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Pride of Place: As the Nation's Gay Districts Grow More Affluent, Lesbians Are Migrating to the 'Burbs 

Wednesday, Jun 25 2014

Page 4 of 5

Fritz and her partner, June (not her real name), want to partake in the boom, too — they're eyeing a $1.3 million house with two bedrooms upstairs and a studio on the ground floor. They think that by pulling together their savings, and June's salary as a lawyer, they'll be able to scrounge up the money.

Looking toward the future, she has few reservations about joining a new class of well-heeled startup workers and "couples pushing strollers" — even if she becomes the old-timer who doesn't quite fit in anymore. A Long Island native, Fritz works at the Inlandboatmen's Union and considers herself staunchly blue collar — making her part of an ever-dwindling population.

"I've seen younger gay women move in, but they're mostly in the tech field," Fritz says. The lesbians who came to drive forklifts or paint houses can't afford their rent anymore.

That's a sentiment echoed by Eileen Hansen, a long-time Castro resident who's weathered two evictions and run for office twice — losing to Mark Leno in 2000 and Bevan Dufty in 2002. A dyed-in-the-wool progressive, she bemoans the proliferation of "formula" chain stores — Gap outlets and CVS pharmacies that stamp out neighborhood character — and maintains that the Castro's political culture now mirrors its swelling rent prices. Current Supervisor Scott Wiener has launched a fervent legislative crusade against aesthetic warts, such as wide boulevards and AT&T utility boxes. He's also imposed rules of conduct for dog walkers, plus bans on public camping and nudity, and new square footage laws to create swank "micro-apartments" for techie singles.

To Hansen, Wiener enshrines the values of a new, monied demographic.

Some political observers take that impression a step further: Wiener's election was a matter of demographics and identity in a city that, for all its pretensions of intellectualism, has an almost tribal approach to politics. There are more men than women, and more gay men than straight men in the Castro. And because people are getting wealthier, a candidate who embraced quality-of-life issues, pro-business moves, and the construction of new condos, will have broader appeal. Thus, the seat will always go to a gay male moderate.

Wiener, moreover, belongs in a lineage of middle-of-the-road Castro politicians (starting in 1978, with Harvey Milk's campaign against dog poop). Hansen, despite being gay, is a political outlier in the city's most established gay neighborhood.

She thinks this should change. "There's this assumption that because it was Harvey Milk's District, it needs to be held by a gay man," Hansen says. "That's a cultural and historical thing that we have to grapple with."

San Francisco hasn't always suffered from a dearth of lesbian representation. The so-called "Lavender Wave" of the 1990s made stars out of former Supervisors Carole Migden and Roberta Achtenberg, who both advanced to higher office.

"I don't think there's a loss of representation per se," Migden, who currently lives in SOMA and serves on the Democratic County Central Committee. San Francisco doesn't have any particular animus against lesbian candidates, Migden adds — it just doesn't see too many of them.

Chalk that up to the unsavory side of politics, as Migden does, noting that few people want to stick their necks out and get pilloried in the press. But it could also be another sign of unfavorable demographic shifts. In 2000, San Francisco switched from citywide to district supervisorial races, which allowed small, concentrated groups to wield disproportionate power (say, unions with a lot of volunteers). It also helped bolster candidates with a strong ethnic or ideological constituency: District 7, for example, is moderate, home-owning, and development-friendly — but heavily Asian — so it went to Supervisor Norman Yee. Lesbians, who no longer have a dense voter bloc in any one neighborhood of the city, saw their voting power diminished.

So, as Migden points out, being a lesbian candidate in San Francisco isn't a disadvantage, but it carries few advantages. WIthout a tipping-point constituency, there's no added boost like being a gay man in the Castro or an Asian in the Sunset.

It would, however, be conceivable that a lesbian candidate could run for citywide office, again — perhaps a hip tech worker or younger renter, Migden suggests; maybe someone akin to Rebecca Kaplan, in Oakland, or Lori Droste, the lesbian mother of two who is running for city council in Berkeley.

The question is whether they could afford to live here.

San Francisco's golden era of lesbianism persisted through the '80s, with same-sex female couples occupying the city's smaller, suburban pockets while gay men moved closer to the downtown center. Then came a succession of tech booms, and a surge in real estate prices, and a tectonic shift in the city's culture. Chic startups and high-priced salad bars supplanted the greasy diners downtown; mega-mansions sprang up on the blocks lining Dolores Park; the Castro, Mission, and Noe Valley neighborhoods were suddenly among the most affluent — and unaffordable — in California.

Teresa Romaine moved to Santa Rosa earlier this year, after realizing she could no longer handle the rent for her apartment in Potrero Hill. Around that time, the houses she was painting in Bernal were adding stories and undergoing full-on remodels, mushrooming to 10 or 20 times their value in previous decades. Hansen, on the other hand, purchased a house in the Castro with her partner and another friend in 2008; others, like Molly Martin, were equally prescient. The hills of Bernal Heights still teem with older or well-heeled lesbian homeowners. The problem is that fewer young ones are moving in.

And then, of course, there's a population of stalwart, working-or-middle-class lesbians who are staying in San Francisco by the skin of their teeth. Some won the rent control lottery; others are shacking up with multiple roommates or converting their apartments into Airbnb vacation squats. Lexington Club bartender Iris Triska says she's content to live with two roommates in the Mission and pay $850 a month. That's the price of keeping a venerable gay scene alive, even if it is a small scene.

About The Author

Rachel Swan

Rachel Swan

Rachel Swan was a staff writer at SF Weekly from 2013 to 2015. In previous lives she was a music editor, IP hack, and tutor of Cal athletes.


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