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Guest Opinion: Support the Castro cultural district — and local businesses

by Melissa Newton and Alejandra Gomez

The Castro neighborhood and its LGBTQ cultural district need the support of residents to help keep it a queer space. Photo: Rick Gerharter
The Castro neighborhood and its LGBTQ cultural district need the support of residents to help keep it a queer space. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

The Castro district has been a safe space and hotspot for the queer community, expression, and tourism for many decades. But when there is popularity there is a chance for profit for corporations, and a common theme of "gaytrification."

These corporations are engaging in "rainbow-washing" — such as promoting LGBTQ Pride Month — and then not engaging with meaningful support once the profit stream ends at the end of June. In many cases, large corporations entering queer spaces take business from locals hoping to maintain their small businesses within high-rent spaces, harming our community. For example, Bank of America at 18th and Castro streets recently attempted to remove the memorial and LGBTQ activism site. A true ally would be aware of the significance and history of the location, and would celebrate it, rather than ban it.

Today 72% of residents currently identify as LGBTQ, but only 55% of new residents moving to the area are LGBTQ, meaning the Castro is losing its queerness, according to an article in the Financial Times. To make things worse, LGBTQ minorities are moving out of the area. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2010 the Castro had 12.5% African American population compared to a jarring 2.4% today. The Castro has seen rent prices climb by about $1,000 per month in less than a decade, forcing out people with lower incomes.

In 2019, the city's Board of Supervisors approved the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District for the neighborhood, securing city support and resources to prevent the queer identity from being lost. Community engagement and volunteer work with the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District can guarantee that the resource actually gives long-lasting help to the community. Volunteering holds the city accountable to preserve the Castro as an LGBTQ space, gives voice to those who may not be heard, and can teach you how to use your voice.

Community members in the Castro have long felt the strain of being pushed out and silenced by gentrification and big corporations capitalizing on their identities and shared experiences. This stress has brought forward a new wave or movement emphasis that centers around volunteering and activism. Unless there is a need for another organization to come help gentrify the Castro, we must ensure that we, the residents, are helping and changing our community.

Tourism itself seems to be contributing to pushing queer people out of the Castro. To be an ally to the community living in the Castro, tourists can support local businesses and honor certain spaces for queer voices. Taking action to preserve the Castro ensures that there is a safe space for locals and queer-identifying tourists for years to come.

In order for the Castro LGBTQ Cultural District to stay for a long time and effectively represent the community, residents of all different types of ethnic backgrounds need to volunteer to make sure there is actual representation of our voices. The Castro LGBTQ Cultural Center has specific volunteering opportunities that target different areas of the Castro like tenant advocacy and protection, workforce development, cultural competency, and more. Having volunteers that are actually a part of the community will ensure that the city is held accountable to guarantee the preservation of the Castro district.

For all of their volunteering opportunities click here or email contact@castrolgbtq.org

Another powerful option to effectively support the Castro is for community members and tourists to shop at locally-owned stores. Spending $100 at a national chain store keeps $43 in the community, as opposed to $68 for a locally-owned business for the same $100. Shopping locally keeps more money in the local economy that is more likely to give workers a livable wage than are national chains. Local businesses have always been at the heart of the Castro, as the most famous resident, the late supervisor Harvey Milk, owned a local camera shop. When our neighbors are being pushed out, we can use the same dollars we would spend anyway at a national chain or online to instead nurture our community. Local businesses were also hit the hardest during the COVID-19 lockdown. We recommend strolling down Castro Street and exploring neighborhood shops and restaurants. Many Castro small businesses also offer online shopping and curbside pickup. Now would be a great time to start shopping locally for the holidays.

Melissa Newton is a Castro resident and master's of social work candidate at the University of Southern California. Alejandra Gomez is a master's of social work candidate at the University of Southern California.

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