Two wars in the 1900’s transformed San Francisco into what it has become today.
During World War II, San Francisco was the main port for the war in the Pacific. Supplies and hundreds of thousands of servicemen were loaded onto vessels heading overseas. Thousands of other men worked on the docks and in administration to keep the war machine well oiled and moving.
But because of the era, San Francisco was also the port where homosexuals were dishonorably discharged from the armed forces, with more than 9,000 gay servicemen processed out during 1941 – 1945. Most of these gays, and others not pinpointed by authorities, stayed in San Francisco after the war and quietly thrived in the city’s liberal atmosphere.
John Brokaw labeled the Americans who fought in World War II as the “Greatest Generation” because of their patriotism and determination to do what was right for our nation. This generation then returned from war and built America into a Superpower nation.
Yet, the following generation was handed the Vietnam War. Unlike World War II, this conflict spawned anti-war groups and political activism, of which San Francisco and it’s sister city across the bay, Berkeley, ended up at the forefront.
One of the anti-war hippie slogans of the era – “Make Love Not War” – caused two events to take place in San Francisco.
The Human Be-In was held on January 14, 1967, at Golden Gate Park. Thirty thousand hippies, counterculture and drug advocates, anti-war and political activists gathered together for the first time on that day. Before that day, each group thought little of the other groups and each believed its views were the most important ones at the time.
But as they listened to Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead, The Quicksilver Messenger Service, and numerous speakers, such as Timothy Leary, Dick Gregory, and Jerry Rubin, the groups melted together as one.
This successful one day gathering gave rise to the phenomenon which is now called the Summer of Love (1967) where one hundred thousand young people converged on the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. These high school and college kids almost instantly changed the dynamics of the city with their attitudes on sexual freedom, creative expressions, and their political activism.
Among the hundred thousand young people were thousands of gays and lesbians who were radical activists. These were not willing to “go along to get along” as the World War II gays had done before them. Instead, these young people wanted to change America’s social system and had discovered how to achieve it from their anti-Vietnam War activism.
At first, these young gays lived in Haight-Asbury, but drugs and violence caused them to move into the Castro District. There they fixed up homes and opened businesses. The Castro District, also called the Gay Mecca, has the highest per capita gay population in the world and is the center for the city’s gay politics.
One of the events birthed by the Castro District is San Francisco Pride, a two day celebration for gays and their culture. This year’s event will be held on June 23-24, 2012, and attendance is expected to be more than 1 million people.
San Francisco’s gay, lesbian, and transsexual population is estimated at 15% of the city’s total, but its influence on politics is many times more than that. In fact, nothing really happens in California politics, and also in much of America, without San Francisco’s gay community’s endorsement.
So, what’s the big deal about San Francisco’s evolutionary change toward a tolerance of gay life styles? And who really cares?
(Continued in Part 4…if you are interested, the full series, which was written in 2012, may be seen here.)
4 responses to “Why California? Why San Francisco? Why Now? (Part 3)”
Wow! Thanx so much for this history lesson, Larry. I learned soooo much.
I, of course, have been aware of the gay culture of San Francisco all my life. I was not really enthused about the city until one of my girlfirends in high school shared her passion for your fine city. I had grown up just enough country-bumpkinish to view SF as a gay town, and sorta wrote it off as such. SF was practically synonymous with gay for me as a kid, until I started hanging out with this girl who loved your city (for other reasons).
I had been born in San Diego. Dad was in the Navy… But that did not mean I had California roots really. My aunt lived in SD for all my early childhood, then moved to LA when I was in highschool. But I did not go there to visit much, and had only miniscule exposure – except my knowledge that I had been born there.
Some of my HS friends formed a garage band, and of course dreamed of heading to LA to find fame and fortune. One of them actually went there, but did not achieve the dream. But with this as my background, I had little care for SF.
Then I discovered the connection between SF and Clint Eastwood, one of my Hollywood heroes growing up. That boosted SF in my mind a bit, but in 1989, my Mom and Dad took me on a west coast tour where we visited SF and all points between there and Vancouver. Seattle was a real gem too, but SF really gripped my imagination! Largely because of my old gf, I think, but that was just a gateway to the excitement of visiting! Wow! What a beautiful city FULL of attractions and history!
Yes, I went to Haight Ashbury… even bought a record in the used record store… I still have it! A souvenir… New Riders of the Purple Sage Power Glide Album… I saw all the streets where Dirty Harry or Steve McQueen made themselves famous. Watched the full moon come up over the bay out by the Golden Gate Bridge… Visited Alcatraz – think its interesting that it is a National Park! I grew up near a handful of NP’s but that one is in a class of its own.
Then I watched Edward James Olmos in American Me, and for the first time I realized a lot about the history hole in my understanding of that fantastic city. As a side note, I must say that my mother and I were both surprised that even though our stay was brief, we did not see even one gay couple making any public display of affection. Really thought we would, but we didn’t. And I came to decide that SF is multifaceted, DUH, and there is a lot more to the place than just the gay heritage (if you can call it that).
Nevertheless, I come from Colorado (Texas too really, but home is CO), and I recall my HS Psych teacher telling us that Denver was home to the second largest gay community in the US. He credited it to “anonymity”. And way back in the late eighties, I forget which season, Denver and SF met in the Superbowl – traditionally a manly sport that rejected or overtly ignored gays (that seems to have changed and is changing, but in those days…) thus it was very ironic that the largest and second largest gay communities were both represented in the superbowl! Ha!!
Anyway, I have a great fondness for SF. I only visited one time. I have been to SD, LA, and Seattle especially, multiple times, but SF only once and only over one night and two days. Your offering here really illuminates a lot for me.
Thank you Mr. Larry , for teaching us more! God bless you!
Your comment was so much fun to read. But as for myself, I have never been to San Francisco, only San Diego and LA. Yet, God has given me a deep love for SF. Many of my stories have been about or in San Francisco. So I’m hoping to go there soon. Thanks.
Thanks for your encouragement. God bless you.