“In Massachusetts, you can be anyone you want to be … as long as you do it in your own home, behind closed doors, and you don’t talk about it in public. In San Francisco, you can be anyone you want to be … and you can do so out loud and in public … and there are probably three support groups for it.”
— A Bay Area transplant from the east coast.
“Yes, be afraid of the ‘gay agenda.’ We ARE coming for your children. And we are going to make them … TOLERANT.” — San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus
Sexuality is an issue that touches every person alive. Our conception is a sexual act, and most societies have rules or norms that set boundaries on sexual behavior. Incest is a common taboo. Human bodies mature to enable sexual relations, and our hormones drive the desire for sexuality — more or less strongly — in most all of us. The linking of two people together through marriage is found in societies across the globe. And our values governing sexual behavior are deeply embedded in us, by our societal groups, and particularly by our religious groups, from a very young age.
Sexuality is indeed an issue where there are some differences between San Francisco values and values in communities where the rules derive from a religious base.
Some religions have labeled same-sex relationships as evil, and have tried to export that belief so as to impose it on all of society. The extensive campaign run by the Mormon Church against California’s same-sex marriage referendum is one well-documented example of that.
The counter-position is that marriage and other partnered relationships are a civil issue rather than a religious one.
In San Francisco, the value is that, as human beings, we each and all have the personal freedom to live, and to love, and to worship or not worship as we choose. San Francisco Values don’t impose political or religious bounds on any person’s right to express their own humanity, and their own sexual identity and their freedom to love others as they choose. In sum, I respect your right to worship and to love as you choose, and I expect similarly expect you to respect mine.
San Francisco’s history of toleration wasn’t unblemished. Even though it was illegal in the 1960s to be cross-dressed or transgendered in public, members of that community in San Francisco, including a number of prostitutes, would come together in the late nights and early mornings in the Tenderloin, notably at Compton’s Cafeteria, on Taylor Street, to socialize, share stories, and have coffee. It was a tight-knit community whose members looked out for each other.
While heavy police enforcement of the cross-dressing ban wasn’t the rule, it was known that the police on the Tenderloin beat made extra money by regularly shaking down the Compton’s owners and/or the individuals there, and, on occasion, roughing them up or hauling them in for a night in jail.
In August 1966, a police raid, complete with a paddy wagon, arrived at Compton’s. One of the patrons, tired of being hassled and man-handled yet again, threw a cup of hot coffee into a cop’s face, and an all-out riot began in the shop.
Demonstrations and some further riots for transgender rights were fomented in the summer of 1966, as drag queens and their supporters poured into the streets and fought back with their high heels and heavy bags. There was minimal press coverage of these events at that time.
San Francisco Values have evolved since 1966, to embrace those who find their gender in question or romantically love someone of the same sex. These values are held high and there is now much support that the city offers. Even churches, like the Glide Memorial Methodist Church in San Francisco, reached out to offer support to the transgender community
In June 1969, a similar riot unfolded in Greenwich Village, New York, in response to a police raid on the gay Stonewall Inn. These better-publicized New York demonstrations are generally seen as the seminal public battles for LGBT rights in the U.S.
One hallmark of the San Francisco Bay Area is an abiding respect for individual rights and individual choices, for the right to live and express one’s own lifestyle, whatever that might be, without fear of the judgment or constraints of others, and without the beliefs forced on others.
The San Francisco Bay Area has earned its reputation for respecting individual rights.