the making of gay mecca

With a sense that a magical transformation was underway the neighborhood remained the same with bay window buildings abutting Castro Street and Star Pharmacy filling prescriptions and selling toilet paper. Then suddenly a store with potted plants on the sidewalk appeared, and the Paperback Traffic bookstore opened to landmark business. Fog filled nights began filling with men meandering between bars and talking quietly in the shadows.  For many there was a sense that something profound might be happening, but they were busy with the tasks involved in making nests to notice. What they did suggested they had been touched because they were taking the ordinary and using their imaginations  creating beauty. No guide books or ideas and formulas in printed material could capture something so ethereal yet grounded in earthy desires. Coming from basic, primitive instincts men’s dreams were being realized, and it would only take time years later to look back to see how monumental the change was.

What men found in the 1960s was a city with a history of tolerance and a population of exiles from around the world in a country celebrating notions of free love and Beatles concerts.  Gay men drew the breath of optimism from a generation that had scured civil rights for African Americans and opposed a senseless war in Viet Nam. With flower children taking possession of the Haight Ashbury gay men went about making their own society a few streets over.   Energy stifled since youth found its way to the surface and powered men in their quest to make their world more hospitable and honest.  It was done without leaders, although some by the generosity of their spirit stood out. Each man found his strength in his own time and made use of it when he realized there were no restrictions, and what he created was uniquely his.  The signs were soon evident with smiles on everyone’s face, and joy in eyes that had struggled to see the unthinkable in towns of churches where nothing changed.  Each had to kick off dust-riddled attitudes and shackles of narrow morality. Some found comfort in groups like the men driven out of Dade County Florida by Anita Bryant’s hate campaign. Others picked up stakes after hearing stories from men who stumbled onto paradise.  Making something their own swelled men’s desire to be seen apologetically as men who loved men and to prove to the world that homosexuality was the essence of masculinity, not the opposite.

 

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