Guest Opinion: Fair's return a welcome relief

  • by Bob Goldfarb
  • Wednesday July 27, 2022
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Friends of K-9 had fun at the 2017 version of the Up Your Alley street fair. Photo: Rick Gerharter<br>
Friends of K-9 had fun at the 2017 version of the Up Your Alley street fair. Photo: Rick Gerharter

Up Your Alley fair, aka Dore Alley, is back in its full-strength version this weekend! After the pandemic hiatus and last year's scaled-back return, the leather, kink, and queer communities look forward to being back on the streets, to celebrate being in gear, in little at all, and, most importantly, in person. Our community thrives on our public celebrations, the sharing of ideas and the opportunity to gather in a safe, public space.

The Leather & LGBTQ Cultural District was just getting started the last time there was a full-on Up Your Alley, way back in 2019. The return of the fair is a symbol of vibrant and enduring resilience of the leather, kink and queer community in the city's South of Market neighborhood, which first located here in the mid-1960's.

The cultural district formed to help foster that resilience in the face of gentrification and neighborhood changes that have been on a slow roll through western SOMA in recent decades. The cultural district must retain its industrial look, and feel like an identifiable place for leather, kinky and queer folk year round, not just on our wonderful street fair days.

The Eagle Plaza and the Ringold Leather History Walk comprise two centerpieces of the cultural district. The Eagle Plaza flies what we believe to be the world's largest pole mounted leather pride flag. The importance of seeing that flag from the freeway as one enters the city from our airports and surrounding cities cannot be overlooked. It's a reminder that we're here to stay.

The Ringold Leather History Walk, on Ringold Alley, across the street from Mr. S Leather is another marker that we're here. The alley has commemorative boot print sidewalk plaques and standing stones from 8th to 9th streets to commemorate the iconic institutions and people that made SOMA a world-wide kink destination. With funding from the SOMA West Community Benefit District, the cultural district just coordinated refurbishing the alley's leather pride flag sidewalks and boot prints, so this is a great time to go check it out.

The Leather & LGBTQ Cultural District, in conjunction with the nightclub Oasis and the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, recently unveiled a large mural on Oasis's facade at 11th and Folsom streets that brought the art of five community artists to the public eye. We have more plans to establish our visible foothold in the area.

We can celebrate recent legislation that will once again permit bathhouses in SOMA, helping to remove the stigma that came from their closure during the rise of the HIV crisis in the '80's. Yet, despite that success, once again we find ourselves dealing with health crises; this time it's COVID, a meningitis outbreak, and monkeypox.

Currently, monkeypox affects the LGBTQ community more than others, and we will likely have to fight against stigma once again. Yet, our community is working to protect each other and ourselves. When I got the shot the other day, the waiting area was filled with familiar faces from SOMA. I urge everyone to get the vaccine; check here for the latest info.

Up Your Alley fair is a time for celebration and, this year, a time for caution as well. There are no perfect answers to protect you from COVID or monkeypox. COVID vaccines will protect you from getting really sick but offer limited protection against getting COVID. The monkeypox vaccine offers good protection, but even the first shot can take time to kick in, and it requires two shots at least a month apart to reach full effectiveness.

Society at large has decided to take more risks with COVID than during the peak of isolation. Masks and distancing are less common now, so there's certain to be some increased COVID spread at the many events this weekend. The fair being outside is a bit safer for COVID, though skin-to-skin contact whether indoors or out is a risk for monkeypox.

People you know and trust to be upfront about their vaccinations, and who are willing to contact you if they have an outbreak, present less risk than anonymous hookups who you might not hear from or be able to contact in the event either of you have a positive test for monkeypox or COVID.

We must all make individual choices about what level of risk we are comfortable with. These choices are best made in advance rather than in the heat of the hot human that just walked up.

The people I've talked to have a range of opinions from avoid everything to some moderate caution. I fall somewhere in between. I can say I look forward to seeing everyone at the fair.

I urge everyone to test for COVID before the events and after. Get phone numbers of your "encounters" and let people know if you get a positive test for COVID or monkeypox. It's important that we protect not only ourselves but also each other.

Most importantly, go celebrate to the fullest within the bounds that you are comfortable with. Whether that's a drive by the Leather Pride flag at the Eagle Plaza, a stroll down the Ringold Leather History Walk, or a full dive into the fair and all the weekend has to offer.

The website has a good round up of the weekend's events, plus a couple links about our history.

Bob Goldfarb is the executive director of the Leather & LGBTQ Cultural District. For more information about the district and its programs, visit its website at

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