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Rainbow Flag in Castro | © Nan Palmero/Flickr
Rainbow Flag in Castro | © Nan Palmero/Flickr
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How Did San Francisco Become the Gay Mecca of the World?

Picture of Deanna Morgado
Updated: 6 September 2017
San Francisco is one of the most diverse cities on earth. Read on to discover how every human ‘difference’ is acknowledged and accepted in San Francisco, making it the ‘gay mecca’ of the world.

Race, gender, color, mental-make up, physical capability, and orientation are all respected in San Francisco. The city was deemed the “gay capital of America”, in a Life magazine article in June 1964. Each and every neighborhood has something to contribute to the LGBTQIA community; whether it be nightlife, youth centers, fundraising resources, helplines, performing arts groups, the GLBT history museum, politics, the list goes on.

Sister Noma of The Sisters of Perpetual Indulge, a SF-born and now worldwide nonprofit that expresses human rights through drag performances and other fun theatrics, stated that San Francisco is the “gay mecca” of the world. But how did it get this status?

During World War I, the U.S. Navy began the “blue discharge”, where known homosexuals in the military were discharged in port cities, one of those being San Francisco. From there, a gay community began to form. Nightlife for the gay community began to thrive during the 1920s and ’30s, the first lesbian bar, Mona’s 440 Club was founded in 1936 and the culture eventually led to the cross-dressing shows we know today as drag shows.

The infamous author, who also happened to be homosexual, Oscar Wilde said, “It is an odd thing, but everyone who disappears is said to be seen in San Francisco. It must be a delightful city, and possess all the attractions of the next world.”

Wilde’s theory on San Francisco couldn’t ring more true, both in and out of the gay community. It seems the city always finds a place for those who aren’t sure where they fit in society. Though discrimination certainly still existed in the 1900s, embracing the different is what helped San Francisco’s gay community build a foundation and presence.

When WWII broke out, the gay community endured major prejudice, raids, and shutdowns. This eventually invoked riots and pushback around the 1950s, as the gay community started to gather more followers and supporters from all walks of life.

Through the 1960s and ’70s, the gay community in San Francisco began to flourish. The Society for Individual Rights (SIR), founded in San Francisco in 1964, published the magazine Vector and, within two years, became the largest homosexual organization in the United States. On the west coast in 1970, groups of gay activists held a march and what they called a ‘Gay-in’ in San Francisco. Two years later, this movement became the Gay Liberation Day Parade, or what we all know today as San Francisco Pride.

Rainbow Flag in Castro
Rainbow Flag in Castro | © Nan Palmero/Flickr

Today, tolerance and acceptance are words many San Franciscans live by. And representation of the gay community is becoming a part of the everyday norm. Even in politics, California State Assembly Member Mark Leno has been serving San Francisco since 1998. He was the first openly gay man to ever be elected senate. Not only is he an elected official but, as was announced earlier this year, Leno is also now in the running to be San Francisco mayor in 2019. The “Gay Mecca” of the world could possibly be led by its first openly gay mayor. How’s that for some LGBTQIA recognition?

America’s societal norm and laws have changed drastically within the last century, even the last decade for the LGBTQIA community. San Francisco played a large role in the progressive way of thinking.

LGBT sports leagues have also been popping up throughout San Francisco. And they’re not sports for the faint-hearted either. Bay Area Derby Girls is an all-female derby team that’s breaking, not only teeth, but feminine stereotypes too! Fog Rugby is a rugby league dedicated to having all players that are traditionally unrepresented in the sport to get out there and play.

Through discrimination and inspiring perseverance, the LGBTQIA community has bloomed throughout the streets of San Francisco. Prejudice has been met with love and the refusal to be kept down, which is what makes San Francisco the “gay mecca” of the world. And since the gay marriage law was passed in 2016, San Francisco has been debating California’s Proposition 8 which opposed legalizing gay marriage, and the city has been given a second title. As voted by GayCities members, San Francisco is now not only the “gay mecca” of the world, but also LGBTQIA’s “marriage mecca of the U.S.”