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Guest Opinion: Care about the Castro Street Fair

by Cleve Jones

Castro Street was packed for last year's Castro Street Fair. Members of the board that runs the fair are soliciting new ideas for this year's event and will hold a community meeting next Saturday. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Castro Street was packed for last year's Castro Street Fair. Members of the board that runs the fair are soliciting new ideas for this year's event and will hold a community meeting next Saturday. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

November 27, 2018 will be the 40th anniversary of the assassinations of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. Their contributions to our city are remembered and honored in many ways, including the Eureka Valley/Harvey Milk Memorial Branch Library, the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, and the George R. Moscone Convention Center.

Milk's life occupies a unique place in the history of LGBTQ people and has been celebrated by Academy Award-winning films, operas, plays, books, and most recently, by the Board of Supervisors' decision to designate Terminal 1 at San Francisco International Airport as Harvey Milk Terminal. Thousands of couples - gay and straight alike - have been married in front of Milk's statue in City Hall, and his name is invoked all over the world whenever LGBTQ people are fighting for our rights.

While Milk has become a legendary figure, those of us who knew him when he was alive remember him first as a friend and neighbor - a man who cared deeply about his community and who thought constantly of ways to strengthen and nurture the bonds that connect and empower us. From his little camera shop on Castro Street, Milk dreamed of a place where LGBTQ people could live, work, prosper, and change the world.

The Castro is a much different place today. Many thousands of the young gay men who flocked to our neighborhood in the 1970s and 1980s lost their lives to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The skyrocketing cost of real estate has forced thousands more to leave in search of affordable housing. Many of Milk's contemporaries have been evicted, and fewer young people earn enough to live here.

It's been many years since tens of thousands of revelers in outrageous costumes filled the street for Halloween. Pink Saturday's massive celebrations are but a distant memory. Both were eventually ended because of violence breaking out. The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence relocated their Easter Sunday Hunky Jesus contest and party to Golden Gate Park after the renovation of Dolores Park.

But Milk's dream lives on in Castro Street and the Victorian homes of the surrounding neighborhood. We are reminded of it daily, heading for Muni Metro at Harvey Milk Plaza, beneath Gilbert Baker's giant rainbow flag, and every October with the Castro Street Fair that he founded in 1974.

It's important that the Castro Street Fair continue, not just because Milk started it, not only for the money it raises for our community's benefit, but because it helps maintain the character of our neighborhood.

The volunteers who serve on the board of directors of the Castro Street Fair are asking for our assistance to re-imagine and reinvigorate the fair. They invite all of us who care about the fair to join them at a public forum Saturday, April 21, from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Eureka Valley Recreation Center, 100 Collingwood Street. Bring your own dreams, ideas, and creative energy. Forty years after Milk's death, his party on Castro Street lives on.

Castro resident Cleve Jones is a longtime AIDS and LGBTQ activist and founder of the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. He is also the author of "When We Rise," a memoir that was partly the inspiration for last year's ABC miniseries of the same name.

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