Gays in SF’s Castro Feeling Like Zoo Animals for Tourists


Residents of San Francisco’s Castro district, which expects to see additional increases in tourism once the movie Milk is released this fall, are troubled by an increase in tour buses which stop to unload out-of-towners eager to see the gays in their natural habitat:

“For gay and lesbian residents, who are doing nothing more remarkable than, say, walking over to Cliff’s Hardware Store, the idea that as many as six tour buses could turn up at once seems bizarre. They also worry that the upcoming release of the movie “Milk,” based on the life story of Castro Street politician Harvey Milk, will just be another step toward turning the Castro into a kind of urban theme park for looky-loos. ‘It is the spectacle of people who might be different. That’s all it is,’ said attorney Rob Guite, a Castro resident. ‘The tourists appear to have little regard for the neighborhood and its residents and view the stop as akin to visiting a zoo or other attraction where they are entertained by exhibits or animals.'”

When Castro Street was transformed in January for the shooting of Milk businesses expressed concern over the circus atmosphere that filming brought to the neighborhood but felt reassured that the movie would help revitalize businesses in the area.

Image: 1977 Castro Street fair by Jerry Pritikin.


  1. says

    This is silly.

    Those same tour buses also show up in my neighborhood — the Inner Sunset. The poor old ladies trapped on a slow-moving bus who stare at me as I go about my grocery-shopping are not interested in me, they’re just bored out of their minds on a lame, overpriced bus tour, and would stare at anything put in front of their faces in hopes of a bit of variety.

  2. paul says

    Awww….boo hoo hoo…welcome to living in a tourist area! I lived in a tourist area for years and it’s the same in all of them. The locals are part of the “color”.

    This is like someone living in Times Square complaining about tourists.

    It’s so ludicrous to move to a famous area like the Castro and then expect to have it to yourself. There are plenty of other places all over the San Francisco area to live that aren’t so high profile, but I suppose if the whiners move there they will have to find new things to complain about.

    I’m sure they’ll have no problem finding those things, however.

  3. charlie in st. paul says

    I used to live in the Castro and didn’t find it to be anything really proud of. Sort of skanky, to be honest.

  4. Mr. E says

    The real issue here is that they come, gawk, take pics then leave. They don’t buy anything. I live right in the heart of the Castro and have never been bothered by it. Someone should figure out a way to cash in on it and maybe educate at the same time.
    My biggest peeve in the Castro is the straight AND gay families that move in THEN bitch about the displays in the windows of shops and porn stores while pushing their double wide, hummer versions of strollers that take up the entire sidewalk.

  5. alguien says

    i was a resident in san francisco for nearly 20 years. i spent about the last half of my time there avoiding the disastro except to go to a movie, get my hair cut or visit with friends who happened to live there. there was really nothing there for me that was of any interest as the 80s saw the neighborhood become a bland themepark. by the time my last few years of living in SF rolled around i was spending most of my going out time south of market, the mission or in the lower haight.

  6. Strepsi says

    I’ve never been there – is it pedestrian only? Because that can be part of the solution — make it pedestrian only, then the tourbuses park outside the area, the tourists have to walk through it, and actually brush past *gasp* homos, they can also buy stuff which is good for business. I live in a tourist area and tour groups on foot are way better than the geddin-geddout bus photo-stops.

  7. John M says

    I’m pretty much fine as long as they aren’t yelling insults or throwing stuff from their cars, I live gayberhood adjacent and people drive down the strip all the time and gawk out their windows, it’s fine with me, there isn’t anything interesting to see except people out having a good time.

    Sometimes I visit their suburbs and gawk at the acres and acres of identical looking houses with identical minivans and suvs and identical chain stores and identical mega-churchs in amazement, really I can’t blame them for finding our lives a little more interesting.

  8. Cristian says

    It’s the same when you’re at any Pride fest anywhere, or even the beach parties in Miami. Passers-by stop, stare, take pictures, and you can see them even mumbling: “Oh, look at the gays! They’re having fun, how cute they look. And they even have legs and arms. They smile and laugh. They are just like us!”

