"Mark my words: In 10 years, the Castro will be predominantly straight," rallies local activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca in a recent op-ed for The Bay Times. Is he right? Is the Castro heading the way of the heterosexual? Could it be the next Valencia Street? It happened to Laguna Beach (an Orange County beach town once known as "southern San Francisco," long before MTV's gaze helped de-gay it), so why not here?
In part, Mr. Avicolli Mecca writes:
"The signs of the changing Castro are everywhere. In the morning when I leave for work, 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 new neighbors are not queer. A two-bedroom across the street from my apartment now rents for $4,200.
"Back when I arrived here in 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 political organizations set up tables at 18th & Castro. On Halloween, people came from far and wide to celebrate what then was considered a national gay holiday, a day to flaunt your wildest fantasy. And they came to push boundaries. Nudity abounded, as did displays of our sexuality."
He goes on to cite, among other things, the late '90s dot-com boom as to what initially set rents into the stratosphere. Like some sort of Cassandra of the Castro, he concludes:
"That gayborhood is hanging on by a thread. It’s a shadow of what it used to be. Benches have been removed from Harvey Milk Plaza because homeless people (many of them queer) hang out and sleep on them. Nudity has been made illegal by the Castro’s gay supervisor. Halloween celebrations are forbidden because of violence at previous events.
"While many in the community enjoy newly found acceptance and decent jobs, 40% percent of homeless youth are queer, and 29% percent of the homeless are LGBT. These are facts that most LGBT organizations ignore, just like they ignore the fact that the most recognizable queer spot on the planet is going straight."
But time moves on. And, really, isn't any neighborhood a shadow of what it used to be? SFist turned to District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener (himself an openly gay resident of the Castro) to find out more. Asked to respond to The Bay Times piece and whether or not the Castro is losing its queer edge, Wiener replied:
To suggest that the Castro is somehow less gay because we addressed a violent homeless encampment at Harvey Milk Plaza or because we no longer have a daily nudist colony at Jane Warner Plaza misunderstands what the LGBT community and the Castro are about. It caricatures our neighborhood. The Castro continues to have a large, diverse, and thriving LGBT community. We also have a lot of straight people, and we've *always* had a lot of straight people here.
The Castro has never been overwhelmingly gay. For decades it's had a lot of gay people and a lot of straight people living and working side by side and working to improve our great neighborhood. That hasn't changed at all. I do believe that the cost of housing is threatening the ability of both gay and straight people to come here and stay here. We most certainly need to tackle our housing crisis — caused by years of bad housing policy — head on.