As the SEED seminar ends, I have an evening in San Francisco. What best can be done in this limited time? Friends and colleagues have many suggestions to offer. After all, San Francisco is a vibrant city.
Of many things I have heard about this city, the film ‘Milk’ have informed me this is where Harvey Milk’s campaign had started and took its form. I ask a couple of people and look up online about it. I am referred to the Castro Street. When I read about it, I’m more or less told this to be a ‘gay neighbourhood’ of the city. I wonder what it means. Like, homosexual men and women walking on the street, hitting on other men and women, respectively, all the time?
Well, anyways. I decide The Castro is the place for me this evening. As my shuttle stops at the entrance of the street, I am welcomed by a huge rainbow flying high in the sky, with a street sign that reads, “Castro”. I smile.
The Castro Street and Market Street are places that look like pride-365-days. A local person here tells me, “Probably, this is one place that exudes utmost freedom, both political and personal.” He adds jokingly, “You will see people protesting against one issue or the other all the time.” Like any other neighbourhood, this place has schools where children learn and play, a church for people of faith, shops with usual and some not-so-usual stuff to sell, restaurants that serve amazing food, theatre that would screen any movie and homes where people live like they do in any other neighbourhood. Further as I roam around the streets, I see many heterosexual couples too. I question, “What are they doing here if this is a ‘gay neighbourhood’?”
My thought is further intensified by a news paper post in the museum, “Don’t call us queer city”. Exactly my point! Do we start calling all neighbourhoods in the world where heterosexual couples live and express themselves freely as ‘straight neighbourhood’? I’m still debating with myself if such categorization helps promote the cause of equality or simply regenerates the stereotypes. However when neighbourhoods are defined and categorized as such, they lose their purpose of being ‘just a neighbourhood’ and are put under pressure to be seen from a certain lens.
In addition to everything else, The Castro offers a sense of freedom, which most other places lack. Not for any one in particular but to all – gay, straight, lesbian, transgender, queer – whatsoever you would want to identify yourself as. No, it is not some place where gay people have sex all the time. Or may be some do. But they also play, go to school, eat, laugh, dance, pray, protest and do such other things. What’s important is, whatever they - gay or straight - do, they choose without much contemplation of what others may think or do. And if their personal choices are affected by political influences, they don’t hesitate from voicing against it. Well, of course, our personal IS political and vice-versa.
If anything The Castro is, it is indeed, a neighbourhood where pride for ALL is valued and advocated for. Here, I smell freedom!