San Francisco is the city ruled by love and celebration of diversity. Which helps explain why the city has come to be known as the epicenter of the worldwide LGBTQ community.
Here are nine ways San Francisco became the world’s gay mecca…
1942: WWII Stronghold
San Francisco became a military stronghold during WWII, establishing bases like Fort Funston and Fort Mason. It was a symbol of freedom for 1,650,000 men, as the last part of the States that they glimpsed before they saw combat on foreign lands, and the first thing that they saw when they returned. Thousands of young male enlistees descended on city looking for love, sometimes with each other, sometimes with locals who were their fans.
2015: Demilitarized Fleet Week
Today, the military has markedly little presence and most of the bases have turned into tourist attractions, housing developments, or local hangouts. Fleet Week, when military guys and, increasingly, gals, descend on the city, is a highly celebrated occasion for the LGBT community where sexy men in uniform can be spotted in every corner of the city from the Marina to Castro letting freedom reign in the post-Don’t Ask, Don’t tell world.
1970: First Pride March
Thirty courageous people risked it all to to march down Polk Street to City Hall in a time when any association with homosexuality risked discrimination and worse. The following day a “gay-in” takes place in Golden Gate Park drawing hundreds more. Combined, these mark the Gay Freedom Day Parade.
2015: 45th Annual Pride
Nearly 2 million people descend on San Francisco from every corner of the world. This is the largest gathering of LGBT people in the nation and takes place over ten action-packed days. The day before Pride, Pink Saturday, is one of the the biggest public parties of the year. Pride is now enjoyed by millions worldwide–gay, straight and everything in between
1977: Harvey Milk
Harvey Milk is elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, becoming the first openly gay elected official in California history, only to be gunned down, along with beloved pro-gay mayor George Moscone, by fellow supervisor Dan White, on Nov. 27, 1978.
2015: Harvey Milk Democratic Club
Openly gay Assemblyman Mark Leno serves his 13th year. San Francisco is full of openly gay city, county, and state officials including Bevan Dufty and the rising, astute Scott Wiener. Two of the city’s most prominent political clubs include LGBT-centric Harvey Milk and Alice B. Toklas. It is impossible to get elected to citywide office without LGBTQ support.
Changing The World For the Better
1964: Gay Capital of America
San Francisco is toted as the “Gay Capital of America” in Life magazine. Activists of all stripes flock to San Francisco to start the fight we know today as the gay rights movement, and to take it first to the rest of American and then the world.
2015: Marriage Mecca of the US
After a series of victories and defeats for California’s Proposition 8, the U.S. Supreme Court makes same-sex marriage legal across the United States, invalidating every last ban. San Francisco first issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2004 and was recently voted LGBTQ “Marriage Mecca” by GayCities members.
1933: Female Impersonation
Finocchio’s was a nightclub and bar in the sexually liberal San Francisco Barbary Coast. In 1933, with the repeal of prohibition, the club offered female impersonation shows, the early name for drag queens, that drew an enormous crowds that quickly spread across the city like glitter.
2015: Drag Club Oasis
One of SF’s ruling drag queens, Heklina, opens Oasis, a popular drag club. Drag shows take place at more than 20 venues per week including Trannyshack and Sunday’s a Drag. San Francisco is also headquarters to the legendary Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the largest charitable drag organization in the country.
Into The Night
1908: First Gay Bar
Among the first “notorious” gay bar in San Francisco was a dark, secretive place known The Dash, known only to insiders. Waiters cross-dressed and for $1 would perform sex acts in private booths. In 1972, Twin Peaks Tavern opened its door and windows to the public. Gay bars in the Castro now often boast as many non-gay and gay patrons, with people of all sorts enjoying the open, nonjudgmental atmosphere.
2015: Best Gaybourhood In The World
Castro was named the world’s best Gaybourhood by GayCities members in 2014. Any given night, you can find bars packed and clubs hopping with a mix of locals and tourists who come to gay it up in the city. The gay center was Polk Street and parts of the Tenderloin, both of which still boast gay bars, but transitioned to make The Castro the gayest neighborhood anywhere, with at least a dozen gay bars within a few blocks of each other on Castro, Market and 18th Street. The South of Market Area is the new hot spot.
Leather & Fetish
1938: Sailor Boy Tavern
The first proto-leather bar in San Francisco was the Sailor Boy Tavern, which opened in 1938 and was primarily for visiting navy men looking for action. In the 1960’s, the leather scene established itself in SOMA with bars such as the Toolbox.
2015: 21st Annual Folsom Street Fair
The leather subculture attracted people from near and far, leaving a legacy that has boomed into what is the leather event of all leather events–Folsom Street Fair. Hundreds of thousands of leatherman and leatherwomen revel in the biggest BDSM event, preceded by its sister leather event, Dore Alley.
1981: First cases of GRID
Young men in San Francisco were among the first diagnosed with GRID (the incorrectly named Gay Related Immuno Deficiency). HIV would soon afflict millions. It quickly became a worldwide pandemic.
2015: HIV/AIDS Endemic
San Francisco leads the world in cutting-edge treatment, meaning that few die of HIV any more, and in prevention, with the goal of zero new infections by the year 2020.
1920: Castro Theatre movie palace
The Castro Theatre gets its chandelier and becomes a renowned movie palace. LGBTQ film are financed and set in San Francisco, and increasingly shown in art houses there.
2015: 40th Annual Frameline Film Festival
Frameline Film Festival is the largest queer film festival in the world. Running for nearly two weeks, it features films from the best screenwriters, directors, actors. The Castro Theatre is its primary home.