Gay By The Bay – Gay San Francisco History & Resources

The world's gay and lesbian capital, San Francisco is also one of the most striking and beautiful cities. The setting is dramatic with hills, the bay, and the famous fog.

It's clear why this city has become a favorite destination for all manner of travelers, both novice and seasoned. But perhaps the city is even more treasured by gays and lesbians. Both straights and gays in San Francisco have long been at the forefront of instituting anti-discrimination legislation for people of all stripes. Let's see how Gay by the Bay all began.

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History of Gay San Francisco Since the Gold Rush

Peace Love Logo

When the famous gold rush began, San Francisco was known as the place to get rich quick and then to spend it all, as the miners and other high-rollers flooded to the pleasure palaces of the Barbary Coast, the red light district of the city. Such was its reputation as the "Sodom by the Sea" that, when the famous earthquake and fire levelled the city, moral guardians of the time saw it as the work of a righteous god.

But, as we know, the city rebuilt and continued to cultivate a freewheeling reputation. Through the years it becoming a magnet for the counterculture, including flower children, hippies, and the whole Summer of Love thing in the late 1960s. Along with all that free, straight love were thousands of gays and lesbians who also flocked here to escape intolerance, searching for a vibrant subculture that promised freedom, acceptance, and belonging.

Queer San Francisco grew from this base, blossoming from an off-the-beaten-track counterculture to a militant community demanding its rights. With homosexuals estimated at 6.2% of the city's population (it feels like more), even back in 1964 Life Magazine named it the "Gay Capital of the US".

San Francisco Mayors and a long line of progressive local officials helped to legitimize gay and lesbian life as a powerful and positive force in the city's political, cultural, and economic life.

Gay by the Bay, Today

The Castro

Unlike other cities, which have only one or two gay-popular neighborhoods, gay and lesbians live in every part of the city. There are, however, a few hot spots, like lesbian-popular Noe Valley and the Mission, Pacific Heights, SoMa, and enclaves outside the city like Berkeley.

But, Queer Central is still definitely the Castro. First settled by gay men in the early 1970s, this 14-square-block area became a defining symbol of gay America. Today the Castro is more diversified than it was 25 years ago, but it's still a lively center of queer culture.

Through all its challenges — earthquakes and epidemics, gold rushes and market crashes, strikes and sit-ins — San Francisco has preserved the sense that it is America's progressive cultural and social vanguard.

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Gay San Francisco – Places

Gay Parade

Harvey Milk Plaza

In 1985 a small brick plaza in front of the Castro and Market Muni station was dedicated to Harvey Milk, the slain gay rights leader and former member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. At the entrance is a plaque giving a brief history of his career. In 1973, Harvey Milk started out with a camera shop at 575 Castro and he owned it until his assassination at City Hall in November 1978.

San Francisco LGBT Community Center

Home to an array of organizations that support the LGBT community, the center offers financial services, literary events, leisure activities and services for families, singles, families and children. Favorite events are the LBGT Career Fair, one of the longest-running programs that links LGBT employees to open-minded Bay employers.

Mission Dolores Park

Just a short stroll from the Castro, this patch of green is the perfect place to sunbathe with the boys on a warm day. The added bonus is stunning view of the city skyline. In recent years the park has been renovated, making it more user-friendly for local families.

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Gay San Francisco Resources

  • In March 1996, Mayor Willie Brown presided over the first mass gay and lesbian wedding — some 200 couples — ever hosted by a US city.
  • The city's official song, I Left My Heart in San Francisco, was written by a homesick gay couple, Douglass Cross and George Cory in 1954.
  • Harvey Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected to public office in the US.
  • Gilbert Baker, a friend of Harvey Milk, designed a flag of pride for the 1978 Gay Freedom Day Pride Parade. The now-famous rainbow flag debuted just months before Milk was assassinated.
  • In June 2015, following the Supreme Court's ruling on same-sex marriage, one million San Franciscans poured into downtown to celebrate the Pride Parade.

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