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    The Castro Is Going Straight

    By Tommi Avicolli Mecca

    Mark my words: In 10 years, the Castro will be predominantly straight.

    The culprit is greed. It’s mainly the greed of speculators and investors who are buying up and flipping properties throughout the gayborhood and the city in a real estate feeding frenzy that can only be described as out of control. In the process, thousands of tenants are being pushed out of their neighborhoods as tech workers from Silicon Valley become the new kids on the block.

    What these speculators and investors are doing is reminiscent of what Wall Street did to the country a few years ago: rape and pillage with no concern for the lives they’re destroying.



    The signs of the changing Castro are everywhere. In the morning when I leave for work, I see niñeras pushing baby carriages down the street. I see as many straight couples holding hands as I do queer ones. I see that more and more of my new neighbors are not queer. A two-bedroom across the street from my apartment now rents for $4,200.

    Back when I arrived here in 1991, the Castro was as queer as can be. LGBT organizations had offices above the shops. On weekends, there were rallies in Harvey Milk Plaza and political organizations set up tables at 18th & Castro. On Halloween, people came from far and wide to celebrate what then was considered a national gay holiday, a day to flaunt your wildest fantasy. And they came to push boundaries. Nudity abounded, as did displays of our sexuality.

    A Different Light bookstore, where I worked for almost a decade, served as our community center. It was located at 489 Castro. Space in the back yard or upstairs in the office was gladly given for free to anyone who wanted to hold a meeting or make signs for an upcoming rally. Famous and not so famous queer writers were featured every night of the week.

    All of this changed in the late 90s when the dot-com boom sent rents skyrocketing and speculators salivating at the thought that they could flip properties under rent control and, by evicting all of the tenants, raise those rents to market value or sell the units as tenancies in common.


    Activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca’s talents as a performing artist can be experienced at a free concert, This Boy Is So Strange, on Saturday, Feb 1, 8:00 PM and Sunday, Feb 2, 3:00 PM, at the Eric Quenzada Center, 518 Valencia Street in San Francisco. PHOTO COURTESY OF TOMMI AVICOLLI MECCA

    Countless gay men with AIDS, longtime tenants who came here in the early 70s in pursuit of a safe haven, were pushed out of their places. Some left the city; some ended up on the streets; some died. All took with them a piece of the fabric of the gayborhood.

    That gayborhood is hanging on by a thread. It’s a shadow of what it used to be. Benches have been removed from Harvey Milk Plaza because homeless people (many of them queer) hang out and sleep on them. Nudity has been made illegal by the Castro’s gay supervisor. Halloween celebrations are forbidden because of violence at previous events.

    While many in the community enjoy newly found acceptance and decent jobs, 40% percent of homeless youth are queer, and 29% percent of the homeless are LGBT. These are facts that most LGBT organizations ignore, just like they ignore the fact that the most recognizable queer spot on the planet is going straight.

    Tommi Avicolli Mecca has been a queer activist and writer for over four decades. He currently works for the Housing Rights Committee, where he does tenant and affordable housing advocacy.