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Castro leaders ask public to stay home on Halloween and election nights

Assistant Editor

Halloween revelers partied in the Castro in 2018. City officials and business leaders are asking people to stay home this year. Photo: Steven Underhill
Halloween revelers partied in the Castro in 2018. City officials and business leaders are asking people to stay home this year. Photo: Steven Underhill   

In a normal year both Halloween and election night would see a flood of people filing into San Francisco's LGBTQ Castro district to either show off their costumes or watch election results come in. But 2020 has been far from ordinary.

Due to the COVID-19 health pandemic city officials are asking the public to stay home and out of the gayborhood on both evenings. While no organized party was expected on October 31, community members had been planning to host a gathering in the streets on November 3 to see if former Vice President Joe Biden ousts from the White House President Donald Trump.

But organizers announced Wednesday, October 28, they were canceling their event and pivoting to promote people staying at home to watch the election results Tuesday night.

"It was hoped that the CDC & local San Francisco public health guidelines would be less restrictive by now to allow for large public gatherings with masks as safe by Election Day. Sadly we are NOT there yet," wrote Gary Virginia, one of the event hosts, on its Facebook page.

He added that "with an abundance of caution, the name and nature of this event on November 3rd has been changed to 'Election Night Watch Party in San Francisco' with a pivot toward 'get out the vote' and 'ballot tracking' actions across all time zones, and an evening 'watch party' from homes."

The revisal to the election night event's focus came just as Masood Samereie, president of the Castro Merchants business association, and gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman posted their own advisory on Facebook about Halloween in which they asked revelers to put any plans they had to party in the Castro that night on hold for this year due to the health crisis.

"Celebrating Halloween in the Castro is a tradition that dates to the 1940s and grew over many decades into a large street party drawing hundreds of thousands of revelers. Increasing acts of violence put an end to these large gatherings back in 2006, but we know many still love to visit the Castro in costume and celebrate," they noted in a joint statement. "This year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we must put the health of our communities first."

While they said San Francisco residents should "be proud" of their heeding health officials' directions to wear face masks in public and avoid large gatherings to the point that the city recently was moved into the state's least restrictive yellow tier on what sort of activities can be allowed, that success could be wiped away if people altered their behavior on Halloween, warned Samereie and Mandelman.

"But all of this progress could be erased if we behave irresponsibly this weekend and in the coming weeks. Across the country in cities like Philadelphia and Los Angeles, cases are surging — due at least in part to people gathering in large and small groups," they wrote. "If that happens in San Francisco we may have to choose once again between saving lives and shutting down. We owe it to our small businesses and our neighbors to keep our city safe."

In a statement to the Bay Area Reporter, Mandelman applauded the similar stance the election event organizers are now taking in recommending people watch the returns at home.

"I appreciate the organizers of the election night party acknowledging that now is not the time for a large public gathering in the Castro," Mandelman told the B.A.R. "We are all hoping to have lots to celebrate on Tuesday evening, but we need to celebrate in ways that follow our public health guidance and keep our community safe."

While Samereie and Mandelman asked people to continue to support the local businesses in the Castro — a number are hosting a safely socially distanced trick-or-treat event for kids in the neighborhood from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday — they advised against people coming out on Halloween night to merely mingle in the street.

"This Halloween, please don't come to the Castro looking for a party," they wrote. "If you are coming to the neighborhood to shop or dine, do so early in the day and only with those you live with or see regularly. If you see a crowd gathering, please go home."

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