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Are Gay Neighborhoods Worth Saving?
October 30, 2007 1:09 PM   Subscribe

The NY Times looks at the decline of gay meccas. The GLBT Historical Society of San Francisco has held several discussions about the Castro district. A shift in values, gentrification, and violence are named as factors in the "de-gaying" of the Castro. The area's famed Halloween party has been canceled and revelers told to stay out. What will happen to this gay destination?
posted by desjardins (41 comments total)

 
What, the Castro party has been canceled? So much for tradition.
posted by chlorus at 1:34 PM on October 30, 2007


Heterosexuals "are welcome as long as they understand this is our community," said Adam Light, a leader in the Castro Coalition, a group formed eight months ago to address the shifts in the neighborhood in recent years.

Wow. Can you imagine the outrage if it went something like this: "Homosexuals are welcome as long as they understand this is our community." said Mary Pat Finley a leader in the Meadow Heights Coalition , a group formed eight months ago to address the influx of homosexuals in recent years.

or

"The city, meanwhile, is spending $100,000 on a plan aimed at keeping the area's straight identity intact."

Unbelievable.
posted by MikeMc at 1:35 PM on October 30, 2007


The South End is Over.
posted by ericb at 1:36 PM on October 30, 2007


Now living in San Francisco for over ten years, I've mostly considered Castro more a tourist attraction, really (except for the theater there). The Halloween thing is really just following the trend of any other large gathering of that type--they become larger and more popular, then overwhelmed. (Unfortunately, the popular free bluegrass festival in Golden Gate Park is going the same way; it used to be a nice little weekend of music, but now it is a huge event where you'll hear more cell-phone conversations than songs.) So I don't think the decline and cancellation of the Halloween event is connected with the gay thing so much; neighborhood parties just don't scale that well.

Overall, I tend to see the 'de-gaying' of areas like this (and it will always be sort of a mecca) as a good thing, as it means gays are more comfortably integrated--which is what we've wanted, pretty much. I always thought the gay neighborhood thing gave more an illusion of community and a false frame of reference for what being gay means--a rather narrow perspective that was often viewed and imitated by the up-and-comers as somehow standard or definitive.

It's not to say I don't appreciate what and who got me here, but I like that gays as individuals are happily maintaining that element of identity while otherwise not feeling the need to group and then isolate from the rest of the world. Most gays I know have as many, if not more, straight friends as gay. I always saw it as kind of a thousand-points-of-pink-light kinda thing.
posted by troybob at 1:39 PM on October 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


Queer folk of a certain age may be alarmed and/or devastated by the changes being wrought upon the Castro, but I don't know anyone of my generation who is mourning the passing of the gay ghetto as a concept. In my experience, younger folk aren't magnetizing to these neighborhoods the way they once did, and while I certainly think there's an important historical resonance to be preserved, I'm altogether happier that people are adapting healthily enough to make their home outside the (greying) gay mainstream.
posted by mykescipark at 1:39 PM on October 30, 2007


The violence is terrible, but gay people not feeling required to live in or visit gay ghettos and not feeling connected with the monolithic "gay subculture" is entirely great.
posted by Casuistry at 1:42 PM on October 30, 2007


Overall, I tend to see the 'de-gaying' of areas like this (and it will always be sort of a mecca) as a good thing, as it means gays are more comfortably integrated

I agree. The fact that gays and lesbians don't feel that they have to move to San Francisco or West Hollywood, but can feel right at home and welcome in Louisville or Kansas City, is nothing but a good thing, IMO.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 1:44 PM on October 30, 2007


I agree with MikeMc, and I'm gay and lived in SF for years. The Castro is not "our community" (i.e., the gays' community) any more than the Marina or North Beach are "the heterosexuals' community."

The real Castro is an ever-changing neighborhood that exists outside the tourist playground of bars and novelty shops that is within the boundaries of the Castro/18th/Market triangle -- and there are increasing numbers of all kinds of people living in the Castro now, including lots of heterosexual families with kids.

