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    Trevor Hailey: In the Footsteps of History

    By Dr. Bill Lipsky–

    No one knows when or where their “Ah ha!” moment will come to them. For some of us, our great inspiration is a chance remark, an unexpected encounter or a fortuitous occurrence. For the late great Castro resident Trevor Hailey—creator of “Cruisin’ the Castro,” the first LGBT+ experience of its kind in San Francisco—it was a lecture that she attended at San Francisco State University given by Shirley Fong-Torres, the longtime leader of Chinatown walking tours.

    At the time, Hailey was taking graduate courses in recreation and leisure. Fong-Torres’ remarks and her example resonated with Hailey. “It was like a lightbulb went off,” she told the San Francisco Chronicle. She began researching the history of LGTB+ San Francisco, and especially the Castro. “That’s when I discovered we even had a history,” she added. “Until then, I thought we’d all sprung full-bloom from rocks.”

    Questions flooded her mind: What was the city’s queer past? How did the Castro, its most famous and influential LGBT+ neighborhood, come to be? Who were its most important residents? What happened here and where? “I knew right then,” she later said about sharing what she had learned, “that’s what I wanted to do.”

    Although she knew from an early age that she was not exactly like all of the other children, she was not sure what to do about it or how. Like many before her, and after, she joined the Navy to see the world and to find herself. Stationed first in New York, she then transferred to the Naval Hospital in Oakland in 1972, where she served as a nurse before moving to San Francisco.

    Once in San Francisco, Hailey said that she “didn’t look back.” She began a new career as a real estate agent, working for the next ten years at a brokerage just a few doors from Harvey Milk’s camera store on Castro Street. There she watched the neighborhood come into its own, experiencing the triumph of Milk’s election, the tragedy of his murder, the devastation of the AIDS epidemic, the resilience of the community and so much more.

    Hailey’s first walking tour was in 1989. From the beginning she explained not only the historic significance of a place, but also the importance of what happened there. The buildings she pointed out along the way might have been interesting in and of themselves, but she brought greater life to the overall history by explaining where people lived and worked, played and partied; and where they came together to protest discrimination and to secure the human rights previously denied to members of our communities.

    When she came to 575 Castro Street, for example, she did not simply point out that this was where Milk once had his camera shop, but she explained how he became the first openly gay candidate elected to the Board of Supervisors, where he advanced human rights for LGBT+ San Franciscans. Pink Triangle Park was not only the home of a memorial to lesbians and gays lost to the Holocaust, but also a sentinel to ensure that such horror must never happen again. 

    After 16 years, Hailey retired in 2005. By then she had led some 4,000 groups of locals and tourists through the Castro’s and San Francisco’s history, sometimes having done her four-hour tours seven days a week.

    Was it worth it? In numerous interviews, she responded in her own words with a passionate and fiery “yes!”

    “Trevor was an institution in our community,” San Francisco Bay Times Publisher Betty Sullivan, a friend of Hailey’s who organized her memorial service, told the Bay Area Reporter. Her “goals were to educate and convey the history of and accurate information about the LGBT community, to locals as well as those from afar.”

    No one can say that Hailey did not succeed, given that she left a history and a heritage woven deeply into the hearts of all who followed her.

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