Why San Francisco Is The World’s Gay Mecca
San Francisco is the city ruled by love and celebration of diversity. Which helps explain why the city has come to be known as the epicenter of the worldwide LGBTQ community.
Here are some of reasons why San Francisco became the world’s gay mecca:
Take a walk through history in one of the original U.S. LGBTQ neighborhoods and make your way right to the LGBTQ center of San Francisco. Every store, restaurant, bar and nightclub in this district welcomes you with open arms, with none of the stress you typically have when you're trying to figure out if a business is LGBTQ-friendly in other cities. Make some time to explore the GLBT History Museum and learn more about the struggles of the past, then party the night away at the QBar. Find a hotel in the Castro neighborhood.
1974: Castro Street Fair
Another highlight of the Castro District is the Castro Street Fair, held every month in October. This street celebration dates back to 1974, when founder Harvey Milk brought artists, vendors and artisans together in this community fair. Today, you can buy handmade goods directly from LGBTQ makers, find your way to the dance floors, or enjoy the music coming from multiple stages.
2017: Rainbow Honor Walk
Forget the Hollywood Walk of Fame. You need to check out the Rainbow Honor Walk that recognizes prominent LGBTQ individuals who made a long-lasting impact throughout their lives. Swing by the intersection of Castro St. and Market St. to find these plaques. As you walk along the blocks in this area, you will learn about many people who excelled in their fields, performed the activist work needed to make the LGBTQ community what it is today, and contributed their hearts and souls to this cause.
1942: WWII Stronghold
San Francisco became a military stronghold during WWII, establishing bases like Fort Funston and Fort Mason. It was a symbol of freedom for 1,650,000 men, as it was the last part of the country that they glimpsed before they saw combat on foreign lands, and the first thing that they saw when they returned. Thousands of young male enlistees descended on city looking for love, sometimes with each other, sometimes with locals who were their fans.
2016: Demilitarized Fleet Week
Today, the military has markedly little presence and most of the bases have turned into tourist attractions, housing developments, or local hangouts. The annual Fleet Week, when military guys and, increasingly, gals, descend on the city, is a highly celebrated occasion for the LGBTQ community where sexy men in uniform can be spotted in every corner of the city from the Marina to the Castro letting freedom reign in the post-Don’t Ask, Don’t tell world.
1970: First Pride March
Thirty courageous people risked it all to march down Polk Street to City Hall in a time when any association with homosexuality risked discrimination and worse. The following day a “gay-in” took place in Golden Gate Park drawing hundreds more. Combined, these mark the genesis of the Gay Freedom Day Parade. Today, Polk Street is home to a wide range of LGBTQ-friendly restaurants, bars, nightclubs and Disco Diva clubs, such as the Cinch and the Lush Lounge. Of course, you don't have to wander through Polk Street and the surrounding areas at night to have a good time. During the day, you see unique boutiques, plenty of antiques and restaurants that cater to every taste. Most of the businesses in this area are small and locally owned, so you get a true sense of San Francisco's local flavor (sometimes literally, if you head to a cafe or bakery).
2018: 48th Annual Pride
Nearly 2 million people will descend on San Francisco from every corner of the world. This is the largest gathering of LGBTQ people in the nation and takes place over 10 action-packed days. The day before Pride, Pink Saturday, is one of the the biggest public parties of the year. Pride is now enjoyed by millions worldwide–gay, lesbian, straight and everything in between. Plan your SF trip for the last weekend in June and take part in the biggest Pride event in the U.S. You've got the high-energy parade and truly creative floats, tons of performers and a celebration that spans the entire weekend. There's nothing quite like taking part in Pride with tens of thousands of people joyously celebrating who they are in the most accepting city around. These are the best areas to stay for San Francisco Pride.
1977: Harvey Milk
Harvey Milk is elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, becoming the first openly gay elected official in California history, only to be gunned down, along with beloved pro-gay Mayor George Moscone, by fellow supervisor Dan White, on Nov. 27, 1978.
2016: Harvey Milk Democratic Club
Openly gay Assemblyman Mark Leno serves his 14th year. San Francisco is full of openly gay city, county, and state officials including Board of Supervisor David Campos, and former Board of Supervisor, now current California State Assemblyman, Scott Wiener. Two of the city’s most prominent political clubs include LGBT-centric Harvey Milk and Alice B. Toklas. It is impossible to get elected to citywide office without LGBTQ support.
Changing The World For the Better
1964: Gay Capital of America
San Francisco is touted as the “Gay Capital of America” in "Life" magazine. Activists of all stripes flock to San Francisco to start the fight we know today as the gay rights movement, and to take it first to the rest of America and then the world.
2016: Marriage Mecca of the US
After a series of victories and defeats for California’s Proposition 8, the U.S. Supreme Court makes same-sex marriage legal across the United States, invalidating every last ban. San Francisco first issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples in 2004 and was recently voted LGBTQ “Marriage Mecca” by GayCities members.
