[Dash of SAS] Somewhere over the rainbow

Ana P. Santos
In The Castro, there is no forced tolerance, only welcoming acceptance. Here, you can come as you are.

ANA P. SANTOSCALIFORNIA, USA – Among the many streets of San Francisco, there is one that is brighter and undoubtedly, more colorful than the rest. 

This where a gigantic rainbow striped flag stands tall and proud as it flaps in the wind; where a store called, “Does your mother know?” sells BDSM (bondage, domination, sadism and masochism) and leather accessories – and not exactly the fashion kind; and where you can get a manicure-pedicure in a nail spa called “Hand Job.”

This is Castro Street in San Francisco, the epicenter of the gay and lesbian movement and considered as one of the city’s top tourist spots for its history and character, which could best be described as irreverently witty. Where else can you find a store selling eyeglasses and sunshades called “Specs in the City”?

LGBT epicenter

In their June 1964 issue, Life Magazine called San Francisco the “gay capital of the world.” There are several establishments in the Castro that cement this claim.

The Twin Peaks Tavern (not to be confused with the hilly tourist destination that offers a view from the city with the same name), is practically a legend for personifying “coming out.”

The Twin Peaks Tavern is said to be the first gay bar in the world to have clear floor to ceiling windows. This was a bold move in the 70s when the standard for most gay bars was closed or opaque windows. Now considered a legend at the corner of Castro and Market Street, the Twin Peaks Tavern still maintains its floor to ceiling windows and also goes by another nickname: The Glass Coffin.

The Castro Theater

It was also in the 70s when Harvey Milk became the first openly gay public official to be voted into office as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. His life and tragic death — after being shot shortly after he was voted into office — were made into a movie “Milk” which starred Sean Penn and earned him an Academy Award for Best Actor.

Milk, who lived in the Castro, owned and managed a camera shop called Castro Camera. Milk gained prominence as a gay rights activist and was called “The Mayor of Castro Street.” The old camera store (also Milk’s and his partner’s residence) has been converted into a store called Human Rights Campaign where 100% of the sales proceeds go to fight for LGBT equality.

At the back of the store, in Milk’s old office, another tradition is also being continued.

The Trevor Lifeline, which gives counseling to young LGBTQ (the Q being “questioning”) community who may be contemplating suicide is housed in Milk’s old office. It is said that Milk received many calls for help and advice from LGBTQ youth contemplating suicide.

Today, Castro Street remains at the epicenter of the LGBT movement, albeit in a different way. Where Castro was once ground zero for uprisings, protests and clamor for equality, it now safeguards the history, the highlights and the advancements of the LGBT movement in all its flamboyance and character.

An LGBT safe place

Castro has become an LGBT haven.

Smaller versions of the rainbow flag, which has become the universally recognized symbol of gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual pride hang in almost all the shops along with signs that say “Stop the Hate and Violence.”

Directories of services and establishments come in different colors: pink spot and the rainbow pages.  

A Wells Fargo Bank street sign showing two women reads: “Serving the Castro since 1988. Our team of bankers can help you achieve your unique financial goals.”

In the store “Under One Roof,” one will find books such as “Is your dog gay?” and “Mommy, Mama and Me” for non-traditional families. Like the Human Rights Campaign, most of the staff of Under One Roof are volunteers and 100% of the sales proceeds go to funding AIDS charities.

In The Castro, there is no forced tolerance, only welcoming acceptance.

Here, you can come as you are, or if you are the minimalist type, you can join the nudist sunbathers who bask the often elusive Bay Area sun and come wearing nothing at all.

On this side of the rainbow in The Castro, all shades, all colors, shine proud and bright. – Rappler.com

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