Sasha Taylor performs on stage during WEBB Party ¡Ultima Fiesta! at the Lambermont Estate.
Sasha Taylor performs on stage during the WEBB Party ¡Ultima Fiesta! at the Lambermont Estate in 2015. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

After a two-year hiatus, Fiesta’s largest LGBTQ bash is back, with this year’s party mirroring its origins as a celebration of survival during a pandemic.

Begun in 1993 as a jubilee for those living through the AIDS pandemic, the 29th WEBB Party — more on the name later — returns to the Aztec Theatre this Friday for a night of food, fun and dancing. This year’s theme is “Celestial Dreams, A Night in the Zodiac.”

Hosted by the San Antonio AIDS Foundation, the WEBB party became an official Fiesta event in 2004, and serves as the foundation’s largest annual fundraiser.

“[The WEBB Party] started as a celebration of life, a celebration of your chosen family, a celebration of friends,” CEO Cherise Rohr-Allegrini said, “and I think it’s very much that at this time as well,” as this year’s party celebrates life, love and loss amidst a different pandemic.

“We’re not quite out of [this pandemic] yet,” Rohr-Allegrini added. “There’s been a lot of loss and devastation, and we are celebrating people living with HIV, we’re celebrating the lives of those we’ve lost and we’re celebrating the future.”

Proceeds from the party help pay for the foundation’s services to San Antonio’s LGBTQ and homeless communities, including HIV testing, prevention education, partnerships with other local organizations for HIV care services and three hot meals a day for HIV-positive folks. The foundation is aiming to raise $100,000 this year from the event, said Rohr-Allegrini.

The first WEBB Party was a family reunion of sorts, representing the family one has created and surrounded themselves with, Rohr-Allegrini said. The name of the party originated from the idea of coming together, she said.

“One of the organizers had a calendar with inspirational quotes, and it said, ‘When spider webs unite, they can bring down the lion,” so their thought was, ‘If we all come together, we can tackle HIV in our community.'”

When ads for the party went out to print, however, a typo added an extra “b” onto the word web. Thus, the WEBB Party was born.

Over time, the party became a celebration of the LGBTQ community’s triumph over HIV, Rohr-Allegrini said. Since launching in 1986, SAAF’s mission has changed dramatically, she said. The organization was first launched by Robert “Papa Bear” Edwards, who saw how difficult it was for AIDS patients to get treatment in San Antonio.

“He said, ‘I’m going to open a place for them to stay,’ and he did,” she said. At the time, AIDS was essentially a death sentence — which made the location much like a hospice care facility, she said. “It was a safe space for people to come and stay and live out their days.”

As time went on, new treatments were developed, and people were living with HIV rather than dying of AIDS, Rohr-Allegrini said. The foundation’s work shifted as well, focusing on offering STI testing and care, mental health services, assistance for the homeless and to provide housing for displaced members of the LGBTQ community.

Today, the WEBB Party represents the unique history of the foundation and its achievements within the community, she said.

The idea for this year’s theme was a collaborative effort, said Khalen Garcia, SAAF’s director of communications and development. Each room in the Aztec Theatre will represent a different element: fire, water, earth, air. The rooms will be immersive and interactive, Garcia said.

The party will include games, a silent auction, a fortune teller, henna artists, drag performances, fashion displays, a full cash bar and other types of entertainment, Garcia said. There will also be a before and after-party at the Bonham Exchange, he added.

Doors for the WEBB Party open at 7 p.m.; tickets are still on sale.

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report.