Where we’ve been. Where we are. Where we’re headed.
That, in a gist, is how I perceive San Francisco’s “LGBTQIA central”, Castro District to be. It celebrates where we are now by paying (some) attention to our shared past; but it also highlights the areas where our community needs to act (and act fast) before we can truly say that we have Pride.
Castro District is a neighborhood in Eureka Valley in San Francisco, California. It was named after José Castro (1808–1860), who opposed US rule in California in the 19th century. As one of the very first gay neighborhoods in the US, it actually became LGBTQIA-centric starting only the late 1960s, aided by the hippie and free love movements in neighboring Haight-Ashbury district.
By the 1970s, it was already an upscale gay community (first mitigated by people’s movement here before it became the prime spot that it is now).
Castro’s influences in the (global) LGBTQIA community are numerous.
Harvey Milk was from here; in 1973, he opened a camera store here, Castro Camera, and he also began his political involvement as a gay activist here. So this place sorta helped exemplify LGBTQIA political involvement, particularly at a time when we had even harder times.
Then in the 1980s, the area was hit hard by the HIV and AIDS crisis. This is a defining moment for the LGBTQIA community (with HIV “blamed” on gay people, and with the American government not lifting a hand to do something/anything about this sitch then), so this helped galvanize the (particularly) gay community.
And then there are some of our stereotypical concepts of “beauty”, which surfaced from Castro. The one that immediately comes to mind is the “Castro clone” that exemplified butchness and masculinity; to date, this idiotic penchant for “straight-acting and straight-looking” continues…
Truly, nowadays, Castro is a “living” reminder of the LGBTQIA community’s history.
But Castro also shows cracks in the rainbow.
Perhaps most apparent is the blatant commercialization of Pride. In Castro, everything LGBTQIA-related can be bought.
This – not surprisingly – highlights the social stratification within the LGBTQIA community. Exactly because the we’re talking moolah, and because not everyone has this, the social classes that divide the community is highlighted. Even the nearby LGBT Center isn’t immune to this, with some LGBTQIA people critical of it (supposedly) for being elitist.
Then there’s the leaving behind of members of the LGBTQIA community. For instance, in San Francisco, the homeless population is approximately 7,499 – 29% of them identify as LGBT; and 11% of them have HIV or AIDS. If you want to see some of them, try waking up early – like 6.00AM or so – and take a walk along Castro Street to see them, living in the midst of the trash from the partying that happened the night before.
Castro has long become a tourist trap that highlights “progressive LGBTQIA community” a la America. And – as such – it can’t be denied how it’s a good reminder that we’ve (well, at least ‘they’ have) made progress.
But it also stresses – for me – that so much more still needs to be done…