That's not to say that there isn't a place for acknowledging that the Castro will always have some sort of identity as a gay neighborhood, even if it's just a "once upon a time" identity, and it's not to say that all change is necessarily intrinsically "good" (an increase in violence is never good, in my opinion), but all neighborhoods transform, and if they don't, they're dead.
posted by blucevalo at 1:56 PM on October 30, 2007


I had Alix Rosenthal from Citizens for Halloween on my radio show at Pirate Cat Radio a month ago discussing how far SF has its head up its as over Halloween. Problem is a lot of older gay men who were getting their head kicked in during the 70's have now bought places in the Castro and would prefer a quiet night with Season 4 of Six Feet Under.

The city went as far as to block permits for private citizens donating Port-a-Lets for the area to keep people from pissing and pooping everywhere. Also Newsom has sent letters and cops to pressure merchants to close for Halloween, which is usually their biggest night of the year.

Castro is still got da'ghey, its just going to be a bit less festive.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 2:00 PM on October 30, 2007


On a recent Saturday, Sister Roma, a member of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, an activist coterie of drag queens, sashayed down Castro Street in heavy eye shadow and a gold lamé top.

“Sweetie,” she said, “every day is Halloween in the Castro.”


Damn straight, Sister.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 2:04 PM on October 30, 2007


Archive from my interview Citizens for Halloween, interview starts second 1/3rd of the show.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 2:09 PM on October 30, 2007 [1 favorite]


See Flag Wars for a view of gayborhoods of middle America back in the (not so distant) day.
posted by 3.2.3 at 2:14 PM on October 30, 2007


We'll know real equality and acceptance has been achieved when there are no gay communities, just...communities. Coincidentally, I live in a Midwestern city, am straight, and am surrounded by gay folks: a gay female lawyer on one side, and a gay male lawyer on the other. And...who cares? The woman's a bitch (not because she's gay, of course), and the dude is really awesome (kept our four cats for us for two weeks after our home burned down while we looked for a temporary place to stay).

They're just normal folks, like anyone else, except for what they do with their various orifices and appendages in private, which doesn't concern me one iota. More power to 'em, even the bitch.

Coming from the (race) desegregation days in schools, when that was new, I think segregation, of almost any type, is ultimately bad. Segregation creates an artificial divide when none need exist.
posted by jamstigator at 2:16 PM on October 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


There seems to be a conflating of things here.

Weather The Castro is being "de-gayed" or not is one thing, and the Halloween festivities being "officially" canceled is another thing all together.

Essentially, Halloween got canceled because of things getting too far out of hand last year ... what was that, one knifing or two, not to mention the lack of toilets had people pissing all over the place.

And that was before my wife & I headed back to the ever-so fashionable Inner Sunset, and on the way out we saw far too many not-from-SF nitwits heading into the vortex.

One of them, a very drunk guy, no shirt but sporting a very nice Budweiser trucker hat, wheeled up to me and asked, "Is this the way to the freaks? Are the weird people that way?"

With any luck, he passed out before he made the 4 blocks to the party.
posted by Relay at 2:17 PM on October 30, 2007


This sucks. Those street parties are legendary, even in the "straight" community. It's been a SF tradition for decades, and now that I finally live here they're not doing it. Bastards.

Fuck Gavin Newsom. Soooo many bad ideas.

"Hey, let's clean all the homeless guys out of GG park!"

Great, now they're piled 3 deep in the city. SOMA, Market and the Tenderloin are all looking extra spiffy now, Gavin. I feel so much safer.

"Hey, let's clean up Dog Beach/Tire Beach!"

Uhh, all you really did was paint over a world-famous graffiti wall on a toxic beach no one ever goes to anyway. All that art on the walls took years and decades to develop. It was actually a tourist attraction. Artists came from all over the world to check it out.

"Hey, let's start aggresively prosecuting small marijuana crimes all over the city!"

Dude, you're Mayor of San Francisco. What the fuck are you planning to do, arrest the entire city? Your grandma probably smokes weed. Even your Chief of Police thinks you're crazy.

Do you even actually live in this city? Do you hate it or something? WTF?
posted by loquacious at 2:20 PM on October 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


Yeah, jamstigator, I think the best gay 'activists' of the past 15 years have been gay men and women who have done no more than live their lives openly and honestly within their communities and on the job.
posted by troybob at 2:20 PM on October 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


Overall, I tend to see the 'de-gaying' of areas like this (and it will always be sort of a mecca) as a good thing, as it means gays are more comfortably integrated...

