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Queer Flight: Does the Success of Gay Rights Mean the End of Gay Culture? 

Wednesday, Jun 4 2014
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Christopher Kingery, technology program manager at Airbnb — and a regular Airbnb host — sees the risk, and strives for stability in a neighborhood in flux. While short-term rentals have been associated with displacements and housing scarcity, Kingery remains in his home while hosting guests, and shepherds them around. "If you look on almost every corner, there's a high-rise that's going up," he says. "And they're not cheap. They're creating all this inventory, and it's creating an influx of people. I don't know who those people are going to be — but more than likely: straight, techy-y guys and gals. I think that'll change the face of the Castro a little bit, but they'll live here.

Still, Kingery is concerned about what the future might look like. "I don't want the culture to be consumed by this gentrification of the neighborhood, and I think that's what's happening," he says. "Folsom Street Fair used to be wild, and now people are pushing kids in strollers."

As the Haight is something of a museum of past Haight-ness, so too might the Castro and SoMa become places where LGBT people BART in for the Frameline film festival or Pink Saturday, or fly in for the Folsom Street Fair, before returning to wherever they make their homes, much like Catholics who only go to church on Christmas and Easter.

Abramson, the early AIDS doctor and a 50-year Castro resident, feels the parallel acutely: "It already started," he says. The rainbow crosswalk stripes, sidewalk widening, and Gay Walk of Fame are "to attract tourists. They're making it a draw. It's always been a draw for gay people, but they want all of the tourists to come in here."

But while Abramson is no fan of condos per se, he doesn't see the immediate neighborhood's gay character under assault. In his experience, the Castro "has always been about 50 percent gay. I know all my neighbors. They know I'm gay. There's lots of straights on my particular block. It's cute." San Francisco might become a giant B&B, a Palm Springs or Provincetown writ large. Or maybe even that's too optimistic. As Bus Station John laments, "Go to Polk Street now, on a weekend night. It's one of the cradles of gay San Francisco and it's as if it never existed."

Yet every large-scale cultural trend contains at least a nugget of its opposite. Same-sex marriage might turn out to be something of a boomlet, as the rush of seeing couples who've been together for 50 years marry wears off, and gay Millennials (and whatever generation comes after them) fall back into phase with the wider discontent with traditional institutions. Heterosexual marriage rates, except among the highly affluent, are falling, and once it becomes commonplace, gay marriage may follow.

As political homophobia falls away — and with more than 80 percent of Americans under 30 supporting marriage equality and gay adoption, there is evidence it will — new generations of gays might not be so inclined to follow the marriage script. And not everyone who lived through the bad old days is rushing to wed, either.

Abramson is somewhat dismissive of same-sex nuptials. "The only reason I can think of for gays to get married is tax purposes," he says. Monogamy is hardly the only path, either. Will is openly polyamorous — openly as in "out and proud," as well as "in an open poly relationship" — and Kingery has hosted "throuples" through Airbnb. Same-sex marriage might become normal without becoming the only norm.

Nearer-term, housing displacements might be approaching a high-water mark. Supervisor Campos' bill requiring landlords who evict tenants under the Ellis Act to pay the equivalent of two years of comparable rent became law on June 1, and State Sen. Mark Leno is pushing a bill that prohibits new landlords from Ellis Act-ing tenants until they've owned a building for five years.

For his part, Campos is optimistic. "I think there's a silver lining to how bad things have gotten, that it has pushed people to get involved in the issue of housing and affordability," he says. "It's not the typical activists — it's actually regular people. And that's when change happens."

For all the talk about the revolutionary potential of the late 1970s, it's easy to forget that Harvey Milk launched his political career on perhaps the most middlebrow issue of all: dog poop. Forty years on, the energy of LGBT activism is now shifting from gay marriage to trans rights. On housing rights and combating violence, there is still much work to do — but less and less need for windowless bars in which to get it done.

The political victories of gay culture have led to the decline of the institutions built to win the battles. To be equal does not mean you have to be the same, but having become equal, there is less need to be different. The Good/Bad Old Days are gone, but the Castro, like San Francisco, is still alive — and after all this time, it's still full of dog poop.

About The Author

Pete Kane

Pete Kane

Bio:
Pete Kane is a total gaylord who is trying to get to every national park before age 40

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