Sunday 22 September 2019

San Francisco moves to protect historic neighbourhood’s gay culture

The South of Market district is undergoing changes because of gentrification.

The exterior view of The SF Eagle, a historic gay bar in San Francisco (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)
The exterior view of The SF Eagle, a historic gay bar in San Francisco (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

By Janie Har

San Francisco is preparing to create a Leather and LGBTQ Cultural District to honour the district which was famous for its gay culture but which is now facing encroaching gentrification.

Many sought refuge in the South of Market district at a time when the gay community faced police crackdowns.

In modern times gentrification and skyrocketing rents are threatening to drive the gay and leather crowd out of a neighbourhood that is now home to Airbnb, Twitter and expensive properties.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors was due to vote on a resolution creating the Leather and LGBTQ Cultural District as a way to honour the past and ensure the area remains a refuge for the gay and leather crowd.

Sister Phylliss, left, hugs a patron while hosting Karaoke night at The SF Eagle (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

San Francisco, birthplace of the rainbow gay pride flag, has long welcomed sexual and other minorities.

It has several neighbourhoods significant to LGBTQ history, including the Castro and Tenderloin, where transgender women fed up with police raids rioted in 1966.

South of Market attracted the leather crowd and remains the site of gay bars and the popular Folsom Street Fair, which draws tens of thousands of people every year dressed in their bondage best.

With plenty of tiny leather briefs and bare chests, studded dog collars and whips, the fair is an annual ode to celebrating the San Francisco values of free speech and sexual freedom.

But the scene today is nothing like the bustle in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when more than 50 businesses catered to the leather culture, said Bob Goldfarb, chairman of a community group that supports the legislation.

“It was a lot easier to run into people on the street, if you will, and it had sort of a neighbourhood feel even though not a lot of people lived in the area,” he said.

“This is an opportunity for us to revitalise the area.”

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