  9. Brad says

    OH GET OVER IT!!! As much as we would like it, we can’t have our cake & eat it too. Castro is and was an important piece of both Gay & American history. If you choose to live in an historical neighborhood, you should expect to see tourists who want to learn about that neighborhood’s history and culture. Gay culture is beautiful, vibrant, joyous, resilient, and worthy of celebration.
    We have fought for people to accept us, and now that it is happening, do you propose that we shun those who seek to learn about, align themselves with, and support us?
    I agree that we should be careful to prevent the dillution of gay culture at the hands of these visitors. Whether you love or hate what it is today; I think we can all agree that it would be a travesty to see Sparky’s Diner replaced with an Applebee’s.
    However, closing ourselves off from, rather than engaging and educating our straight brothers & sisters will do nothing more than alienate us from them. Progress does come at a cost. If we want to leave discrimination and persecution behind, then we have to deal with the curiosity that leads to acceptance & integration.
    I sympathize! Fanny packs are offensive! But cultures all around the globe endure and survive in spite of annoying American tourists. I’m not saying you have to enjoy them. However, for decades, we have fought for acceptance and tolerance. What suddenly makes us so special that we can now deny to others the acceptance & tolerance we sought for so long to gain?
    Be strong! The best way to preserve our history and culture is to educate others about it!

  10. says

    So, they come into the hood to see the world’s largest pride flag and all the storefronts that have become real estate offices?


  11. Ty says

    Don’t complain. Open up an Ebelskiver store that serves Root Beer floats with gelato and chochkies to take home! In this economy, you are lucky to have customers…

  12. says

    I was an object of tourism back in 1987 at the corner of Castro & Market and found it funny. It was a small van of Asian faces staring at me, finally I waved. As they pulled around the corner the faces shifted from the side windows to the back windows. I was dressed as a total clone that day too, including a jeans jacket and customary mustache.

    I now live in an even more touristy place: Honolulu. Here tourism is our lifeblood. I agree with one of the other posters, find a way to cash in. I can’t believe that none of them are spending any money.

  13. Tweety says

    Folks, that article was written for the SF “Comical,” which should only be used for lining birdcages. C.W Nevius likes to stir up shit and create “issues” by finding a couple idiots who want to see their names in the paper and “writing” about an issue for which no one cares. Apparently this is what journalism is today.

    I like to wave at the little old ladies from the balcony of the LookOut as they drive by on their way to Alamo Square. “Oh June, look! It’s ‘the gays'”

  14. says

    I’ve lived in Duboce Park which is a few blocks from the Castro for the last 15 years and tourists are just another part of living in the “gay mecca”. It’s sad to me that with so many openly gay elected officials over the last 30 years serving on our Board of Supervisors from Harvey Milk,Tom Ammiano,Susan Leal,Carole Migden,Mark Leno,Bevan Dufty,etc. that none of them were able to create anything worth really seeing in the Castro? When the Fireman’s Bank was for sale a few years ago on the corner of Market and Castro many local residents/gay activists suggested the space be used by the gay historical society to have it be a gay museum that could house artifacts that are/were significant to the GLBT movement that people might want to actually see while visiting. It fell on deaf ears and now we have another Pottery Barn. Oh Well.

  15. jason says

    Self-segregation is harming our community. We are effectively creating cages for ourselves. Straight homophobes have turned this to their favor, using the word “gay” in the way a zoo-keeper uses an enclosure: that is, to keep us (the scary animals) away from the mainstream. Hence the gradual cultural demonization of the gay and bi man as “not hot”.

    We ought to be out there in the mainstream, not in these ghettos like Castro. We need to engage in the mainstream, and not from the ghetto. This will rile gay business owners, a group of selfish individuals who promote self-segregation out of pure self-interest – i.e. so as to corner the market.

    The more we stay segregated – and allow others to segregate us – the more disengaged we become from the mainstream. We lose touch with what’s happening in the cultural mainstream. Some of you might say “who cares, so long as we have our comforable ghettos, it doesn’t affect me”. But it does, darling, it really does affect you. You’re becoming barely-tolerated lepers on the cultural hipness scale.

  16. Tralfaz says

    For those of you crying “Boo-hoo” and “Get over it” …. I take it you’ve never LIVED in the Castro. I did for 12 years. It’s not like Times SQ. Try and deal with a big ass Greyhound Bus blocking traffic on narrow residential streets.

    I used to call and get these fucking buses busted all the time.

    The drivers are rude. The passengers are even worse.

    I don’t have a problem with them driving down Market St, but on Castro? Down 18th? Bullshit.

  17. Paul R says

    Brad, there’s a difference between people who want to be educated and people who don’t engage with the area they’re visiting, treat it like a zoo/freak show, and go out of their to hold hands to prove their heterosexuality. If all they’re doing is crowding the sidewalks, jamming the street with huge buses, and not buying anything, then I see little benefit to having them visit.

    That said, I’m not going to complain or try to stop them—I just don’t have any hopes of changing their views. And I lived three blocks from Market and Castro for 10 years until May, and only live a bit farther away now.

  18. says

    I, also, live in the ‘Stro and I say, “Bring it, bitches.” Our neighborhood could use a little pick me up…

    Unfortunately, my partner and I have experienced an increasing number of inappropriate name callings, or “drive-by fruitings”, if you will, over the past couple of months that begs us to question the positive nature of the increase in tourism.