Yes. More and more "gay" clubs are closing in a number of cities while "mixed" clubs sprouting up.

Many of the "gay circuit parties" of the 80s and 90s have seen dwindling attendance with some shutting down.

Retired DJ Julian Marsh:
"...[Marsh] thinks that, before long, circuit parties are going to look foreign and esoteric, and may even eventually disappear.

'I think with the new generation [of gay men], we are going to see they don’t care about gay clubs, and just acclimate into mainstream society,' Marsh says. 'They are the "Will & Grace" generation. It’s a totally different thing. I remember lining up in the back of buildings to get into new clubs, because people would throw rocks at you. Now the younger generation just does not care about whether or not a club is gay.'"
posted by ericb at 2:28 PM on October 30, 2007


The City is bending over backwards to shut down outdoor parties. They shafted the Jazz Festival and Haight Street fair by letting 5 complaints block a liquor license. How Weird street fair, gone. Newsom's incompetence is staggering.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 2:30 PM on October 30, 2007


The impression I've had from my gay friends in SF is that the Halloween thing is pretty separate from whether the Castro overall is declining as a gayborhood or not. As Relay was saying above, the problem with Halloween is that it was becoming invaded by non-residents from outside the area and outside the city, who were only going there to get drunk and violent. I think any neighborhood, gay straight or whatever, would want to crack down on something that was getting foolishly dangerous.

It's not like the city is ending all gay festivals. The Folsom Street Fair still happened. I believe there's another Castro Street Fair that still happens. It's just this one event that's become a serious problem.
posted by dnash at 2:30 PM on October 30, 2007


This sucks. Those street parties are legendary, even in the "straight" community. It's been a SF tradition for decades, and now that I finally live here they're not doing it. Bastards.

Fuck Gavin Newsom. Soooo many bad ideas.


"(11-01) 15:35 PST SAN FRANCISCO
-- As police today pieced together what led to a shooting that injured nine people at the Castro Halloween celebration, city officials were talking about whether the party should be over for good."

Why is it a bad idea to cancel an event that in recent years has done little but piss off and endanger the people who attend, or live in the neighborhood that hosts the party? The Folsom Street Fair attracts hundreds of thousands of people, and no one's been shot or stabbed, and the Fair is still going strong. Halloween was getting out of hand, and I can't blame Newsom for putting the brakes on.
posted by rtha at 2:43 PM on October 30, 2007


Why does gay have to mean out of control parties and reckless hedonism? I'm getting more and more disgusted by every pride event I attend, and in fact I'm starting to hate the gay community and gay people in general.

I don't see being gay as something to be celebrated & flaunted. I see it as something to deal with and try to live as normally as possible. If there was a cure, I'd be first in line to take it.

I hate dance music & show tunes and I'm not much for parties or getting drunk. I just happen to not be attracted to women.
posted by mike3k at 2:46 PM on October 30, 2007


Good to see the assimilation cheerleaders out in full force.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 2:55 PM on October 30, 2007


If there was a cure, I'd be first in line to take it.

Why?
posted by me & my monkey at 3:00 PM on October 30, 2007


Why is it a bad idea to cancel an event that in recent years has done little but piss off and endanger the people who attend.

SF Police and The City do a piss-poor job of managing the party, that's why there are problems, listen to the interview I posted above, starting at ~1h20m about why the City dropped the ball on having a safe Halloween party.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 3:16 PM on October 30, 2007


The How Weird Street Faire — a popular eight-year-old annual electronic music festival that drew about 8,000 people last year — has been denied its operating permits by the city based on complaints from up to 10 area residents. Although the decision is being appealed, promoters of this and other streets fairs have been decrying the city's growing intolerance for parties and public celebrations (see "The Death of Fun," 6/24/06).

"It was denied because there was quite a bit of community opposition," the city's special events coordinator Cindy Shamban told the Guardian, describing the result of the Feb. 8 meeting of the Interdepartmental Staff Committee on Traffic and Transportation, which is made up of city police and transportation and public works officials.

ISCOTT considered five letters from residents (four were simply form letters written by one particularly upset resident) complaining about noise and crowds associated with the fair, which was scheduled for May 6.


