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social sciences

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San Francisco  
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The result was the somewhat paradoxical emergence of major new gay cultural institutions such as pride parades and film festivals, and the simultaneous proliferation of narrower-interest groups addressing the concerns of an increasingly fragmented population of sexual minorities. Separate organizations and institutions developed for lesbian feminists, bisexuals, transgender people, sadomasochists, people of color, and an ever-lengthening list of increasingly complex and specialized communities of identity. There were about 50 organizations serving the Bay Area's gay and lesbian community in 1970 and nearly 300 by 1980.

San Francisco's gay pride parade began in 1972, and is now the largest glbtq public event in the world, drawing an annual attendance of half a million people. The San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, now the oldest and largest such event in the world, began in 1977.

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Other such cultural institutions or symbols to emerge in San Francisco in these years include a chapter of the Metropolitan Community Church, the Gay Men's Chorus, the Gay and Lesbian Marching Band, the Bay Area Reporter newspaper, and the rainbow flag, now recognized around the world as a symbol of gay cultural identity. Just a few of the many specialized organizations founded in San Francisco in the 1970s include the S/M advocacy group Society of Janus (1974), the Bisexual Center (1976), and the Gay Latino Alliance (1977).

Lesbian feminist organizations and publications did not flourish in San Francisco in the 1970s, in part because of the high cost of living and working in the city, coupled with the effects of sexist employment discrimination against women; most significant lesbian feminist organizations and publications in the Bay Area were located in nearby Berkeley, Oakland, San Jose, and Santa Cruz.

A notable exception to this trend was the emergence of a women's community enclave along Valencia Street in the city's Mission District. Anchored by pioneering institutions such as Old Wives' Tales bookstore (1976), the Artemis Café (1977), and the San Francisco Women's Building (1979), a thriving women-oriented neighborhood took shape that by the 1980s included the sex shop Good Vibrations, Osento Bath House, the offices of On Our Backs magazine and the lesbian events calendar Coming Up!, and Amelia's, one of the city's most popular and longest-running lesbian bars.

Harvey Milk and Gay Neighborhoods

Gay politics achieved a new benchmark of success with the election of an openly gay man, Harvey Milk, to San Francisco's Board of Supervisors in 1977. Milk's electoral success was due in large part to a shift from citywide to district elections, which enabled him to exploit the dense concentration of gay votes in the Castro neighborhood.

The Castro emerged as a predominantly gay neighborhood in the early 1970s, fueled by the migration of thousands of baby boomer gays to San Francisco in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but it was by no means the only gay enclave.

The South of Market neighborhood had been home to numerous leather and motorcycle bars since the early 1960s, and Polk Street near the downtown Civic Center had been a locus of gay hustling for almost as long. Middle class lesbian residential neighborhoods had also taken shape on the Castro's periphery in Noe Valley and Bernal Heights.

Milk was able to mobilize the significant number of gay and lesbian voters in his district to catapult him into City Hall. His tenure as an elected official was tragically short-lived. After only eleven months in office, Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were assassinated on November 27, 1978, by former city supervisor Dan White.

When White was convicted of manslaughter rather than murder and given a light sentence, rioting erupted at City Hall on the night of May 21, 1979. In response to the "White Night Riot," San Francisco police officers staged a retaliatory raid on the Castro, where they vandalized property and beat passersby on the street.


The violence perpetrated against Harvey Milk was part of a larger pattern of backlash against the gay civil rights gains of the 1970s. In the later 1970s, there were numerous arson attacks on gay community institutions, as well as at least one politically motivated murder. Four assailants attacked and beat to death Robert Hillsborough, a gay man, in front of his home in the Mission District, while yelling "This one's for Anita!," in reference to born-again Christian former beauty queen Anita Bryant's then current campaign against a gay rights ordinance in Florida.

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