” he said. “I see being involved in nightlife … as a political act. [It] opens up avenues of organizing to people who may not be approachable in any other way.”
He has found a way to bridge his two jobs, and hopes to keep doing both as long as possible. “I try to use the platform of being someone who is involved in nightlife … to also educate [people] about political issues that affect them and get them to organize,” he said. “The way you have an impact on your community is politics. If I can start to convince my peers of that and get them engaged, I’m excited.”