“What’s your prediction for the future of Harvey Milk’s San Francisco,” I asked.
“The Castro will no longer be a queer neighborhood in ten years. Probably less.”
Last fall political activist and drag queen Anna Conda ran for San Francisco District 6 supervisor. While many dismissed her candidacy, she surprised everyone with a dynamic and substantive campaign. In a race filled with well funded challengers and a $300,000 spending limit she mobilized a large grassroots effort and finished strong while inspiring the left. She spent just $18,000.
Anna Conda (Glendon Hyde) now serves as the outreach coordinator for the Harvey Milk Democratic Club. The organization had endorsed one of her opponents early on—but in the wake of the campaign—saw she was the perfect person to bring in new blood.
We discussed Harvey Milk’s San Francisco vs. the San Francisco of today.
When Harvey Milk arrived in the Castro, then known as Eureka Valley, in the early 1970’s the traditional Irish Catholics were moving to the suburbs and the big old Victorians were becoming white elephants, with many in disrepair. LGBT people were moving to the neighborhood from the pricier Polk Street, not unlike the migration of St. Louis’ LGBT community from the Central West End to Tower Grove in the 1990’s.
But today the affordable Victorians of Milk’s era are long gone and Conda argues San Francisco is more expensive than Paris.
“Because of rent control the average Parisian pays $800 a month,” she began. “Rents for a respectable one bedroom in San Francisco are roughly twice that figure. It’s an unsustainable situation. Our police and firemen all live across the bay.”
The affluent professionals and trust funders who are filling the condo towers are not only intolerant of the poor, Conda says, they’re increasingly intolerant of LGBT nightlife.
The risqué Folsom Street Fair and Dore Alley Fair began when the Soma area was industrial and sparsely populated, but organizers are now forced to tame it down due to complaining condo owners. Gay bars have been banned from Polk Street, the original LGBT area. “They [Polk Street Neighborhood Assn.] say we’re all drug addicted hookers!” she said. And then there’s the Castro. Straight people continue to move in and push for the local mores to conform to their tastes. Many would argue the demands are not unreasonable. For instance they’re not fans of the public nudity. Conda’s position is that San Francisco has always been a place for personal expression and should remain so. Harvey, she says, would agree with her although many who throw his name around have taken the conservative side.
“Harvey’s legacy has been bastardized by cash,” she began. For instance Bevan Dufty, a gay man currently running for Mayor, initially endorsed “No sit No lie” laws designed to discourage homeless people from sitting on the sidewalk. Anna Conda pointed out that those same laws were originally used to target the LGBT community.
Just as our community remade Eureka Valley into the Castro to suit us, those now moving to the Castro are tweaking it to fit their lifestyles, but an accelerating factor is how we ourselves are more mainstream. Most don’t feel the need to live in a “gay ghetto” and those who do are nearly as likely as their straight neighbors to complain about the naked man dancing in the street while we’re pushing our strollers (“Probably less”).
The Castro Harvey knew where a working class guy can blow into town, open a camera shop and live upstairs has been gone for a while—but this recent St. Louis transplant doubts the Castro as we know it today is going away anytime soon.
The Jews have Israel, the Mormons have Utah, and we have the Castro.
It’s still our Mecca.
St. Louis will celebrate the life and civil rights work of Harvey Milk with our second annual Walk for Harvey Milk. Last year 75 St. Louis walkers symbolically retraced the march Harvey took time and time again in San Francisco, from the Castro district to City Hall. Harvey marched for everyone: immigrants, the physically challenged, union labor, middle class, homeless, for human rights and his LGBTQ community.
BY: CHRIS ANDOE