Man, I miss the How Wierd Street Fair. It was a fantastic and diverse and yet cozy celebration.
posted by vacapinta at 3:21 PM on October 30, 2007


Over recent years, Halloween in the Castro became overrun with gawking and sometimes violent tourists. And as far as I'm aware, it's never been a primarily gay thing in the six or so years that I've been here. Large gay presence, yes, but by no means primarily or exclusively gay. Last time my partner and I went, he got a lit cigarette shoved into his boot, I'm pretty sure we got called fags (whether in jest or not -- it was impossible to tell in that crowd), and we left not long before the aforementioned shooting happened. Personally, I'm not at all sad they're pulling plug.

OTOH, the city does seem to be doing its best to turn SF into a bedroom community for people who work in Silicon Valley. I was really sad to see the How Weird festival go.
posted by treepour at 3:23 PM on October 30, 2007


If there was a cure, I'd be first in line to take it.

mike3k -- there is a cure. Praise Jesus!!!

According to the emcee of Barack Obama's Gospel Tour, "former gay" Rev. Donnie McClurkin, God can deliver you from homosexuality!

But, for those of us who are "happy gays," there's no need for change!
posted by ericb at 3:31 PM on October 30, 2007


I remember vividly the moment I stepped out onto Castro Street for the first time. I was ready to change the world, or at least move across the country. I thought I was a lesbian at the time (turns out I'm bi), and Castro Street was like this shining beacon. My 19-year old self was just awed that gays and lesbians could openly walk down the street and no one thought anything of it. I felt a sense of safety there that was probably overrated, but at least I never had to explain or excuse who I was.

I totally understand why gay adults, especially those partnered/married with kids, don't want to live in a gay mecca anymore. I understand that people just want to be unobtrusive parts of their communities. But I'd hate to think that someone who's just coming out doesn't have a physical place to go and marvel at openly gay people just living their lives.
posted by desjardins at 3:47 PM on October 30, 2007


Why does gay have to mean out of control parties and reckless hedonism?

Oh -- and be sure to tell your straight, 'married with children' friends to refrain from "rest stop" man-on-man action:
"With the exception of [Catholic priest Rev. Gary] Mead, all of those charged are married, police said."*
posted by ericb at 3:48 PM on October 30, 2007


If there was a cure, I'd be first in line to take it.

Is this because of the implications of being gay that have nothing to do with sexual attraction (such as the behavior of the gay community that you mention)?

I get what you're saying about the stereotypes, but I'm wondering if your dislike for 'gay people in general' is a bit overkill. I don't know how to buy clothes; my house looks like a dorm room; I can't cook. I know a lot of gay men who don't fit the stereotype at all, but I've known a lot who have gotten into social circles in which they have felt they had to change themselves in order to fit into that image.

I'm curious as to whether you feel as you do because of that. Gay men who are not in the scene and who, outside the nature of their intimate relationships, are fairly indistinguishable from straight men are probably way more common than you think.
posted by troybob at 4:12 PM on October 30, 2007


desjardins: Surely those young gay people would notice the openly gay people just living their lives in their own community, though?
posted by Casuistry at 4:17 PM on October 30, 2007


If there was a cure, I'd be first in line to take it.

My snarkmeter's been acting up today so I can't quite tell if you're serious. If you are, that's just...sad.
posted by rtha at 4:21 PM on October 30, 2007


Casuistry: I think subtlety is often lost on the young, or at least it was lost on me. There are still tons of places in the US where two men or two women can't walk down the street holding hands. Even an openly gay person isn't necessarily going to advertise the fact to a young person (or anyone, unless it comes up in conversation). How would a young person necessarily know that he/she was around gay people unless something was done or said? I don't know, maybe I was particularly dense, or the world has changed a lot since I was last a teenager (13 years ago). I didn't know a single openly gay person until I was 17-ish, and I still don't know any from my neighborhood. I only know openly gay people through social circles and work venues that wouldn't be available to me if I were still a teenager.
posted by desjardins at 4:54 PM on October 30, 2007


I think the best gay 'activists' of the past 15 years have been gay men and women who have done no more than live their lives openly and honestly within their communities and on the job troybob at 2:20 PM

Thank you! I like that.
posted by Jikido at 5:29 PM on October 30, 2007


Coming from the (race) desegregation days in schools, when that was new, I think segregation, of almost any type, is ultimately bad. Segregation creates an artificial divide when none need exist.

