On a recent trip to San Francisco, I learned more about the LGBTQ+ community. I had read about the National AIDS Memorial Grove, but have never visited it.
The grove is located along Bowling Green Drive in Golden Gate Park. In the grove there are rocks with phrases inscribed with the lives lost on them. There were a number of benches to sit and remember loved ones, as well as a circle of friends.
The circle of friends is a circular patio with the names of those lost engraved with a blank space in the center. When you stand in the center you can hear your own voice as if it were someone talking back to you.
The next stop was the Castro District, which is located around the intersection of Market and Castro streets.
The neighborhood began as a working class neighborhood of mostly Irish Catholic people. It was slowly transformed through the 1960s and 1970s until it became the LGBTQ+ district it is today.
I learned more about how Harvey Milk, an openly gay man, opened a camera store, called Castro Camera and started to work in the city. After awhile Milk began to fight against the constant mistreatment of LGBTQ+ people in the city.
He started protests, and began San Francisco’s Gay Rights Movement. People around the country heard of Milk’s work and came to join him in the fight.
Milk continued his fight for equality, starting with the Gay Pride festival and moving into politics.
He ran for the office of city supervisor and won. He was the first openly gay city supervisor in San Francisco and in California.
After a short term, Milk and then-mayor George Mascone, were killed by a conservative City Council member named Dan White.
White claimed that he ate too much junk food and it made him insane, giving birth to the “Twinkie defense.”
After a trial where White was found guilty of manslaughter and given a very short jail sentence, he returned to Milk’s old office and took his life. The loss of Milk impacted the political and social climate in the city of San Francisco.
Then-city supervisor Diane Feinstein helped bring anti-hate legislation to the city, and helped fight hatred in California years later.
Knowing that I am not the only one to fight for equality on the smaller scale makes it easier to continue the fight for those who are to come in the future.
On this trip a friend, who I will call, Joey and his mother, who I will call Jen, were able to join my partner and I.
They wanted to experience the LGBTQ+ parts of the city.
Joey enjoyed learning all about the struggle Milk went through and how even as one person you can make a difference.
Jen was happy to learn that the vision of the community as sex-driven, drug-abusing men was not the truth. She learned through experiencing the district that homosexuals are no different than heterosexuals.
Jen talked with the clerk at the Human Rights Campaign store, which is now located in Harvey Milk’s old camera shop, about how from the 1970s until now the world has improved when it comes to the LGBTQ+ equality.
But there is still a long way to go.
The one thing I learned this trip is that knowing where your community has come from helps make for a better future.