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    To San Francisco, With Pride

    By Peter Gallotta–

    Some people say San Francisco is over. That its glory days are behind it. That America’s once envied “City on a Hill” has become a gray cool city of the uber wealthy and white—with each money-raining tech IPO adding more gray to a once unmistakably vibrant palette. They say, we’ve broken America’s heart.

    I don’t think they’re wrong.

    Rents and housing prices have skyrocketed and are completely out of reach for the majority of us. Longtime local businesses are shuttering (Mission Pie’s announced closure at the end of August being the latest heartbreak to bear). Meanwhile, more and more families can’t afford to live here. The black population of San Francisco has dwindled to less than 5 percent.

    It’s no wonder that all of these concurrent changes are being lamented in the editorial pages of the Washington Post and films like The Last Black Man in San Francisco. It’s even remarked upon in the revamped glittery Tales of the City, which premiered on Netflix earlier this month. When we talk about San Francisco circa 2019, you can’t avoid this pink elephant in the room.

    But it’s easier to dismiss San Francisco today as a city that’s lost its way, than it is to remember what’s beneath the rubble. In between those shiny new high-rises, there’s a well-worn past. In the shadow of the Golden Gate, there still remains a queer little city that changed the world.

    This is, after all, the city of the Daughters of Bilitis, of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, who in 1955 gave queer women a space to organize and advocate outside of the bars. A place to feel human and free and not alone.

    This the city of José Sarria, the Widow Norton, whose tenor voice belted “God Save Us Nelly Queens” down at the Black Cat, no matter who showed up, even the police. Tired of the police raids, Sarria ran for a seat on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors in 1961 and shattered a lavender ceiling, becoming the first drag queen and queer person to run for public office in the United States.

    The first brick may have been thrown at Stonewall, but the first cup of coffee was thrown in the Tenderloin. This is the city of the Compton’s Cafeteria Riots, where one night in August 1966, trans women of color said enough is enough and resisted arrest by the police, pouring into the streets in heels and gowns and looks to kill, fighting back against police brutality, sparking the transgender rights movement in San Francisco.

    This is the city of Harvey Milk, of hope, of the “us’s,” of the possibility that we didn’t need to ask for permission, that we needed a seat at the table. That we could win political power, and stand up to the City Hall establishment. That it was about a movement and a fight bigger than our own.

    This is the city ravaged by the AIDS epidemic, that lost thousands of neighbors, friends, boyfriends and lovers. This is the city of ACT UP, of Ward 5B at San Francisco General Hospital, whose nurses revolutionized patient care during the height of the AIDS epidemic and loved us and took care of us when no one else in the world seemed to care.

    This is the city of lavender ceilings shattered, of radical queer progressive politics, of domestic partner benefits and universal health care access—now commonplace policies throughout the country. They started here because queer elected leaders dared to demand them.

    This is the city that believed “Love is Love” long before it became a social media hashtag or a t-shirt slogan, that defied state law and started marrying same sex couples in 2004 when few thought we deserved that right.

    This is the city with the only street named after a transgender person in the United States, the city where the first Transgender Cultural District in the world has been established—right in the heart of the Tenderloin.

    This is the city that I love. The city that lives beyond the tech IPOs and the Salesforce towers. That anchors our stories and our history in place.

    No one can argue that the Stonewall riots 50 years ago were a tipping point in queer herstory. But we can’t forget San Francisco. A city of queer and trans people who have led, built and sustained a movement, and given that movement a powerful, beautiful, irreplaceable home.

    We fought for our right to be in bars, to be at City Hall, for equal benefits, to be fully represented, seen and heard here. Queer and trans people helped to build this little city and the culture that many now want to consume. I despair the changes, but I refuse to only lament and say it’s all rotten and broken and forever lost.

    Peter Gallotta is a 30-something LGBT political activist holding on to the city that he loves thanks to rent control and two-for-one happy hour specials. He is a former President of the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club and currently serves as an appointed member of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee and an elected delegate to the California Democratic Party.