Hear, hear.

I'm not doing a wholesale knocking of essentialist politics, mind you. I think they've been very necessary. Feminist politics have had a 100% positive effect on our society, and the activism done by the gay community starting during the dark first days of AIDS has led to a huge upheaval in how we as a society interact with queerness. As much as I lament that gay marriage isn't a universal reality yet, the fact that we can even have the conversation is very encouraging.

But, it's a see-saw. Go too far in that direction--live in and rarely stray from the gay ghettos, allow it to permeate everything you do and are--and all you're doing is giving someone, somewhere, a tool with which they can oppress you. I'm all for tearing down the divides.

for the record: openly bi for a few years now, used to run a gay arts organization, yadda yadda yadda
posted by the_bone at 5:45 PM on October 30, 2007


I don't see being gay as something to be celebrated & flaunted.

Wow, can you get any more clichéd?

I see it as something to deal with

Who you are is "something to deal with"? Uh, I guess. It's also, you know, who you are.

and try to live as normally as possible.

You did! You got more clichéd!

If there was a cure, I'd be first in line to take it.

*laughs*

You're what, 17? Come on, man, judging from the resume at your site, you're way old enough to have gotten beyond this crap. You can do it; we all do. Please try therapy. Anyone who's gotten to your age and still hates the fact that they're gay is really missing out.

I hate dance music & show tunes

Jesus, this couldn't be more perfect. Do you really think you're the first gay person on earth to have to define yourself, at least in part, in reaction to the usual cliched images of gayness you see around you? Do you really think that? Fuck, that's lame. I mean, saying "I'm more this kind of fag than that one" is pretty much standard operating procedure for all fags becoming adults these days. But the better ones somehow manage to find a way to become themselves without hating on the rest of their people like a sixth-grade fundamentalist.

Because, sweetie, warts and all, like it or not, you can bet your ass there is still a very real sense in which all us dance music- and show tune-loving fags *are* your people.

Have a hug, you dummy.

*hugs the dummy*
posted by mediareport at 7:01 PM on October 30, 2007 [2 favorites]


I agree with Relay above; the cancellation of the party and the "are gay neighborhoods worth saving?" question seem tangentially related, at best.

It's always sad when a neighborhood with a history loses its character, and it's not clear to me that increasing acceptance across society necessarily means we have to lose the comfortable gathering places we casually call "ghettos." I always felt much more at home in the mixed freaky Mission than the mostly gay Castro, but I'm pretty sure there will always be fags and dykes who prefer the company of others like them. That's certainly not a bad thing.

Btw, did you SFers know about this anti-fun crusading side of your mayor when you elected him? I guess I'm wondering how on earth this happened there.
posted by mediareport at 7:13 PM on October 30, 2007


Btw, did you SFers know about this anti-fun crusading side of your mayor when you elected him? I guess I'm wondering how on earth this happened there.

This Halloween cancellation disaster wasn't as much Gavin Newsom's hobbyhorse as it was that of Bevan Dufty, the stuffshirt gay supervisor who represents the Castro District and is the antithesis of anything fun (his name alone is un-fun), unless you consider lint, crabgrass, and sandpaper fun.
posted by blucevalo at 9:16 PM on October 30, 2007


From reading graffiti in my multifarious travels, I am led to conclude that America's great gay meccas are highway rest stops.
posted by Tube at 9:20 PM on October 30, 2007


It's worthy to note, as others have done so upthread, that there is no connection between the cultural diffusion of the Castro and the canceling of this year's Halloween party. Nine people were injured in shootings last year. The problem is that assholes from around the Bay come here on Halloween night to piss (literally) in our backyard without really participating in the event. The whole thing is a farce. They city should close the street off, charge admission and give the proceeds to various GLTB non-profits if they want to keep it real.

As to the larger discussion, I'm optimistic that this shift signals that gays are now more free to live their lives openly outside of clearly defined areas like the Castro. Besides, they keep their neighborhoods too clean for straight folks to resist.
posted by quadog at 11:27 PM on October 30, 2007


I just happen to not be attracted to women.

There's something about the way mike3k phrased this, instead of saying "I just happen to be attracted to men". It jars, but I can't put my finger on why.
posted by axon at 5:18 AM on October 31, 2007


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