    I’m not a violent person, and neither is my boyfriend, but…how DARE you come into our city and call us “fags”?! Especially from the “security” of your quickly moving car…


    I will…CUT…you… SE-KURITAY!

  19. Tralfaz says

    I hear ya Brooks.

    The little pussies think their all hot shit in their car. Well I’ve seen some real funny shit over the years dealing with those types.

    One time ….. in band camp …. some fuckers were driving up Castro towards 18th they were yelling the typical shit. Well, the poor dears got caught at a red light behind a bus, right front of Walgreens. A big ol’ group of very vocal and pisses off gays and lesbians got out in the street and gave it ALL back to them. Getting up in their windows, yelling at them. No one touched their car, but the little fuckers rolled their windows up and looked like they all shit their pants.

  20. Bakeley says

    Anyone who thinks a Gus Van Sant movie is going to create herds of Greyhounds clogging the Castro is on crack.

    In 1977, in Milk’s time, gay Americans would have dreamed about this kind of nonchalant ability not to skulk around the shadows.

  21. Tralfaz says

    Uh, sorry to tell you this Bakeley, but I’m not on crack.

    I LIVED in the Castro and the fucking buses have been a probably LONG before the Milk film was shot.

    I don’t know if the film will create an increase of traffic, all I know is that it’s been problem for years.

    One time …. not in band camp …. my mom was visiting me. And one weekend TWO fucking buses were clogging up traffic because one Greyhound bus was trying to make a right turn off 18th on to Castro while another large tour bus was turning left off Castro to 18th.

    Mama Tralfaz told me … “Go flip those mother fuckers off and tell ’em get out of our neighborhood”.

  22. ggreen says

    The bus tourists don’t trash the neighborhood but the bar tourists do. They scatter pizza boxes and trash from one end of Castro to the other. The sidewalks are covered with used chewing gum and cigarette buts. Nobody in the area really gives a shit about anything but selling booze to the drunks.

  23. Rammer says

    Ya-know, Castro has it’s place. The eighteen year old kid from KS who has been closeted all his life and now wants to metamorphose into an all-gay-all-the-time, proposition-anything slut needs the Castro to “process” that phase. And, then he/she moves on to whatever is next. Of course, there are some folks who choose to live their entire lives like being gay is the first, second, third and all-encompassing most-important thing about them. And, they can choose to live that fantasy 24/7 in the Castro too. It’s an artificial world. I lived in the Bay Area for 25 years, and visited the Castro often; but, I never wanted to live there. To each her/his own. There’s no getting around the fact that it’s a very unique neighborhood for a very unique culture. I’m sure the Castro Clones still want to continue to draw that fresh little twink from KS that everyone wants a piece of. So, it draws a few tourist busses too. How can that be surprising?

  24. jason says

    Sometimes I think that our gay scene has become a fetish scene. There’s an unseemly obsession with sex, with body types, with how much hair one has on one’s body, with whether one’s a top or a bottom, with whether one likes to have one’s nipples tweaked. It’s ludicrous. We have degenerated into a scene of fetishes. The notion of gay rights has effectively been usurped by the fetish crowd.

    In one sense, the current gay scene is no different from the Hooters joint or the strip club scene which hetero guys attend. We’ve lost our “raison d’etre” and become consumed with fetish. There’s no dignity in it.

  25. Joseph says

    I CURRENTLY live in the Castro. Whoever it was that mentioned the Cronicle, I think, hit it. It’s a shiteous paper. Seems like this is a non-issue. I think the busses are good. They don’t bother me. I can’t say that i’ve ever seen one south of 17th on Castro St though. There must be some city ordinance about tour busses because there are permanent signs posted specifically saying no busses. I love living in the Castro! Yay me.

  26. Eddy says

    I live in the Castro and this hood needs money, so many businesses are closing and we have empty store fronts. I say let em out amongst us and let them shop! It wasn’t too long ago that the buses only drove through, now they’re letting them venture. I think it’s silly, it’s not like we’re Chelsea, WeHo or even South Beach, just regular ole gays walking to work and from work and more often than not they’ll see more straight families out and about, who’ve all moved in the hood. If the tourism board was smart, they’d offer a “nighttime” tour and tell the passengers to look up in the windows!!! 😉

  27. Paul R says

    Wow, Jason, thanks once again for your keen insight. It’s true—back in the 70s no one cared about anyone else’s body types or had any preferences whatsoever about who they slept with or what they did in bed. No one was a top or bottom, and no one had any right to be. And now these damn fetishists have come along and ruined everything.

    Oh, and this issue has a ton to do with the current thread.

    Seriously, what are you on?