Thursday, July 1, 2010

My pride celebrations began with a viewing of the film Stonewall Uprising at Frameline’s thirty-fourth LGBT International Film Festival. The film’s exposition was quite detailed and explicit and many in the theatre were in tears before the long list of legally sanctioned violent acts and crimes perpetrated on homosexuals during the 1950s and 1960s climaxed with the Stonewall Inn raid and resistance of that famous June night in 1969. Homosexuality was illegal during the 1950s and 1960s. Homosexuals could only gather in private. To reveal ones sexuality meant not only arrest, but social ostracization, loss of ones job, and in some cases commitment to an institution where treatment methods ran the gamut from electric shock aversion therapy to lobotomies. Plainclothes police would entrap homosexuals in public restrooms by soliciting them for sex. It was illegal for bars to serve alcohol to homosexuals and homosexuality was considered a mental disorder.

In spite of these risks a few homosexuals banned together to protest for equal rights prior to 1969. The Mattachine Society was one such homophile organization which was involved with picketing Independence Hall in Philadelphia on July 4, 1965. The pickets were required to wear dresses or suits and ties in order to look just like ordinary Americans. A participant told how she felt as though they were all in a fishbowl, entertainment for all of the ice-cream eating tourists, and she would not do it again.
By 1969 the mafia was in control of any gay bars which existed; being the only ones possessing the network necessary to pay the police off and keep the bars open. A gay community had formed in New York City’s West Village made up of those who already had little to loose: people of color, drag queens and transsexuals, and homeless and run-away youth. These were the clientele of the Stonewall Inn and these were the people who resisted the police raid on the first night of rioting, June 28, 1969. Although the police faced a crowd outside the Inn of between one hundred and one hundred and fifty who were attracted by the sounds of the police cars, the noise and commotion; a crowd which soon would grow to between five and six hundred, it was the crowd of lesbians, drag queens, transvestites, and effeminate queer youth inside the bar who first resisted arrest by refusing to be searched for gender conformity or to produce identification when so ordered by the police.

The rioting would continue the following night, drawing even larger crowds. Not everyone was happy about the turn of events. The Mattachine Society posted a sign on the boarded up window of the Stonewall Inn which read:

We homosexuals plead with our people to please help maintain peaceful and quiet conduct on the streets of the Village—Mattachine

When this image appeared in the film, many in the audience showed their disapproval vocally with boos and hissing. Following the uprising, the Mattachine held its now annual Philadelphia Independence Day protests. This time, however, two women decided to hold hands. The organizer of the event quickly broke them apart, saying, “None of that.” One of the lesbians who had been at Stonewall convinced about ten couples to hold hands which made the organizer from Mattachine furious, but earned more press attention than all of the previous marches combined.

The theater showing Stonewall Uprising was packed with gays, lesbians, and trans people. They all seemed to love the film, as did I. Even though I live in San Francisco, it was really quite nice to be in a venue surrounded entirely by other queer folk; to be in Queer space. It seems that lately Queer space has become so compromised through gentrification, assimilation, and acceptance. Most times it seems as though one can not truly be ones true queer self anymore but must always police ones actions.

I worked in the middle of the Castro neighborhood all Pride weekend, which was beautifully warm; warm enough that both days after work I was able to exercise my rights and walk around the neighborhood naked, enjoying the sun and the warmth and the crowds. Sunday, the day of Pride, following work I again went naked and made my way to the Civic Center. Each year I miss the parade but make the Civic Center after work were I like to relax in the Faerie Freedom Village, a commercial free Faerie space which is, like the theater, Queer space, but even more so, as everyone is in a celebratory mood and the costumes, glitter, dancing, and nudity overflow!

Monday morning, early, as I was walking home from my boyfriends house I noticed for the first time the signs which had been taped to many of the utility poles in the Castro.

Welcome to the World - Famous Castro Neighborhood!
We sincerely hope you have an enjoyable, memorable time during your visit here.
However, please note that, contrary to what you may have heard from the hordes of homeless people around here claiming to be victims of racism/sexism/homophobia/capitalism (y’know: bums), the sidewalks and streets of the Castro are NOT:
  • A trash can
  • A garbage dump
  • An ashtray
  • A vomit basin
  • A toilet/urinal/latrine
  • A bed, chair, sofa, or yoga mat
  • A whorehouse/crystal meth distribution center
  • An off-leash dog-run
  • A used chewing gum repository
So please enjoy yourself during your stay here, but please also remember to be considerate of others and to refrain from treating the neighborhood’s streets like they are your personal, private garbage can/toilet/ashtray. Thanks!
-The Management

It was rather difficult to miss these signs, not only by their number but also because they were the only signs still posted. For the past decade or so, there has been a concerted effort by self-appointed guardians of the Castro to take down any posters as soon as they appear on poles. Posting of poles has been a traditional way of communicating community events since the late 1970s. Which raises the question, who IS “the management”? The same self-appointed keepers of the utility poles? And what of the “hordes of homeless”? Having lived in the neighborhood for almost thirty years, I have witnessed the homeless situation escalate and decline on and off over the years and it certainly is much better now then it has been in the past.

The Castro has had an uneasy history with homeless people, instigating several concerted efforts to rid the neighborhood of panhandlers by sponsoring “Create Change” programs in which businesses urge customers to help the homeless by not giving them spare change, but rather contributing to charitable organizations or donating their time. One among the many problems with such campaigns is that the “community leaders” sponsoring such campaign s simultaneously fight against the establishment of outreach centers for homeless LGBTQ youth in their neighborhood.

Many of these youth are homeless for the very same reasons the youth who fought back at the Stonewall Inn were homeless and marginalized that June night in 1969, they are the victims of homophobia and transphobia within their families and hometown communities. They come to neighborhoods such as the West Village in the 1960s and the Castro now, seeking a space where they can safely express their gender and sexual identities only to find themselves devalued due of their positioning in social categories: young, urban, racial-ethnic minority, and poor, which leads the dominant white male capitalist gay culture to reject them.

One youth tells of finally realizing the Castro community, which they had considered themselves to be a part of, did not want them when they witnessed Officer Jane Warner, notorious among homeless youth in the Castro for constantly telling them to “move along,” engaging in a conversation with a gay man while standing in front of the youth. When asked how work was going and Officer Jane replied very well, the man said, “yes, it’s nice - hardly any homeless at all.” Turning to the youth he said, “except for that one right there.” It is obvious that this man and Officer Jane were treating the homeless youth as an object, as something they could feel free to discuss within earshot without worry about this homeless youth’s feelings or needs.

It is parodical to see these signs posted on the poles in the shiny, well tended Castro neighborhood lined with chain stores such as Levi’s, Diesel, and Pottery Barn selling high end merchandize to folks who are paying exorbitant rents and mortgages to live here, and remember the jeering, booing, and hissing which greeted the image of the Mattachine sign on the Stonewall Inn which pleaded with “our people to please help maintain peaceful and quiet conduct on the streets of the Village.” Today we do not have to wear suits and ties and dresses and not hold hands to be acceptable. All we need be are consumers with disposable income, a place to live, and an interest in marriage and the military. However you read it, it is still assimilation, it is still settling for acceptance on heteronormative terms, not queer terms. Today it seems the careful, closeted, assimilationist Mattachine project has won out over the more revolutionary uprising that was Stonewall.

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