The rape of a man in the Castro district spotlights racial divisions in the area’s gay community.
John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times, July 23, 2007
Mark Welsh chokes up as he describes his rape last fall and the word his two assailants kept repeating.
“They kept saying ‘faggot’ over and over again,” whispers the 51-year-old owner of a video store in the Castro district. “It went on for what seemed like forever.”
Welsh came forward about the attack to publicize sexual assaults against gay men in the Castro—which he says police have downplayed.
His outrage helped spark a new anti-rape education program as well as volunteer citizen patrols in one of the nation’s best-known gay neighborhoods.
But because both Welsh and another rape victim say their assailants were black, news of their attacks has heightened tensions in a community that for years has been accused of racial exclusion.
In 2005, the San Francisco Human Rights Commission ruled that a Castro bar called SF Badlands discriminated against black patrons by requiring them to present multiple forms of identification before entering.
Still, many African Americans say they’re made to feel unwelcome in the Castro. “There’s an unspoken language, whether you’re a black man or woman, that there’s no space for you here,” said Lisa Williams, a local activist who is black.
“When you go to a bar, you get the feeling that the prices are being adjusted,” she said. “It takes forever to get served, and the wait staff watches you like a hawk.”
African Americans recently marked the two-year anniversary of the closing of the Pendulum, the only bar in the Castro that specifically attracted black gays and lesbians. Natali bought the establishment in 2005—and closed it for renovations. It has yet to reopen.
Some worry that the citizen patrols could lead to racial profiling and vigilantism. “When you have a bunch of white men patrolling an area that has recently expressed alleged hostility toward African Americans, one would hope they would tread lightly,” said Billy Curtis, a human rights activist.
Castro Community on Patrol members say race isn’t an issue. “We’re about safety,” said co-founder Carlton Paul. “We’re here to protect what’s ours.”
Still, both Castro residents and police acknowledge that people have yelled slurs at blacks on neighborhood streets.
“The gay community has enough opposition from the outside,” said Lisa Frazer, a San Francisco police officer who patrols the Castro.
“It saddens me to see the infighting. But the Badlands thing has not been forgotten. It cut very deep. The wound is very much still there.”
So far this year, only two people have reported being sexually attacked in the Castro and none of the suspects appeared to be African American, police say. Gay rights organizations estimate that about 58,000 gay men and women live in San Francisco, a city of 700,000 residents. The numbers include 4,500 African American gay men and women.
Still, in the Castro the perception persists that black males are often responsible for crime.
“There’s the typical stereotyping,” said Jovida Guevara-Ross, executive director of Community United Against Violence. “Young blacks are dismissed as thugs, gang members who aren’t welcome in the Castro.”
Members of Castro Community on Patrol insist they don’t want to add to racial stereotypes. The 50 steady volunteers do not intervene in incidents they encounter but will act as witnesses and alert police, organizers say.