SF Weekly reported in the article “Wounded Pride” last week that 34% of lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) middle school students in San Francisco have attempted suicide. Conversely, I spoke to a friend of mine in Arizona on the phone a few days ago and she asked me, “How’s life in the big gay city?” Something doesn’t make sense. How can San Francisco be viewed as the most gay friendly city in the country when our schools are chock-full of hate crimes, anti-gay bullying, and ignorance?
There are a few key reasons why this gap in perception exists. Go to the Castro and people watch and I think the first reason will become clear. The gay community, specifically in the Castro, has become something of a tourist attraction.
Visitors from outside the city populate Castro, taking pictures and observing the gay community in its “natural habitat.” In the time of Harvey Milk and the push for equal rights, the gay community spent a lot of time in the streets of the Castro, talking about social reform, networking with other community members, and focusing on change. Now, the gay community spends more time at dance clubs than town hall meetings. I remember walking to the bus from the Equality California office this summer and seeing about 50 people in line to get into Badlands club. I was the only volunteer at Equality California that night and it became clear that my community was much more willing to spend a Tuesday night partying than organizing against Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
Stray very far from the Castro and the rainbow flags become pretty sparse. The previously mentioned article in SF Weekly describes life for LGBT youth in the Mission district, where conservative Catholic values run deep in the heavily Hispanic community. In neighborhoods with large conservative immigrant communities (i.e. Mission, Richmond, Sunset, etc.), coming out is not an option for LGBT youth and San Francisco’s claimed “pride” is more foreign than most of us realize.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that approximately 14% of the total San Francisco adult population identifies as LGBT. That means 14 out of every 100 people in this city have experienced the hardship of being an LGBT youth. That 14%, however, is not present in the lives of today’s LGBT youth. Where are the support groups, mentor programs, and non-profit organizations that religious, ethnic, and racial minorities have created to aid their youth? While the adult LGBT community surrounds itself in the world of Castro glamour and disinterest, their absence is literally creating a new identity for San Francisco: the city of LGBT apathy. It follows that the second reason for misconceptions about San Francisco’s role as a gay oasis is the generational gap between adult members of the LGBT community and LGBT youth.
It is crucial for LGBT students and allies at USF to bridge the gap between older adults and our younger counterparts. As students at a school with such emphasis on social justice we are in a position of power. We have the resources to support LGBT youth and to convince working professionals in our community that their help is imperative in the effort to change the culture of LGBT isolation in our schools and in the lives of youth struggling with their sexual identity.
Editor-in-Chief: Heather Spellacy
Chief Copy-Editor: Burke McSwain
Opinion Editor: Laura Waldron