by Tommi Avicolli Mecca

Mark my words, in 10 years the Castro, that infamous LGBT neighborhood in San Francisco known the world over as the de facto capital of gaydom, will be predominantly straight. 

The culprit: greed. Specifically the greed of speculators and investors who are buying up and flipping properties throughout the gayborhood and the city in a real estate feeding frenzy that can only be described as out of control. In the process, thousands and thousands of tenants are being pushed out of their neighborhoods as tech workers from Silicon Valley become the new kids on the block. 

What these speculators and investors are doing is reminiscent of what Wall Street did to the country as a whole a few years ago: rape and pillage with no concern for the lives of those destroyed by what they’re doing.

The signs of the changing Castro are everywhere. In the morning when I leave for work now, I see niñeras pushing baby carriages down the street. I see as many straight couples holding hands as I do queer ones. I see that more and more of my neighbors are not queer. A two-bedroom across the street from my apartment now rents for $4,200.

Back when I arrived here in October 1991, the Castro was as queer as can be. LGBT organizations had offices above the shops. On weekends there were rallies in Harvey Milk Plaza and tabling by political organizations wanting to recruit you into their fight. On Halloween, people came from far and wide to celebrate in the streets what was then considered a national gay holiday, a day to flaunt your wildest fantasy. And push boundaries. Nudity abounded. As did displays of our sexuality.

A Different Light bookstore, where I worked for almost a decade, served as our community center. It was located at 489 Castro. Space in the back yard or upstairs in the office was gladly given for free to anyone who wanted to hold a meeting or make signs for an upcoming rally. Famous and not-so-famous queer writers were featured every night of the week.

All of this changed in the late 90s when the dot-com boom sent rents skyrocketing and speculators salivating at the thought that they could flip properties under rent control and, by evicting all of the tenants, raise those rents to market value or sell the units as pseudo condos called tenancies in common. 

Countless gay men with AIDS, longtime tenants who came to SF in the early 70s in pursuit of a safe haven, were pushed out of their places. Some left the city, some ended up on the streets, some died. All took with them a piece of the fabric of the gayborhood.

Now the gayborhood is hanging on by a thread. It's a shadow of what it used to be. Benches have been removed from Milk Plaza because homeless people were hanging out and sleeping on them. Nudity has been made illegal by the gayborhood's gay supervisor. Halloween celebrations have been stopped because of violence at previous events. At a time when many in the community enjoy newfound acceptance and decent jobs, 40% of homeless youth identify as queer and 29% of the homeless are LGBT, facts that most queer organizations ignore. 

Just as they ignore the fact that the most recognizable queer spot on the planet is going straight.

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Comment by Bob Burns on January 19, 2014 at 8:19am

Life goes on in Baghdad-by-the-Bay.

I was a young man in the 80's when the SF gay community began migrating from Polk Gulch to the Castro. Indeed, in those days it was the last of the blue collar workers - longshoremen, factory workers, warehousemen, etc. who were griping about the gays moving in and buying up whatever wasn't nailed down at premium prices which, of course, only stimulated the exodus of the non-gay residents.

There's always been an ebb and flow to San Francisco real estate. Since the gold rush, actually. I grew up in the Inner Richmond, which back then (the 40's and 50's) was largely eastern European.  Today it's pretty much all Asian. As far as I'm concerned it's an amazing comment on the the American experience for immigrants.  40 years ago I would have bet my last dollar against the possibility of there ever being an Asian mayor. (Even Feinstein sold her place on Presidio Terrace, I understand.

On the other hand, the city is an impossible place for a single to live in on his or her own unless they're making gobs of money. Blue collars are a thing of the past, I think.

Comment by Kenny1948 on April 24, 2014 at 10:49am

I lived in the Eureka Valley before it became the Castro.  Unfortunately it's comeback time.  Gay people started moving into the Castro in the late sixties.  They bought property, and both the rents and the property values went up.  The original residents, either moved out because of not wanting to live among us, or because more likely they were priced out.   I remember the same thing happening to the Western Addition, and Hayes Valley.  Unfortunately it was our greedier Gay brothers, who started the ball rolling.  I guess now it's payback time.


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