LGBTQ cultural district proposed for the Castro greenlit at first public hearing

LGBTQ cultural district could help protect community against gentrification

The rainbow flags installed around the Castro District already mark what many members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer community have described as a “sanctuary” — now, San Francisco is inching toward making it official.

The San Francisco Historic Preservation Commission on Wednesday unanimously backed a resolution to establish a new cultural district in the Castro District.

The Castro LGBTQ Cultural District, if approved, would be the official designation given to an area roughly encompassed by Market Street, Grand View Avenue, 22nd Street, 19th Street and Noe Street, which holds cultural assets and neighborhood resources such as the Castro Theater and LGBTQ senior services agency Openhouse offices.

The district would bring resources and funding to The City’s historically vibrant hub for LGBTQ culture, which in recent years has struggled with gentrification.

“People are leaving. There are fewer gay bars, gay-owned businesses, gay residents, even though there are still a lot of visitors,” said Castro resident Terry Beswick, who is helping to conduct a community-led study on how The City can “honor, maintain, and expand our cultural assets.”

That study, called LGBTQ Plus Cultural Heritage Strategy, was mandated by a 2016 resolution. Results are expected to be presented to The City in time for Gay Pride in June, according to Beswick.

“What we are really interested in is looking at how we can protect where people live, how they live, where they work and how they play, so that the places are able to hold their integrity by the virtue of the people that are there, not just by virtue of visitors to the place,” he said.

There are currently six cultural districts operating in San Francisco’s Bayview, Mission, Japantown, Tenderloin and South of Market neighborhoods, with two — Compton’s Transgender Cultural District and the Leather and LGBTQ District — dedicated to preserving LGBTQ culture.

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, whose district includes the Castro, introduced the ordinance calling for the designation on April 9, picking up on efforts by former District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy who last May introduced a resolution to establish a Castro LGBTQ Cultural District.

Also in May 2018, legislation was adopted to outline the process for establishing cultural districts throughout the city. The Castro LGBTQ Cultural District is the second to seek the designation under the new process, according to Mandelman’s legislative aide, Tom Temprano.

“The Castro is a living and breathing geographic and cultural area with rich political, social, economic, and historical significance to the LGBTQ community, “said Temprano, adding that the neighborhood has been recognized “worldwide for half a century as a symbol of LGBTQ liberation and as an enclave for LGBTQ people to find safety, acceptance and chosen family.”

Temprano said the neighborhood also saw the birth of an internationally recognized model of care for AIDS during the epidemic of the 1980s.

He added that the boundaries of the proposed district were determined by a “thorough process” involving many neighborhood groups and LGBTQ serving institutions throughout The City.

On Tuesday, around a dozen community advocates and stakeholders spoke in support of the district.

Kathy Amendola, owner and tour guide at Rainbow Honor Walk, said that as members of the LGBTQ community continue to face persecution, “we cannot be invisible anymore.”

“Our district is an outstanding example of how we can have pride and progress,” said Amendola.

Andrew Schafer, a resident of the neighborhood said that like many neighborhoods in The City “we are faced without absurdly high rents, a glut of empty storefronts, displaced people forced to live on the streets and rapid gentrification.”

“But the Castro isn’t like other neighborhoods. For young queer kids from [across the country] the Castro is a place were we can belong,” said Schafer, adding that the creation of the cultural district will give The City a chance to preserve “what is working and fix what isn’t.”

The proposal was forwarded to the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee, and will require the approval of the full board. A hearing date has yet to be set.

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