2017: Gay Men's Chorus' Lavender Pen Tour
When the new Trump Administration began rolling back LGBTQ protections and rights, San Franciscans immediately took action with demonstrations for equal rights. While many took to the streets of San Francisco in peaceful protest, others, such as the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus decided to fight hate by taking their message of love to several red states this October. The Lavender Pen Tour is an attempt to support and encourage LGBTQ+ people and their allies by promoting acceptance and love through music.
1933: Female Impersonation
Finocchio’s was a nightclub and bar in the sexually liberal San Francisco Barbary Coast. In 1933, with the repeal of prohibition, the club offered female impersonation shows, the early name for drag queens, that drew enormous crowds that quickly spread across the city like glitter.
2016: Drag Club Oasis
One of San Francisco’s ruling drag queens, Heklina, opens Oasis, a popular drag club. Drag shows take place at more than 20 venues per week including Trannyshack and Sunday’s a Drag. San Francisco is also headquarters to the legendary Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the largest charitable drag organization in the country.
2017: Hunky Jesus Contest
Easter can be a trying time of year when you have to go through yet another round of "poorly formed political opinions" from extended family. Want a way better way to spend that weekend? Escape to the Hunky Jesus Contest and see just how sinful (and hunky!) this saintly figure can be. You get to ogle long-haired eye candy walking around shirtless, or you can throw on a loincloth and join in on the contest. The competition is fierce, and you get an Easter celebration that you're going to want to make into a tradition right away.
Into The Night
1908: First Gay Bar
Among the first “notorious” gay bars in San Francisco was a dark, secretive place known The Dash, known only to insiders. Waiters cross-dressed and for $1 would perform sex acts in private booths. In 1972, Twin Peaks Tavern opened its door and windows to the public. Gay bars in the Castro now often boast as many non-gay patrons as gay ones, with people of all sorts enjoying the open, nonjudgmental atmosphere.
2016: Best Gaybourhood In The World
Castro and SoMa were named the world’s best Gaybourhoods by GayCities members in 2016. Any given night, you can find bars packed and clubs hopping with a mix of locals and tourists who come to gay it up in the city. The original gay center was Polk Street and parts of the Tenderloin, both of which still boast gay bars, but transitioned to make the Castro and gayest neighborhoods anywhere, with at least a dozen gay bars within a few blocks of each other on Castro, Market and 18th Street. The South of Market Area is also a new hot spot for LGBTQ bars, clubs and festivals, such as the Folsom Street Fair.
Leather & Fetish
1938: Sailor Boy Tavern
The first proto-leather bar in San Francisco was the Sailor Boy Tavern, which opened in 1938 and was primarily for visiting navy men looking for action. In the 1960s, the leather scene established itself in SOMA with bars such as the Toolbox.
2019: 25th Annual Folsom Street Fair
The leather subculture attracts people from near and far, leaving a legacy that has boomed into what is the leather event of all leather events–Folsom Street Fair. This leather pride event is the largest of its kind, held in September and centering around the BDSM community through 200 vendor booths, tons of live music performances, demo stations and exhibitors. This is truly an only in San Francisco experience that brings in people worldwide. If Folsom only whets your appetite for leather events, Up Your Alley attracts over 10,000 leather men and takes an edgier approach to its fetish explorations.
1981: First cases of GRID
Young men in San Francisco were among the first diagnosed with GRID (the incorrectly named Gay Related Immuno Deficiency). HIV would soon afflict millions. It quickly became a worldwide pandemic.
2016: HIV/AIDS Endemic
San Francisco leads the world in cutting-edge treatment, meaning that few die of HIV any more, and in prevention, with the goal of zero new infections by the year 2020.
1920: Castro Theatre movie palace
The Castro Theatre gets its chandelier and becomes a renowned movie palace. LGBTQ film are financed and set in San Francisco, and increasingly shown in art houses there.
2019: 44th Annual Frameline Film Festival and 17th Annual Fresh Meat Festival
Frameline Film Festival is the largest queer film festival in the world. Running for nearly two weeks, it features films from the best screenwriters, directors, actors. The Castro Theatre is its primary home. Transgender and queer live art performances take center stage at this long-running Fesh Meat Festival, organized by Fresh Meat Productions. You get one of the most creative, compelling and community building experiences as you enjoy an eclectic lineup that will make every other live art festival seem like a distant second.
San Francisco earns its name as the gay mecca of the world, whether you're looking to step foot in the oldest gay bar or you want to learn about the history of the LGBTQ community. The thriving gay neighborhoods are warm and vibrant, and they give you some of the most unique events you'll find anywhere. Plan your trip to San Francisco. Save up to 35% on LGBTQ-friendly San Francisco hotels.