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Weaned on Halloween

Room For Squares

I’ve written a fair amount about how the Castro remains a beacon for the gay community of San Francisco -- both because it is a positive reminder of past struggles and because it serves as an encouraging face for the future. But the problems surrounding the Halloween “non-event” at the Castro this year got me a little more divided on the topic.

At the center of the issue is how the annual Halloween party toes the line so dangerously between being an out and proud celebration (which is the mantra of all Castro get-togethers) and being an open party for violence and mayhem (which goes against everything the Castro stands for). With the cancellation of this year’s official party, I had to wonder what the atmosphere would be like on Halloween night. Would the threat of violence and added police supervision keep people off the streets? Despite all their efforts to close it down, were city officials really just sitting on a time bomb? Could this hullabaloo really quell the queer spirit of Halloweens past?

All these questions had been floating around in my head for some time, so I decided to check out the scene for myself. In the past, the vibe was always festive and wild, if not a little overly rampant with kids who were out looking for trouble. Despite the crowd, I never really felt unsafe. Sure, people have died…but it seemed wrong to me to punish the thousands of respectable revelers for the misdeeds and crimes of a motley few.

A lot of the moaning sounds like much ado about nothing. But what was clear to me was that the city was going through no short lengths to put the Castro in lockdown. Bars were urged to close early, barricades were put up to block major thoroughfares, and tow-trucks threatened to put a major damper on everybody’s plans. Still, knowing all this didn’t quite prepare me for what I actually saw. Sure, I was expecting to see ghosts, but I wasn’t exactly prepared to see a ghost town.

To be honest, I don’t know what I was hoping for. It was obvious we weren’t going to have 200,000 people again, but I thought that at least there’d be more people on the streets than the amount of gay men required to screw in a light bulb -- which in any other case would have been a healthy number but was, in this instance, surprisingly not. Apparently, I had somehow misled myself into believing that we all had a little more spirit than we actually exhibit. Halloween is supposed to be scary, but this is downright terrifying.

Call it the death of the Halloween spirit, the fighting spirit, or even the Castro spirit. By enforcing strict rules, S.F. officials got what the wished for. At their most crowded, the streets were only walked by a few hundred revelers. For a community so weaned on celebrating the subversive (which is what Halloween represents to me), the crushing turnout for this year’s “gay Christmas", as some have termed it, does not bode well.

Think about Pink Saturday before Pride. The streets of Castro and Market become as busy with foot traffic as they ever are on Halloween, but you don’t hear about any violence. It could be that the outbreaks during Halloween are perpetrated by those from outside the LGBT community, and if so, then closing down the Castro party is simply a lazy solution to a larger problem. Why are we allowing ourselves to be the scapegoats? If our right to party can be so easily stepped on, who’s to say what’s next?

As unlikely as it may seem (the city makes just too much money from it), but what if we are forced to celebrate next year’s Pride, tails wagging? Will we be so proud when we have to parade down Market Street single file? Yeah, it sucks for Castro residents to be stuck with the mess after these block parties, but honestly, isn’t that par for the course when living in a neighborhood born of the Summer of Love? If not, then you might be surprised to hear that there are other places in the city more suitable for quiet nights at home. Ever hear of Snob Hill?