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    Gavin Arthur and the Summer of Love

    By Dr. Bill Lipsky

    Whether they believed he was a creative spirit, a colorful nonconformist, or a kooky eccentric, everyone thought Chester Alan Arthur III, known to everyone as Gavin, was memorable, a true “only in San Francisco” personality. The grandson and namesake of the twenty-first president of the United States, he was well known as both a sexologist and an astrologer. Openly bisexual, he published The Circle of Sex in 1962, where he explained that sexuality was a circle with twelve orientations, each corresponding to a sign of the zodiac.

    Arthur was a lifelong activist, deeply involved with both the Beat Generation and the early gay rights movement. He also became an influential leader of the Haight-Ashbury counterculture, where he was part of the discussions to bring together different groups of the Bay Area’s counter-culture simply to experience “being” with each other. Using astrology, Arthur set the date for the first “Human Be-In” for January 14, 1967, in Golden Gate Park.

    Some 30,000 celebrants attended. Many identified as hippies. They heard Allen Ginsberg, Timothy Leary—who famously told them to “turn on, tune in, drop out”—Lenore Kandel, Gary Snyder, and others speak about some of the basic tenets of the counterculture: personal empowerment, communal living, higher consciousness (achievable with the help of psychedelic drugs), and radical political awareness. Others simply enjoyed the day’s “good vibrations” and “groovy sounds.”

    The event made the City’s hippie scene world famous and led first to the “Easter Vacation Onslaught” and then to the transformative “Summer of Love.” Young middle-class Americans from all over the country tripped to San Francisco, with or without a flower in their hair, leaving the comfort of their parents’ homes or the conforming drabness of their dormitories for a Neverland where “there would be free love, free pot, free food and a free place to sleep.”

    Once in San Francisco, they traded in their button-down shirts and their sorority sweaters for tie-dyed shirts and fringed jackets. Khaki pants gave way to frayed bell bottoms, and granny dresses replaced pleated skirts. In their rebellion against conformity, everyone wore beads. At its center, Haight-Ashbury quickly became both a mecca and a tourist attraction.

    Among the head shops and psychedelic clothing stores of a neighborhood that embraced self-discovery, personal freedom, an “if it feels good, do it” attitude, sexual liberation, and free love, the newly arrived found an established, vibrant LGBT community. It flourished even before the “Summer of Love,” at least back into the 1950s, and had created a lively main street for itself.

    During the decade of the “Summer of Love,” Margaret Forster and Charlotte Coleman opened The Golden Cask at 1725 Haight in 1962, a bar and restaurant popular with both gay men and lesbians. My Place #4 opened at 1784 Haight in 1963. The next year, Rikki Streicher opened Maud’s around the corner at 937 Cole, at the former site of The Study, also a bar. Early customers included singer Janis Joplin and activists Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon.

    At the time Maud’s opened, California law forbade women from being bartenders in clubs they did not own, so the honor of pouring drinks in the early years went to men from nearby gay establishments. Because many lesbians lived in the Haight, Maud’s became a popular, then a legendary watering hole for a generation of women, a place where they could meet, find each other, discover community, gossip, hug. When it closed in 1989, it was the longest surviving lesbian bar in the country.

    1965 was a banner year for the Haight’s expanding LGBT community. The Golden Elephant opened at 530 Haight, while The Nite Lite opened a block away at 668 Haight. Bligh’s Bounty, which became the neighborhood bar most popular with black men, opened nearby at 782 Haight. Less than a block from Maud’s, there was Bradley’s Corner at 900 Cole; popular with both men and women, it featured spaghetti dinner for 69 cents on Tuesdays.

    There was more to come. In 1966, The Lucky Club opened at 1801 Haight, and in 1967, the year of the “Summer of Love,” Nick O’Demus established Taste of Leather 545 Ashbury, the first gay-owned leather business in the Bay Area. Dozens of other bars, clubs, restaurants, and shops tied to the burgeoning counterculture movement went into business during the next 10 years.

    1967 brought both setbacks and good news for the LGBT community. On March 7, CBS broadcast The Homosexuals. The first such television “documentary” seen by a national audience, it was described as “the single most destructive hour of antigay propaganda in our nation’s history.” The Episcopal Diocese of California that year, however, urged the state to abolish the laws regulating private sexual behavior.

    By the end of the “Summer of Love,” an estimated 100,000 people journeyed to San Francisco, hoping to join, or at least behold, the City’s counterculture. On October 6, the Diggers, a neighborhood group of activists and performers, held a funeral service for “Hippie, devoted son of Mass Media,” to indicate that the tremendous cultural experiment, which was the Haight-Ashbury, had ended. It had, they felt, been co-opted, sanitized and commercialized out of existence.

    The LGBT community, however, survived the invasion. Gavin Arthur, who died in 1972, surely would have been gladdened by how LGBT culture and community endured in the Haight for another decade and now prosper throughout today’s San Francisco.

    Bill Lipsky, Ph.D., author of “Gay and Lesbian San Francisco” (2006), is a member of the Rainbow Honor Walk board of directors.