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An Insider’s Guide to LGBTQ+ San Francisco

Tour company owner Kathy Amendola on San Francisco Pride, the Castro, and where you can honor LGBTQ+ history in SF.
Hi, I'm Emma!

Emma Knock is a Melbourne-based writer and editor who arrived in Australia from London after a half-a-decade stint in California and Aotearoa. Find her between the stacks at your local bookstore or planning trips over flat whites.

Kathy Amendola has led walking tours of the Castro for the last 16 years, and she’s been living there for longer still. She’s the out-and-proud neighborhood’s resident expert on San Francisco's LGBTQ+ legacy, from the city’s early queer history through to the arrival of Harvey Milk in the ‘70s, the AIDS epidemic in the ‘80s, and up to present day. And, as the owner of Cruisin’ the Castro Walking Tours—San Francisco’s first and only Legacy Business Tour Company—it’s her mission not just to explore LGBTQ+ history, but to educate and advocate for equality and human rights.

“I have to say, the three biggest things people walk away with [from the Castro walking tour] is greater knowledge of a sexually- and gender-oppressed culture, the necessity of political activism, and the overwhelming spirit of PRIDE,” Kathy says.

If you’re looking to acquaint yourself with San Francisco’s LGBTQ+ history, this guide and Kathy’s in-person and virtual tours might just be the best possible ways to get started.

A neon sign with a quote from Harvey Milk in the Castro, San Francisco.
The words of Harvey Milk light up over Harvey Milk Plaza at night.Bildquelle: Mason Trinca / Viator

Your guide to LGBTQ+ San Francisco

San Francisco is home to, in Kathy’s words, “the largest and strongest LGBTQ+ community in the world.”

Where to learn about San Francisco’s LGBTQ+ history

Two institutions Kathy recommends are the GLBT Historical Society Museum, whose permanent exhibition in the Castro showcases a hundred years of queer life in San Francisco; and the SF LGBT Center, a bright purple building in Lower Hayes Valley that provides connection, support, and a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community.

There’s also the Rainbow Honor Walk, a kind of walk of fame that honors LGBTQ+ trailblazers from all over the world, and the Pink Triangle Memorial—two landmark projects for which Kathy is a board member. The Pink Triangle Memorial is "the first memorial in the United States that’s dedicated to homosexual men who were persecuted during WWII," according to Kathy. "These men were placed in Nazi concentration camps and forced to wear pink triangles as a symbol of femininity. The park consists of 15 granite pylons each representing 1,000 men.”

Tour guide and group stand by a notable mural in the Castro, San Francisco.
Kathy and group stand by a notable mural in the Castro.Bildquelle: Mason Trinca / Viator

San Francisco’s LGBTQ+ neighborhoods

The Castro is a beacon of LGBTQ+ freedom spanning 45 blocks in San Francisco’s Eureka Valley. “Since the arrival of Harvey Milk in the early 1970s, it’s metamorphosed into a place of unapologetic pride and sexual freedom.” Kathy says. “The Castro’s community has evolved over the years. We are no longer a “gay” community, but one rather more diverse. Now more than ever, our SOGIE (sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression) community needs to reflect this evolution. Our faces may have changed over time, yet our strive towards positive social changes is stronger than ever.”

The best places to get a drink and meet others

“Lots of bars and restaurants have closed, changed hands, or are waiting this [pandemic] out,” Kathy says, “However, the Castro has pedestrian-only areas on weekends on 18th Street that are supporting the bars and restaurants in outdoor public spaces.” As part of the city's Shared Spaces program, popular bars including Toad Hall, the Edge, and Midnight Sun, as well as Harvey’s—a restaurant dedicated to Harvey Milk—are open for business every weekend through much of the summer.

The Pink Triangle Memorial in the Castro, San Francisco.
The Pink Triangle Memorial in the Castro.Bildquelle: Mason Trinca / Viator

All about San Francisco Pride

A brief history of San Francisco Pride

The first San Francisco Gay Liberation March took place in June 1970. Organized by the San Francisco Gay Liberation Front, the event saw 30 people walk along Polk Street to Civic Center in response to New York City’s Stonewall riots. Half a century later, more than 280 parade contingents and close to a million spectators attend San Francisco Pride, making it the largest gathering of the LGBTQ+ community and allies in the nation according to the parade organizers.

The importance of Pride

“It’s a day to celebrate one’s diversity, loud and proud with a million people,” says Kathy, whose favorite Pride celebration is the Dyke March in Dolores Park: “My very first march was in 1999. The day became my favorite day of the whole year, like my birthday, Christmas, and New Year’s packed into one hell of an afternoon!”

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