Castro welcomes LGBT walk of fame

  • by Matthew S. Bajko
  • Wednesday September 3, 2014
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LGBT history was cemented, literally, into the fabric of San Francisco's Castro district this week with the official unveiling of 20 bronze sidewalk plaques honoring LGBT individuals who left a lasting mark on society.

Known as the Rainbow Honor Walk, the project aims to educate visitors and residents of the city's gay neighborhood about often overlooked aspects of the LGBT community's contributions to the arts, sciences, and social policy through a select group of deceased men and women who lived openly as either gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

"I am completely thrilled this is happening. We all have ridden on the shoulders of the LGBT people who came before us. It is important to honor them," said author Armistead Maupin, who helped dedicate the plaque for author Virginia Woolf. "They showed pride in who they were. As a consequence, they became great leaders and great artists."

Among the several hundred people who attended the dedication service under foggy skies Tuesday, September 2 was Glenne McElhinney, a California oral historian and filmmaker who has documented the state's LGBT history.

"It is awesome. It honors 20 of our finest," McElhinney said of the honor walk, modeled after Hollywood's Walk of Fame.

The project was the brainchild of Castro business owner Isak Lindenauer, who first started pushing for its creation in 2009. Local gay public relations professional David Perry, who had suggested a similar proposal two decades ago, soon signed on to assist Lindenauer.

By 2011 the names of the first inductees had been selected and fundraising had begun. Last week city workers installed the bronze plaques into the sidewalk along the 400 and 500 blocks of Castro Street and a portion of 19th Street.

Lindenauer preferred to stay out of the limelight Tuesday, pointing the Bay Area Reporter when contacted for comment to a post he wrote on Facebook last week in which he described the first plaques as looking "beautiful and powerful."

He congratulated and thanked "all of you who worked so hard to make this project happen. At last, these wonderful women and men, pioneers of life and members of our LGBTQ community are being honored in this everyday, public manner. The walk starts!!!"

Organizers would like to see additional plaques be embedded in the sidewalks along Market Street between Castro and Octavia Boulevard where the LGBT Community Center is located. The process to select the next set of 20 inductees will commence later this month, with the public expected to be able to nominate individuals by the end of the year.

To date more than $110,000 has been raised from corporate sponsors, individual donors, and sales of honor walk branded mugs and pins at the Human Rights Campaign's store on Castro Street.

"It is important our community stay in touch with its history," said gay District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, who represents the Castro at City Hall. "This will be a permanent reminder of what this neighborhood is and what this community is."

Gay state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) added that, "not unlike slaves, the LGBT community has been denied our heroes and our history" as part of the discrimination it has faced.

"Today we take a giant step forward by embracing our heroes and full-fledged pride," added Leno. "People who have changed the history of the course of our planet come from our community."

Among those given their own plaques as part of the first stage of the project were San Franciscans George Choy, an early member of the Gay Asian Pacific Alliance known for his AIDS activism and work to support LGBT youth; disco drag star Sylvester James; and LGBT rights activist Del Martin, who with her widow, Phyllis Lyon, co-founded the Daughters of Bilitis. Lyon was on hand Tuesday to help dedicate Martin's plaque.

Another honoree with local ties was Harry Hay, who founded one of the first gay rights groups in the U.S. called the Mattachine Society and whose papers are housed at the San Francisco Public Library.

"It is a great idea and it is long overdue," said Joey Cain, a close friend of Hay's who attended the unveiling ceremony this week to document it for the Hay archives. "I am really impressed with the folks who persisted and made it happen. I am really impressed with the selection of the first 20 people. A lot of them were socialists or communists, like Jane Addams and Harry Hay."

A social worker, Addams in 1931 became the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Others honored this week included civil rights activist Bayard Rustin; author James Baldwin; Mexican artist Frida Kahlo; and the Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca.

The list also includes San Francisco Chronicle journalist Randy Shilts, one of the first out reporters to cover a gay beat; Gay Games founder Dr. Tom Waddell; pop artist Keith Haring; poet Allen Ginsberg; and Japanese playwright Yukio Mishima. Other famous authors selected are Gertrude Stein, Oscar Wilde, and Tennessee Williams.

Rounding out the group are Christine Jorgensen, who in 1952 became the first person to receive widespread media coverage of her sexual reassignment surgery, and Alan Turing, who cracked the German's coded messages in World War II but was later prosecuted for being homosexual and opted to be chemically castrated to avoid a prison sentence.



A typo was found in Wilde's plaque, due to the misspelling of the phrase "biting wit" as "bitting wit." According to a Facebook post by Maupin, the local manufacturer of the plaques will replace it and the original will be auctioned off to raise money for the honor walk campaign.

And complaints also surfaced online about the wording of Jorgensen's plaque, which partly says she was the "first trangendered (sic) American publicly to announce her change of sexual identity ..."

Local historian Gerard Koskovich noted that the use of "transgendered" instead of transgender "would be bad style, but 'trangendered' isn't even a word. And can we note that gender transition generally doesn't involve a 'change of sexual identity'; it may involve a change of gender identity �" and it always involves bringing one's body and public presentation into conformity with that identity."

He dinged the walk organizers with his own "biting" remark, writing, "Folks, if you're going to cast a text in bronze, at least spend a few bucks to hire a copyeditor and proofreader."

Perry told the B.A.R. Tuesday afternoon that both plaques will be replaced before the Castro Street Fair, which will be held this year on Sunday, October 5, free of charge by the manufacturer, Mussi Artworks of Berkeley, California.

"Ultimately, I take responsibility. I signed off on everything," said Perry, who added that the copy for the plaques was written by an LGBT historian and "vetted by a number of people, including the GLBT Historical Society."

He pointed out that, "any project this complex has little hiccups" and the organizers want to ensure the plaques are correct.

"They understand this is the first 20 of, hopefully, every year 20 plaques. We want to get it right," said Perry. "We are all so pleased now in the Castro people will never be able to walk these streets and not know this is and was the heart of the Castro LGBT community."

As for the possibility of the plaques being tagged with graffiti, they have a protective coating that should make they easy to clean, said Perry, as well as protect them from being scuffed up by pedestrians. The honor walk committee will be responsible for replacing the covering after five years.

"We are responsible for their upkeep," said Perry.

For more information about the Rainbow Honor Walk, visit its website at