In a Changing San Francisco, Keeping L.G.B.T.Q. Communities Alive

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When Shannon Amitin moved to San Francisco in 2005, he was early in his transition. He identified as queer, and he’d never felt quite at ease in Los Angeles, where he lived before.

The first time he walked into Juanita More!’s Pride pool party, he understood why.

“There were drag queens in the pool in full makeup; there were boys dressed like sailors and girls dressed like boys,” he told me recently. “There was a sense of respect around being yourself, in whatever form that looks like.”

The stories of coming to San Francisco vary. Felicia Elizondo, a longtime trans activist, remembered being beaten and jailed when she got to the Tenderloin in 1967.

But their emotional contours are similar.

“We were young kids learning to belong somewhere that we were at least, what do you call it?” Ms. Elizondo recalled, searching for the word: “Accepted.”

This weekend, San Francisco will cap a milestone Pride Month with its famous parade, marches and other celebrations.

The skyrocketing property values and flood of tech wealth that have transformed so much of San Francisco haven’t spared the city’s L.G.B.T.Q. communities, though. Longtime gathering places have shuttered, and historic sites have been redeveloped.

While advocates say they’re excited for the festivities, Pride is also serving as an occasion to reflect on what’s been lost, and what may be ahead for the city’s queer communities.

[Read The Times’s coverage of Pride 2019.]

What does it mean to preserve and showcase the city’s long L.G.B.T.Q. history without closing off that history behind glass? How do you build queer neighborhoods that are welcoming without encouraging, as Terry Beswick put it, “Disney-ification?”

Mr. Beswick, who is the executive director of the GLBT Historical Society, based in the Castro district, said these were the kinds of questions he grappled with. Often, he finds his own feelings mixed.

Take, for example, sponsorship of Pride by the Bay’s massive tech corporations.

On one hand, he said, he bristles at what he said at times feels “a little like cultural appropriation.”

On the other, many of those workers are also outspoken members of the Bay’s L.G.B.T.Q. community. And the spotlight on L.G.B.T.Q. history that has come with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising isn’t bad.

“It’s all kind of overwhelming,” he said. “Like we’ve arrived.”

Mr. Beswick said he saw promise in L.G.B.T.Q. cultural heritage districts, which he’s helped city leaders establish. The designations come with some funding, but not a lot of other restrictions, which he hopes will allow the money to be used to jump-start living work, as opposed to superficial markers.

“I think we have enough rainbow flags in the Castro,” he said. “We’ve got to create seed programs or fund projects that make it possible for young queer people to create stuff.”

This week, San Francisco supervisors voted unanimously to formalize the Castro heritage district.

Mx. Amitin said he and his business partner, Jolene Linsangan, looked at empty storefronts as an opportunity. If the old gay and lesbian bars San Franciscans once loved were vanishing, maybe their new queer bar, Jolene’s, could start to fill the void not by replacing, but by evolving.

Jolene’s, a 4,000-square-foot space in the Mission, has lockable restroom stalls — not troughs, which don’t work for women or many trans people.

Mx. Amitin said Jolene’s tries to use spirits made by queer- and women-owned providers.

“I think that’s a sort of shift in how businesses are operating in the city in general,” he said. “You have to be a little bit better.”

Still, Mx. Amitin said, the community needs more than watering holes and clubs. It needs places where queer youths and older L.G.B.T.Q. people can meet.

Ms. Elizondo, 73, said that these days, she’s focused on spending time with other people like her, who helped make the city what it has been and what it is.

The first time I called her, she was at a drag show rehearsal for L.G.B.T.Q. seniors who wouldn’t be able to attend the parade.

I said I wanted to talk about the city’s L.G.B.T.Q. history.

She laughed.

“I am your history,” she said.

The first batch of candidates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination will debate tonight. As my colleagues reported, there’s a lot to unpack — but on Night 1, it’s Senator Elizabeth Warren’s night to lose. Here’s what to expect, and how to watch.

And click here for a debate bingo card from our friends at the On Politics newsletter.

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Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, went to school at U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter, @jillcowan.

California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.

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