Saturday, April 22, 2006

Castro Culture Conservation

Fellow Californian and occasional SF visitor Boi from Troy pointed out an article from the Friday edition of the Los Angeles Times outlining the ongoing tug of war between those who want San Francisco's legendary (or notorious) Castro district to take a cold shower and those who want it to stay up, as it were.

Both he and erstwhile City resident Dunner are of the mind that the Castro ought to be left as-is in its bound-and-gagged glory, Dunner weighing in as such:

I think the best point of view in the story comes from a publisher of a magazine for same-sex parents:

"That culture existed long before they arrived," said Angeline Acain, a New Yorker who's editor and publisher of Gay Parent, a nationally circulated magazine. "If you see a window display you find offensive, don't take your kid down that block."

Along those lines, Dunner brings up a potential solution:

But instead of fighting the well-known tradition of the Castro in choosing to live there, why not raise your kids in any other of San Francisco's beautiful neighborhoods?

This isn't a bad thought, and it certainly might work well for some people.

However, to me, the tradition of the Castro is about much more than the sex shops; it's about the culture of openness, freedom, and community of which those shops are a part. The Castro has always been a neighborhood where, no matter what you were, black, white, Jewish, Christian, Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal, gay or lesbian, you were able to be out and be yourself. Even more so, it truly is a gay shtetl; everyone knows everybody (for better or worse) and watches out for each other.

While sex is very much a part of gay culture just by the simple fact that it is what defines us as gay, there's far more involved in the history and tradition of the Castro than that. Every other permutation of gay exists and thrives here; indeed, I think it's selling us short to be less than completely opening and welcome to parents and their children, straight OR gay. Being a parent is not easy in the first place, and I frankly hate the thought of gay parents being forced to self-exile from our community and the support structure it represents because they're not comfortable with their kids seeing naughty window displays.

So what's the solution?

I agree that the basic idea is, as stated above, for parents to avoid displays that they find offensive. However, what I would point out is that it would help if one knew that BEFORE one walked down the block. Perhaps what is needed is for merchants to get together and devise a handy "ratings system", marked where one could see it at crosswalks. Blocks that wanted to be "family friendly" could limit window and front-of-store displays as they saw fit; blocks that didn't mind would be marked appropriately as advance warning.

Not only would this help parents with kids, it would also help tourists (of which the Castro seems to be getting more lately) and other visitors, who may not wish to see as much "local color" as one can get here. Finally, it's a nice touch from a PR standpoint, showing that the gay community is concerned about what's portrayed publicly and is willing to help accomodate those of differing views.

Bevan Dufty, are you listening?

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